Tuesday, March 3, 2015


            It is a dark and stormy night…
            I’m not kidding. I’m looking outside the window, hearing the pelting orchestra of a March ice storm in Brooklyn, New York City, U.S. Of A. against the glass window of my bedroom.  
            The shadows scurry around, bundled silhouettes, faces wrapped with scarves, moving through the slush and the snow, on their way home, on their way to work. Some are coming home to lovers, some, to their children. Some come home to an empty room, some to half full bottle of Spanish red wine.
            There’s a million stories walking by my window today. A million emotions, a million dreams. And the only words that keep running through my head are:
            Do you have what it takes?
            It’s a strange phrase: do you have what it takes.
            I mean we’ve heard this line in a thousand ‘heroic’ films. You know that moment when our protagonist is down and out, lost all their money, and now sits, alone, doubting both their talents and their destiny.
            There is a mentor figure that appears, somewhat older, with much more experience, someone who has seen all the fire and the strife before. This mentor figure walks alone in the darkness, seeking out our hero.
            Now debauched, nursing a glass of whiskey, their fifth, our hero stares bleakly at the wall. We know in the audience what this scene means, it’s ‘the talk.’
            The mentor stands proud, staring down at the broken man before him. The mentor explains:
            “You know what you must do. You know what happens next in the story. You are just afraid of this step. But you must take this step. You have no choice. But you must ask yourself: Do You Have What It Takes?
            Such an odd phrase.
I press my palm against the windowpane, staring out into the darkness of the streets. It’s cold on the glass, out past the frame, the world, full of its triumphs and its tragedies.
I think about all the people I served drinks to over the years. All of their smiles. All of their tears. I’ve watched men weep at the bar, alone, with no one but me and some free shots of whiskey to pass the hours by. I’ve seen a reunited couple make out so hard as if their lips would part it would crack the fabric of the universe itself.
I’ve worked fine dining, the dive bars, waited on thousands of tables, slung millions of drinks, spinning the church key with one finger and taking a well whiskey shot down hard with the other hand.
But the whole time, the world was passing right along without me. The bartender stands, stationary, like some stone in the middle of a rushing river, as all the events, up and down, good or evil, pass by, all with some slurry blur of slightly recognizable Fates.
Not my own, however. You see, the bartender stands there, surely a conductor of their own deranged choir, stands alone. Yes, are they the Kings and Queens of their world?: Abso-fucking-lutley. But there is a catch.  
I’ve exalted the bartender in these spun all too fast four years, this now 100th entry into the service industry canon. But one of the ideas we have never discussed was how the bartender is separate from the rest of the world, standing on rubber mats behind 3 feet of old elbow-grooved wood. The world, literally, is passing them by. So after all the laughter and the cheers and the drunks falling into each other, the bartender is now left alone with only the echo of the lives that had passed before him.
Do You Have What It Takes?
Again, the words are projected on the inside of my skull like some early century picture show.
The sentence stipulates two things. Do you ‘have’ what ‘it’ ‘takes’? The question asks that this mysterious thing, the ‘it’ portion of the sentence, will reach into you and pull this mysterious elixir out. So both at the same time, it says:
To do this thing you want to do, you must possess something as a kind of barter. One must be willing to trade something to receive some other unspecified creation. Does this mean a soul? Like some pact with Papa Legba?
Whatever this thing is seems to me like a great sacrifice. Do you have what it takes. So, in other words, you must possess the exact thing that will, at the same time, be taken away from you. In the end, it begets another question:
What are you willing to give up to get what you want?
Because to get somewhere, one must sacrifice a part of themselves, sometimes some of the most cherished parts, to set foot onto that unknown terrain.
I’ve received countless fan mail from all of you, some angry, some sad, most pleasant and supportive, asking repeatedly:
“Matthew, what are you doing? Why are you walking away?”
I turn away from the darkened night, slip on my jacket, zip it all the way up to my neck. I wrap my own scarf around my neck and pull the boots over my feet. The ice spit down like gunfire on the chilled window. I lock the door behind me, walk down the hall, step by step over the shitty 70’s linoleum. The night air hits my face. It is a dark and stormy night. People pass, huddled against one another in a frenzied pace to avoid the cold.
I don’t feel a goddamn thing.
Do you have what it takes?
Ask yourself. When you think of your truest dreams, what do you see? I’ve watched thousand of mouths explain to me why things can or can’t be done, why certain things are useless and why things must be fought for with all ones might.
I think to the poem that ended my only published book “Rivals Of Morning”. (BUY IT HERE AND AMAZON WILL DRONE IT TO YOUR HOUSE) It’s called ‘Finale’, and it goes something like this:


