The man behind Three Dots and a Dash has a lot more than drinks to juggle

SHARE The man behind Three Dots and a Dash has a lot more than drinks to juggle

From checking email in bed to conferencing behind the stroller, work-life balance can be a struggle. We’re asking Chicago business leaders how they fit their careers in with everything else. Welcome to “Day in the Work/Life.”

With a white-hot new bar to add to his smoldering roster, Paul McGee has his hands full — and for once, not just with drinks.

McGee’s month-old tiki bar Three Dots and a Dash is drawing capacity crowds — and he still oversees a large swath of the River North nightlife scene, including cocktail programs at Bub City, RPM Italian and Paris Club. He tells us how he balances family and friends with the bar life (and how he day-drinks without getting drunk).

McGee’s workdays veer a little later than most, so his alarm doesn’t ring until 9 a.m. He and his wife, Shelby, start out their mornings with their only daylight together-time each day — grabbing breakfast from Reno in Logan Square or sitting down together at Lula Café or Longman & Eagle around 10 a.m. The two drive into work together — she drops him at his Courthouse Place office on Hubbard, then she’s off to her own gig in PR at a boutique firm.

When McGee gets into the office around 11 a.m., he answers emails and maps out the day ahead. Then, he’ll head down to the kitchen to make sure supplies are stocked and prep is going swimmingly. For Bub City’s lunch hour, he rolls in to make sure the whiskey is flowing. After lunch, class is in session.

“We have some kind of training every day,” he says. “Whether it’s continuing education with whiskeys at Bub City, or training new servers or bartenders at any of the other properties that I oversee.”

On Wednesdays, Bub City swaps out its flights, so Tuesdays are whiskey briefing days, where everyone tastes and learns about the new flight. But McGee is careful not to overindulge.

“They’re just little bitty sips,” he says. “You’re able to spit it out too.”

At 2 p.m., McGee touches base with the managers at Bub City to talk about the week behind and what’s coming ahead. Then he’ll run over to Three Dots and a Dash to meet with the management team and and check the schedules to make sure enough staffers are on deck. McGee’s creative juices flow when liquor reps stop by to showcase new spirits.

“If there’s a new product out that I’m interested in then I’ll definitely try to play around with some of those ingredients,” he says.

He’ll duck out for a quick bite around 4:30. River North joints Epic BurgerBombay Spice and Xoco are frequent pit stops.

At 5, doors open at Three Dots and a Dash, and McGee makes his rounds at the tables.

“I usually go around and talk to the tables a little bit, see if it’s their first time,” he says. “If it’s a familiar face, I’ll go over and see how their drinks are tasting and everything like that and see how everything’s going with them.”

Though he’s a big fan of his co-workers, he tries to keep his worlds separate.

“I truly enjoy the people that I work with, but I’ve been in this business for a very long time, like 25 years,” he says. “So I value the aspect of getting away from it as well. I think it’s really important for me to have a distinction between the people that I work with and the people who are my friends and family.”

In evenings, he rotates among Three Dots and a Dash, RPM, Paris Club and Bub City to make sure things are going smoothly.

“I’ll walk around the room, making sure the room’s right, making sure the volume of the music is right, making sure everyone is getting the attention they need, seeing if the servers need anything,” he says.

McGee’s busy nights don’t leave much time for socializing. Though McGee’s friends will come hang out at the different venues, he says he doesn’t consider that quality time.

“When people come to the bar or restaurant, I’m working,” he says. “So even if my friends do come in to the bar I’m working or the restaurant that I’m working, they’re having a good time and they’re not worried about anything else — [whereas] I am. I love for them to come in and everything and have a good time, but I’m still playing host.”

That’s why weekend mornings are so critical for McGee’s social life. He and Shelby keep the calendar cleared for weekend brunches with friends and family (and, of course, the occasional solo round of golf).

“That’s really important for me to have before I go to work — to have that kind of family and friend time,” he says. “Being able to go out to another restaurant and not worry about playing host anymore. You get a chance to be waited on yourself.”

He’ll stick around Three Dots and a Dash until midnight, when he’ll head back to his office, round out the day and mull over what’s on tap for the next day. Then he’ll hop in a cab and head back home, winding down with “The Newsroom,” “Mad Men” or “Boardwalk Empire.” And that’s the drill — every day. Though Sunday and Monday are typical industry days off, that’s exactly what compels him to work those days

“It’s a lot of chefs and bartenders and bar owners and restaurant owners and managers and stuff like that that usually have those days off,” he says. “I love it because I’m able to catch up with those guys.”

But working those days means no days off for McGee. He says the running-back-and-forth-between-venues business is certainly different than life behind the bar. But McGee says it has its advantages.

“I truly love what I do and it doesn’t really seem like it’s draining at all,” he says. “I’ve done it for a long time. But also, this is the first time that I haven’t been behind the bar all the time. It’s way more challenging to try to carry on a conversation when you’re making drinks and all that kind of stuff. This has been a great opportunity to talk to people without having to think about the three drinks or four drinks or five drinks that I’m making. It’s actually less draining than you would think.”

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