I originally learned to bartend from a guy I used to date. He had just opened his own bar and had been in the game for awhile. I had done pretty much everything Front of House but bartend, save for pouring a few beers here and there. So there I was one night, having a glass of wine at his bar after coming back from a shift of my own in the West Village, when all of a sudden he got busy. I hopped back behind the bar to keep him ahead of the quickly mounting piles of dirty glasses and, while I was at it, I poured a few pints, giving him time to make all the carefully crafted cocktails he was known for. I decided right then and there that if I was going to continue in the service industry, I didn’t want to be anywhere but behind the bar. It felt safer, more in control and, dare I say it, a little bit cooler. So he started teaching me. He set me up with a speed-pourer equipped liquor bottle full of water, a jigger and a rocks glass and set me to work pouring out glass after glass of perfectly counted neat waters. He gave me a book of drink recipes and went through, X-ing out all the drinks he didn’t think I would ever have to know, and telling me to memorize the rest. He also gave me a piece of advice that I held on to, tightly, until, well, now. He said, and I am paraphrasing here, that bartenders are like a community, and it is each of our responsibilities to educate people how to behave, and how to tip, so that other bartenders don’t have to deal with the crap. But today, October 21, 2014, something like 7 years after I was initially given that advice, I am calling bullshit. Not on the community thing, or the fact that in some way or another many of us are in this together — we warn other neighborhood drink slingers about dickheads and problem customers, call each other when there’s an incident, send our friends good customers when they decide to drink in another bar. I am calling bullshit on the idea that a lot of people are open to learn how to be, well, human.
Here is the thing. I have a super strict standard of behavior for myself. When I deviate from the standard, I am sent into an incredibly intense moral hangover that involves long walks, sulking, ill-fantasies, maybe some tears, apologies and, on more than one occasion, the purchasing of small (admittedly unnecessary) gifts. I really don’t like to act like an asshole. It doesn’t agree with me. And I operate under this misconceived notion that other people also don’t like acting like assholes. Or, perhaps more specifically, that they shouldn’t like acting like assholes or, even more specifically, that they actually don’t think they are acting like assholes at all. They are just being themselves. But realistically sometimes “themselves” actually just means “assholes.” Did that make sense? The point is that some people are just dicks. They are dicks and they don’t care. Well, you know what? As of today, October 21, 2014, I no longer give a fuck.
So here’s the deal. My dad once told me, and this is one of my favorite pieces of advice, that we can only have expectations of people that are in keeping with what they have previously demonstrated is possible for them. Like, if someone is a liar all the time, we can’t expect them to just randomly start telling the truth and we can’t really be that mad at them when they behave the way that they have always behaved. They are doing what they always do, I am just placing my unreasonable, in context, expectations on them. So I get to make a choice. I can either be cool with the fact that they are a liar and deal with it to whatever extent is necessary, or I can get myself all bent out of shape about it. But then who’s the chump? Me. I’m the chump all bent out of shape about an entirely predictable situation. And I don’t like being a chump just about as much as I don’t like being an asshole. So now let’s put this in conversation with bartending.
I like to think that when I go into a bar and order a drink I am pretty polite. I sit in my stool, I take out my $20 and place it on the bar (especially if I don’t know the bartender), I know what I want to drink, I wait my turn, and then I ask for my drink, book ended with pleases and thank yous. I love please and thank you. I might make friendly conversation, I might just read a magazine. I rarely, if ever, tell people I bartend unless they ask (sometimes the 20 gives it away) because to me that just reeks of asking for buybacks which is something that polite people just do not do. In the process of drinking my drink, I do not rip up my coaster or stir up shit, and when I leave I tip. Plain and simple. I like to think that I am a good bar customer more often than not. I even think that if I were serving me a drink I would like me and I might even say to myself,
“Self, that girl drinking the Powers sure is polite.”
And there are plenty of people who drink in bars that are polite. Or at least well-behaved. Or maybe they just don’t offend me in any way. But then there are lots of people who just down right suck. They also seem to travel in packs. They are rude, demanding, condescending, sexist, messy and all sorts of other things. Bartenders can smell them when they walk in the door. I don’t know what it is about these people but you just know, from first sight, or first order, that they are assholes. And in the past, I would want to let them know they were assholes, to educate them, or to prove a point, but not any more. Because you know what? That is not my job. It is not my job, or really my right, to force my own moral compass, my own standards of behavior, on other people. They want to be dicks, to a point, then fine, let them be dicks. That’s cool. They want their drink strong? “Okay,” I’ll say with a smile, and I will make it the same way I always make it. They want less ice? That’s cool, they can just get more mixer. They want to wave their glass at me, snap their fingers, flash their cell phone screen? I won’t tell them they did anything wrong, I will just send them to the back of the line. They might think I’m a bitch. They are welcome to their own opinions. Because here is the thing: I am doing this for the foreseeable future. Maybe not forever, but for now. And the name of the game is self-preservation. And you know what makes it easier? Not letting it in. (Also, the fact that the new bar I am working at comes staffed with security. At a certain point, shitty behavior actually stops being my problem and that is a luxury I am happy to accept.)
So all you people who are awesome? Come see me! It’ll be fun. And all you people who suck? I will gladly take your money. And I’ll turn all the negative energy into creative motivation for my book. Because, yea, I’m doing that.