the music from
the radio sings out
late on a midnight
hours back

it asks
with each note:

how do you feel
about your life?

I don’t think that’s the right question
I tell back
to the empty speakers

each day is a dollar
and most of the time
there isn’t any proof
of what you paid for

so as the next one too
goes away
like the last and
and the birthdays come
left with yesterday’s

my message for this night


sleep well with the life
you had yesterday
and ask for
nothing more
what you are willing to do
about it

Do you have what it takes? That’s the question.
We have been great friends, dear readers, for a long, long time. We’ve traveled to New Orleans together, across the Atlantic to Paris and Berlin. I’ve been 86’d from bars because of this blog. I’ve fought with countless women about the contents of these pages. I’ve received hundred of emails from across the world, all proclaiming: “You come to my bar, Matthew, and the drinks are on us!”
I’ve spent thousands of nights behind the 3 feet of wood, watching, learning, studying, all to bring you, what I thought, the bartender truly knew.
I suppose there are a couple things I learned along the way.
I see up ahead, through the frozen trees and the moonlight above, a subtle glow down the street. As I move closer, the form appears:
A bar.
I make my way through the raining ice, eyes squinting and firm on my target. The door creeks open, and I saddle up to the bar, my elbows tucked nicely into the grooves. The bar is empty, of course, except for a few hunched faceless figures down the bar bathed in red light.  
The bartender, a young man, much like me when I started this fine profession 13 years ago, strides up confidently, a smirk across his face.
“Cold night?" He says.
“Oh, yes,” I say. “Beer and a shot please.”
“Any preference?” He asks.
“God no,” I say.
“Good man,” he says. I watch him flip around a pint glass and pour a domestic. He, with firm skill, pours the well whiskey into the glass. “Here you go, buddy.”
I raise my glass. “To you, young man,” I say. We are mirrors of each other. 
He grins and pours himself one as well.
“I can’t very well let you drink alone,” he says.
“A good bartender never should,” I say, sliding a 20 dollar bill across the wood bar.  
We drink together in the darkness. He walks back to the register.
“Keep it man,” I say.
I sit for a moment. The words pass through my head again, quietly, like some beacon of light.
Do you have what it takes?
I take a long pull from my beer and answer, all to myself.

You’re goddamn right I do.




