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Graphic T-Shirts Make Bad Mixers

The rule of thumb for working in a bar in Utah is the worst the weather, the better the business and Saturday should not have been the exception. It was a stormy night in Salt Lake City and people decided to temporarily suspend their New Year’s resolutions after a week. With the reservation book full, I was quickly readying the bar for a busy night. Unfortunately, one of the reserved tables, a birthday party for over thirty people, got lost. To accommodate the group, we gave them the VIP section of the east bar. Because it’s a great space with private couches, tables and direct access to the bar, you’d think it was turning lemons into lemonade but the Saloon Gods were not smiling upon me.

Right out of the gate, I knew my VIP party was going to be problematic.  The host’s girlfriend asked me for a vodka and Mountain Dew. When a large party comes to the bar in a group, the first drink I make usually sets the tone for the evening. What she ordered was something you mix in the front seat of your car on your way to work. They were operated on the faulty reasoning that sitting in the VIP section makes you a VIP. It was a cavalcade of some of the worst people in Utah. They were all around the Mason-Dixon line of 50 years old, dressed in expensive, cheaply made clothes and had self-importance pumping through their veins. The women looked cheap. The guys looked tired. Their credit cards had limits.

They were the kind of group of people that pre-load at home before going to their kid’s soccer game. Filled with foul language and over-powering cologne, they reeked of the insecurities of a lifetime of bad decisions. Because I am a professional, I tabled my opinions on the group and got to the business of slinging drinks. Observing how they talked and acted, I was glad they were segregated from the rest of the bar. Specifically, there was a middle-aged guy who took every opportunity to point out to me and anybody else within the sound of his voice that the 22-year old girl hanging on his arm is not his daughter but his date.

I liked it better when guys just bought sports cars during their mid-life crisis. There’s something unsettling about a guy in his mid-40s wearing an Affliction t-shirt and bedazzled jeans. It’s bad enough he’s wearing a wristwatch that would make Flavor Flav blush but between his frosted tips and fist-bumps, I know there’s a divorced mother of two wishing he would come home.

Because we throw around the term “Douche Bag” so frequently, it’s lost its value as a solid insult. It’s used so frequently that when we encounter a douche bag and identify this individual as a douche bag, the douche bag escaped criticism because of the saturation of the word. I’ve decided to furlough the use of the word and just call guys who so richly deserve the aforementioned title a jerkweed instead.

The drink of choice for the men were vodka and Red Bull. I thought it was a risky choice for the guys considering how big most of men’s prostates had to be. They drank recklessly, tip minimally and act out incessantly. For the ladies, after rebuffing them that we do not carry Mt. Dew, they begrudgingly settled on Captain Morgan and Sprite. They were a spirited group: barking drink orders at me, slamming shots and trying valiantly to relive their high school experiences. But in the end, as usual, the heroic intake of cocktails caught up to them and I played the role of Canteen Boy filling their water glasses for the last two hours of the night.

This group got me to thinking that most people don’t know how to order drinks in Utah. Even with a full back-bar filled with multiple vodkas, whiskeys, gins, liqueurs and rum, every other customer asks me if we make mixed drinks. While they are standing in front of the beer taps, they ask if I had draft beer. There is a simple sort of oblivion when they come to the bar to order a drink. Even when they locate the wall full of bottle beers, they ask if we sell them. For the last ten years, at every bar I’ve worked, I perform this timeless dance of trying to assure the guest that: “Yes, I do sell booze. Would you like some?”

I never harass anybody for asking me what’s good. Part of the job is trying to introduce the guest to new cocktails or our house specialties. In fact, I enjoy telling guests about drinks or suggesting new ways to enjoy cocktails they’ve had in the past. It’s the best way to make the guest feel welcomed. Moreover, people tend to be unfamiliar with a lot of cocktails. They’ve either never heard of them, had a bad experience with a new concoction or had a poorly made drink. It’s my job to get you the right drink but I could use some help making it for you.

My suggestion to people coming up to the bar to order a drink is to have a decent idea of what you want. If you don’t know exactly what you want to drink, help me out by narrowing it down between beer, wine and liquor. Missing from my resume behind the bar is the ability to mind read. The more information you can give me, the better I will be to suggest something you might enjoy drinking. If you hate tequila, tell me up front and I won’t push margaritas or Samaria shots. Hate whiskey? I’ll omit Manhattans and Old Fashions. Once I have a baseline of what you’ve enjoyed in the past, I’m sure we can find something you’ll enjoy now.

No matter how busy we are, when it is your turn to order, you are my only consideration. I’ll give you as much time as I can but I have to be considerate to everybody in the club. When the bar is six people deep, it might not be time for me to try and decide how to make the green drink you had in Cancun two summers ago. I love learning how to make new cocktails but my interest wanes when there are other guests already know what they want. Also, quick service means better money for me. So, if you want to play stump the bartender, you’d better tip accordingly.

And if you want to sound like a pro, always order your drink by the liquor then the mixer. Unless you’re Billy Joel signing “Piano Man,” nobody orders a tonic and gin. Order a gin and tonic. Bartenders process cocktails by the liquor. When the bar is rocking, the last thing we need to do is translate a Diet Coke with Malibu Coconut Rum when Malibu and Diet will suffice.

After we decide upon your drink, when my back is turned preparing your beverage, do us both a favor and get your method of payment ready. Nothing slows down service more than having to wait patiently for you to get your wallet out of your purse or back pocket and watch you fumble for your debit card. Cash is king but a readily accessible credit card is just as good.

A little courtesy goes a long way. If you’re patient with me, I’ll be incredibly patient with you. Just keep in mind that we are in a bar in Utah not in your kitchen back home. We have a lot of stuff behind the bar but it doesn’t necessarily mean I can pour it for you. Just because you were pre-loading on a pint glass of Dr. Pepper and Canadian Host at the house doesn’t mean that I am going to be able to accommodate you at the club. A good rule of thumb is to have a go to drink (draft beer or Jack & Coke) and see what we have to offer.

I’ve heard this for years but it was never truer than on Saturday. Eventually it became 1 o’clock and the night was over. After cleaning up the disaster left in the VIP area, I rushed home. I was tired and needed a beer and ESPN before going to bed. I took a shower and went to bed. Right before I went to sleep, I promised myself I would never wear an Ed Hardy T-shirt or refer to a stranger as Bro. And for the record, vodka and Mountain Dew is called a Russian Dew.

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About Ben Raskin

Born in El Cajon, raised in Las Vegas, educated in Reno and living in Salt Lake City. I bartend, write, box and live in Sugarhouse UT.

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