Death of a Bartender

I judge the quality of the night not by how much money I make but rather how dirty my glasses get and how sticky my forearms are. On a busy night, I find myself usually peering through opaque lens smeared with flying mixed drinks, busted blenders and sweat. My arms are usually stained an off-blue from pouring AMFs while covered in the tacky remnants of peach schnapps and apple pucker. My undershirt is soaked through because of the volume of drinks I poured, the heat of the club and my unventilated dress shirt and vest.

When you find yourself at the end of the night looking like Bubbles from The Wire, you know you’ve had a good night.

Saturday was one of these evenings. The bar was sold out and the remaining guests that could squeeze into the club were forced to stand by the bar. We were in that sweet spot of the year where the weather is mild enough for people to venture out but not have to worry about getting caught in a blizzard on the way home. Holiday bills have probably been paid and it was spring break at the U. These conditions make for a perfect storm.

The problem was it wasn’t a good night. Nothing seemed to fall into place all evening. I was fired up but I was a bundle of misplaced energy. I felt like the long snapper for a Super Bowl team in the tunnel before taking the field. I was geeked up but I probably wouldn’t get into the game until the end of the first quarter. Customers filed into the club but they had table reservations and stayed clear of the bar. Those that did venture up to the bar were more irritated at the fact that they didn’t have a place to sit. It’s the Goldilocks’ Syndrome: people want to be at a cool, busy bar but were upset when the club was too packed.

I am good at putting out fires with unhappy customers but on Saturday, I felt more like a fireman than a bartender. I have never seen the value in trying to berate someone over conditions they clearly have no control over. It’s like putting the rain back in the clouds with these people. “Why are you so busy?” is usually answered with a “Because this is where everyone comes to on Saturdays.” Don’t like it? It’s not like you can’t leave. These are the same idiots who want to know why there isn’t anyone in the club on at 7:01pm on a Wednesday. You can’t be everything to everyone but I think we do a good job of it at Keys On Main. We try and accommodate as many people as possible but these efforts usually fall short because people refuse to meet us halfway.

The amount of abuse I take behind the bar is frightening. I must look like a creampuff the way people talk to me. I spend the majority of my night walking a razor’s edge of between taking grief from people and dishing it back. It’s part of the job dealing with drunks and idiots. The trick is to find that balance of defending oneself and still preforming at a level that customers still tip. Most people underestimate the amount of reps I’ve done in being able to verbally joust with customers. I know how to make a muddled Old Fashion as well as dress you down in front of your friends. Sure, I’ll take a bit of shit behind the bar but not a wagonload of horse manure.

Saturday turned quickly into a fertilizer-fest very quickly.

I like that douchebags have made it easy for me to identify them with their choice of clothing. Affliction T-shirts have reached a level of infamy usually reserved for swastikas. Probably because I have dressed the same way since 1986, I have no idea why anyone in their right mind would want to dress up like a human peacock with busy, overpriced T-shirts and bedazzled jeans. Bedazzled jeans! Ed Hardy should be ashamed of himself. Fluer-de-lis embroidered jeans, spray-on tan, tribal tattoos and dumb, dead eyes is a really poor look. The bar was packed with this ostentation of d-bags demanding strong drink and respect. I had the former but the latter was nowhere to be found.

A note on strong drink. Let’s be clear: JagerBombs combine all of the worst parts of the Bible. Jagermeister taste like candy and Red Bull is the elixir of the moron. Sure, in a pinch, a can of Red Bull is a quick pick me up that can substitute for coffee in the morning but chugging energy drinks can do nothing but damage to your kidneys, testicles and brain. Men drink whiskey. Don Draper doesn’t pound JagerBombs. Hell, even Elton John doesn’t pound JagerBombs.

Apparently the strong silent type has died. The new American man is a billboard for any sucker to look at. It’s all sizzle and no steak. Somewhere between racking out a grip of dips and squatting the weight of a midsized SUV, the modern man has lost all perspective on what it takes to walk the streets with their heads held high. Dumbbell pushers became just plain dumb.

