Monday, August 22, 2011

The Confession Booth

            Now I was baptized Catholic, and that is, I’m sure, the reason for the illicit nature of my life and the cause of my sexually depraved, whiskey-addled evenings that have become rampant as I slowly glide into middle age (I just shuddered at ages’ death rattle). Now there is nothing wrong with this age-old religion, as long as one ignores the litany of massacres of indigenous people, the blatant ‘turn of the cheek’ to the sexual molestation of thousands of children, and the occasional clash with other major faiths, leaving cities burning in ruin. But at least you can say Catholicism likes to win, and as a betting man, I like that sort of gumption. And rosary beads are super cool.
            How can two centuries be wrong?
            On top of that, I am an Italian-French Catholic, which explains my penchant for fine food, beautiful women, extensive alcohol intake, and some BDSM tendencies.
            The first mention of Catholicism in the history of the world was in 107 AD by Ignatius of Antioch where he decreed: “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” Now, we live in New York City, and I highly doubt old J.C. is anywhere in this 9 mile radius. I like to think he’s getting blown by Mary Magdalene and fanned by the Angels Gabriel and Michael on a rooftop Hilton in Dubai.  
            Ladies and gentlemen, we live in one of the most radiantly hedonist, debauched, highly sexualized, drug-rampant town that has ever been born upon this fine Earth since ole Gomorrah.  
            And isn’t it great?
            Since most of us despise even the mention of faith and religion, it is up to our minor deities to protect us in our travails out here in the mire.
            There’s only two places you can go when you’re are in need of some serious spiritual guidance:
            The pulpit or the bar stool.
            And if you’re anything like me, you’re skipping Sunday services for Jack and Ginger’s on a patio with a fine cigarette and a joint all rolled up for dessert behind the ear.
            People tell you lots of things under the influence of alcohol; all kinds of secrets about martial abuse and infidelities, about the wreck their children are doing to their lives, their fears about lay-offs and someone trying to back stab them at work.
            I hear about as much as one of those black clothed priests in the dark of the confession booth.
            But I got Vodka and Gin for your sins instead of Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers.   
            Which brings me to this week’s question:
            “What is the strangest thing you’ve seen bartending?”
            Thank you, Anonymous, for your question.
            There is novel just waiting to be written for every year I’ve worked as a bartender about the things I have been exposed to. But the weirdest? This story takes the cake.
            Our tale, dear reader, begins one late afternoon in Boston where I working at some schlocky margarita joint in Harvard Square. I was new to the restaurant, so then properly cursed to the day shift. It was relatively painless, just a shift full of alcoholic graduate professors and other miscreants looking for libation at 3 in the afternoon.
            Not only did the place play old country songs in a unforgiving 3 hour loop, I also had to wear an oversized white button shirt and a bolo tie. You don’t know degradation until you’re condescended by some prissy undergraduate in a sweater-vest while making blue frozen margaritas in a fucking bolo tie!
            The afternoon was slow and I looked forward to my break to spilt up the twelve hour double I was about to work when a slightly heavy-set woman walked into the bar. She plopped right down on the stool, sweat glistening on her forehead like sugar granules, and huffed out a large breath.
            “Oooh, it’s a hot one out there, boy!” She explains, brushing her dishwater blonde hair out of her face. Her eyes were strange and wide, a clear blue, and darted back and forth as I moved between patrons behind the bar.
            I knew something was off right away, my bartending Spidey-sense ringing alarm bells. I ignored them, and greeted her.
            “What can I get you, Miss?”
            She paused, still staring intently right at me, as if she was trying to look through me.
            “Well, I need something very, very strong.”
            “And very, very sweet.”
            “What would you recommend for that?” she says, leaning on her thick arms over the bar.
            “We are a margarita bar.”
            “And you make good ones?”
            “That’s why they pay me the big bucks.”
            “Well, why don’t you fix me one of those then,” she said, winking.
            I do what I’m told, feeling those wide and strange eyes watching my every move. I use a heavy hand in my pour. She chimes in, “You can put a little more in there, can’t you?”
            To avoid trouble, I poured a couple more jiggers worth.
            “Oooh, that’s just right,” she said after gulping down ¼ of the glass. “Just what the doctor ordered. Can I ask you a question?”
            I started to polish a glass with my bar rag.
            “You would say that bartenders are pretty knowledgeable, yes?”
            “Some of us know more than others.”
            “And I’m sure you hear a lot of things back there?”
            Her eyes glazed over, still wild and blue, as she chugged back the rest.
            “Another, please.”
            I started on it. She continued:
            “Well, you seem like you probably have some answers for me.”
            I felt it creep up my spine. That cold chill of danger. I filled the glass with tequila. This was only going to go one way. I place the glass slowly in front of her, feeling those strange eyes burning a hold in the back of my head.
            “What did you have in mind?” I ask.
            She, again, ferociously puts down half the glass, a little liquid spilling over her thick lips. She rubs her face with her sleeve.
            “What would do if you had nowhere to go?”
            “What do you mean? Like you’re homeless?”
            “No. I have a home. I have a husband. I have a job. I’m saying if you can’t go to any of those things.”
            I step back and start polishing another glass clean.
            “Like you can’t go home?” I asked.
            “No. I can go home,” she said, her eyes wide, “I just can’t. Do you know what I mean?”
            I slowly shake my head: “I don’t understand, Miss, I’m sorry.”
            She leaned further over the bar, as if to tell me a secret. Her voice is low and steady.
            “I-just-can’t-go-an-y-where. Do you know what I mean? What would you do if you couldn’t go an-y-where…? What would you do if you found yourself in that position? How could you get out?”
            The clank of glasses slammed down behind me and I jumped out of the strange hypnotic eyes of the sweating woman. My boss, a fat Irishman named Bob, stood there with a case of dirty glasses.
            “Matthew, you’re on break. Take 20. I handle the bar from here.”
            I looked back to the woman who coolly sipped her drink, not taking her eyes off me.
            “Think about it, Matthew,” she said. I shivered as she said my name, overhearing it from my stupid boss. I threw down the towel and slipped out the back door.
            During my break, I ate a sandwich in Harvard Square, trying to shake that woman’s face out of my mind. All I could hope for was that she was gone when I went back in.
            I snubbed out a cigarette as I turned around the corner off Church Street when I saw the flashing lights. An ambulance was parked out front of the restaurant.
            I shook my head and swore under my breath as I walked through the double doors.
            There, on a stretcher, was the lady, tied down and flanked by a police officer and two EMT’s. As they wheeled her past me, she stared at me with those empty blue eyes and grinned, showing her teeth.
            “I found my way out. Thanks, Matthew.”
            They wheeled her out and I felt bile rise up in my throat. My boss came up behind me with his hands on his hips.
            “What the fuck did you say to her, Matthew?”
            I turned towards him. “What? I didn’t say anything. What the fuck happened?”
            Bob grunted. “Well, you left and she pounded that drink and told me what a great bartender you were. Then she went over to a table, grabbed a steak knife, brought it to her neck, yelling at the top of her lungs something about ‘getting out. What the hell did you do?”
            I felt dizzy. “I didn’t do anything. Jesus.”
            “You fucking better of not. We don’t need any more lawsuits,” he said, lumbering off, me not quite sure what that meant. I walked slowly back behind the bar. Two college kids saddled up, and laughing, asked for two frozen blue margaritas. Keeping my hands from shaking, I poured the tequila into the blender.
            They certain don’t teach you shit like that at Bartending School.
            That’s why bartenders are crafted out of steel.
            And why we’ve seen it all.
            Cheers to finding a way out, anyway you can.
            Just next time, do it at someone else’s bar.
            See y’all next week.    




