Karen Grill got into the hospitality industry when she was in high school and never really left. Today, she’s a brand ambassador for a small distillery, and works at both a serious cocktail bar and restaurant as well as a fantastic dive bar. Grill, who just turned 30 while she was vacationing in Europe, took the time to talk boxing, gymnastics and why she adores bartending.
How’d you get interested in this boxing thing?
“It seemed like a really incredible opportunity to overhaul my fitness routine. I’ve watched a lot of MMA and mixed martial arts. I’m really excited about this. I’ve never done anything this intense in my life. It’s definitely the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. I get frustrated, I get motivated ... it’s a whole range of emotions when you step inside the gym and put on your headgear and get into the ring. You’re going to the gym, and somebody’s going to hit you really hard. My opponent happens to be a really good friend of mine. She’s a really incredible girl, and it’s really interesting to know that I’m going to try to punch her in the face. I was a gymnast for a lot of my life, and I did it all the way through high school. I did uneven bars.”
Is gymnastics anything like boxing? Is boxing anything like bartending?
“They’re totally different sports ... when you’re doing gymnastics, you’re not dodging anything. Boxing has an anticipation thing, figuring out the next move and figuring out how to make all your muscles react to protect yourself. It’s actually similar to when you’re behind the bar, and you’re really busy, and you have a bunch of things to do, and you have to plan out in your mind what happens in what order. They’re similar in the way that there are all these things to do, in that it’s all anticipation and multitasking.”
How did you get into bartending?
“I started in the restaurant industry when I was 14, at a beach bar where I grew up in New Jersey. I worked through high school, switched over to a bar in college in Boston and never really looked back. I studied entertainment marketing and the music business, and I worked in tour management and booking. Being on tour and being on the road was not a way to really have a life. I always did have an after-work job. I was sitting behind a desk and had no interaction with people except for email. I missed that. I love bartending because I love talking to strangers. Yeah, it’s a creative outlet, but the thing I really love about it is talking to strangers. Sitting behind a desk wasn’t for me.”
So, what do you do now?
“I do a few things. I’m a brand ambassador for Chareau, an aloe vera liqueur that’s just delicious. I also work as a bartender at Faith and Flower, and then one day a week, I work in a dive bar in Korean town called Frank 'n Hank’. I just love it. It’s no frills, no cocktails to hide behind, just me, the soda guns and a couple of beers, and I love that. I’m a busy girl. It’s all hospitality. They’re different scenarios and different environments, but whether you’re charging $18 for a cocktail or $4 for a beer, you’re there to take care of people in whatever capacity you have with whatever tools you have. The drinks are almost the last part about it.”
How did you train while you were traveling?
“It definitely wasn’t easy. I did find a boxing gym in London, and anytime we had any morning free, my boyfriend, Mitch Bushell, who is also training for the competition, we brought our gloves, and we sparred with each other. Since we got back, I’m training now four or five days a week.”
Are you going to do this after the competition?
“Definitely. And it helps that the gym is three blocks from my house. I’m really lucky to have forged a good relationship with my trainers.”