I want to preface this by saying that I fucking love birthdays. I love them so much that I have to use profanity to express it. I think they are the most important of all possible celebrations. They are even bigger than Halloween, and that is a difficult thing for me to utter out loud. After all, birthdays commemorate the pure creation and existence of each individual human being on the face of this earth. What could be more important than that? Unless, of course, you are a Jehovah’s Witness.
On my friends’ birthdays, I try to make them the star of the show. I force them, in the most loving way, to wear a tiara or button or sash, anything to draw all attention to them on their special day. I try to ensure that we spend the day doing whatever their heart desires. I encourage strangers to sing to them. I don’t let them pay a dime for food or drink or rent. Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the gist.
That being said, when I see you and your posse roll into my bar amidst a cloud of balloons, whooping and hollering for “shots, shots, shots shots shots, shots, shots, shots shots shots,” I know that my evening has just gotten a little more annoying.
As soon as I notice you and your friends are here to celebrate your day of birth, I have already decided that your first drink is on the house. I appreciate you choosing my establishment as your hall of festivities. I want to honor you and make you feel special. But if you walk up to me and shout, “Where’s my free birthday shot?” I no longer give a shit that you were even born.
As I have told you before, kiddies: Only classless people ask a bartender to dole out free booze. We want you to remember this night forever. Or not remember it, whichever you prefer. We want the pictures to be untaggable on Facebook. We want your friends to wish their parties will be half as legendary as yours. But we have our limits. If you simply enjoy your time and act like someone who understands common courtesy, the free hooch will come to you without asking.
Now I don’t want you to think I am being hypocritical here. I know I said that I don’t let my friends pay for anything on their birthdays. And that is true, with one huge exception: If I am actually behind the bar on the grand occasion.
I have been unlucky enough to work on several of my friends’ birthdays over the years. In this business, I often miss out on great holidays and events. And that usually means the bar I am tending is a stop on the birthday crawl. We do a round of shots and embarrass the guest of honor as loudly as possible. Then they tip excessively and move on to the next watering hole. Or, at least, that’s how it is supposed to go.
Sometimes the entourage sticks around too long with hopes that their connection to the shot-pourer will make the whole night damn near free. I once lost a good friend as she slurred the words, “But it’s my burfday,” and stormed out upon learning that they actually owed money for a tab. Although it sometimes seems like an adult funhouse, I still have a business to run and true friends recognize and respect that.
Speaking of respect, in my eight years of running a college bar, my favorite request was, “It’s my best friend’s birthday. What shot can we give him to make him puke?” After laying down my law that whatever vomit spewed would be their responsibility to clean, we could get down to the serious discussion of disgusting concoctions. Here are some of my go-to spew inducers:
* Rusty Nail: Equal parts scotch and Drambuie. You don’t know what Drambuie is unless you bartend or are over the age of 70, but rarely is this potion imbibed for pleasure.
* Prairie Fire: Shot of tequila with a dash of hot sauce. ‘Nuff said.
* Brain Hemorrhage aka Bloody Abortion: Layer an ounce of peach schnapps with half an ounce of Bailey’s Irish Cream. Drip a drop of grenadine down the center of the shot. This one doesn’t actually taste bad at all, but if the name tells you anything, the sight of the shot is nauseating enough on its own.
* Three Wise Men: The classic birthday shot. Equal parts Jim, Jack and Jose. Not for the feint of heart. Make it a Four Horseman by throwing some Johnny Walker into the mix.
* Sweaty Armpit: Warm rail gin sprinkled with salt. This one is just mean.
* Flaming Blue Jesus: I have no idea what is in this, but I know some downtown OC bartenders who do. And I know just as many people who have regretted visiting said downtown bars on their birthdays.
Birthdays are distinguished days where you should get to feel like a bona fide rockstar amongst the local public. If you choose to have your revelry in a barroom, please remember that the rules still apply. You have to realize that whether or not this is the day on which you were spawned, you are still not the only customer in the room. Other folks are here willing to spend their hard earned money, too.
Sure, I will do my best to spoil you with my attentiveness, but when you start butting in the drink line or demanding that your song be played next on the jukebox, then you just look like a jackass. A tiara adorned, disrespectful jackass.
this article was previously published in “the hard times magazine,” december 2011