You will find me, in the dog park at 5pm, with whiskey in hand, reading. I do this more often than I think because I was recently identified by a neighbor as the guy that does just this. On my days off, this is what I do, and I do it with jollity. My fellow dog walkers are tired, having just finished the 8 cubed hours. Me? I’ve slept til 11, gotten coffee, surfed the net for an hour or three, blogged some drivel and read a book. And on top of that, frequently without speaking to another person. This puts you in an odd place when others look at you, generally relaxed and be-whiskied (but not drunk) at 5pm. And I like it this way. Being a bartender forces me into a world where I have to be someone else. And when not on stage, I want to be alone, with my dog and a book, and people call you weird. And they are right to do so but I’m also happy. Because my job works for me I eat 4 course lunches and ride my bike happily about, and get amazing perks that are too many and too decadent to list here. But there are many pitfalls that destroy people that choose this work. What follows are the demons that bar men and women face every shift. It is because of succumbing to these temptations that our profession is though of so poorly when we walk our dogs with whiskey (though more oft, Campari soda) in hand.
Monogamy – (the lack thereof)
Frankly any bartender, male or female, regardless of appearance and without the need of any truly sleazy means, can indeed get laid every night with little effort. This is not a good thing. Well, it is for a couple times, a good thing, maybe the first year on the job, but after that serves nothing more than ego. The best quote I heard about a bartender slut was “he has gutters on his bed.” Were you to be one of the 8 single bartenders on earth (sorry to shatter the dream) you would find yourself having great ease at getting O.P.P. (YEAH I SAID THAT!).
The problem is that this will lead you down 2 often intersecting roads, 1. You will become this arrogant in dress and action even when not being behind the bar and 2. You will be known as the slut. There is nothing wrong with being a slut, if you are a slut, own it. But being known as a slut makes all of your actions and interactions subject to suspicion of ulterior sexy motives. Also, this can lead you down the road of awful fashion. I see lady tenders that won’t work without a necklace buried just so in mountainous cleavage and dude tenders that put every drink they serve in dangerous proximity of being dusted with chest hair.
If you are coupled, you must be prepared to always be offered no strings sex (which doesn’t exist*) from anyone you might desire. If you are doing your job right, you will appear in power, and despite what any magazine says, that is the most desirable sexy times trait, followed closely by money, abs, personality and distantly: humor. More times than I can count I’ve kicked a couple of bi-curious entwined girls in a make out competition out of the bar at closing time. You know why? Girlfriend. If you can’t not cheat you can’t do this job.
The company you keep – (bartenders, barbacks, cooks, cabbies, dealers, dishwashers, doormen and drunks)
It is important to know that you will always be equated to those around you. For example, I have for years both worked in a dive bar and in fine dining. ** When in the piss soaked dive, it’s pretty hard to convince people that you are good enough to make them a whiskey sour with an egg white let alone trust you enough to not poison them. To the contrary, with only the slightest nudge, I sell $35 shots of bourbon to insipid dullards when I wear a tie to work. Even I, am judged by my surroundings, and those who fill space near me.
If you have someone whom is a drug dealer hanging out in your bar, you then become a drug dealer. I’m the first to say that I don’t care about people smoking weed, but I’m the last person that’s going to lose his liquor license and go to jail because I won’t tell a dude to get the fuck out. If your cooks come out of the kitchen to get a shot of jager, then that’s whom you are. When the rush hits, put the shot in a coffee mug and send it through the service window, keep them in the kitchen. Cabbies are kind of the opposite, they don’t affect your reputation but they are also in your family and need to be treated with respect. Always look out for a cabbie’s safety and upholstery. There is nothing wrong with sending a drunk out for a little walk to sober up before getting into a cab. This is the tip of the iceberg of the un-savory Bukowski-esque shit you’ll have to deal with. And other people know you have to put up with such a lack of refinement, and will think of you this way. My point is you are the people around you for better or worse, all you can do to change them is to be a monolith of integrity. Or get a new job.
Weed shows up, and frankly I feel like 70% of America probably smokes weed. Nonetheless, weed will still get you arrested and your bar shut down. I get tipped weed often, its best to just pass it back, saying “not inside.” I have seen a bartender get arrested mid-shift for having a little roach what wouldn’t get a high school freshman buzzed.
Smoking is much more of a problem. I love smoking, but I have yet to ever smoke at work. I light up my cigar at closing time to let people know that the night is over. Also (earmuffs on kids) it makes me look cooler than I am. But all bartenders smoked, just some are trying to quit, some quit, and some are slaves that can’t work without it. It is however good form to have a pack on you, “bar smokes,” as we call them. People like a fag with their vices. Multiple entendre.
