It’s hard out there for the working class.
Seems like there’s trouble at every turn: rents due, girlfriend or boyfriend trouble, more taxes, no insurance, less security. Each day there seems to be a new challenge, a new controversy, a new disaster that we, the mere working folk, must somehow drive asunder. And it’s no surprise why, night after night, people crowd into the bars, looking for advice, a funny story, and a friendly face.
And the bartender is there, ready to help. Just like Charon of Greek Myth, if you got the silver coin, we will gladly row you to Hades.
But what of the bartender?
Who are these strange creatures? How did they get this position as salient helpers of the dispossessed?
Always by accident.
I certainly did not think when I was a wee lad I would be pacing behind the bar on greasy mats, endlessly relating anecdotes to a moderately attentive audience.
I always knew I could talk.
I had that down.
I knew I could be fast and agile. I’m talkin’ octopus style fast, making 20 drinks in under 4 minutes fast.
But the path towards this illustrious ‘career’ (if one could call merely drinking, doing basic arithmetic, and being able to talk to anyone who walks into your joint a ‘career’) is one fraught with much debasement and peril.
I often wonder why some bartenders are total assholes. I know now, of course. You lose so many years of your life working your way up to work behind that 3 feet of sturdy wood that if some dumb punk ass trust fund kid gives you attitude you are more than happy to tell the kid to fuck off without guilt.
The servant class gets into your blood stream, becomes you, something you cannot escape. You wear that sense of service like the shitty clothes your parents used to dress you in and you come to resent it. My Mother told me when I was just entering the world of hospitality, warning:
“Matthew, be careful what becomes a choice now doesn’t turn into no choice at all later.”
And, unfortunately, she was right.
Now I’m in its tax-free money clutches.
Now I’m 35.
Now I have done this for so long I don’t know how to do anything else.
There are certain things that are ingrained in me. For instance, after years of waiting tables, I can no longer be served by anyone. The first moments of awkwardly being sat by the hostess irritate me to the point that by the time the server approaches the table with a tired smile and says:
“Hi, I’m Fred, and I’ll be your server tonight…” it’s hard for me not to jump out of my skin with disgust.
I don’t hate the waiters. I certainly don’t hate the art of service. I just can’t be waited on like those people who like to be waited on.
They’re out there.
Some sick little pompous nature in mankind loves to be catered and pampered to.
I don’t have that gene. And if I did have that gene in the beginning, it has been burned out of my skin by the 20 years of customer service my life has added up to.
Just like in war, the only people who know the battle are those who serve. And we are Legion.
But what do we, Bartenders and Server alike, want after our long shift? Where do we like to go?
Here’s a short list of what we, the servant class, really want out of life once we’ve throw our aprons and our church keys down for the evening.
Seriously, shut the fuck up.
After 10 hours of listening to the demands, desires, overheard confessions, and drunken nonsense, all we really want out of our evening is some goddamn peace and quiet.
Like grave quiet.
Hence why we service folk love our little dive bars where no one can find us. We need this peace. Dark, scary places like Rudy’s Bar in Hell’s Kitchen, The Levee Bar in Williamsburg, Brooklyn during the day, and what The Subway Bar was before it’s untimely death (to read more).
It’s frightening how much us service people must escape the burping, gurgling, slurring, farting, bantering, hiccuping, coughing, snorting public. Every aspect of humanness, the disgusting nature of us after 4 drinks (not everyone can be a classy drunk), becomes a wincing affair. So we need the darkness, the escape. We need in a way to become inhuman, hidden like forest creatures away from the loud, polluted freeway of humanity.
Have you watched people eat lately? Try (as any server does) watching hundreds of people eat WEEKLY. You will slowly come to understand the truth.
Francis Bacon painted human beings as foul, meat-like horrid monsters. This is how he looked at humanity. This comes as no surprise to any service worker. We know how gross human beings are. We’ve cleaned your vomit off of our bar. We’ve mopped up the nasty-ass ladies bathroom at the end of the night (9 times out of 10 the ladies room is far more disgusting than the men’s room).
What we want is a quiet, empty, shitty little bar where we can twiddle our thumbs and drift off into the abyss of our own dreams, forgetting your extra mayonnaise and light beer needs.
This is huge. All of you know how much I want to strangle shitty bartenders. Reach right over and grip the smarmy, arrogant, necks of these over-privileged douche bags.