Sunday, March 1, 2015


            There a lot of things we can choose to do in life. We could study hard and finish medical school. Then you could save the lives of hundreds of people; car crash victims, cancer patients, and the knife wounded mugged, you literally could bring these human being back from the edge of death.
            What about becoming a lawyer? Right? That’s sounds fun. Work really hard saving the little man from the heinous crimes of large corporations, like in some Grisham novel, granting ovations to the jury and carrying the day?
            What about the sweater-donning University Professor? Now that might be up our alley. Talk about existential reality and Dostoyevsky all day long to the hungry minds of the world? Giving hope and knowledge to our next generation inheriting a troubled and corrupt world. Now there is a mission I could get on board with.
            My Mother (whose a big fan of this blog, although it does worry her from time to time) once said:
            “Be careful what you do part-time because it could end up what you do full-time.”
            And look at that. She was right. I am a bartender. I have been a bartender. I could have been a thousand things. I do have a brain that still works (sort of). But as all of you have been reading for over four years now, there is a question you may have to ask yourself:
            Should you become a bartender?
            It’s an honest question. Maybe you already have a stellar job, making a shit load of money, making your own hours, and running the roost.
Maybe not. Maybe you are working a mediocre job, coming home, night after night, slightly depressed, tired, only finding respite in some sort of episodic television series you watch to forget your life.
Then become a bartender. After all, one of our most loyal readers, Matthew P., became a bartender after reading these blogs. No joke people, he actually stalked me out, hung out at my bar for a couple weeks, and then finally broke the news that he, was truly, The Bartender Knows biggest fan. He could quote blogs years old, repeat back to me lines I’ve totally forgotten were mine (and really good for that matter), and told me, quite honestly, he became a bartender from the wit and wisdom found in these pages.
But there are warnings that I have to share with you guys about this illustrious profession (so listen up Matthew P.), just in case it really does get that bad and you find yourself, beer-stained, covered in tax free money, and sliding cocktails down the bar like a boss.

Tax Free Money.

No one, I mean, no one, is going to argue about this one (except maybe the IRS).
Everyone knows that bartending is where the money is. How many other jobs (other than waiting tables, another job I can handle with grace and ease) do you get paid that day? In cash. I’ll list them.
Day laborer.
Drug Dealer.
Bootleg DVD Salesman.
Nude Model.
Porn Star.
Street Vendor.
Live Musician.

Do we see a pattern here? First of all, most of my friends work at least in two or more of these professions listed above. Right then, you have to ask yourself, “do I want to only associate myself with these types of people?”
If the answer is yes, and a resounding yes is, then it’s time for you to man up, don’t go to bartending school, and buy yourself a church key.
(Special Note: I dare anyone to tell me where to buy church keys. They are harder to come by than you imagine.)
It is now time for you to join the ranks.

You Hate The Sun.

Peak mornings, full of brisk air, and birds chirping. The friendly faces you pass on the street, nodding to you (even in big cities) as you pass by them. The smell of fresh bread and espresso. The morning stretch, yoga, and the obligatory jog.
Any or all of these things sound good to you? Then do not, I repeat, do not join the vampiric darkness that is the closing bartenders lifestyle. You will never see the sun again, and if you do, you will slink around the sidewalks of your town in hoodies and Ray-Ban aviator sunglasses. You probably will be pale. You will probably only wear black.
Like in any kind of Gothic Romance from the 19th Century, you and Goethe will walk, hand in hand, around the world, together. Why do you think this blog was so successful?
We are out there.
We are legion.

Healthy Relationships.

Do you hope to find that special person you can share you deep and personal wishes, fears, hopes, and dreams? You will not find it as a bartender.
Not that you won’t find that special someone in a bar. Don’t believe that absolutely shitty myth that good relationships never start out in bars. The only relationships that are actually working that I know personally have exactly started in bars. That’s where people go to drink. That’s where people go to unwind.
In my 13 years of bartending, 90% of relationships I have seen come to fruition (again, whatever that means) have started by some chance and star-crossed meeting in a dark bar.
My point specifically about bartenders not being able to have healthy relationships stems from one reason and one reason only:
You just meet to many people in the bar world. Everyone who walks in the door, if they want a drink, is going to have to go through you to get one. This means meetings, name exchanges, jokes told, stories unfurled, future plans made. Over and over again, people from all walks of life (especially in New York Fucking City) walk into the bar. I have gotten jobs, drugs, girlfriends, travel opportunities, sexual encounters and truly lovely and talented friends from standing behind the 3 feet of wood.
But a healthy relationship?
Not once.
“You are only as single as your options,” to quote the Greek existential philosopher Chris Rock.

