I’m a great listener. You can babble for an hour about how that blind date last night puked on your new Candie’s pumps but still looked like Johnny Depp while doing it. I’ll insist on details. You can complain about the White Sox and that son-of-a-bitch pitcher who you love to hate. I’ll press for stats even though I never gave a shit about baseball. You can even use me as an excuse to bail on that girl who you met on the internet, who has been in the bathroom for five minutes putting on pepper-infused lip gloss to plump her mouth. I’ll gladly tell her “but he said he was going out for a smoke! He’s really not out there?” And then, just as gladly, I’ll listen to her tell me how she really thought you could’ve been the one. The first thing bartending teaches you is how to listen more than you speak, and to always be engaged.
I’ve been hit on and puked on and when I get home at 5 a.m. I smell like tequila, not because I’ve had the pleasure of drinking it but because some enthusiastic drunk person tried to grab the bottle and knocked it all over me. I’ve had coasters thrown at me, straws flicked in my direction and I’m used to guys mumbling about my ass under their breath. Bar mats are uncomfortable underfoot, and when I finally lay down, leg cramps nearly drive me to the point of cutting them off with the only clean knife in my kitchen. You don’t really think I’m going to do my own dishes after doing yours all night, do you? But at least bartending allows me the luxury of being able to afford the emergency room in case I do go all John Wayne Gacy on myself. The second thing bartending teaches you is how much persistence pays, and how not to let little things get to you.
At any given moment, at least two of my coworkers are involved in a sexual relationship. Put thirty young, attractive people in a room together week after week and it’s bound to happen. I know we all flirt with you, and you’re probably really cute as you drink your Jack & Coke, Mr. Day Job with Sexual Harassment Guidelines, but please leave your hopes of getting our number in the cab, or let me crush it for you. Your inability to stay awake past 3 a.m. will be detrimental to and eventually be the deal-breaker of our potential relationship. When we’re not too exhausted to party after work, we do it big. Additionally, the kitchen door says, “Staff Only” and that’s where we go to steal kisses long after the line cooks have left. Sorry, no customers allowed. It might be bad work ethic, but we take comfort in the small victories of the late-night diner and a warm body that can keep up. We perform every second after close as a euphoric soccer triumph. Bartending makes you appreciate good love when and where you find it.
Bartenders are versatile, vampire-like creatures that moonlight (er, daylight) as poets, quantum theorists and film enthusiasts. We work for hours half-starved and having to pee, and although our diets consist mostly of lukewarm French fries and Red Bull, we are in the best shape of our lives without ever having to set foot in the gym. We are knowledgeable in a wide range of subjects; our values and skill sets extend far beyond concocting five perfect martinis in less than two minutes. Please, save yourself the ignorance of assuming we are failures or degenerates or alcoholics because we choose to work a schedule that best suits our needs. It is a fast-paced industry complemented by fast money, and we’re doing it to supplement our nontraditional lifestyle choices. We have the champagne foil cuts on our thumbs to prove it.
If you can’t afford the service, don’t request it. We don’t walk into the bank where you work and demand free money. We don’t have the option to dock your salary when you can’t give it to us, so please don’t do it to us. As a bartender, I respect your need to let loose and have fun while I clean up the mess — but if I’m cleaning and still getting your drinks in a timely fashion, please respect my need to feed my cat and pay my rent.