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Bar Life, Salt Lake City, Utah

A Nursery of Raccoons

Like a row of porcelain dolls, they stared blankly at me.

Rows upon rows of people stood motionless in awkward positions in front of the bar. Neither drunk or sober, their blood was the equivalent of driving down the center of the road. I genuinely wanted to help them but they were beyond help. They were dead—scratch, stunned. Useless to society and certainly to the cash register, they wanted neither company nor strong drink.

To say they were bad customers would be an understatement.

I was licking my wounds from watching baseball all day and trying to make a deadline. The window between the final out and opening the doors to the club has become an increasingly small period of time that I barely slide through every shift. I can barely carve a sentence with an unlimited amount of time. Imagine trying to write 325 words on a game that becomes the point of record for the state. Heavy lifting? Yes, but not nearly as bad as watching the wall of zombies as I am trying to pour a drink.

But here I was, positioned behind the bar with a wall of hooch, strong glassware and good ice. The fruit was still glistening from being cut earlier and was sweating sweetness ready to improve and awaken the unmade drinks awaiting them. Instead of pushing out cocktails, draft beers and heavy-handed poured wines, I had dumbfounded faces staring back at me.

Imagine startling a nursery of raccoons on a dark night with a flashlight and the deadening eyes reflecting back nothing is what I had. I’m the kind of guy who likes to wear a collared shirt but roll up my sleeves but tonight, I am standing idly by as precious pouring minutes fall quickly to the wayside.

Pathetic.

Just when the tension reaches sliceable levels, one of the dead breaks ranks and asks why Utah has weird liquor laws? I explained gently that every state has their own rules pertaining to the dispensing of alcohol and what can I get her. Instead of ordering a drink, she follows up with a question of why Mormons hate liquor. I told her she would have to ask one and considering that everybody in the bar is from Kentucky, she might need to leave the club to find one.

Also, by the way, can I get you a drink?

Why does Utah serve weak beer? That, I told her as the group collected behind her, is because God hates beer and Ben Franklin was clearly mistaken when he made his sacrilegious comment. Nothing. You want to know why? It is because out-of-towners don’t have much of a sense of humor. Making the move to my cell phone to see whether San Diego downed the Brewers, one of the group asked if I had vodka.

I might be the size of an upright walrus but there is no way I block the backbar of bottles behind me. Pushed to exhaustion from the needling questions, I said yes and can I get you one. No, he said, I just wanted to know if you can get vodka in Utah. I quickly told them that not only do we sell vodka, we also have gin, rum, tequila and whiskey. In fact, I know a thing or two about combining said ingredients with mixers to make something called “cocktails.”

Yeah, but they’re not real drinks.

Just once, in the fit of existential mischief, I’d like to pour an unreal drink. Something that looked wet, tasted wet but was in fact a cup of gravel or a ball cap filled with feathers. Besides the insanity of running circles around the booze laws in the state, what were they hoping to achieve? Shame the bartender into crafting new legislation to improve their evening or guilt me into giving away the shop? Whatever the question was, there was no way I was going to provide the suitable answer.

Just when I thought we would go another round without pouring a round, the leader of the raccoons asked very snarkily if I had Guinness, Jameson and Baileys. I nodded. He then asked if he could order Irish Car Bombs. I nodded again. Here is where I lost my cool—he finished up by asking if I knew how to pour an Irish Car Bomb.

Excuse me?

Irish Car Bombs, know how to make them?

What the fuck do you think? I grant you that I am the eye-candy in this establishment but do you really think I only know how to open bottles of beer? Better yet, you want to take a little bit of the condensation out of your voice? You think acting like a babe in the woods is how things are done inside of this bar? You’re not nearly cute enough for me to give this much attention to and you have been nothing short of a complete asshole since the second you stepped into my bar. Want to pull this shit somewhere else or do you want to order a God damn drink?  Can’t imagine you getting this far back home in Kentucky acting like an idiot without somebody telling you to knock it off and guess what? I’m telling you to grow up and order a drink like a man. And while we’re at it, Irish Car Bombs are child’s drink—real men drink whiskey straight.

Uh….

Yes?

I’ll have six Car Bombs.

Coming right up, Sir.

For a state that has draconian liquor laws, I hope we never change the rules so I can play verbal joisting with visitors for the rest of my bartending career. Does Utah need some slight adjustments to the laws? Absolutely but we shouldn’t try and amend it to be exactly like Nevada. Nevada is Nevada and Utah should be Utah and idiots who can’t see past this should be handed an ice water, a pat on the head and be ushered to a table.

I’ve said it a million times—trying acting like this in Chicago and you’d wake up in a dumpster with your teeth kicked in. I’m from Las Vegas but I call Salt Lake City home. It’s time that everyone who tends a bar in this state to start acting like our rules are the norm and the rest of the nation is out of whack. It would take a bit of the sting out when we explain that real beer is 3.2% and a Christian shot isn’t more than 1.5 ounces.

Until we get unified in our stance that the rules we work under are the guidelines for making a living pouring drinks, we’re going to be subjected to dingleberry conversations that make our mouths drop in the complete rudeness of our guests. That, or we need to start spreading sawdust throughout our clubs to pick up the raccoon droppings.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. The Sidecar is coming. Yeah, he really had this conversation today and the knuckleheads tipped 25%.

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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.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “A Nursery of Raccoons

  1. Classic stuff, Ben. I used to explain that Utah’s laws fall right in the middle. There are plenty states (PA, OK, KA, AR, CO, TX) with laws that are easily as strict. To my knowledge, Utah has no dry counties. Although the liquor stores are closed on Sundays, the bars are still open. Lastly, I’ve seen people in Utah get just as shit-house drunk as I’ve seen anywhere else in the world! haha Those comments used to drive me crazy, too. The best was working with Mike Crnkovich because he really enjoyed arguing with people. I remember him telling people to leave, that they weren’t worth serving a drink to!

    Great writing, Ben. i love it!!

    Posted by Joe | April 25, 2013, 3:56 pm
  2. Verbal jostling with cripple minded drunks is always a fun pastime, the magical juggling act is to keep it lively and educational while not turning into that jerk who takes their money and mocks them for their incompetence … or is it very incontinence?

    Great writing, I loved reading your rhetoric in college and glad to see you’ve got the passion still.

    Posted by Schochet | May 5, 2013, 12:47 am

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