After all these years in the public spotlight, I would have thought that Snoop Dogg would be more responsible. After partying in Las Vegas the night before, he was unable to catch his plane and ended up cancelling his concert at Gallivan Center last Thursday. I was aghast when I got to work. Main Street was crawling with every form of stoned white trash from a 200 mile radius. It was a weird combination of people wearing too much cheap gold jewelry, football jerseys and over-sized baseball caps. The women dressed like it was a cattle call for back-up dancers for Snoop’s next video: ridiculously short cut-off jeans, low cut shirts and make-up that looks like it was applied with a shotgun.
I opened early to try and corral a couple of the concert goers. As I was unlocking the door, a mad dash of visibly anger people stormed to the bar. Snoop Dogg’s inability to make it to Salt Lake in time had a devastating impact on his fans. They flopped down at the bar, demanding shots of tequila and cold, cheap beer. Cursing his name, they couldn’t understand why he couldn’t make it to the show. I told them that I was surprised too. I had recently saw, Soul Plane, and I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t just fly himself up to Utah. They were not amused. For two hours, the bar was flooded with customers and they were trying to drink Snoop Dogg up to Salt Lake. I try not to revel in other’s misery but as a result of Snoop cancelling, he had successfully ruined two girls from Burley Idaho night. They had driven down the three hours to SLC in their whoriest costumes and were expecting a night of gin and juice. Instead, they sat quietly at the end of the bar, gently crying into their pints of Bud Light as their mascara ran down the sides of their chubby cheeks. Damon Runyon couldn’t make that up.
It’s been a rough week. Starting with Snoop’s show cancelling and ending with me covering Monday’s shift, I had been in a sour mood. The first rule of bartending is that if you don’t want to be there, don’t. Customers feed off of your energy and if your mind is somewhere else, they will put you through the ringer. The problem is that being in a bad mood is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy—the harder you try to snap out of it, the more you slide down the rabbit hole.
It doesn’t get talked about enough but bartending is a taxing exercise. I am on my feet for a good eight hours a night. I am not able to take my dinner sitting down or have two 15 minute breaks during my shift. Need to take a leak at 11 o’clock? Better hold it because the bar doesn’t shut down because you have a small bladder. The volume level is high, the lights are dim and the energy of the room is draining. It’s hot, physical and demanding. Customers don’t care how uncomfortable you are when they order a drink. Complaints come in not the other way out. All they care about is how fast, cheap and good what they order is. Alcohol transforms even the calmest most mild-mannered secretary into Tawny Kitaen after a couple of Red Bull and vodkas and the guy who came in looking like Don Draper usually leaves looking somewhere between Tank Abbot and Gary Busey. Even on the best nights, the room always feels like it is on tilt with the possibility of something disastrous coming around the corner. Stretching, aspirin and Gold Bond Powder become your best friends on a Saturday night. It’s hard missing out on weekend parties and activities (I don’t remember the last poker night I went to), not being able to take my girlfriend out on a Friday night and going to bed at 4am because I need two hours to calm down after slinging drinks for seven hours.
But it is a good job. It’s the apex of the working class. The money pays the bills, the work keeps me mentally sharp and the nights I spend behind two feet of concrete bar become fodder for columns and future customers. I like setting up the club, preparing my mise-en-place and patiently waiting for the rush of thick-fingered, rookie drinkers. There’s no better moment than looking throughout the club and quietly muttering to myself that I am ready to pour drinks for the 101st if they happen to come through the door. Every night behind the bar is chockfull of potential. I guess what bums me out is when nights are squandered with customers who seem to go out of their way to put me into a tailspin. Subconsciously, they are playing a game of chicken with me to see who will tell the other to “fuck off” first. From rattlesnaking me, slapping the bar and yelling my name, it’s a juggling act of slinging drinks and smiling through gritted teeth as middle-aged, first time Utah drinkers try to see if they can get the upper hand on me. The problem is that those guests who are troublemakers compose less than 10% of the business but command a massive 90% of my energies. The date night couple who know what they want and know how they are going to pay for it are not the problem. It’s the self-important knucklehead who wants to know why we don’t carry his grandmother’s homemade apricot wine (true story) that makes me check the want ads when I get home.
If pouring drinks was like feeding coal into a furnace, I’d be the Casey Jones of bartenders but the work is delicate and requires a great deal of knowledge and finesse. It involves engaging the guest, figuring out what they want, pouring it properly and making them feel good about spending more money on a drink than the cost of a Happy Meal. I can pour as fast as anybody in Utah but people’s indecision makes for a metric shitload of speed bumps throughout the night. That’s the challenge of the job and trying to drive over those speed bumps at full speed all night, every night is the goal of every barkeep. What made this week so difficult was there were more speed bumps thrown at me than on a deaf kid’s street.
The single biggest thing that I can’t control at the bar is what people order. It is measurably easier to pour a shot of Jim Beam than to make a blended daiquiri. Hell, opening a bottle of beer is quicker than pouring a draft. I might suggest an alternative drink to try and save time but at the end of the day, if I have the ingredients I’m making what you order. I like being challenged with different drinks and learning about new cocktails. The problem is that I am hyper-vigilant about the next guest’s drink thereby making me to try and steer people into something that is quicker to make. If there were nobody else in the bar, I’d be happy to make Mojitos until we both thought we were in Cuba. However, this week, I didn’t have that luxury. The bar was packed and they were thirsty. This week was one long series of blended, shaken, muddled, layered, sugar-rimmed diabetic-fest. I don’t remember making so many Lady Gaga’s (strawberry & coconut rum with cranberry and pineapple juice) ever and I don’t remember having to play the always appreciated Stump-The-Bartender game so many times.