Monday, August 15, 2011

The Best Brunch in Williamsburg

             I’m drinking my home state of Rhode Island’s classic tall boy can of Narragansett Beer with some of my artistic friends listening to a trombone player note Chet Baker’s “I Fall In Love Too Easily” at a little newly minted wine bar off North 6th with a shitty owner but stocked full of lithe raven haired dilettantes and super cool guy named Dylan, when I suddenly realize my entire life, truly, and at present, is a cliché.
            Let’s do the Artist Cliché checklist for the evening.
            Highly creative individuals dressed in monochromatic colors pontificating a range of topics regarding Art, a return trip from Berlin, what dates we’ll meet in Paris over the winter, how my novel is going, and when the musicians we’re drinking with are playing their next gig.
            We are in a moody, candlelit, wine bar, with bottles lining the walls, matched with framed oil paintings of glassy eyed children and old men with gray beards.
            An anorexic, but highly sexually enticing waitress with red painted lips and lots of clanging gypsy jewelry hanging from her wrists sarcastically serves us drinks.
            Lovers making out in dark corners to the narcotic sounds of the trombone while a singer dressed like Cole Porter with the teeth of an Englishman (craggily) croons.
            Two men, thoroughly older then the women who join them at their table, smile across at each other, talk of Henry Miller, what Old New York must have been like, and whether or not Rick Perry has a chance at winning 2012. The girls, twins no less, are both dressed wonderfully in completely different styles. One, who shows pictures of her recent Germanic adventures, has billowy blonde hair falling around her cherubic face smiling in the candlelight. The other, a short haired brunette with eyes like chocolate, listens to her sister fondly, her brown pools darting from conversation to conversation, taking in all in. More drinks are served and glasses clank in the night.
            I’m waiting for Django Reinhart to walk in.
            My friend, his moustache sharply curled above his lips like electric wire, brings out his ‘to do’ list. Most of the items are crossed off with black marker, but one thing remains on the list. I grab the piece of paper out of his hand.
            “What’s left?” I ask.
            “Oh, a mustard jar,” he says, quite plainly, “I need a new mustard jar.”
            “Mustard jar?” I say, flatly.
            We both get the joke and start laughing.
            “These are Williamsburg problems,” I say, pounding my beer. “While the rest of the world starves, we have to worry about where in God’s green Earth can we buy our next mustard jar.”
            There is a special place in hell for Americans. But it will probably be air-conditioned.
            Moving onto another gut-wrenching, philosophical quandary:
            Where will we brunch today?
            Take a beautiful sunny Sunday, perfect Fall weather, not too hot, a little breeze, just waking up and shedding off that horrid hangover left from the 3 bottles of Prosecco consumed the night before; there is nothing better in the world than a fine, clean, happy brunch.
            Now I’ve told you all exactly where not to go in the neighborhood a couple blogs ago ( Go here!)
            But where are the finest places in Williamsburg to enjoy your brunching?
            Here are the winners.

