If she says “It’s not brain surgery, but it’s fun and keeps you on your toes,” she probably slings at a nightclub that, like most around North Texas, draws decent-sized crowds on the weekdays and totally hops on the weekends. If she says “It’s not brain surgery, but it’s fun and keeps you on your toes – wanna try?,” run like hell.
Too bad that when the question was posed to me recently, I made the mistake of answering in the affirmative. The good news is that my respect for bartenders, while previously up there with teachers and firemen, is off the charts now.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been learning the ropes of ‘keeping at a pretty popular Fort Worth joint. My service industry experience is nil – back when we were all 16 and Uncle Sam let us begin work for pay (read: peanuts), some of us chose service, while others, like me, chose retail. Now, there’s no question I know how to receive service. As the old saying goes, you don’t have to be a five-star chef to know good or bad food. But since I started writing this column about a year ago, I haven’t been able to sate my desire to live life on the other side of the service industry equation, specifically behind a bar.
Well, here’s the short version of my slingin’ experience: It’s definitely, undoubtedly, indubitably harder than I ever could have imagined. I mean, I know how to read, I know how to do math, I know how to write, but I’ll be damned if I can figure out how to manipulate a tumbler or make a friggin mixed drink that doesn’t taste like absolute crap.
Just for the record: As my respect for bartenders has increased exponentially, the way I feel about us, the drinkers, has gone way downhill. I know that most of us are ignorant pricks – we don’t use turn signals while driving, we don’t say “Thank you” when someone holds the door open for us, we talk on cell phones in public. But I never knew we were so bad. During a recent happy hour shift, I couldn’t believe the way I was being spoken to by people whose momentary happiness I controlled. “Hey,” one of ’em would shout from the other end of the bar, “I need a vodka-seven,” and then just return to yapping and expect me to drop everything and pull a vodka-seven out of my ass. What I wanted to say was, “Hey, buddy. If you ‘need’ a vodka-seven so bad, why don’t you get the hell outta my bar, go to the nearest 7-Eleven, buy some vodka and some 7-Up, and make your own goddamn vodka-seven? Asshole.”
But I didn’t say anything. I bit my tongue, and – this’ll make all you professional barkeeps proud – I ignored him for a good five minutes. Though five minutes might not seem like much on paper, when you’re thirsty, five minutes, as most of y’all know, can feel like two hours.
And don’t get me started on what you gotta do for a tip. I guess that if you don’t look like either James Dean or some half-dressed Coyote Ugly beauty, you’d better have a damned good soft-shoe routine in your repertoire. Otherwise, the hours of mind-numbing bullshit you have to hear from customers will be for naught.
Which brings me to the bartender’s best but least praised attribute: the ability to not jump over to the other side of the bar every other minute and throttle somebody!
Dionysus bless you people.
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