NORTH TAMPA — Two bartenders walk into a bar. … One asks the other to marry him. Heck yeah, she says.
No joke, that's how Pedro Vicens and Julia Holzemer ended a shift at Skipper's Smokehouse in late 2012.
The couple, both 41, who have heard just about every bar joke out there, personify bartender traits — attentive ear, empathetic counsel, a generous pour — coincidentally, qualities that can benefit a marriage.
"We talk things out because we've been talking to people all our lives," said Pedro, known far and wide for his mojitos. "People look at us like we're psychiatrists. They confide in us whether we want it or not."
Julia started her career in college, to earn tuition money.
That influenced her younger brother Drew to do the same, which is how he met Pedro.
"They worked together as bartenders and then shared a house at the University of Tennessee in the '90s," said Julia, recalling football games and concerts during her visits.
In 2000, Pedro moved to Tampa and nabbed a job at Skipper's, where some of his favorite Knoxville bands played.
"I already knew I wanted to work there," he said.
Julia, meanwhile, married and lived in Colorado, working as a river rafting and fly fishing guide for 10 years.
When the marriage ended, she sought a change of scenery.
"I needed a beach," she said.
Moving into a friend's guest house in Miami and bartending was the fix.
In March 2011, Drew, by then an environmental scientist and part-time bartender in Atlanta, invited his sister to meet him in Tampa, then head to Siesta Key with him and Pedro for the weekend. He'd won the Skipper's Cup in the restaurant's football pool and was coming to collect his trophy.
"I arrived a few hours earlier than him, and Pedro and I hung out," she recalled. "I forgot how cute he was."
On Sunday, brother left. Sister stayed. By the end of the week, the mixologists belonged together like Red Bull and vodka.
From then on, last call meant it was almost time to drive across the state to be together. If they weren't working, "we were at a beach, paddleboarding, fishing, anywhere that was outside," she said.
How did it go when they told Drew his sister and pal were dating?
"He hung up," Julia said. "Then he called right back and said, 'I love you both, but if things go south, I don't want to hear about it.'"
Later, as their best man, he would say the wedding just made it official, that Pedro had always been a brother.
Julia moved in with Pedro in August 2011. It took another year to get a job at Skipper's. "Because nobody leaves," she said. "Bartenders work here eight, 10, 20 years."
One afternoon, she said, "I went outside and everyone we knew was at Skipper's. I couldn't figure out why all our friends were there, and their children and co-workers and some of our regulars."
Down on one knee, clutching his mother's diamond ring, Pedro reached to tap her on the shoulder.
"She turned around and looked right over me," he said. "She didn't know why everyone was laughing."
They set the date — Feb. 1 — to marry in Rincón, Puerto Rico. Two big houses were rented for guests coming from all over the United States, at least 25 connected to Skipper's. Julia's mother and aunt made her wedding gown. "They said they dressed me in love," she said.
Their boss, Skipper's owner Tom White, officiated outside under a gazebo. Dinner was local surf and turf. Pedro picked the playlist, from disco to Latin.
Mr. and Mrs. Vicens stayed on for a honeymoon, sipping mojitos on the beach before returning home to make more.
Amy Scherzer can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3332.