Nikki Baran seems to be unable to make up her mind on which extreme corner of the country she wants to settle in — the icy crags of Skagway, Alaska, or the salty reefs of Key West, so she bounces back and forth like a tennis ball. But is there any reason to choose just one? Probably not.
Nikki was born in Queens, N.Y., in 1987, and remained there until she was 23, receiving a degree in tourism and recreational management from Niagara University in 2009.
“I started bartending when I was 19,” she says, “at a high-end catering hall in New York. I started as a cocktail waitress, but I was such a pain in the ass. I kept asking them to teach me how to bartend. It’s been a love affair ever since.”
Even though she had traveled all over the United States in management as an event planner for cruise ships, “I quit while I was in Skagway. One of the guys I worked with was born in Key West. I said, ‘What is there to do in winter?’ He said, ‘You like to work? You like sunshine?’ That was in 2013. I was supposed to stay here in Key West for no more than six months. But I never went back to work there.”
Nikki bartended at the local favorite bar the Lazy Gecko (sandwiched between Sloppy Joe’s and Irish Kevin’s) from 2013 to 2017, until the bar’s untimely and somewhat controversial demise. Then it was time for her to go back to Alaska once again.
“I worked as a glacier and kayak guide,” she says with her usual spirited smile. “I was supposed to come back in November 2017, but something happened called Hurricane Irma, so I stayed in Queens to wait to hear about job openings and resources. I visited again in December, and Mena from Rick’s said, ‘Should I put you on the schedule?’ and I said, ‘No, I’m just visiting.’ I ended up working Rick’s for spring break.”
And then guess where she went? That’s right. Back to Alaska, where she is qualified as a firefighter EMT, specializing in search and rescue. “I can pull your ass out of a crevasse,” she boasts playfully.
While she was in Alaska, “Brad Garrison called me from Italy and asked me if I’d come back and work at Mary Ellen’s Bar,” she says. “And so I’ve been working here since last Fantasy Fest.”
You can find Nikki at Mary Ellen’s late night on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. until close, and at the Tiki House on Greene St. Tuesdays from 10 p.m. until close. “And I still fill in at Rick’s when they need me.”
When she’s not slinging drinks behind the tiles, she teaches gymnastics at the Key West Sports Academy for kids up to 12 years old and is starting a petsitting business at the urging of her roommate, owner of 22&Co. Jenn Stefanacci. Nikki herself, however, has no pets of her own. And she’s single.
If you couldn’t tell from Nikki’s frequent relocation, she has a touch of wanderlust. “I’ve traveled to six of the seven continents,” she says proudly. “And I lived briefly in Australia.” As recently as this past October she traveled to many varied destinations around the world, including Italy, the Czech Republic and Scotland, often with her sister Michelle. “In October I went to Ireland with a bunch of Key West bartenders, on what we called the ‘Don’t Put Baby in a Corner’ tour.”
Like many who live here on the island, in her spare time, “I enjoy scuba diving, boating and paddle boarding,” she admits, most likely because this outdoorsy workaholic was also employed by Sebago Watersports for four years as well, and has booked a lot of hours out on the water.
When asked what she enjoys most about living and working in Key West, Nikki is eager to point out “the quality of life. I can be outside almost every single day of the year. My Jeep has no doors or windows. And the people here, in general, are a cast of characters.” ¦