            (North 8th and Berry)
            I have never been out to a restaurant for a meal and left, 5.3 hours later, drunk as shit off champagne, fourteen shots of whiskey, fattened by a hot fudge sundae, spicy chicken wings, and the best 2 egg, potato, and Challah toast deal in the hood ($4.95, Hobo prices!). The place was around when William Taft was President for Christ’s Sake, so it’s got street cred. It’s unpretentious, completely warm and friendly even to degenerates like myself, always some kind of game on, and chalk full of cheap drinks.
            Every worker there is A) a wonderful drinker, B) completely sexy, C) and tough as nails, ready to throw down and fight if they got too. I keep telling them there should be a Calendar for “Teddy’s Girls”, each month christened by a scantily dressed Teddy’s worker with their favorite alcoholic beverage of choice in hand. I’m ignored, and often times threatened with calls to the police.
            Bonus Awesome: Wings that are actually good, air-conditioned through the summer, and jailbait hostesses to leer at.               

            LE BARRICOU
            (533 Grand Street, between Union and Lorimer)
            In all my travels through this godforsaken, sinful neighborhood, the greatest treat a man or woman can find is a place that does not fuck up Hollandaise Sauce.
            Like ass play, Hollandaise sauce is not to be taken lightly.
            After testing over 25 restaurants for this dish, no one can actually pull this off like the decadent, rich, sweet flavor of Le Barricou’s Eggs Benedict. Top that off with amazing Parisian décor, relatively friendly staff (the male managers all seem like stoic hipster men wax statues), and fantastic music selection. Get their early, for this place is growing in stature. Best time is right before noon on the weekend, right before all of the uber-sheik elite arrive and fuck the whole experience by being themselves.
            Bonus Awesome: Great oysters, a slim Polish bartender named Olga, and walls painted with that special Van Gogh yellow that just demands you get drunk on absinthe and sleep with prostitutes.      

            KASIA’s DINER
            (146 Bedford Ave, between North 8th and 9th)
            Bedford Avenue, as all of you know, has become the new Montparnasse of our modern era. Streets lined with the hip bourgeois, toting silly little dogs I want to punt across the street, and parades of poseurs and tourists, drug addicts and drunks, artists and provocateurs. All the restaurants that line this boulevard of cool are over-priced, over-crowded, and just a plain hassle to enjoy.
            But there’s a little gem in its mist, and conveniently closed on weekends (Ha-Ha you fucking weekend warriors, it’s all mine!!!!!). Kasia’a Polish Diner. It is just as you’d expect. Simple, plain, awesome food. Great smoothies with real fruit (try the ginger-apple-orange mix, divine). I have brought more women here after a night of whiskey and sex the wonderfully kind Polish waitresses must think I’m running a brothel off 9th street. Just try it. Cheap food, great kielbasa, and nothing is organic, you pedantic health freaks! Just good food your depression era Grandmother would approve of.
            Bonus Awesome: Ana and her smile, great little patio for watching the world go by on Bedford, and working man’s prices, out the door for under ten bucks full and ready for the day (or evening).

            Happy Brunching!

            Stay Tuned for next Monday’s installment of “The Bartender Knows”



Monday, August 8, 2011

How To Become A Bartender?

