Old as Dirt Bartending

The weird thing about getting older behind the bar is my coworkers are getting a hell of a lot younger. It’s the kind of age gap where I could literally be their parent, and not because the rubber broke in the back of a sedan. As a 45-year-old living in Utah, I have coworkers that could have been the conscious result of me and their mother deciding to start a family.  And because I did a horrible job raising my kid, they ended up like some messed-up version of Ken Griffey Jr. cocktailing at the same place Papa parked his ass over 10 years ago.

I worked last Saturday. Nothing spectacular to report. I don’t work as many weekends anymore. I really stopped about four years ago after I got married. It was too much being away from my family four nights a week. I’m still slinging drinks Wednesday and Thursday. The joke I usually make about working my two shifts is my wife has a weekday boyfriend and she wanted me to clear out. And because I don’t want to play rec league basketball, I guess I’ll pour drinks instead.

Working the middle of the week has its benefits. For starters, I work alone. There’s no cocktail waitress or barback. It’s up to me pour the drinks, run them out to the floor, clean up and wash down the joint at the end of the night. I throw a couple of bucks at my doorguy to thank him for taking out the trash and keeping the minors away from me, but I get to keep all the money I make. It’s usually pretty good. Nothing to write home about, but enough to keep gas in the car, pay for groceries and maybe take the wife out for a drink or two.

The second advantage of working the middle of the week is I can occasionally catch lighting in a bottle. Salt Lake hosts a lot of conventions and because Keys On Main is built to entertain out-of-towners, I can bamboozle them with the same ten lines of BS I’ve been serving for over two decades. Trust me, I’m a broken record with only one or two original thoughts rattling around in my head. But I’ve built some tried-and-true zingers people like. My best is probably, “Hey, I can’t give you a double—they’ll throw me in Mormon jail!”

Like I said, not too many original thoughts.

Saturday did make one impression upon me. I’ve never seen so many criminally drunk people allowed in the club. It was like my door guys were performing micro-lobotomies as they were checking IDs. A group of four came to the bar and three of the four quickly ordered normal drinks: Jack and Coke, glass of white wine and a Moscow Mule. As I was knocking out these drinks, I asked the guy paying what he’ll be having and suddenly, he starts talking about the amount of precipitation Utah has been experiencing and what did I think this meant for Lake Powell. I’m usually not stunned behind the bar, but this was a noodle scratcher.

“Yeah, I’m sorry but how many beers do you want?”

“Don’t you think that we should get rid of the Glen Canyon Dam?”

“Can I get you a glass of water and an aspirin?”

Through the years, I’ve learned that you need to find a balance between patience and a sense of urgency. You have to be fast and I think I’m one of Salt Lake City’s fastest bartenders, but you also have to be slow enough to get their drink order and make it right the first time. One of my biggest pet peeves is people not ordering correctly. For example, the aforementioned drink is a Jack and Coke. Technically, it’s a Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola poured over ice, served with a stirring straw. It’s not a Coke and Jack, or a Jack and a Coke, or a Jack and you magically think I know you’re talking about a Tennessee whiskey and cola.

It’s a vodka and tonic or a Captain Morgan’s and Sprite. The nomenclature is liquor then mixture. I’ll settle for a gin tonic because I know you forgot the “and” and that’s fine but the pickled ding-dongs at the club were ordering like drunken seagulls.

“Give me a vodka with vodka and vodka and she’ll have cranberry juice and vodka plus a vodka and Diet Coke.”

“What?”

“Oh yeah, I forgot. You can’t do that in Utah.”

No, you can’t, and you shouldn’t be doing that anywhere in the lower 48.

I grinded through the evening because I’m a professional. Also, I spent most of my night imagining a story where Spiro Agnew stops a Russian saboteur from blowing up Apollo 17. I was so checked out by 10:30 p.m., I was honestly thought I could get Daniel Craig to play the former disgraced Vice President in a made-for-TV movie on Bravo.

Back to my staff. Technically, they’re not my staff. They’re my buddy Brandon’s staff. He’s the GM of Keys and does a really good job piloting the ship. But, when I’m behind the bar, everyone in the building works for me. I marveled at how young they were. I’m not sure when 21 to 27 became so young but it is. Yet, they’re very good. They’re attentive and engaged and seem to be having a really good time with the customers.

You can always tell a good bar staff by how loose they are. When you see temper-tantrums or hear yelling, you’re probably drinking at a bad place. There is always drama in a restaurant but staffs that bring that bologna to the front of the house probably have bad management or the cook forgot to sell cocaine during the pre-shift. And yes, the cooks are always the drug dealers.

My next weekend shift is August 3. I’m covering for somebody. I’ll come in shaved with a clean enough shirt. Of course, I’ll be wearing shorts—it gets hot behind the bar—and a Jazz or Salt Lake Bees’ hat. I’ll bring my secret weapons: liquid Advil, a knee brace and enough Gold’s Bond to powder three dozen donuts. Bartending on Saturdays are weekend killers, but the money is good and it reminds me to really, really appreciate my midweek shifts. Plus I don’t have all those damn kids running around.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main and writes for the Pill Mill. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. He’s still young enough to flip a keg.

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