Life 'behind the stick' with a theatrical view

A couple of weeks ago, I helped my artist friend Lane Hall deliver several pieces to The Crown Jewel in Ashland for its June and July art walks. Owner Jason Robison had just closed another shop he and his wife, Ann, own in Jacksonville and was running late, but spending time in Ashland was a pleasant requisite.

We turned to Larks restaurant for refreshment. Larks is located inside the historic 1925 Ashland Springs Hotel, the queen of elegance on Main Street. Sometimes I stroll through its lobby just to sample another time and sensibility. We were hungry, but Larks is too delightful for a squeezed-in meal. The bar located inside the elegant dining area offered us two perches, one mixologist and a fine array of choices.

We befriended Ross Jones, the bartender, from whom we finagled a smattering of his life story instead of the other way around. He shared an abbreviated tale about naming your dream and tracking it down. Jones, who came to Ashland from New York City, was born to act.

“I was always a bit of a ham. I used to stand in front of the television at 5 or 6 and sing along and mimic the moves of Tom Jones during his Sunday night variety show,” he told me later in an email. Had I known at the time, I might have asked for an example.

“My senior year, they were doing “Man of La Mancha” and they needed larger-stature men to portray the muleteers. I was hooked. We had an incredible drama department, and several actors went on to play parts on Broadway and London’s West End. Kate Mulligan, who is currently playing the Queen in “Shakespeare in Love” and Mrs. Potts in “Beauty and the Beast” at OSF, was just a year behind me. It was great to reconnect with her again when I moved here a few months back.”

Ross’s big-city experience included L.A., New Orleans, San Diego, Las Vegas, and lastly, over a decade in New York City studying theater while tending bar before finding his ideal mix in Ashland.

“I immersed myself in the theater scene during my time there (in New York), studied with stellar teachers and saw as much theater as I could afford. I worked the Broadway District bar NIOS during those 10 years in the city, and it was during that time the craft cocktail scene took off. So not only was I serving theater folk and talking shop most of my shifts, but I was also learning how to up my game ‘behind the stick,’ a slang for being behind the bar. It was a heavy theater crowd, but we were also located near Fox News and NBC, so there were a lot of anchors and political pundits that were regulars. Always made for lively conversation. I remember one day Lady Gaga, Iggy Pop, Karl Rove and Mark Fuhrman floated through the bar in less than an hour. A diverse crowd to say the least.”

The weird thing was, as soon as we settled ourselves in Larks, we felt as if we were back in some favorite Greenwich Village club in NYC, a place I love to visit but don’t care to call home. Ross must have brought the rarefied air with him, and Larks set the perfect stage.

“If I had a dream role currently, it might just be Christopher Walken’s part in “A Behanding in Spokane” I saw a few years back in NYC. That role brings together my strengths. I have been here in Ashland since mid-April of this year. I am quite taken by it. I work with the Neuman Group at Larks and Luna Cafe, and because of the proximity to OSF, I get the theater vibe which I love, but without the hectic day-to-day of NYC. Love it here.”

Welcome to the Rogue Valley and break a leg, Ross!

Peggy Dover is a freelance writer living in Eagle Point. Email her at

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