THE BARTENDER KNOWS #25
Life is pretty safe for a bartender — but only when they stay behind the bar. That three feet of wooden, lacquered protection prevents hundreds of annoying, foul and potentially dangerous scenarios from taking place. Plus, when you’re the bartender, you are the drug dealer — and if you want to keep getting served you better be smart enough not to offend, irritate, or intimidate the hand that feeds you Ethanol.
It’s when the Bartender decides (often stupidly) to join the unwashed masses and become a customer themselves. 99.9% of us know our place and show the working attendant the utmost dignity and respect. We tip wonderfully and always try to be as helpful as possible when in need. However, I broke a cardinal rule the other day — and paid the tragic price. I did what every service industry employee knows not to do:
I went out drinking on a Friday night in Brooklyn.
Already, every bartender reading this is slowly shaking their head from side to side. I know. I know. 25 years behind the stick and I fucking should have known fucking better (to use a Tarantino “Pulp Fiction” quote). Spring time has an effect on even the most dead of hearts. I too, wanted to go mingle. I had some extra scratch in my pocket and the Fateful words appeared on the inside of my skull: “Hey, maybe a bar on a Friday night is not as bad as you remember it.” Let me paint the picture.
Bar #1. Not bad. Total dive. I’d been there before, but not on this particular night. All the signs pointed to terrible. I should have listened to my instincts — but I didn’t. First break from intuition: the Bartender Herself. No “Hi.” No greeting. Already hands on her hips asking “what do you want?” Why didn’t I just leave right then and there, buy a bottle of cheap Vodka and go home to watch Rocky IV? Because I’m an idiot, that’s why. I doubted my psychic powers. I wanted to remain positive. I ordered my usual — well Vodka, neat, in a rocks glass. Of course it came back with ice in it. I reminded her: “Oh, I’m sorry. I just wanted it IN a rocks glass, not WITH rocks.”
Offense washed over her. This was only our first 3 minutes of the transaction. It wasn’t even busy. I checked my wrist watch. It was only 5:37pm. What pressing matters had already persuaded this woman of hospitality towards rudeness? She huffed and dumped out the booze (which, by the way, is such a crime against liquor. NOTE: think of all the people who don’t have shitty Vodka to drink. Ugh.) She then slammed the glass down on the bar, the shot even smaller than it was before. “10 bucks.”
There it was again — the new adage of the modern bar young bartender: you will take what I give you, I will over charge you, I will demean you and you will like it.
Here’s the news, kids. Being the ‘salty tough bartender’ is a charming and fun activity. But it must be earned. It does not mean acting petulant without reason, overcharging future regulars or being a total ‘See You Next Tuesday” without provocation, embraces this attitude. If someone grabs your ass, then yes — fuck those people and they get what they deserve. If someone asks for a different drink because you made the initial one improperly is not. Power without reason is the actual definition of Tyranny. That’s how abusive families are born.
I knew the trap that was being set. This condescending, dictator style of angry bartender types who hate good-timing people like myself were an epidemic in Brooklyn these days. 10 years ago, maybe I would have just lived with it and stayed miserable. Not today, my friends. I paid, tipped a dollar and got the fuck out of there.
Bar #2. Things improved at the next watering hole. I thanked the Bar Gods for my choice in leaving the other spot. My new motto after 40 years old: punish bad behavior (hence the $1 tip) and reward good behavior. The moment I rolled up the bartender lady was an angel. She was charming, friendly and even made a funny joke in less than 30 seconds. That’s how I bartended at my own establishments. I ordered my drink, paid her extra and settled down on a comfortable bar stool. Even the liquor (the rail, as it was) tasted better here.
Time flew after that entrance. I met my fellow bar stool neighbors. They were a great young couple, beaming with the hope only people in their 20’s had about each other. Some of the bar backs stood near by — secretly sipping on as much Jameson they could before their shift really started. Even the doormen were mildly jovial for a Friday night. The drinks kept coming and I kept drinking them.
I returned from the bathroom to find a very slender and sexy woman in black standing by my stool at the end of the lacquered bar. She certainly fit my type: black hair as thick and dark as a raven’s feather, eyes that never wavered when one talked and a thousand watt smile that could light the State of Delaware for a week. What was going on here?
In about 30 minutes, we were enthralled by each other. Every joke I said, she laughed. She, in turn, made her own jokes, which were actually funny. I thought to myself: “you know, maybe Friday nights weren’t so bad.” She was age appropriate (a feat in this neighborhood) and had her own successful business ventures. She even applied that classic bar lean, occasionally hitting my hips with hers below the bar surface when she laughed. Now, I’m not one for fast women, but I certainly appreciate a woman who doesn’t play any reindeer games.
