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Lessons Learned From Roadhouse and Cocktail

Before opening The Woodshed, I used to joke to myself that the only employee handbook I would ever have would be two DVDs. One would be a copy of the 1988 classic, Cocktail, starring Tom Cruise, Bryan Brown and Elisabeth Shue. The other would be the stunning 1989 masterpiece, Roadhouse, with Patrick Swayze, Sam Elliott and blah, blah, blah. I figured between these two movies, there isn’t any topic relevant to running a club that wasn’t addressed in one form or another. Clearly, Cocktail would provide the necessary insight to the in’s and out’s of pouring the best drinks and how to fall in love with spoiled trust fund midgets in Jamaica (for the record, Elisabeth Shue is 4’5”—read her IMDB page). Roadhouse would give all the necessary information for how to eject somebody from the bar and deal with petty despots running small towns. I knew that in opening The Woodshed in Salt Lake City I was going to be splitting time between throwing roundhouse kicks and stealing the hearts of fallen debutants.

Imagine my disappointment when I found out that the most important thing you need to run a business is a good Excel spreadsheet and solid financials. Man… I was bummed when I found out that doing Tai Chi and smoking a couple of packs of Marlboros wasn’t the best way to run a bar. You’d think making outrageously heavily poured drinks while reciting barroom poetry would be the key to a successful saloon but I was really off the mark. I am starting to think that the reason why I had to sell my bar was the fact that I was taking my business management cues from a Tom Cruise movie from over two decades ago. Jesus! What was I thinking? I would have been better served if I glimpsed at Wall Street or I don’t know, hired an accountant.

Of course I’m making a joke. I could have had Cocktail or Roadhouse on a loop and I never would have been able to learn enough not to run the bar into the ground. It seemed more like an academic exercise thinking about these two movies being the basis of the most disturbing employee handbook ever written. Can you imagine what the sexual harassment part of that book would look like? It would be roundhouse kicking and skinny-dipping intense.

I worked this Wednesday night and it was slow. It was the kind of slow that makes you walk the building wondering what you’re going to steal to make the night less of a disaster. My first instinct was to take one of the pianos but I realized I’d be cutting my nose to spite my face. In fact, my boss might actually go looking for one of the baby grand piano. I settled on a club sandwich and some time in front of the television. The aforementioned Roadhouse was on AMC and I got comfortable. I had to split time between pouring a draft beer for the random straggler and making time with my sandwich. Roadhouse is absolutely the best movie about bouncers in small, shit-kicking towns who fall in love with medical doctors all the while practicing Tai Chi and keeping the local town bullies at bay. I know Terms of Endearment has key information regarding door work but for my money, I prefer Roadhouse.

I must have seen Roadhouse 53 times. It’s not that it’s a good movie or that the story holds up or the characters are believable or there’s any shred of realism in the film. I like Roadhouse because it’s Jeff Healy intense and there’s a lot of nudity. There. I said it. I think I just summarized why Roadhouse made $30 million dollars when it had 25 cents worth of story. Anyway, there I was last night, eating a sandwich, drinking a club soda and watching pre-cancer Patrick Swayze’s character, Dalton, dispense wisdom from his NYU philosophy degree. I am so tired of the diploma mill known as NYU providing such nuggets of wisdom as: “All you have to do is follow three simple rules. One, never underestimate your opponent. Expect the unexpected. Two, take it outside. Never start anything inside the bar unless it’s absolutely necessary. And three, be nice.” It’s the kind of knowledge that can only be found in a dozen fortune cookies. I’ve recently learned that Dalton went to NYU because he couldn’t get into the University of Nevada Reno. NYU was his safety school. Don’t believe me? Seriously, look it up on IMDB.com.

