Tamera Rocca and Tom Ski are important members of the Erie scene. He is an artist; she is a bartender. But those are limiting terms. Mild, quick interpretations of their existence. As a couple, they are charming, down-to-Earth, and simply cool. This week’s You Ought To Know is part one of a look at the couple as individuals and their work and significance in Erie.
Part I: A Portrait of Tamera
“She cares how people are doing; it’s not fake, it’s genuine… her thoughtfulness carries over from her life,” said Ski, not as a foolish acquiescence to love but as an absolute statement of truth.
Rocca is genuine. In thought and action, she is kind and considerate of the world around her, always seeking to provide the best possible outcome in all of her endeavors.
There really is no other word to describe her but genuine— it is the perfect descriptive in the truest nature of its meaning.
Born in Dorset, Ohio and spending her first years on a farm, Rocca eventually moved to Conneaut, Ohio and worked in her family’s pizza shop before landing in the metropolis of Erie. After graduating from high school she began her life’s adventure shaping her sense of self and understanding of the people and world around her.
“I took all of my money that I got from my graduation party and I travelled cross-country and went on Phish Tour, did that for a little bit, came home, and then that’s when I started working in the service industry,” Rocca said, a look of wistful reflection across her face. “I got a serving job working at Twins Tavern and also got my first bartending job as well. And for a second job I worked at Art’s Bakery and baked off and on for seven or eight years, which I loved and miss.”
This began her foray into the Erie bar scene, a circuitous route that enabled her to gain invaluable experience.
“My first big big bartending job was at Molly Brannigans,” she said. “And after a few shorts months, I was made a bar manager there. I ran the bar for two years there. I really really enjoyed it but at the time I was closing the bar six nights a week and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to have a life.”
More experience and responsibility enabled her to hone her skills and take her talents next to The Cell Block then to the Brewerie.
“Then I got a ‘big girl job’ as director of marketing and advertising for a disaster restoration company. I did that for a year, and they did layoffs. I was laid off,” she said without any true regret. “Then it was back to bartending. I worked at Sherlock’s Park Place for a year, and then I came to The crooked i.”
All of her experience and exposure around town has led her current employer, Marty Schwab, to refer to her as an “Erie Icon.” She acknowledged the “sweet” compliment but does not let it inflate her ego.
She is proud to work at The i. She is thrilled by the opportunity to actively participate in the inner workings of the bar.
“I’m passionate about this place, and this is a place I’m going to invest my time in and not just a job where I come make my money and leave,” she said. “I look forward to my future with this whatever it may bring for me. Because I think I have a lot of opportunity here.”
Rocca has been on the staff since day one and is happy to be able to help build the cache of the establishment.
“We’re not a specials bar [like many places she has worked]. It’s like a puppy mill, the way I think of it, you just keep pumping, pumping, pumping out drinks,” she lamented. “It’s nice to be able to make drinks for people that know what they like and like to drink. And I have creative freedom here, like the Rock Star Shot list, which I was able to invent. And the Fat Elvis shot, which has become one of our most popular shots.”
Her prowess behind the bar is astonishing. Her mixology and personality bolstered by exposure and experience, she is relatable to all walks of life.
“I love what I do. I love making fun drinks, creating new drinks,” she said almost bouncing in excitement. “Because I love cooking and baking, to me when I look at the ingredients behind the bar I’m down to be creative. So I hope that people when they come in here know I’m happy to be creative with whatever the want to drink. I make pretty martinis, classy drinks.”
Her nights behind the bar have not always been wine and roses. She has had her run-ins with creeps, beggars, and fools but does not let it deter her professionalism or her disposition.
“There are all kinds of walks of life that come in and because we’re friendly and we smile and give them their drinks sometimes that’s mistaken for real life. And they think I’m more involved in their lives than I am,” she said. “Some people aren’t good with that. I’ve had trouble in the past. Nothing too crazy, I’ve definitely had stalkers and people write to me on social sites and say very odd things.“
It is the good times she is most concerned with, both providing and partaking.
“What’s exciting for me is that when I come to work not only am I meeting all these great people and different bands from the road,” she said. “That part is the most exciting to me, at the end of the night I get to sit down and talk to all these people. Great stories great times.”
Rocca does have a special perspective on the scene. Her job at The i provides insight and entry into the music and art world of Erie. She has the foreknowledge to see the trends coming and find the positives.
“I believe that right now is a really prime time for Erie as far as music and art is going. We’re just thriving. I basically have a front row seat to the best people in town right now” she continued. “It has benefitted Tom and me and my friends I absolutely love my job right now.”
A vegetarian since the age of 18, Rocca is concerned with her fellow man and the impact we all have on the world around us.
“I’m a really caring person. I love animals and I love people and I love nature. I’ve very conscious of my carbon footprint and being a vegetarian and trying to give back,” she said. “I don’t know if a lot of people realize I’m such a passionate person about those things. Maybe I can influence somebody to care about those things as much as I do.”
When she speaks of her passions it is without trite naïveté, her experience in the service industry has provide a glimpse into the lives of so many people from so many different places and she is able to distill it all down to find the basic goodness in everyone.
Her future in the Erie scene may not always be behind the bar. Although she relishes her time there, she has other hopes.
“I guess my dream is to be involved in the art scene always,” she said. “A lot of artists, I’m not going to say are not social people, but I obviously have a social gift, it’s what I do. A lot of artists keep to themselves and I want to help them, manage them support them maybe even have my own gallery someday. Erie is great, but I’d like to have local artists show in Pittsburgh or New York and if I can help with that it would just fill me with such pride.”