tales from the tip jar: a bartender’s chronicle

I’m pretty pissed off at myself right now. Super pissed, actually. I attended a friend’s wedding this weekend in Fell’s Point, which happens to be one of Maryland’s prime spots for barhopping. We hopped pre-ceremony, and we hopped post-reception. Around 2:03 a.m. is when I broke one of my own cardinal rules: I attempted to convince the bartender that he should serve us one more round of shots after the dreaded announcement of “bar’s closed!” I begged. I promised much cash. And, still, that diligent slinger of drinks said “no.” As he should have. As is the law. As I am well aware.

So here I sit, on a coveted Sunday Funday off of work, under self-inflicted punishment. I am not out day drinking, as are many of my friends. I am grounded. I have offended my own sensibilities. I have done unto others what I would not have them do unto me. I have turned upon my own. Granted, I was wedding-drunk. Any of you who have experienced the words “open bar” know what I’m talking about, but that is no excuse. There are just some lines that you do not cross.

At this point, some of you are saying to yourselves, “Rules? There are rules to boozing?” And my answer, after spending the last 13 years wasting my English degree behind a bar, is an emphatic “yes.” Gather ‘round and listen, kiddies. Momma’s gonna teach you a thing or two about a thing or two.

This week, let’s ease into the basics: any bartender worth their weight in beer-soaked dollar bills knows that their purpose in life (or at least while on the clock) is to serve you drinks. Even though I may be running around like a crazy person, I can see that your glass is empty. Chances are, I even know how long you have been waiting and that the guy sitting next to you got there first. Do not shout at me to get my attention. You will be pushed to the back of my mental queue. Do not whistle or snap at me. I am not a Labrador retriever. Do not bang on the bar with your fist or anything else. I have been known to snatch pitchers and throw them away when such unacceptable behavior is exhibited.

Now I realize that not every day-squad can be the A-squad. I recently witnessed a bartender who had to have been on valium for the lack of hustle she possessed. A gentleman ordered two draft beers of the same type. She poured one of them, walked 20 feet to hand it to him, and then walked back to the tap to pour the second one. A little part of me died as I watched this unspeakable act of inefficiency, but I still felt guilty every time we had to wave at her to remind her that she was supposed to be working.

Patience is a virtue in the world of barroom etiquette, and will be rewarded as such. I see you. I know you want a drink and I want to make it for you. I want this to be a pleasant and profitable exchange for everyone involved. But for the love of all that is unholy, if you manage to not offend me and have my undivided attention, do not wait until that final moment to ask your five friends what they want to drink. You have had time to make these decisions, and now you will have even more time as I move on to the next customer in line.

this article was previously published in “the hard times magazine,” 5 august 2011