Anyway, as I was watching the movie for the 54 time in twenty years, I noticed something that I have never seen before. Those of you that haven’t seen Roadhouse, SPOILER ALERT: I am going to give away a couple of crucial plot points that might make the movie unwatchable. Moreover, what is wrong with you? I am sure the movie is streaming on Netflix right now. If you’re in financial distress, I’ll be happy to loan you my copy providing you leave a deposit. Nonetheless, I saw something that I have never seen before. Halfway thought the movie, Dalton was at the back of the Double Deuce receiving the liquor order when a truck full of town thugs intercepted him. The bad boys told the delivery driver to hit the bricks or there would be trouble. Dalton tells the driver to take five as he got ready to settle the thug’s hash. The driver had a handcart loaded up with four boxes of liquor that he put down. In 21 years, I never looked at the labels on the box. Imagine my surprise when I saw that the driver was wheeling in three boxes of Tia Marie and a case of Drambuie.

For those who didn’t learn to drink by invading their grandparent’s liquor cabinet allow me to let you in on a secret. Tia Marie is a coffee liquor. It is a cheap knock-off of Kahlua. Drambuie is a Scotch liqueur that has two purposes: to mix with Scotch for a Rusty Nail or getting teenage girls drunk. I think I found out why the Double Deuce was in such financial straits—they were basing their drink menus off of cocktails reserved for 70 year old widows or post-pubescent women. Of course they had to hire Dalton to be a cooler! The entire bar was loaded on overly sweetened cocktails while listening to a blind bluesman. I actually owe the writers of Roadhouse an apology for wondering why there were so many ultra-violent bar fights every night. If on any given night at Keys On Main the bar was filled with patrons loaded on coffee liqueur and Drambuie, I think we’d be doing more than moping the floor at the end of the night—we’d be sweeping up teeth.

It’s funny when you finally have perspective on a situation and can make the right decision. If I was approached by the owner of the Double Deuce to turn his club around, I think the first thing I would suggest to him would be cut your Tia Marie order in half and focus more on beer specials. Hillbilly types seem to enjoy beer and it is less likely to get their blood boiling then if they have been drinking carafes of Scotch liqueur all night. I bet you cut your pool cue violence down to an acceptable level by the end of the first night by simply switching from Mind Erasers to Coors Light. Frankly, I get way too bad of a headache after my fourth White Russian and there is no way I would want to listen to Jeff Healy with a belly full of cream-based cocktails.

I am sorry to report that Tom Cruise knows as much about running a bar as he does about slam poetry. I really want to love Cocktail but the movie is so chockfull of clichés and stereotypes that I am more likely to believe him as a fighter pilot or a Christian than as a bartender. Can you imagine if you visited me at Keys On Main and I made you suffer through 14 stances of poetry before I poured your gin and tonic? You’d take your business down the street even if I was quoting T.S. Elliot’s “Wasteland.” Cruise’s character in Cocktail is such abominations that he’d be lucky to barback for me much less work the service well. The cocktail waitresses at Keys On Main would eat him alive if he tried that cutesy malarkey of spinning backwater wisdom instead of pouring the God damn drinks.

I hope they reboot the Cocktail franchise and cast a Justin Bieber-type actor to play Brian Flanagan. I’d like to play Bryan Brown’s character, Doug Coughlin, and fire him after the first night. As I drank my shifties doing the money and paperwork, I would pontificate what sort of back alley fellacio Flanagan had to perform to make enough money to make rent. Look, I am no angel and bartending is a hard job. Justin Bieber doesn’t have the chops to gun sling and I don’t see how a song can make everything right. If that was the case, every bartender in America would be a Muppet. And the last time I checked, most bartenders might be furry, soft and have a hand inside of them but they are not Canadian. I am tired of illegal immigrants like Bieber coming into this country and taking all of the good jobs.

Well, I think we learned a lot about movies and pouring drinks. I think my take away as I am getting ready to go to bed is that Heaven is richer and we are poorer with Patrick Swayze dead. Sam Elliot has the best voice in the world. Tom Cruise doesn’t know his way around a back bar and Justin Bieber should be deported. I don’t know if writing a column at 3:30 in the morning after a couple of hard ciders and 1000mg of ibuprofen is a good idea but I do know that I am glad I sold The Woodshed. Bartending and writing for a living is a Hell of a lot more fun than running a bar. My hat is off to anyone that can make a go at it and I am not in the business of interfering with those that are trying to beat the odds and run a successful business. In the end, my only advice is that there is no situation a roundhouse kick can’t make better.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin or follow his Tumblr feed. Become a fan of Behind The Bar on Facebook.

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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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