Coke. Goddamn it, bartenders do a lot of coke. Simple advice on this one: don’t. I didn’t exaggerate before, yes one time I saw a guy get arrested on the job for a roach, but for coke I won’t exaggerate either when I say, “I can’t begin to count the amount of bartenders that I know that were fired for coke problems.” So don’t start, which is also hard to say because the reason bartenders have such a hard time with coke is the long hours, oh yeah, and the proximity to coke dealers. Which brings me back to what I said before, dealers can’t hang with you if you are working, and dealers are the hardest people to throw out of a bar, even more so if you let them stay for a while before you 86 them. When you see one guy with a series of other people go to the bathroom over and over all night, you know what is going on. My advice,*** lay it on the line, don’t get the cops involved, ask them respectfully to leave. I also don’t order cocktails from bartenders that have a while ring-around-the-nosey.
Booze is the drug you deal and should try not to abuse inn general and definitely not while on the clock. If you can’t not drink and work, you can’t work. If you can’t look at some one stone fucking sober and throw them out you can’t work. If you get drunk and try to count money you’ll find that you can’t. Do I drink at work? Yes I do. Do I get drunk at work? Never. I will sip a miss-poured glass of wine, do a shot with a birthday party or taste new cocktails and ingredients I’m working on, but never all in the same night and never to any point that affects my judgment. Though there are many great bartenders that don’t drink a drop, you can’t be a practicing alcoholic bartender.
Vince Vaughn said it best in the shitty movie “Be Cool” when he said “Nice ass honey, better have a personality by the time you are 30.”
So you’ve decided to be a bartender? Cool, you’ll get paid, likely triple what any of your just graduated college friends will get paid, and likely for a few years. But what will you do in the meantime? I know a lot of bartenders who have yet to write the next great American novel and even more who are in a string of awesome but commercially un-viable bands. I’m not saying give up; you should chase your dream. But I also agree with you mother when I say, “have something to fall back on.” If a record company hasn’t been paying your rent you are probably still a bartender and maybe you should start getting better or working on your exit strategy. For women, this is the worst. A mediocre man tender can work almost indefinitely, swimming in a pool of sadness with water wings of failure. A lady tender however has until she is 30 or close by that to either get good or be pushed aside. The contrast is that awful lady tenders with make literally obscene money until gravity gets involved. It is not uncommon for a lady tender (who is fast) to make over $400 in a shift doing minimal work. But eventually, someone will want to know the appellation of the wine, the region of the scotch or send back a martini made with vodka, deriding you asking for gin stirred. This too, will happen to the fellas, but they get more time as they can talk about sports and at present men run the world.
I once asked a fellow bigwig bartender. “What do you want to be doing when you are 50?” “Bartenders live to be 50?” he asked. This industry is filled with older, unchangeable, not caring mediocre employees. And tending bar is not like working for the government, you can’t just show up. Even if you worked as a rep and got benefits, there is the startling truth: nobody works with reps that are idiots. Eventually, you will have to try, and hopefully you will never stop learning, otherwise, you will fail in this industry. What is your 5-year plan? Denny’s always needs a bartender.
After hours is awesome and its one of the best perks you get until health insurance and people just handing you money. Afterhours also frequently get you fired. For those who don’t know, after hours is what we call it when us bartenders pull the shades and have anything from a shot of whiskey and a heartfelt talk to a bacchanalian orgy after the customers leave. The biggest advice on after hours is: know who everyone is. You can’t call the cops to something that is illegal so minimize your risks. Other tips include:
-Lock the fucking door or you’ll get robbed
-Only drink the cheap stuff
-Clean up after yourself
-Don’t fuck people you work with, excuse me, “with whom you work”
-When in doubt leave, cash for what you drank
-Don’t sleep in the bar
-Make sure no body walking by can see you are in there, i.e. cops or robbers
Eventually, get everyone out and don’t lie about being there. Your boss (I) knows you were there and your boss (me for example) trusts you not to mess up too bad. Use self-control.
Seeing the sunrise is so beautiful every time I see it, the light is gentle and sad. I try to avoid the sunrise as much as possible because I can’t sleep after seeing it.
*But very fine fishing line sex does exist
**Because one pays but kills your sole and the other one has really good food
***Don’t fucking sue me if it doesn’t work for you, it has worked for me in the past