My Own Private Utah: Tales of Booze, Underwear and Germans

He was 6’5” tall, shirtless, wearing cargo shorts and sandals. With long shoulder length sandy hair and full beard, he would have fit in perfectly on the boardwalk in Ocean Beach with his lean surfer-like physique. However, he was in the middle of my bar being told by my doorman, Aron, to either get his shirt back on or to shove off. It wasn’t even 9pm yet and the bar was filling to capacity. I came around the bar to help get control of this guy when I saw him pushed Aron. We hooked him and dragged him kicking and screaming out the front door in quick order. Shaken, I returned to behind the bar and was asked by my fellow bartender, Rebecca, what happened. I told her it was nothing except for the fact that we just 86’ed Jesus Christ from the bar.

Saturday night had snuck up on us and we were digging in for a busy night. Downtown SLC was buzzing with activity after the Salt Lake Undie Run. Across the street from Keys On Main, at the Gallivan Center, more than 3,000 people gathered in their tighty-whiteys, bras and panties to try and set a Guinness World Record. But more than that, they weren’t just running to set a world record. They were running to send a statement that Utah isn’t as uptight as most people think. Watching all of the scantily-clad participants walk past the bar, I couldn’t stop thinking that we need to seriously solve all of the world’s problems because I am getting tired of running 5Ks. Of course Utah is uptight and conservative as people think it is. Think I am wrong? They didn’t have the Undie Run in Provo. I like the idea of the streets being lined with half-naked people trotting around in their unmentionables. It is a vast improvement over the clans of Juggalos and gaggles of Polygamists that gather along the streets but if you want to send a real message: hold the run in La Verkin. I’d be interested to see how many people would show up in Manti in their BVDs to protest the conservative nature of Utah. Nonetheless, it was a hoot watching the flood of joggers in their skivvies heading south along Main Street.

Utah is pretty uptight but it makes for the best substrate for some of the wildest things I have ever seen. If a bunch of stuffed shirt Mormon Republicans weren’t running the state, who would give two shakes that a very large group of half-dressed people were running from the capital to the Gallivan Center? No Chris Buttars, John Valentine or Michael Waddoups?  No Undie Run. I know Buttars would appreciate that. There is no way he could run the ¾ of a mile to the Gallivan Center without a sports bra. The two messages that seemed to dominate the conversation during the Undie Run was Utah’s drinking laws and not permitting same-sex couples from marrying. Our liquor laws stink but there is no way most of the people participating in the Undie Run didn’t use any liquid courage to get ready to put on some of those outfits. With my body image, I would need to knock back a bottle of tequila and buy a bag of birdseed to put on a banana hammock. The only run I ever do to show opposition to Utah’s liquor laws is to the liquor store Monday through Saturday. My social protest is to always have a bottle in the liquor cabinet.

The people running for same-sex marriage were going down a rougher road. Currently, only six states allow same-sex marriage in America and I can’t imagine Utah filling their ranks anytime soon. I think the state is inherently homophobic but thankfully, Salt Lake City gets it. Domestic partnerships recognition in the county is not just fair but a step towards equality that all people deserve. Gays and lesbians are our friends, family and neighbors. The fact that heterosexuals are threatened by gays marrying is a black eye for this country and 100 years from now, history won’t be kind to those that actively ban their desire to be treated the same as everyone else. I can think of ten reasons why gays should be allowed to marry: one, they are tax-paying citizens who live legally in this country and are entitled to all of the benefits that citizenship offers all of us. Two through ten: so they will shut the fuck up about wanting to get married. There are a lot more important things we need to work on in this country than worrying about same-sexes marrying. The NBA is still in a lockout and we need our best people to get the players and owners to come to some sort of agreement. The fact that I can’t stop staring at the muscular hunks walking around in their boxer briefs is a small price to pay to have a complete NBA season.