Look at your watch. It’s already 2:30a.m. The bars in New York City close at 4.am. I’ve been talking so much you almost forgot what time it is.
You look at your drink. It’s almost finished. I come over a place a nice pint of German beer and a Bullet Rye Whiskey neat in front of you.
“It’s almost closing time,” I say, with a bit of sadness behind my eyes.
You nod, finish your other pint, and place it down softly.
The next blog is the last one kids. As I said before: 99 entries, 4 years, over 100,000 hits, readers all over the world.
What more could a humble blogger want? I’ve made friends, created enemies, and gotten free drinks all over the world from this blog. And now it’s almost over. 
But like I said. It’s not closing time left. Not last call at all. There’s still time for a couple drinks.

What’ll it be?




Friday, February 13, 2015


            The bartender turns off the light, checks around to see if there are any hanger-on’s outside of the establishment. It’s 4:30AM in New York City and there are bound to be still drunken vagabonds listlessly wandering the streets outside the bar. Some nights this can be a harmless thing. You just flick them off as you would circling flies. Other nights they might take a swing at you from the darkness. Or worse.
            But tonight, there’s no one. The bartender can take a deep long breath and lock the door behind him. Most of the dirt is clean from the surfaces. The beers are stocked for the coming bartender in the daytime realm. It’s a kind thing to do, prep for the next person coming in. Sure, nine times out of ten, the person wouldn’t do back for you. But you don’t care.
            What is the great lesson in Salinger’s classic Franny and Zooey? Do beautiful things even if there is no one there to see them. Right?
            “It ain’t over until the Fat Lady sings,” Zooey says. Then Zooey tells Franny who the ‘Fat Lady’ really is. (If you don’t understand these references, please do yourself a favor and read Franny and Zooey. It is short, sweet, and will change your life. For real.)
            But wiping up all the rinds of the lemons and limes and making sure the little pieces of glass are out from the mats won’t change anything in this world. It’s the right thing to do, but a noble one?
            It doesn’t matter. The money is in the register. The till is even. The bartender walks slowly behind the bar, picks up a clean pint glass, and pours himself a draft. For himself. He’s poured at least 500 in a night, but this one here, now, is his.
            The bartender sits down on a stool in the darkness and reflects. The air pipes creak and rattle in the corner of the dark bar. Some steam hisses and twists to the ceiling. It could have been a strange ghost, or a demon for that matter. Anyone one unfamiliar with these weird sounds that emit from a bar room floor would first assume the place was haunted. After the reckless and relentless stomping and yelling of hundreds of intoxicated people just in one night, imagine for a moment they leave a residue perhaps; of their laughter, of their anger, of their sadness and their lust.
            Maybe there is some kind of musk left behind from human moments, especially the inebriated kinds. Maybe it’s all in the bartenders mind. He takes his first sip from the cold beer. Nearly half the glass is gone when he puts it back down to the wooden bar.
            Slowly, wearily, he brings out a little tattered and beer stained notebook. It’s been in his pocket all night, now folded and pressed in ragged ways, and some of the pen ink is smeared, now doubt from the sweat and the alcohol. In fact, he realizes his whole shirt is soaked with the same, his pants covered in water. The night was insane. People holding bills out in gusto, eyes of want, some smiling, others with some bored irritation. People open their mouths and yell: “Bartender!” More start yelling the same word, like a mantra chant. Like a nightmare.  
            Soon all the ‘bartenders!” become one hollow echo tone through his ears. The bartender has dealt with crowds before. He moves like some preternatural creature, turning, spinning around, church key popping bottles, beer caps fly everywhere like stray bullets. Two well bottles raised up in two hands, pouring drinks four at once. People get what they want. The bartender is on auto-pilot, not even there. Just one continuous flow of alcoholic movement, a gymnast delivery of intoxication. That was earlier. Now there is only silence.
            The bartender puts the pen down to the wet paper. The words don’t come immediately. So many things, so many memories of the day, before the trove of wolves rolled in on their Friday night war path. The bartender raises the pen to his mouth, a nervous habit. It even reeks like it was soaking in Gin.
            The words. They are there, floating amidst with the steam from the bar room floor, circling above the bartender. If only he could just pull them out from the ether and put them down, like intricate diamonds laced into a necklace, with the right kind of precision and honesty.