Just the other day, I walk into Matchless Bar in Greenpoint with a friend trying to get a well-needed beer. Now, anyone who has been in the neighborhood for awhile remembers that Matchless Bar used to be the cool alternative to the annoyingly uber-cool Enid’s back in the day (talking 2006 hood-year A.D.).
Now, the Hydra has taken over. 'Bar Matchless' (as they call themselves) added a stage, then a smoking patio, then a kitchen, then shitty metal that blares at ear-piercing levels, then an entire staff of complete asshole bartenders, slow as molasses, with noses stuck straight up their own beholden ass of hipness.
I’ve made promises that I would never slander a public business ever again.
Now this is happening.
I walk into ‘Bar Matchless’ with my friend, already weary of the joint, but being that its 3pm, I’m thinking I might actually be able to get a decent drink only five minutes after I order it (it approximately takes 13 seconds or less to pour a beer). We walk into the not crowded bar and there’s a young brunette working behind the bar. She sees me and I smile and say hello.
She scowls instantly.
I look over at my boy Joe P. confused.
She looks over again, and I say, very innocently: “How are you?”
“Yeah,” she spits out, “I’ll be right with you, okay!”
Her anger is immediate.
Finally when she comes over, I try to stipulate: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean anything by anything. I’m a bartender too, I was just…”
“I’m trying to serve someone! Don’t you see that!”
I look at Joe. He looks like Hitler just walked in the door, wide-eyed.
“Jesus Christ man, let’s get outta here,” I tell him. We head for the door.
“Yeah! BYYYYE!” The bartender screams out.
We were blown away. This girl went from incompetent, unfriendly bartender to irrational cunt in 3 seconds.
We get out of there and go to the kinder, gentler Enid’s across the street.
I vow not only to never set foot in ‘Bar Matchless’ again, but to talk shit on the bar as much as I can to as many people as I can. And I even know the owner, Larry, and he’s cool as fuck. But not cool enough, I suppose, to actually hire nice bartenders.
The last thing any working man needs is to deal with bullshit bartenders and/or service.
It’s not as crime to smile.
It’s not a crime to inquire how someone is doing (but you wouldn’t believe that here in Williamsburg).
It’s not a crime to want a beer.
Life is hard.
A barroom should not be.
CHEAP ASS DRINKS
The same 7 dollar tip has been being passed around for as long as service has been around.
One hand washes the other.
We work for tips, then head on out to another service establishment to hand over those same tips to another person who works for tips.
It’s the life blood of this service world.
We don’t want some 15 dollar cocktail. We don’t need the fancy service. We want to save as much of our cash money as we can when we get off our shifts. There’s only one good thing about getting paid by check: That money stays out of your drunk-ass pocket. ‘Cause when you get paid cash that day, it’s gonna get spent.
I now know every ‘friendly’ source here in the neighborhood where I may find some financial protection. Each night I can find a quiet and inexpensive reprieve from our working day, and I take my people along with me. Because there is no worse feeling than working a whole shift and waking up in the morning to find all of the money you made is gone. It’s like working for free.
And if you’ve been paying any kind of attention, working in the service world is not free, and takes more blood out of you than a vampire in an Anne Rice novel.
All in all, the majority of service people are cool. Actually, most service people will be some of the most interesting people you will ever meet. We didn’t get into this business for our health. Most of us are artists, entrepreneurs, undiscovered rock stars, world travelers and family men and women. We have three jobs and still do our hobbies and interests despite our beat-down nature after making sure you have enough napkins, extra blue cheese and that buy-back shot we owed you.
We are the life blood of the economy. There are over 20 million people working in the food and beverage industry in America.
Chances are, you’ve already served today by one of us. Let's hope you tipped well. We need that for later.
First off, big ups to Brent Hutchinson, who cordially invited me and my cronies to his bar “78 Below” in the Upper West Side. I appreciate the invite. We’ll be coming in soon enough Brent, what are you shifts?
Note to other bartenders, far and wide, please write in. Your voice will be heard. The Bartender Knows always takes requests.
Secondly, I must thank my Mother for shedding light on last week’s mystery of what “Florida Water” really is. Ponce De Leon, huh? I need some of that stuff.
And finally, be prepared: The Bartender Knows pod cast is coming soon.
Details shortly, and yes, I’ll be having guests.
‘Till next time!
FRANCIS BACON MUST HAVE BEEN A SERVER.
WE MADE THIS MONEY. NOW WE GOT TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO KEEP IT.
HEY 'BAR MATCHLESS', GO FUCK YOURSELF!