Mike the Barman Richardson

Biographies & Memoirs

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Mike the Barman Richardson

Mike “The Barman” Richardson worked at Mountain Lake Lodge for roughly 15 years. When not mixing drinks, he became famous for dazzling guests with his beloved tours of the locations throughout the property that were used in the making of Dirty Dancing. It wasn’t long after he started offering these “Nickel Tours” that he became the resort’s official Dirty Dancing tour guide. Now retired and living in sunny Florida, this memoir is “The Barman’s” way of sharing his famed tour with the world.


The Time of My Life

Biographies & Memoirs

Ready for the time of your life? Mike the Barman invites you to go behind-the-scenes of Mountain Lake, the Dirty Dancing resort, to experience the ongoing romance, mystique and adventure that makes visitors keep coming back for more.

Get an up close and personal tour of Mountain Lake Resort, the movie’s primary shooting location and stand-in for “Kellerman’s Mountain House.” It’s here that, years after the movie’s release, fans gather to relive the film’s allure with Dirty Dancing Weekends full of sizzling moves and retro costumes. Mike the Barman pulls back the curtain to reveal the magic of these bashes, from Mike’s secret “off-limits” tours to the entertaining anecdotes divulged by the visitors to the resort. Mix one of Mike’s signature drinks with the included recipes and feel a part of the fun of trivia night as Mike runs down answers as well as pointing out some of the film’s flubs. Everyone knows the hotel bartender holds all the secrets. This is one insider account that adds new layers to the classic romance flix, told as only a beloved bartender can.

If you were ever curious about the history of this picturesque hotel, where iconic settings such as Baby’s cabin and the “water lift” were captured or are just curious to learn how the legacy of this hit 80s film lives on, this is a memoir that will have you aching for steamy summer nights. Recapture the movie’s magic in this love letter to a lodge that offers a resort getaway experience in its pages.

Book Bubbles from The Time of My Life

The ol' switcheroo

Frequently in the course of making a movie, from script writing to casting to production, unforeseen events occur that are beyond the control of the filmmakers. Be it accidents, illnesses, breakdowns or uncooperative weather, the film crew sometimes has to make adjustments. Most of the time, the viewing public is completely unaware of any of the setbacks due to the professionalism of the crew. Sometimes, however, the eagle-eyed viewer will notice an unexplained change.

Recreating the iconic lift scene

Imitation, it is said, is the sincerest form of flattery. If that is indeed so, then Dirty Dancing may have few equals (outside of Star Wars). I lost count long ago of the number of times guests hurried into the bar to proudly show me videos on their phones of them attempting in a multitude of fashions, the iconic lift scene. Each one seemed more comical than the last, with a few where the guests actually seemed to nail it. Then there are of course made-for-consumer productions which have appeared over the years trying to associate with Dirty Dancing, not so much as imitations, but more like coat-tail riders. But hey, fun is fun, right?

Comforted by cocktails

You cannot have a good Dirty Dancing weekend experience without great cocktails, at least that was my philosophy. In the movie, Johnny and the staff kids drink beer in the barn while dancing and later, Penny is comforted with a shot after Johnny returns her to her cabin from the kitchen. Even Dr. Houseman is seen enjoying a libation at the final dance. So, in that spirit, how about some spirits?

Meet the guest for whom there was no equal

We had guests who would attend the Dirty Dancing weekends whose knowledge of the movie was almost dumbfounding. Try as I might to craft trivia questions they couldn’t answer, only rarely did I succeed. These Dirty Dancing PhD’s, as I called them, really know the movie inside and out. I used to be assisted by one of the staff when I did the trivia contest, but there was one lovely lady who came to every weekend who knew the movie as if she had written, produced, directed and edited it herself. So I dismissed the employees from helping me and co-opted her instead.