            What does he want to say? How does he describe all the people he had met standing behind the wooden bar. Some have been old men, muttering about their dreams as they stared down into the melted ice of their glass. How can the bartender immortalize these men? One with sad, drooping eyes, cheekbones with wrinkles cut from both laughter and grimace. He, giving the bartender advice:
            “Live it now, because life is only smoke,” he tells the bartender. Less than a year later he was dead. They found him living alone, in practical squalor. No living relatives. No money to his name. A wisp of smoke, gone by the morning light.  
            The bartender presses the pen down hard on the paper. And what about the woman he convinced not to kill herself? Crying after one beer, using bar napkins to dry her cheeks. They took her away too, when she tried to use the fruit cutter to slice her own throat right their at the bar at 3 in the afternoon.
            How does one write about these people? Or all of the things the bartender has seen. From the back of the bar, more steam demons hiss. They may know what happened too, but they are not speaking a language the bartender can understand. No, their language is far more murky.
            This isn’t the first time the bartender tried to put down the words that could illustrate all the things he has seen through the bars. The moments of triumph and celebration when someone gets a job and buys the bar a round of shots. The anguish of the heart when another finds their girlfriends cheating on them and it was the bartender who had to tell them. The casual days of listless nothing, watching B movies while no one speaks to each other, only the clank of the ice cubes stirring around in circles.
            There would be days when the bartender would sit at the end of other bars, not his, and put, yet again, some words to paper. People would jeer and laugh at him, some would approach:
            “What the hell are you writing in a bar for?” His face wanting no answer. Not that he could understand the language back. “What, just writing about us?” he asks. 
            The bartender would set his pen down, look up slowly.
            “You don’t want to know what I'm writin' buddy,” I say.
            The man’s face twists with some whiskey anger. He might do something, like throw a punch. The bartender might throw one back. But no one does anything. The man goes back to his group of hounds, the bartender goes back to his pen.
            Some women approach too, also confused by the stack of papers at the end of the bar. “Let me guess, you’re a writer?” she says. It’s not a question either, and when she says the word, writer, she spits it out like it was a new disease. It’s known in America the writer is the lowest of the low. Unless it’s for espisodic TV or a hot new screenplay, writers are regarded as nusicances and drunkards.
            The girl has her hands on her hips. She’s chewing gum, which is a weird thing to do while drinking Vodka Sodas. The bartender answers:
            “Yes, yes I am.”
            “Are you published?” Again, the word is spit like snake venom.
            “Maybe,” the bartender says. She goes away too. The group looks down the bar, both judging and shaking their heads. Their question is a good one.
            Why are you writing in a bar?
            The night moves on. Now the creaking of the floorboards grow stronger, like hooved footsteps coming closer, out from the darkness of the room. The bartender finishes the cold pint, stares down at the paper. There are no words there. They are still floating.
            The bartender is tired. People have worn him down. If its not the questions of why to write or the shoving of money beyond yells, he places the notebook back into his back pocket. He gets up, pulls out the bar keys and steps outside. There are no wanderers on the street waiting for him, but the cold five o’clock in the morning blowing February winds are.  
            He buttons up his coat all the way up. It’s going to be a long walk. He looks up at the empty sky, not a star in it, only a half sliver of the white moon. He nods to himself.
            He will write all of these stories. And he will be honest. Because that is the only weapon he has left. Because the bartender knows about humanity, from the beer flooded floor to the steamed, dirt-caked ceiling. The residue of humans he wears like a suit. The musk is in his lungs.
            He moves down the sidewalk, and a little smile, a hopeful one, crosses his face. He realizes:
            The only thing to put down on the page is the honest truth. The pen is mightier than a thousand armies. It cuts all the grass to expose all the snakes.
            The wind blows hard against his face as he reaches the corner.

But it does not take the smile away.