And somehow, they’re growing. Expanding. Like a cancer or my midsection. They move in packs and they descend upon the club like a virus. Without a doubt, they are a massive pain in the ass. You’d think I would be nervous or afraid or concerned that my blog would reach their eyes and they would boycott the club. I am not. What’s the worst they could do to me? Get me covered in spray tan?

The worst part about the aforementioned d-bag is that their behavior is spreading to good kids. Like ringworm on a community towel, the methods they practice at the bar are spreading rampantly among those that never knew any better. Monkey see, monkey do. The fresh-faced college type kids who try to pull attitude at the club invariably becomes the problem. My lord, did they come in droves this Saturday.

Cash-n-carry is the process of ordering a drink and paying for it with a credit card each time. Instead of starting a tab and giving me a chance to learn the customer’s name, what they drink and how to take care of them, they live in fear that a card with limited funds will get abused or lost by me. Pathetic. If you are a drinker, you come to the bar to drink and that means building a relationship with your bartender. Cash-n-carrying slows down the entire drinking process. Translation: you don’t know how to drink.

You come to the bar already shitfaced because you’ve been hitting the car bottle on the way to the club. You’ve smoked yourself blind, reek of weed and act incredulous when I stand in front of you to wait for your drink order. I find myself wondering how much time I waste waiting for people to order. The bar is three deep, customers wait their turn to get my attention and when I ask them what they want, they have no idea. How can you not see the beer taps? Don’t you notice the bottle beer on the top shelf? Is it possible that you can’t see the over 100+ bottles of liquor behind me?

No. Club goers don’t know how to act. Either they want their mother to wait on them or expect me to wet nurse them. They order ridiculous drinks, act self-entitled and can’t make eye contact. You know why my arms are stained blue at the end of the night? Because I spend most of my night giving grown men blue stained drinks.

What a life. It’s never a good sign when I start thinking of new career path at 10:30 on a Saturday night.

My biggest beef with the entire night is the fact that a select few ruin it for others. I know the bar isn’t an assembly line but a little common courtesy would make a world of difference in getting drinks out. People have no problem coming up to the bar trying to flag me down while either talking on their cell phone or having absolutely no idea what they want. I am a big proponent of the menu drink. This is a go-to cocktail that almost every bar should have. It’s an opportunity to get something in your hand while deciding on what you’re going to drink for the night.

One of the problems with Utah is that we are limited in what we can carry behind the bar. I would love to have huckleberry vodka readily at hand but we don’t. Also, we’ve made decisions on what to carry. For example, we sell Hennessy not Courvoisier. There’s no reason why but we decided that our cognac would be Henny. Throwing a tizzy does nothing but slow me down and in turn, you.

Mercifully, we always make it to last call. The problem is that I find evenings like this to be more and more frequent. I have always prided myself on having a lot of patiences but recently, I have been getting testier with guests than I have in the past. I think there is a couple of things in play that has caused me to go bananas when somebody acts like a moron in the club. I don’t sleep as well as I should. I am not excersising. I eat and drink like a raccoon. Factor in 15-years of bartending and I might have reached my limit of malarkey I can take.

The problem is that everyone that I complain about is less than 2% of the people that come into the club. The vast majority of all guests are fantastic. They’re fun, engaging and knowledgeable. They come to have a good time and not start a ruckus. In the end, it’s the dubious 2% that I remember when I head home. Obviously, either I need to change my perspective or find another line of work.

When I did make it back home on Sunday morning at 4am (thank you very much, day light’s saving), I poured a horsechoker of whiskey and drank a beer. I sat in my little office, thumbed through some magazines and thought that in the end it’s not that bad of a life. Short of the hours, bartending is a very good job. I work at a great spot that treats me with a lot of respect. I think the curse of the place is that we are as successful as we are. With the volume of guests that come through we’re definitely going to draw in some undesirables. It goes with the territory.

My glasses are dirty at the end of every shift. In the end, that has got to count for something.

Ben Raskin bartends Wednesday through Saturday at Keys On Main. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Check out his new weekly podcast on iTunes, the SLC PubCast. And yes, he is an old cuss.

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