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Rule of Dalton: A Primer For Bar Fights

I meant it as a joke.

I never thought he would think I was serious. I guess when you’re sweating through your clothes in a rage, staring past me into the street at the guy who harassed your drunken girlfriend all night makes anything I say like an invitation to beat the living daylights out of him. Moments earlier, the entire door staff and I were dissipating a potentially ugly situation. Two of the fittest Aryans I have ever seen since Dolph Lundgren in Rocky IV were bearing down on a 5’10” potato sack filled with Gummy Bears. Their prey had been slipping notes to one of their girlfriends throughout the night and they had had enough.

We were able to eject the trouble maker and I convinced the Winklevoss twins to have a drink at bar. I wanted to give the pipsqueak a chance to make some distance from the club before I unleashed the hounds. If only it was that simple. I should have just kept my mouth shut.

Bar are volatile places. That’s probably what makes them so much fun. It is a place to meet people, celebrate, get out of the house, hook-up or just get snockered. Add live entertainment and it is a Hell of lot more fun than a tax seminar. The problem is that some people can’t control their tempers when they have been drinking. Feed enough liquid courage into anybody and they are likely to go off. Rarely do you see two people at a Java Juice decide to throw down. Booze makes people do stupid things and starting fights is one of them.

This is what the average bar fight looks like in Boozetown USA: Two guys get off on the wrong foot (conflict). Party A tries to remedy the situation by telling Party B what he can do with Party B’s mother. Party B warns Party A to be quiet or there will be trouble (challenge). Party A accepts the challenge by pushing Party B in the chest. Party B responds with equal chest pushing. Parties C-Z join the melee with additional pushing until bouncers separate the offending parties. At said time, Parties A-Z are ejected from the club and the bartenders laugh at all parties involved (resolution).

The vast majority of all physical altercations I have ever witnessed in a bar were more akin to tickle fights with elevated voices. As a rule, most people don’t know how to fight. More specifically, most people don’t want to fight. In fact, take away all of the chest-puffing, finger pointing and yelling, most fights are nothing more than posturing. The vast majority of all fights that I have observed have been about saving face. People don’t want to get hit in the face any more than they want to hit somebody in the face.

That is not to say that I haven’t seen some doozies in my day. I’ve seen a pint glass smashed against someone’s face, knives unsheathed, roundhouse kicks to the side of the head, chairs broken against somebody’s back, black-eyes, broken teeth and anything else you’ve seen in the first ten minutes of Road House. In fact, I even been in a few bar fights with a perfect record of 0-11.

In summarizing bar fights, I have to use the Rule of Dalton (Dalton being Patrick Swayze’s character from Road House). Under the Rule of Dalton, bar fights are only enjoyable after a minimum of 72 hours. It takes about three days for the fight to recede into memory and become something worth joking about. In the heat of the moment, breaking up a fight is terrifying. In a loud bar, I have no idea why people are shoving each other and waving they fists around like Popeye. My only concern is getting the knuckleheads out of the bar without any of my co-workers or customers getting hurt. Once they’re on the streets, they’re Chris Burbank’s problem.

And don’t think for one second, fighting is limited to men. Girl fights are the worst. Two or more chicks hopped-up on Marlboro Lights, chardonnay and tequila are as dangerous as wolverines. Women fight for the same reason men do: they’re idiots. Unable to control their anger, they lash out violently and nothing is off-limits. Women are like pit fighters when they finally decided to get it on. Unlike men who usually engage in fights with one eye looking to see who is watching them, women go for the jugular. No mercy. It is kill or be killed. If they have reached the point where they need to lay their hands on another person, tapping out is not an option. Women fight until everyone has been defeated. Breaking up girl fights are scary for two reasons: one, you don’t want to offend a by-standing boyfriend who thinks you’re copping a feel on their woman further exasperating the situation and two, you don’t want to catch a stray blow. Contrary to what anybody thinks, women punch hard.

Bar fights are organic. Their causes range from any number of reasons but invariably, one if not both parties are absolutely trashed. I have never once seen or broken up a bar fight between two sober parties. More often than not, most bar fights start because somebody was simply being rude and didn’t think their hash needed to be settled. What is even more confusing to me is that bar fights are actually good for business. Granted, if you’re sweeping up teeth at the end of every night that is probably going to scare off the straights. However, a scuffle once a month keeps everybody on their toes. You just need to make sure the fight (singular) happens at the end of the night. An impromptu MMA match at 7pm has the potential of screwing up the evening.

If you choose to go to blows in the bar, there are three things to keep in mind before you go toe-to-toe with somebody. First, there is a decent chance that you might get your ass kicked. There are consequences for going fisticuffs in a bar. You might have just inadvertently started a ruckus with Chuck Liddell. Moreover, you don’t know how many guys you might be fighting. For all you know you just started a war against the tight five from the U of U’s rugby team. You’ll rarely know who you’ll be fighting.

