This week, Gay Desert Guide’s Woman Crush Wednesday is Mary Bongard. Anyone who has spent time in Palm Springs – and specifically Hunters Nightclub – knows her. To know her is to love her, or at the very least the drinks she’s pouring. She’s one of the desert’s most beloved bartenders. We recently asked Mary about what brought her to Palm Springs, and about her decade long experience working for Hunters.
You are originally from San Diego, but went to college in East Lansing, Michigan where you attended Michigan State University, and eventually found your way to Palm Springs. What’s been your experience living in these very different places?
“Well I was born in San Diego at Mercy hospital. I grew up in La Mesa and went to Helix High school. I grew up playing all sports but really had a passion for softball. I went to San Diego Mesa College and received a softball scholarship to MSU. It was a huge eye opening going to the cold weather. We practiced indoors it was crazy not to be outside in the sun year round. I had a great experience and met so many wonderful people. I graduated with my Bachelors Degree in Exercise Science & Health. I stayed in Michigan for a bit longer and taught at a high school in East Lansing for a year, but then decided it was time to go home to Sunny California.“
When did you start bartending at Hunters?
“I started bartending at Hunters exactly 11 years this March 31st. It’s almost my Anniversary woo woo.“
What have been some of the best things about working at Hunters (the team, family, customers, other)?
“ Since I was a teacher, I kinda feel like Hunters is my team; and since I’m older than a lot of our employees I feel like the Mom or coach. I work a lot and spend most of my time here. I consider them my other family. I really enjoy our customers and also consider them my family. I try and treat every customer with love and respect the way I would like to be treated when I’m out on the town. “
Hunters is an anchor for so many of us here in the greater Palm Springs area. From your perspective, why do you think that is? What makes a loyal customer and a dedicated member of the team?
“I believe since Hunters has been here in downtown Palm Springs for almost 23 years this September it’s a place to go where everyone feels welcome and safe. We all try to make everyone who visits feel like they are important and we want them to come back to Hunters because they had a wonderful experience. I try to always remember something they had shared with me and ask them about it on their next visit so they know they are not just a name and drink they are a part of us. “
Due to COVID and repeated closures of businesses, last year was rough – particularly for staff in the service industry. How did you spend the lockdown? What kept you positive?
“ I spent the lockdown going on long walks and riding my bike and hanging out with my partner Michele and my dog Cracker. I spent so much time at home when I leave for work now my dog jumps on the bed and gives me the worst look and hides under the covers. I also do all the social media and entertainment for our Hunters page. I do a lot of our our reach for the community so I try to incorporate all my experiences with people into our Hunters page. I tried to come up with fun , exciting ideas to keep our customers engaged. We did some videos of the Hunters staff making drinks and did some fun contests. I ate more than usual like every else. I came to the bar watered the plants and kept a positive attitude that one day soon I would see the patio packed the dance floor open and me crying because there were so many people in line waiting for drinks and I didn’t know who was next for me to wait on. “
It’s a New Year, it had a rough start, but there are hints of positive changes. Assuming we are on our way out of danger, how will 2021 be lived differently by you than the years before?
“I think for this year, 2021, I will try and love a little harder and live each day to the fullest. It has been a rough year we all need to appreciate each other and support each other and know they we are going be back at it. More smiling, less worrying. More compassion, less judgment. More blessed, less stressed. More love, less hate”.
Thank you, Mary. These words are words we can all find inspiration in. Thank you for taking time to share your experience with us. Hunters Palm Springs is open. Visit hunterspalmsprings.com for their modified hours, events and live performances, and to check out their food menu.