Needless to say, there were a lot of things happening on Saturday and ejecting the Lamb of God from the bar was the perfect calm before the storm. We had been busy all week and I made the mistake of wishing the night was over before it began. The key to bartending is working clean, fast and deliberate. You need to know where everything is at all times and be able to reorganize in the middle of a busy shift. I try to put on an air of confidence behind the bar but in reality, I am acting like Raymond Babbitt in my head. We were running a promotion for Jack Daniels birthday with $5 shots of his Single Barrel bourbon. The bar was decorated in silver and black streamers and tons of promotional posters. The piano players had a mound of swag to giveaway and the staff was all dressed in a JD T-shirt. Sounds simple enough but I am such a creature of habit that I immediately hated having to wear the Jack shirt and use the new napkin holders. Before you think I started banging my head into the bar yelling that it was three minutes to Wapner, I was able to pull myself together. I am a fuddy-duddy to change. I like having everything in its place and to the chagrin of those working with me, I often change my mind in the middle of a shift. To that, I apologize to all of my co-workers for being a neurotic mess.

The night started with a thunderclap. In an instant, the bar was filled to capacity. It was the normal cast of characters with birthday parties, bachelorettes, anniversaries and company get-togethers. Add the unusual element of a large percentage of the crowd wearing their underwear and I knew we were going to get our asses handed to us. The drink of choice on Saturday was the Lady Gaga (strawberry and coconut rum with cranberry and pineapple juice). We probably poured 200 of them. My favorite moment of the night was when this urban cowboy with a thick plug of tobacco in his lip ordering a Bud bottle and a Muumuu Galaxy. It took us a beat to figure out what he wanted. His special lady friend sent him to the bar for a Lady Gaga and he somehow forgot what he was supposed to bring back. In the end, he just wanted something to shut his wife up with. And gay people aren’t allowed to marry?

You know it’s a good night when the bar is filled with half-naked protesters and angry, drunk, old Germans. After spending the last weekend in Zion, I had had a compacted ass-full of Germans. If we had been listening to a Rosetta Stone on the drive down I would have been able to tell them to look out on the trail and get the Hell out of my bar. It’s a shame that Germans take more advantage of our national park system than we do. In the sea of customers, four middle-aged Germans were able to belly up to the bar and start belittling me. I guess back in the Deutschland, treating the bartender like Poland is the best way to get a drink. Demanding Coronas and shots of Jagermeister, it was the Zimmerman Telegraph all over again. There’s nothing scarier than a big mustached man barking in broken English that he and his colleagues need more Jagermeister. I was easily seven people deep at the bar and my time was being completely monopolized by guys would have turned me into a lampshade sixty years ago. They were oblivious to the other guests in the bar and kept slamming the bar whenever they needed another drink. It was both annoying and terrifying. The only thing keeping my head above water was the fact that they were ordering simple drinks. Popping bottles and pouring shots are the easiest drinks to make. Moreover, they had a tab and I was racking up a big drink ticket. I only had to endure the goose-stepping jerkoffs for an hour. They signed their tab and bid me a Guden Nacht with a tip of four dollars on $96. For the record, WWII is only 66 years ago. It’s never too late to remind the Krauts who won the war and re-firebomb Dresden again. So it goes. 

Not every customer was a decedent of Nuremberg Trials. Some were homegrown terrorists. I had a striking, large man in a MMA T-shirt and jeans. He made Brock Lester look like Ryan Seacrest. He was the size of a refrigerator and drank beer with reckless abandonment. Slamming drafts and shots of whiskey, he wanted me to explain to him why he can’t have a double. When I am slow, I will spend all night dissecting Utah’s liquor laws but when the bar is packed, the music pumped and customers screaming drink orders at me, I am not giving a doctoral thesis why you can only have a single. Outside of his choice of fashion, I think the guy’s problem was two-fold: he was alone at Keys On Main. I work at a great club but it isn’t much a singles joint. People move in packs and lone wolves tend to have difficulty meeting new people. When you don’t have anyone to talk to, the bartender naturally becomes your friend. Second, I don’t think a man of his stature is accustomed to being told to calm down and wait your turn. I’m built like John Candy circa Summer Rental and he probably thought that I was ignoring him. He angrily demanded his tab and left this:

I am not in the business of ignoring people. I am in the business of prioritizing my customers so I can serve as many people as possible. I might not be able to pour you a double but bringing Ron Paul into this? Not cool. Should we have had five more bartenders? Maybe but we were putting out so many drinks that if somebody had to wait literally one minute (sixty seconds) for a bottle of Coors Light, I can live with them being frustrated. The real problem of the night is that nobody brought any cash. Everyone was paying for their drinks with a credit card. If they had started a tab like the Germans, I would have been able to move faster but when I have to cash-n-carry every single transaction I become a slave to the credit card machine. If you ever want to know why the bartender who is moving smoothly, quickly and efficiency isn’t getting to you at Keys On Main take a look to the people on your left and right. One of those knuckleheads is demanding to pay for a single drink on a credit card because they’re afraid to start a tab. If you are unable to start a tab because you have the short-term memory of a Golden Retriever, bring cash to the bar. You become the problem with service when the bartender has to run your card every round. Women are bad but men in their early 20s are the worse. I think it’s a combination of not having any money and thinking there is suaveness in dominating the bartender’s time. The only people who were exempt from my wraith on Saturday were participants in the Undie Race. The last thing I wanted to put into the register was a pube-covered twenty. For these people, I graciously accept credit cards all night.

One of the things that I am particular proud of at Keys On Main is that we offer a very respectable selection of wine available by the glass. Most clubs just offer two selections: red or white. We have a nice collection of varietals and I have been told the wine is pretty tasty (that shows my knowledge of wine when I use the word “tasty” to describe it). They are appropriately priced at $6 per glass and we usually give a good sized pour. My biggest problem with wine service is making sure the glass itself is clean before I pour a Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc into it. When did women’s lipstick develop the staying power of acrylic enamel? Getting lipstick off of a wine glass is harder than getting lacquer out of a shaggy dog. I say enough is enough. If you insist on wearing three layers of lipstick, you are now officially required to use a straw when having a glass of Cab. If I have to hire a scrum of barbacks to sandblast the glassware to remove your make up, you are not allowed to place your lips on it. The next step is pouring it into plastic cups and none of us want that.

The entire night was a sea of waving hands, screaming voices and chaos. I constantly checked in with Becky to see if she needed help but she held her head above water the entire night. A natural gunslinger, Becky put the night in a chokehold. We hit speed bumps throughout the night: running out of glassware, ice and garnish but were able to recover with the help of all of our co-workers. The back of our bar looked like a swamp with all of the trash and water that didn’t find the garbage can. Bartending takes on an almost violent note when you were as busy as we were. Customer service is cranking out drinks not making the guest feel warm and fuzzy. If I was working a cigar bar, my behavior would have been completely out-of-line but in Salt Lake’s busiest club, jabbing a finger into somebody’s chest and asking what they want becomes the modus operandi. To do anything less would be bad service.

I poured right till 1am. That miraculous moment of last call finally came and I was pouring the last drinks of the night and closing out the last tabs. The last tab of the evening belonged to a well-dressed woman nursing her eighth Michelob Ultra. She was arguing with her friend on where they were going for food when her friend demanded to help finish her beer. She took one of my cocktail shakers and poured half of the beer into it. She raised it to her lips and promptly spit up across the bar. The last drink I had shaken out of that cocktail shaker was a Pickled Weenie: tequila and pickle juice. I almost horked when I smelled the glass. Trying to keep her composure, she started to eat maraschino cherries like bar pretzels and turned a shade of green reserved for cocktail olives. The lesson learned here is to know when to say when and don’t touch the bartender’s equipment.

I was covered in sweat and the remnants of the evening. I could have squeezed out my shirt and sold it as a Kamikaze if I had to. My arms were dyed blue from the Curacao and my glasses looked like I was hit in the face with a bag of flour. My knees were sore and my lower back felt like I was hit with a 2×4. You would think it was a horrible experience but it was why I love bartending. I love the flow and speed of the job. It involves massive amount of problem solving while keeping your cool. The bar was overrun with every sort of person in the Salt Lake Valley and I think we did an exceptional job is making sure everyone had a fantastic evening. Sure, I felt like I just got down wrestling a drunken grizzly bear for five hours but at that moment, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else for a living.

I think if people want to know that Utah isn’t as uptight as it is perceived, they should try working the service industry for a period of time. You don’t need to go for a run in your panties to know that Utah is pretty amazing place and there are some nuggets of coolness that can’t be found anywhere else in the country. Take it from me: I kicked Jesus out of the bar and I still had a great night.

Ben Raskin can be found bartending 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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