Second, there’s a decent chance of getting your ass kicked by the bouncers. You might be able to dispatch your drunken opponent but you still have to get out of the club. Bar owner’s hire professional meatheads who typically spend the vast majority of their time fantasying about pepper spraying you in the face and kicking you in the balls for disrespecting their small jurisdiction. Just because you dropped your guy, there are usually a bunch of big, mean and sober guys that will do anything to stop you from messing up their club. As a rule of thumb, fighting bouncers never ends well.

Third, there’s a very good chance of getting your ass arrested. When bottles start getting smashed, punches thrown and tables over-turned, the police get called. And unlike bouncers who simply fantasize about hog-tying you to a lamp post, cops are professionally trained to do just this. In addition, they carry nifty things like guns, cuffs, Tasers and short-tempers. Club owner’s reserve the right to refuse service at any time and SLPD are more than willing to assist us in getting you out of the club. Even though they’re on the clock, they still want to be at the club on a Friday night.

Still want to throw down? Go ahead but keep in mind that I have never once seen a situation where a Steven Seagal-styled character laid waste to a bar full of patrons and bouncers unscathed and walked out the front door with a pithy comment: “You guys think you’re above the law? Well, you ain’t above mine! (Nico Toscani from Above The Law, 1988).” At the very best, you’re going to get cracked in the head a couple of times and get your Affliction T-shirt ripped. At the worse, your mother will be posting your bail.

The biggest problem while breaking up a fight is the scrum of bystanders trying to intervene on behalf of the participants or the club. In a nutshell, either get involved or get out of the way. There is nothing more distracting than a group of people trying to get involved in a bar fight don’t have a stake in the outcome. I think the funniest part of people who have no interest in a scuffle is that they invariably use astrology to explain why the fight happened: “It was a full moon.”

In the end, do as I say not as I do. Even with all of this insight to bar fights, I literally threw gasoline on the fire. All I needed to do was keep my mouth closed. Instead, I threw out a pithy one-liner that brought down the house. We had successfully got Jack Sprat to the door while the two un-jolly giants went to the bar. I had escorted Jack out but instead of accepting this gift of not getting curbed he wanted to debate me on why he was getting kicked out. I thanked him for being man enough to leave without a scuffle but I warned him that it was time to go.

Instead of taking some sage advice, he wanted to debate me on why he was being kicked out. I smiled and tried to impress upon him how serious the situation is. He asked if I thought his ejection was funny and I told him his inability to take a hint will be his demise. He double-downed on stupidity when he asked me what does demise mean? My Lord, talk about kissing a gift horse on the mouth.

I could only warn him so many times to shove off before I had enough. To add injury to insult, Jack Sprat poked a finger in my chest and threw an F-bomb. Enough is enough. I told the bouncer that he was 86’d and went back to my post. Here’s where the night got interesting. I walked past the two giants to get behind the bar and took the two pit bulls off the leash. I said as I passed by: “I changed my mind. Go kick his ass.”

I’ve never seen a big man move that fast before. In the blink of an eye, he bolted from the bar and through the door. My bouncer had the wherewithal to try and stop him but there was no slowing down this diesel truck. Through the window I literally saw Jack Sprat jump in the air in terror. It was like watching a cat getting spooked. In less than a second, Jack was finally able to process everything I told him and the fatal mistakes that he had made. Fortunately, my door guy was able to get a paw on the giant to slow him down enough to give Jack a chance to run across the street. I was amazed how fast that little twerp was able to run with a diaper filled with fear. The two most difficult things to do in Salt Lake City is find a decent meal on Sunday and find a taxi at any hour of the day. Miraculously for Jack, as he ran across the street, a City Cab pulled up, stopped and drove off with Jack and his soiled pants. It felt like a movie.

What should I have I done? Keep my mouth closed? Yep. Get Jack into a cab? Probably. Tell the Klitschko brothers to let the matter drop? Absolutely. In the end, does it really matter? Not really. All throughout this nasty little escapade I remembered that you can’t control everything that happens in a bar. To quote Langston Hughes, “Birthing is tough and dying is mean.” If the shit is going to hit the wall, do your best to protect your friends and get out of the way.

I’m done beating myself up for being a smart aleck. Jack and the giants probably should have worked it out for themselves but protocol demanded else wise. Fights will happen and shifts eventually end. All I can advise is to try not to get in the middle of them. I don’t want to glamorize fights but there are a regrettable part of bar life. Instead of going bonkers the next time somebody inadvertently insults you, try being the bigger person and buy them a drink.

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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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