Now it was her time to use the restroom. I could tell she trusted me because she left her drink and her purse right on the bar next to my lovely edition of “A Movable Feast” by Ernest Hemingway I brought out for my reading pleasure. The young couple gleamed over.
“You guys are really hitting it off, eh? That was fast,” the young lady said. I didn’t want to tell them that after a certain age, certain games were no longer necessary. I just answered:
“Yep. Lucky me.”
The raven-haired beauty returned with a smile. “Oh, you didn’t drug my drink, did you?”
“No. I save all of my drugs for myself”. (NOTE: I don’t do drugs. Or give them out to people. Strictly Vodka over here, dear readers. Hell, even when I was a drug addict in my 20's, I didn’t share my drugs with anyone). She thought that was funny too. I could see the liquor was getting to her. I definitely knew the liquor was getting to me. I made a direct decision at that moment that we needed to go out to dinner, but first walk along the East River and take in the sunset (who said romance was dead?). She (we’ll call her Raven-Claw from here on out) totally agreed. We both paid up and got out of there. The moment we stepped out the door, she started explaining her situation. I’m only going to paraphrase here, but dear reader, you’ll get the gist of the conversation as we walked along the rivers edge:
“…I don’t even live here…” she said.
“That’s cool,” I said.
“…I like it here in New York City…” she said.
“Everything looks great when you have a return plane ticket,” I said.
“…There’s a lot of good parking here in Williamsburg…” she said.
I didn’t say anything to that one.
“…I just got out of a 11 year relationship…”
“Right on. Everybody’s gotta leave somebody sometime,” I said.
“…I just love that there’s so much parking around here…” she said.
At or around this time, I started to get that funny feeling. Sort of similar to the funny feeling I had at shitty Bar #1 (see above). Different, but funny in the same way. Me and Raven-Claw had already discussed our distain for one night stands, so it wasn’t like I was angling or anything. I just thought, hey, a connection is cool, just like the youngsters pointed out.
She slipped her arm under mine and gave me a quick kiss on the cheek: “You’re a sweet guy. There’s not many sweet people out there.”
“No, there is not,” I said. But something was…
The first restaurant along the way she spotted, she yelled: “I gotta pee!”
Hey. Every one has got to pee in life. We crossed the street, arm in arm. “I’ll be right out here.” She landed another kiss on the cheek before she threw open the doors. The sun was just setting and the orange light glowed behind the tall skyscrapers of Manhattan. Maybe Friday night was all right, I thought.
2 minutes went by. Maybe she had other things to do in there. 5 minutes. Some people need to clean themselves up. On the 7th minute, some random guy popped open the door. He wore a black apron. “Hello, sir?”
“Um…that woman in the bar…she is asking for you,” he said, in a slight Latin accent.
“Oh, okay.” He was nice enough. Another bar back (maybe we could sense our own). “You’re friend…she’s over there…” he said.
That’s when I saw it. There was Raven-Claw, draping her arms over some portly man who clearly wasn’t interested. Raven-Claw kissed him on the cheek. By the time I got to the bar portion of this bistro, she had her arms draped over another skinny gentleman — properly drunk and more interested in his boyfriend sitting next to him.
“Hey, ah, ‘Raven-Claw’…you all right?” I asked.
When she finally noticed I was there, she smacked another kiss to the guys boyfriend and glided right up next to me. She leaned in close to my neck and whispered: “Don’t worry, I like you the best out of all of them.”
That’s when IT happened. Not more than a half a second after she had expressed those words, she bit wholly and forcefully into my ear. Like HARD. Like Mike Tyson hard. I reeled in sheer pain. I looked up in shock and horror. Raven-Claw stared back. A crazy, toothy grin spread across her face.
Now, dear reader, did I miss a memo? Is this the new way modern ladies hit on guys? Or was it just a Friday night thing? I went right to the bartender, who saw the whole thing and asked her if my ear had a wound.
“There’s blood,” she said. Christ. Is vampirism the new sex move? Sobriety rushed through me. I headed for the door. Fuck that. I think Raven-Claw tried to follow me but I was quick. Years ago, I would have stayed and tried to figure out what the hell was going on. But like I said: after 40, there’s New Rules.
No more shitty women bartenders and no more vampire chicks. A grown man has got to draw the line in the sand somewhere. Maybe it was a full moon. Maybe it was a Friday night thing. Either way, after a little Matthew maintenance…an hour later…that cheap bottle of Vodka and Rocky IV felt pretty damn good.
So until next time, watch out folks. The world ain’t right out there.
Maybe it never was.