I had three guys who looked like they just got back from an elk hunt who were ironically trying to drink every girly shot in the bar. Providing they just drank what I poured for them, there were no problems. It’s when they got on their cell phones and started coming up with their own shots did we run into a massive speed bump. Out of nowhere, they ordered three Scooby Snacks. Cream based drinks suck. Suck, suck, suckidy suck suck. I don’t know if it because I have always considered milk products to be tantamount to liquid beef or because cream fills the channels of my bar mats leaving me some semen-colored mess I have to look at for the balance of the night. It’s gross, super-high caloric and dangerously low in alcohol. I’m sure Ben and Jerry sell a higher proof ice cream than a Scooby Snack. The problem is that girls and guys who can’t shoot whiskey love Copper Camels, Creamsicles and Buttery Nipples. More than that, Scooby Snacks are one of those, “Oh, what is that?” drink. The spigot of Scooby Snacks was turned on by these knuckleheads and I found myself in the weeds all night shaking a bunch of cream and Midori for anybody who saw the pale green shot.
As bad as it is making drinks you dislike, there is nothing worse than somebody wanting a Lincoln-Douglas style debate when the bar is three people deep. I had a group of photographers who came in on Friday who would have thought all I had to offer was a bucket of diesel and tonic water. They were in town for the Dew Tour and were testy probably because they weren’t allowed to nurse off the beer taps like a new born calf. They were pissed because all of the tap beer was 3.2% and they didn’t know how to order a double. There are ways to get a double in my bar but you need to know how to order it. While some of them happily ordered vodka and tonics, the balance of them grimaced at our good selection of beer with discontent. I love it when people think the beer is too weak but they don’t have the stomach to do a shot of Maker’s Mark. I tried to find some common ground with them by offering them one of our Squatter’s Hops Rising. I thought a 9% double IPA would be the ticket but after ordering them, they complained that they were too strong. Instead of admitting that they really wanted was a Shirley Temple, they began to complain about the influence of Mormons in the state and their inability to get what they want in a bar. How Brigham Young got brought into the conversation is anybody’s guess.
What bothers me more than anything is when some ne’er-do-well from Virginia or Timbuktu starts telling me that it is different from where they’re from. Really? Utah isn’t like North Carolina? I would have the living tar kicked out of me if I went to Orlando Florida and raised a stink that they didn’t have a Tabernacle Choir or a Wasatch Front along the drive to Disney World. What kind of myopic dumb-sticks are populating this country? Does everyone’s collective IQ drop by 25 points the moment they travel into the 801 for the first time? How can titans of industry and young Turks transform into sniveling babies crying for their bottle the moment they enter my bar? Verbally pistol whipping Mormons while you anguish over the size of your cocktail doesn’t do anything for me. I am more likely to ask you to leave then double up on your drink. Furthermore, you don’t have a black-belt in complaining about being in Utah. I do.
There isn’t a prerequisite for Mormon bashing if you live in Utah. I consider it more of a hobby than a lifestyle. However, asking me to beat down my fellow citizens just because they pray to some sort of weird Space Jesus while you’re ordering Ketel One and sodas isn’t part of the job description. The most dangerous fight to break up is the one between two brothers—they’re more likely to turn on you the second you intervene. For me, that is my relationship with Mormons. I have lived with them for the majority of my life and much like a rattlesnake handler, I know how to safely handle them. Yes, they are weird. No, I don’t randomly bash them because they make it hard to get a double at the bar. Sure, they have horns, multiple wives and won’t be allowed into normal Heaven when they die but they are still my co-workers, neighbors and occasionally, friends. Here’s the deal, out-of-towners: you don’t live here and you haven’t burned enough calories living in the Deseret Empire to adequately bitch about the role of the LDS Church and Utah’s liquor laws. Spend more time in Salt Lake City than a weekend ski vacation and maybe I’ll listen to you carp on our state politics. Until then, put a cork in it, enjoy your drink and watch the show.
Customers like this make the night so douchey one would think that Nickelback was the house band. I hate it when I want to open hand slap every fourth customer. How am I supposed to kick my sour mood when even the Jack and Coke you ordered isn’t what you want? Booze isn’t the only thing that I am selling from behind the bar. I am also selling a good time and for the love of God, how come most people can’t meet me in the middle? Do people really have such well-placed blinders that they can’t see that they are not the only customers in the bar? It’s challenging enough to keep up with the flow of the night without some pseudo-travel writer trying to rank the best bar experiences in the country. Yes, Utah is limited in its selection of booze and how it is served but it doesn’t mean that you can’t get drunk. Think I am wrong? Look to the guys drinking Scooby Snacks out of a woman’s slipper.
See what happens when Snoop Dogg misses his flight? I never thought West Coast rap would have such an impact on my life. Instead of a carefree weekend of pouring vodka and cranberries, I was in the dog pound the entire time. Sorry about that. Something I constantly remind myself of when I am having a bad shift behind the bar is that last call will always come. It might be too early for out-of-towners but it will eventually become 1 o’clock. A couple of days away from the club reminds me how much I love bartending and I start ramping up to get back to slinging drinks. Something I never forget, however, is that pouring one gin and grapefruit juice is enough. Contrary to popular opinion, gin and juice isn’t a very good drink.