He looked Pat O’Brien on a bender. Salt and pepper hair with a trim mustache, wire frames, suit and perfectly capped teeth. He carried himself with the confidence of an assistant high school principal and was unaccustomed to being told no. He sauntered up to the bar with his wife and asked me what goes well with tequila and Kahlua.
A Dirty Mother. It’s a white Russian made with tequila instead of vodka. He winced as if I told him his miniature poodle was dead. It was the kind of over-reaction reserved for teenage girls and super-extras in operas. Instead of inquiring about other cocktails, he simply ordered the tequila and Kahlua. The customer is always right until they aren’t but I still made his drinks. I delivered the cocktails and told him he owed me $12. Instead of reaching for his wallet, he asked what kind of tequila I used and I told him Cuervo. He winced again much more violently as if I had grinded up a pack of miniature poodles and made a tube steak.
I can’t understate how dramatic this grown man with a mustache and a suit and a wife acted. Had we’d been busy, I would have brushed off his histrionics with nudge but I was dumbfounded how disappointed he was with his experience. It wasn’t as if I had mounted his wife on top of the pianos and split time in her with a donkey. Nor did I tell him his mustache looked like it had been groomed by Freddie Mercury or Ryan Seacrest. I simply put two very simple ingredients into a glass over ice and told him to pay me. He begrudgingly grabbed his wallet and handed over a double-sawbuck.
Gratuity? I’ll let you figure that one out.
For starters, tequila mixed with anything except triple sec and lime juice is disgusting. Tequila is made for drinking straight. Over ice if you feel the need or with orange juice if you graduated from the University of Maryland and you cover prep sports for The Salt Lake Tribune. Those that order a tequila and Coke need to be tagged, tracked and neutered for the sake of this country’s future. Tequila is distilled with the purpose of making folks weird and to help them forget that they have families that care about them. Cutting tequila with Kahlua is definitely in the realm of an acceptable drink but own up to the fact that you’re drinking an after dinner drink reserved for boozehounds and toolbags.
My bread and butter during the middle of the week are out-of-towners in the SLC for a convention. The typical Wednesday shift is spent peddling hooch to folks outside of the 801 who want to regal me with tales of never ending free-poured cocktails from a spicket of whiskey from their local watering holes. Instead of enjoying the incredibly talented musicians on stage playing an all-request show, they would rather get to the core of the real show which is insulting Utah’s unique liquor culture and calling me a faggot for not giving away free booze.
Insulting the bartender is never a good idea. Unless it is a 12-year old opening cans of beer at a wedding, the bartender is usually the one person who escapes insults. We are the gatekeepers to alcohol and even the worst of my brethren know how to slow down service if they feel they are being slighted by buck-toothed inbreds with corporate cards from parts unknown in this nation. I am just a vessel with a Sips-n-Tips card that follows the rules Governor Herbert has given me. I might not agree with Herbert but I follow his rules out of fear of one his sneaky dominions coming into the club and writing me up with a bologna ticket.
Is Utah different? You better believe it. Are our liquor laws out of touch with the rest of the country? Possibly. Is this a bad thing? Not really. Should out-of-towners put on their big boy pants and respect the rules of the Beehive State? You bet you sweet ass.
Utah is different because we have different values. These values might fly in the face of the other 49 states in the Union but at least Utah is consistent. Everyone gets the same pour and if you don’t like it, get a flask. Engaging me in Lincoln-Douglas style debates is proof that you’ve had too much to drink at the previous club and you hate your wife.
I pour a cocktail at home that would curl Tennessee Williams’ toes. I have a heavy hand but I also know I won’t be driving further than from the fridge to my couch. Want the same drink? Hit the DABC liquor store and make it in your hotel room. Coming into my bar and telling me I don’t know how to pour a drink is tantamount to telling me you think my state, my trade and my dog are busted.
I must go to a 7-11 every day and if I got into a pissing match with the cashier that I want two-for-one Slurpees, he’d be within his rights to pistol-whip me beside the dumpster. Booze isn’t free and it’s not mine to give away. But of course, no one considers this after they’ve sucked down a baker’s dozen worth of Bud Lights and have forgotten to tip on every other beer. Most people think it’s a victimless crime to over pour or give drinks away in a club. I don’t. I know my boss’s wife and his kids. Next time somebody berates me for not handing over the keys to castle to some whiny customer, I’ll slid a family portrait of the boss’s family and tell them that they get what they get.
Most people understand this. They understand that Utah is different and they are, pardon the pun, not in Kansas anymore. For those that don’t get it become the motivation for me to go get a teaching certificate and leave this God forsaken business forever. I can play the dozens with the best of them and I have more pat answers to why they should be happy they’re getting booze and not having to order a plate of nachos.
Utah is Utah the same way the other states are unique in their own ways. I live and work in the Beehive State because Utah is home and it is a fantastic place to live. What Utah lacks it makes up in spades with what works for me and my family. The fact that people can berate Utah’s laws to me without fear of offending me is the most callous thing that I experience behind the bar on any given shift. Disregarding the LDS culture that influences this state is offensive to both members of the Mormon faith and those of us that have decided to make this beautiful state our home.
So, Pat O’Brien’s doppelganger needs to take a chill pill and realize he is in the wrong. You want something besides Cuervo when ordering you’re gut-bomb cocktail, you need to pop off before I start grabbing for the bottles. As a bartender, my goal with every shift and every drink order is to make it perfect. I want customers to be amazed with my professionalism and commitment to my trade. Pride is my downfall because when I exceed my expectations for customer service and get treated like dog poop stuck under a new pair of Adidas, I lash out and just like Bruce Banner, you wouldn’t like me when I get angry.
Ben Raskin bartends at Key On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Check out his incredibly dated podcast, SLC PubCast. Yeah, somebody called him a faggot for not pouring a double on Wednesday.