And Dudley Moore Wept…

At the end of the night there were fewer bodies on the ground at Antietam than at Keys On Main for last call.

It looked like a confetti bomb exploded in the club and the only thing that survived in the wake of destruction were the designated drivers and the already shattered Mormons. The bar looked how I imagined Michael Jackson’s death scene: glitter, streamers, spilt bubbly wine and confused young men. From the floor to the ceiling, across every wall and throughout the entire bar, there was the lingering remnant of a night that started off with so much hope and ended in disaster. It smelt like the end of 2011 in every form— in the stench of sweat, booze and disgust.

There were few honorable men in the room. The gross majority of the guests came for strong drink and revelry. What could not be given was taken and they took with no thought of a future. They were like parasites or some other two-legged vermin. They fed and drank with no concern for their own well-being or the safety of others. Their conduct reflected their belief that there is no tomorrow and the Mayans will have their revenge on the 21st of December. A marauding horde of people dressed in black satin, cheap cologne and costume make up, they filled the bar and left it covered in excrement and shame.

They were fast, merciless and vengeful. Cruel and savage. The kind of people that besieged Rome at her height and razed her to the ground. A room of thieves, con men and prostitutes. With a glance, they could gun down and consume a bull moose. A weaker man would be decimated but I knew what was happening. It wasn’t the end of the world. It was New Year’s Eve.

The saving grace from Saturday night was I knew that no matter what happened, I would eventually get to last call. It was the thought that got me through my shower, getting dressed, driving to work and eventually clocking in. I knew that no matter how bad the night got, how out of control or what sort of unspeakable acts I would witness/participate in that at 1am everything would be over.

Last call could not come quick enough.

From my vantage point behind the bar, I have a clear view of the west-side of Main Street, the piano stage and the entire club floor. It’s like a crow’s nest. On slow to moderately busy nights, I can survey the entire room and take in the night. On Saturday, I lost all vision. Not only were my glasses smeared over from lingering liquor and beer flying in the air but the wall of people in front of my bar were so thick that it was like trying to see light through an old growth forest. They were six deep at the bar and twenty wide. Screaming and pulsating with the music or to some sort of internal metronome that kept pushing them closer and closer to the bar. I wish I took a moment to appreciate what it looked like because I can only imagine what a scene they must have made. Like the floor of a mosh pit or fire ants filing out of their hill, they seemed to be everywhere. The closer it got to midnight, the more people came to block out any sight of the club.

Let’s get to the brass tacks of the night. We were packed. By my best count, we probably had 600+ people in the club and nary a sober one in sight. NYE is a tough night to work because guests don’t have their first drink when they walk through the door. They have been boozing for the last four hours before they head downtown. So, when the show starts at 9pm, I already have a well-oiled crowd. It makes for a lively crowd but it also has the inherent problem of dealing with drunks a lot earlier in the night then one would want to.

People are demanding. They figure since they had to pay a cover that they should get personalized service. Unfortunately, that is far from the case. It is a war of attrition. When running through quicksand, you can never stop. The night was both a sprint and marathon in the length and time in which I poured. I got the feeling that people thought that the cover charge for coming into a bar that has live entertainment for five hours, a champagne toast and balloon drop was their license to act as if they owned the bar and more specifically, owned me.

People are selfish. There were more than a few guests who treated Saturday like it was their first time in a bar. NYE is not a good night to try out muddled Old Fashions, layered Mudslides or frozen daiquiris. Yet, somehow, throughout the evening I was besieged with drink orders that ranged from the bizarre to the obscene. One woman ordered nine different shots from me. I think it goes without saying that it is easier to make nine of the same drinks. That was bad but the fact that she had the moxie to do it to me twice was a real backbreaker.

People are idiots. Unless your name is Dudley Moore, you do not become better, smarter, sexier or more confident when you’ve been drinking. Drink enough rum and you’ll become Jack Sparrow-ed. My favorite question of the night was, “Do you have any specials?” The purpose of specials is to get you through the door. If you’ve already paid the $10 cover, I can pretty much charge you as much as I want for booze.

People are mean. Forget the fact that we caught people bringing in their own booze. Forget the fact that we caught people stealing a bottle of Seagram’s VO from us. Forget the fact that guests purposely broke glasses and threw stuff at the bartenders. My real take away from NYE is that nobody was smiling. It seemed like people were merely going through the routine of what they were supposed to do. It was a spiritless night. I didn’t see any joy in the crowd. Granted, I was so busy churning out drinks that I didn’t have an opportunity to really study the crowd but they looked lifeless. As the ball drop I noticed that people really weren’t celebrating the beginning of 2012 but rather mourning the loss of 2011. Some crazed Ferris wheel of debauchery that was never ending and always repeating.

Tough night. I am glad that I was behind the bar instead of in front of it.

I have come to terms with my role at the bar. I am not an umpire calling balls and strikes: I am a spectator. I cheer on the home team and boo the visitors. It is a weird thing to say that there really is no rhyme or reason why people are in the bar. Outside of getting drunk and hooking up with people, I don’t think there is any real shared experience at the club. I think there is a point in our lives that we become settled into a world view that has little chance of being altered. For me, watching the crowd destroy themselves every second as we approach midnight wasn’t an experience—it was a job. Maybe that is what I dislike most about working on NYE. I don’t get to share in the joy of the calendar rolling over. I am just a witness.

I had a really weird moment as the clock struck midnight. Somehow, I was in the exact same position that I was a year ago when the ball dropped. I had my left hand on top of the register, ringing up drinks that I just poured and getting ready to close out a credit card. How often can one remember exactly where they were a year ago and be reminded that they were doing the exact same thing?

The final analysis of the night is a big who cares? It might have been joyless but I can see that people did have a good time. They got drunk. They screamed. They yelled. They soiled themselves.  The proof of that could have been found in the disaster zone called Keys On Main. They absolutely destroyed the club and we were there until 4am cleaning up the glitter bomb. They might have been a horde of all-consuming beasts but in the end, we corralled them out of the club. Thank God for last call.

In the end, I didn’t share the crowd’s sentiment.  2011 was particularly memorable year and I will think back to it as being one of the better years of my life. The bar has been set high. Outside of the success that I found in the club, I was able to settle a lot of my debts—both personal and professional. The New Year brings a lot of confidence that things are going to continue going well. I hope so. If not, I still have the 21st of December to look forward to.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. He really did have a good time on New Year’s. He just chose to celebrate it on the 1st.

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