             Now that the Wall Street bankers, our Congress, and the President have decided to put the United States of America on a crash course with a credit default scare, everyone about now is a little worried that all of the financial markets are going to come tumbling down and those nice people who told us that investments and 401K plans were the smart way to go are currently loading unmarked $100 bills into private jets en route to some bank in the Cayman Islands, the idea of working a ‘cash that day’ job seems the intelligent choice.
            Yes, that’s right, no receipts, no proof, just work, smile, serve some drinks, make some people laugh, and skip, happily away with a wad of cash for your efforts.
            This is the life of a bartender.
            Now what seemed like a default choice of my own may just be the thing that saves my ass when this whole economy comes crashing down upon everyone’s feet.
            Listen up kids, do what you good ole bartender did! Try your hand at being a writer! Drop out of high school! Go develop a narcotics addiction! Live your life free of college debt and horrid academic graduate school garbage! Get drunk all the time! Date only strippers and women who suffer from severe depression!   
            Okay. Maybe all of that is a complete line of bullshit. This way of life is not for the faint of heart.
            Still, there are some of you out there who have lost their jobs during this damn recession, and now are looking for some way to stand on their own two feet. And, the first question I get all the time is:
            How Do I Become A Bartender?
            Now I have just the solution towards this plight.
            But, I will start with some warnings.
            As a bartender, or any position in the food/beverage industry, there are some essential risks by making this lifestyle choice.            
            Let me ask you a series of personal questions (and if you answer YES to any of these, please consider a different profession):
            1. Do you like getting up early and smelling the fresh, clean air?   
            2. Does the idea of living in a perpetual state of darkness bother you?
            3. Do you try to surround yourself with people who are uplifting, inspiring you to greater heights, and challenge you emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually?
            4. Do you like health insurance?
            5. Do you have strong sexual morals?
            6. Do you like job security?
            7. Do you seek parental approval of your life decisions?
            8. Did you go to bartending school?
            9. Do you have a drinking problem? (because you will after serving people for any time over six months)
            10. Do you enjoy being treated like a servile imbecile by those who are neither smarter, more ambitious, or with as much experience in dealing with customers than you (i.e. restaurant managers)?

            If you’ve answered ‘no’ to all of these questions, we can now move on to How To Become A Bartender.
            First things first. DO NOT GO ON CRAIG’s LIST!
            Craig’s List signifies two things right off the bat:
            1. The Restaurant/Bar is new. Which means you will not make any money at all. Which means the management probably has no fucking clue how to run a business. Which means they will treat you like shit. Or,
            2. There is no good rapport between staff and management. Any bar gets their staff from other staff recommendations. That’s just how it works. As my best friend J puts it, the bar world is a “cult of personality”. So, if the staff hates the management (as they often do), then the management must resort to Craig’s List ads to find decent help. Which means that the managers are a bunch of self-righteous assholes. Which means no one drinks with them after their shift. Which means you will make no money AND be demeaned daily.
            Second things second, do not hand in a resume. This isn’t rocket science. The resume in the bartending world is the most retarded, useless invention ever created. What does it really show? You can use Microsoft Word Templates? You know your friends phone numbers who will pose wonderfully as managers from other bars?
            I can tell a real bartender from a poseur in under an hour by putting that person behind the bar. How do you handle your speed rail? How do you talk to your customers? The proof is right there in the pudding. If they stand there like a deer in headlights and fumble the money and bottles like a blind juggler, you can be rest assured your new employee has never stood on a greasy bar mat in their lives.
            Here’s the sad and horrible truth about how to become a bartender.
            You HAVE to work for several years at horrid, disgusting, self-debasing, and abusive bars to earn your way up the ‘ladder’ to the final two goals of all bartender life: The Dive Bartender or The Fine Dining Bartender (these being the two pinnacles whom all strive for which I will discuss in future blogs).
            Or you have to sleep with the right person.
            Or your father is a part owner.
            Or you’re an incredibly hot woman.
            Although most people think that it’s a side job easily attainable, bartending is much like everything else: you have to work your way up, the right people have to like you, and you need to be lucky.
            The only true secret I can offer is this:
            Find a bar you love to drink at, love the bartenders at, and want to work at, and drink there ALL THE TIME. You personality will be discovered because of the truth inducing liquid of alcohol. And if the right bartender digs you, you’re on the fast track to success.
            Other than that, drop those crazy notions of personal pride, integrity, and mental stability, roll up your sleeves, and jump head first into the shark tank.
            Good luck, and I’ll see you at the bars.
            Stay tuned for the next installment: Bartending Secrets (part 2)   


              DAMN RIGHT!