Hunting Down A Drink

The bar mats are laid out, the backbar is set up, the bins are filled with ice and the fruit is cut. I am dressed in a clean, pressed dress shirt with a red and yellow tie smartly cinched to my neck under a black vest. I shaved earlier that day but the beginnings of a five o’clock shadow is peaking out . My hair is greased down with lemon-scented pomade and I am wearing a healthy dose of cheap barbershop cologne. Saturday nights is the busiest night of the week and by all indications, the bar is ready for business.

The previous night was rough. Because of some sort of hunter convention at the Salt Palace, the bar was over-run by rednecks. Growing up in Northern Nevada, I am very familiar with hicks from the sticks. It’s been my experience that they all think they’re Sam Elliot when in reality they’re more like Larry the Cable Guy. They dress in one of three uniforms: they had just gotten back from a deer hunt; two, like they’re working the pits at a NASCAR race; and three, they just left a dude ranch. Throw in a little Copenhagen and some casual racism and you’ll have a good idea of the type of customers we had in the bar. And this was just the women.

Well, we had all three types at the club on Friday and we expected the same group to take over the club on Saturday. Because Keys on Main is a fancy bar, there is a handful of things we don’t sell behind the bar. For starters, we don’t carry Dr. Pepper as a mixer, pour Canadian Host (you’ll have to settle for Canadian Club), have Coors Light on tap (our cheap, cold and yellow is Bud Light) and we don’t sell loosies (single cigarettes). Our Crown Royal is $6, you can’t get doubles and we only sell beer in pints. While we have a large selection of bottle beers, the fact that we don’t carry Coors Original is not a reflection of either the beer or the State of Colorado.

I had to answer everyone of the above questions a dozen times on Saturday. You would have thought I just got done wiping down the bar with an American flag, eating Bald Eagle sliders and reading the Quran with the reactions I received from the out-of-town hunters. I got a lot of looks that screamed, “Are you shitting me?” As with any bully, you have to push back. I had to remind them that they weren’t back at their neighborhood hayseed beer hall, to please use a chew-spit cup and stop over-reacting every time I told them how much a draft cost. No matter how accommodating I was, they treated me as if the profits for the $3 Bud Light drafts and $5 Jack Daniels was being funneled to al-Queda.

The moment I know that I am bartending is when I get “on the board.” Borrowed from Glengarry Glen Ross, getting on the board is the first cash tip I receive for the night. With these rednecks, it would have been easier to explain the works of David Mamet than getting on the board. The only thing tighter than their love of Glen Beck and Dale Earnhardt was the change from their beers. You know you have a bunch of tightwads when you wish the bar was filled with Mormons.

For those who haven’t seen a dueling piano show, I strongly recommend that you check one out. It is a wild show. Two guys sit facing each other on grand pianos and play requests from the audience. Because they have computers on the pianos, they are able to look up almost any song out there. The guys who work at Keys on Main are fantastic: they have great senses of humor, know how to work the crowd and are great musicians. My advice on stumping the piano players is to either request a song that recently came out or write your song request out in Drunk. The show’s success is dependent upon audience participation. The more you clap and sing the more fun the show becomes. It was pointed out to me at the beginning of the night that rednecks have an unique ability to swing dance to anything and they did not disappoint. I wish I had a video recording of a couple swing dancing violently to Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.”

The customers that take took the cake on Saturday was a trio from Minnesota. For the longest time, I have always assumed through both experience and literature that rednecks from Idaho are the worse in the nation. Well, if these three guys are a microcosm of the average backwater in-bred from Minnesota than I am ready and willing to give the state back to the first French fur trappers I encounter. They were dressed appropriately for the night in matching hunting outfits and green ball caps. They chewed tobacco incessantly, complained about everything in the bar and wanted to know why they couldn’t hook-up with any women. They kept throwing the garnish from their drinks on to the floor mats behind me and leaving trash from one end of the bar to the other. Their language was course, manners shoddy and attitudes horrible. It must be terrible to view every new experience (for example, going to a hunting show in Utah, attending a dueling piano show and using a napkin) as a potentially terrifying event over-wrought with potential for humiliation.

I tried to relate to them by telling them that my sister and her husband live in Saint Paul. My brother-in-law is an interesting guy. He’s a school teacher, wrestling coach and he brews his own bio-diesel. Short of marrying my sister, the most incredible thing he has ever done is win an episode of Fear Factor. If you don’t believe me, check out the link: One of the guys looked up from his beer for a moment and asked what his name was. I said Ryan Rettke. He looks back at his beer and then squints right into my eyes and says in a clear voice, “Never heard of him.” That’s not how you get on my good-side.

The last straw for me was when they asked me if the piano players were gay. I asked them what did it matter. They said in a round-about way that only a homosexual could play the piano that good. Praise from Caesar! The fact that this is the single thought bouncing around in their head spoke volumes about their evening. I thought it was ironic that they are so overtly homophobic even though their idea of a perfect day is spending an early morning with a group of guys all dressed in the same outfits in a duck blind watching the sunrise. After this comment, I wrote these knuckleheads off. When I dropped their tab off at the end of the night, they tipped $2 on $60. In the end it didn’t matter, I would have paid sixty bucks to put them back on the next Southwest flight back to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

While the rednecks were well represented in the bar on Saturday, we did pull in a lot of locals for birthday and bachelorette parties. It turned out to be a really good evening. There was a guy who drank nothing but Maker Mark Sours and shots of Grand Marnier. I would hate to have to see what he looked like the next morning. I made a round of Russian Quaaludes (1 oz. Vodka, ½ oz. Frangelico,  ½ oz. Kahlua, ½ oz. Bailey’s Irish Cream and cream, shaken and served as a shot) for a group of women that turned into four rounds. There were some really good songs requested, some fun customers challenging me to make them something new and a surprise visit from my girlfriend. By sheer volume and personality, we ended up doing pretty well at the end of the night. This was in no part thanks to the deer killers from Minnesota. At the beginning of the night, I thought I looked pretty good. By last call, my shirt was stained with Blue Curacao, my hands covered in Grenadine, my tie undone and shirt pulled out. I looked like a train wreck. As bad as I looked, a shower and a good night’s sleep would fix any of these problems. I think next year we should be allowed to issue tags to whose allowed in the club. Hell, we can even run a lottery.

On a final note, working in the bars have been good to me. I’ve made a decent living, had fantastic conversations with a diverse group of people, tipped a few whiskeys and made some good friends. With the exception of the hours, I love pouring drinks for people and being a bartender. I’ve had a lot of great experiences, been witness to some incredible evenings and taken down some really large tabs. Through it all, the best thing I’ve ever taken out of the bar is Erin. She was my cocktail waitress years ago and we’re celebrating our six-year anniversary on Monday. By working the weekends, I help take care of our family—I am also absent from a lot of parties, get-togethers and family events. It’s a rough trade-off and I am always appreciative of how supportive she has been with me working behind the bar. I couldn’t imagine being with anybody else.

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