Bartender Tales

Paul Blow

I‘ve written recently about my experience bartending at a San Francisco bar. There are specific guidelines to follow, like the golden mean of cocktails, which is what I think about when I develop a drink (try the Carmen Amaya). But it’s not all about making drinks. So—as a writer moonlighting as a bartender—here’s what I’ve learned behind the bar.

1. On Fridays, partyers will demand Red Bull, which we don’t sell, but they want it so much that they will buy it elsewhere and bring it in. Then they will hide the evidence by crumpling the Red Bull cans and sticking them between seat cushions.

2. On weekends, there will be a girl crying, and a guy trying to calm her down while ordering another round. She is probably crying about something he said.

3. Bartending is physical labor. My feet hurt.

4. A good bar is an empty bar. (Unless you’re a bar owner.) It’s a fine night when there’s time to discuss the differences between bourbon and rye, the advantages of a cherry garnish or an orange garnish, or the reasons someone should try a Sazerac.

5. A bartender can name a drink after a regular customer, but if the customer tires of that drink, it’s OK for him to move on to another cocktail.

6. The bartender may be the only sober person in the bar. Do not moralize.

7. The drunk regulars will need to be kicked out at closing time. If you are that regular, please do not try to hug the bartender.

8. Unsavory things happen in the bathroom. There will be vomit in one of the bathrooms at the end of a Friday night.

9. Restaurant industry people are the best tippers and the best behaved. On busy nights, when they’re having a drink after their shift, they will bus glasses.

10. The bartender will get sucked into an ugly situation. Like when the stout, curly-haired blonde walked up to the bar and said, “Make me a martini. I’m about to meet with my ex, and I wanted to get here first so I could get something in me before he arrives.” When he showed up—slightly nerdy, wearing glasses and a plaid shirt tucked into khaki slacks—she proceeded to make him match her drink for drink until they each had seven on their tab. Every time I came close, she would say to me (in front of him), “Can’t you tell he’s an asshole? Doesn’t he just look like someone who would jerk me around?” Then she started to declare this to other people at the bar. Her ex seemed to shrink as the night wore on. Finally they left, and she made the poor guy pick up the $140 tab.

Jordan Mackay is a San Francisco–based wine and spirits specialist whose work has appeared in publications such as Gourmet, the Los Angeles Times, Food & Wine, and Decanter. Follow him on Twitter. Follow CHOW too, and become a fan on Facebook.