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Life behind the bar blooms into lifetime commitment for Iron Cactus couple

Emma Janzen

The proposal was a comedy of errors.

She didn't want to take the carriage ride. The church gates were locked. The convenience store didn't have any ring pops. The weather took a turn for the worse, with gale force winds and lightning on the horizon - and she was wearing a skirt.

Yet all of the complications faded away when Jesse Bernal pulled out the real ring and asked his girlfriend, Jenny Garibaldi, to spend the rest of her life with him.

Backtrack five and a half years. Their love story begins, appropriately, in a bar.

The moment wasn't an alcohol-fueled hook up, as many first introductions are in the crowded watering holes in Austin's main drinking district downtown. Rather, the couple met behind the bar, at Iron Cactus on Sixth Street.

Bernal has bartended at Iron Cactus for the past seven-and-a-half years and Garibaldi joined the bar staff two years later. After serving hundreds of margaritas and Mexican martinis, the friendship turned into a relationship, and last summer, the two decided to tie the knot.

Mixing up the perfect margarita requires craftsmanship, a little creativity, and a dash of chemistry. Bernal and Garibaldi have a quiet chemistry that's palpable when you talk to them outside working hours, and a smooth synchronicity behind the bar.

I sat down with them to hear more about how they met, what they love to drink, and when the big day will occur. (Bernal and Garibaldi are not part of a labor lawsuit filed recently by some current and former staff members against Iron Cactus management.)

American-Statesman: How did you get into bartending?

Jenny: I was a server here at Iron Cactus, and I like to put my "all" into anything I do. I worked hard to get promoted, and when they asked me if I would be interested in bartending, I told them yes. They were skeptical at first, saying things like "well, you're a little young," but I told them to put me back there and let me prove myself, and that worked out.

Jesse: My affinity for fancy spirits and beer took me straight into bartending. Also, the management said they needed a bartender, and I'd been working in fine dining before, so I was a good server. Between the combination of school and work, it was the best kind of job I could have had.

What's kept you behind the bar?

Jenny: We both like experimenting behind the bar and have a passion for food. We hope to open our own place some day. For now, we love to travel, and working in this industry makes it possible with the flexibility. It's not a 9-5 Monday through Friday job and we really like that.

What's your favorite part about working together?

Jesse: She's extremely talented and hardworking. With all the time we spend together, I knew if I hadn't gotten sick of her yet that I never would.

What's your favorite part of the job?

Jesse: The smile on a person's face when you've created a cocktail specifically for them and their tastes. And the fact that there's always change. It's never the same old boring thing, there's always more to learn and new things to create.

What's your least favorite part?

Jenny: Being the girly girl that I am I would probably have to say not being able to wear whatever I want.

Jesse: Behind the bar you're dealing with a lot of sugary and sticky things, so at the end of the night there is a lot of cleaning involved.

What is your drink of choice off the clock?

Jesse: Good beer and straight tequila … and maybe a little Chartreuse!

Jenny: When we go out that's pretty much what we do. We drink a beer with a shot of tequila. If I want something fancy, I'll have something along the lines of gin with grapefruit maybe, or a vodka drink. He likes whiskey and other things, too, but our happy medium is tequila.

So, when is the wedding?

Jenny: Oct. 12, 2013. We're trying to buy a house first. We had been saving up for a house, and when he proposed he asked if I wanted the wedding first or the house first, and I said "I think I want the house first."

Jesse: That's another reason why I knew that she was awesome ­- she knows what's important. You can live in a house; you can't live in a wedding.

Are you going to have a big bar set up for the wedding?

Jenny: Absolutely. That's kind of how we met, how we started dating, and how we got to where we are now. Plus we both enjoy knowing and learning about cocktails and making them, so yeah food and drinks are both going to be elaborate at the wedding.