International travel destination? Who knew

It is truly hard to comprehend the worldwide phenomenon of Dirty Dancing until confronted by the scope of its enormity. Over my years at the hotel, I encountered guests from so far and wide it got confusing sometimes. One memorable weekend a family held their reunion at the hotel because of their shared love of the movie. Though mundane sounding at first, if one considers that these folks traveled from as far away as India, Singapore, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as from all points in the U.S. to a remote hotel in rural Virginia, then it kind of puts the extent of the movie’s reach in a better perspective.

Don’t look now, but there are imperfections

No matter how hard editors try to ensure that their films are free of gaffes, something always seems to slip through the cracks and appear embarrassingly in the final product. Be it an airplane overhead or an automobile in the distant background of a historically set movie, or a cup of takeout coffee in a fantasy television program, something is always invariably overlooked. Dirty Dancing is no different, with its own share of post-production guffaws, the grand finale in the ballroom being a case in point.

Not everyone visited for the Dancing

We had a lot of weddings at the hotel, and surprisingly, not all of them were Dirty Dancing themed. The affairs ranged from small, low-budget gatherings with hay bales, pulled pork BBQ and groomsmen in overalls, to an elaborate wedding extravaganza where the family of the bride, southern retail magnates, rented pretty much the whole property for the event. No matter the scale or cost of the nuptials and resulting reception, it was always enjoyable to meet and interact with the wedding parties during their stays at the hotel. And more often than not, they would request that I be their bartender for the reception.

Could you imagine Baby bowling in her cabin?

Everybody loves “Baby’s Cabin” (a.k.a. the Virginia Cottage), but few people realize how far back its history reaches. Originally constructed in the 19th century, after several renovations, a bowling alley was added to the front of what was a five-bedroom bungalow at the time. Further renovations saw the bowling alley transformed into living space while older parts of the building were removed. Thus we have the present three-bedroom Virginia Cottage.

Crossing the language barrier

It’s difficult to articulate sometimes how even the most mundane of props used in Dirty Dancing morphed over time into iconic entities. The same is true for filming locations that were utilized, even if only briefly, and now have become must-see locations at the hotel. This became abundantly clear to me when a Brazilian couple showed up one morning at the back door of the kitchen, watermelon in hand and wanting to see “Penny’s Spot”! Their command of English mirrored mine of Portuguese, which is pretty non-existent. Fortunately they had an app on their phone that did translations, and with the Chef’s permission, I was able to accommodate them.

If it wasn’t glued or nailed down…

It was my experience over the years I was at Mountain Lake that some of the guests would steal anything remotely associated with Dirty Dancing, nailed down or otherwise. Thankfully, as a small hotel owned by a non-profit foundation, most visitors chose to buy their mementos at the gift shop as we didn't have much of a budget for replacing pilfered items, so we did the best we could. As far as I know, guests with sticky fingers were seldom caught red handed, and those that were, never brought up on charges, only suffering a sentence of embarrassment. We were in the hospitality business, concerned only with giving folks the time of their lives, not criminal records.

Kids say the darndest things

Every Dirty Dancing weekend had its own feel to it, and that was of course because of the personalities of the guests who attended. Mountain Lake has an expansive property, set in the wooded mountains of southwestern Virginia, which is perfect for hiking and exploring. One weekend a family got turned around and lost up on Bald Knob which necessitated local authorities, complete with a helicopter, to conduct a search for the lost guests. Fortunately, two employees familiar with the mountain were able to locate the family and bring them back safely. That night at the dance, two little girls approached me and proudly announced that they were part of the family that everybody was looking for, and that their dad had gotten them lost. I glanced over and noticed a gentleman who was within earshot with his hands buried in his hands in obvious embarrassment. I had to assume he was the dad.

Patrick Swayze, the gentleman actor

Guests were always curious about what kind of person Patrick Swayze was in real life, off camera. What was he like? Was he as nice a person as they hoped he would be? They were always very relieved and a little vindicated when I would assure them that everybody I talked to who had interacted with him while the movie crew was at Mountain Lake all readily agreed that Patrick was a kind, humble and generous man. When pressed for details I always enjoyed recounting a story the Chef told me.

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