How to get a bartenders attention

CHARLES MCCABE, the legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist, might have put it best when he said, “The qualities in others which most strongly bug me are qualities I possess myself.” Echoed more recently by author William Wharton as, “What we all tend to complain about most in other people are those things we don’t like about ourselves,” and rendered long before either by psychologist Carl Jung as: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

One reader of this column recently noted that both of my last two Barfly columns dealt with primarily what not to do in a bar, by way of illustration. Which has the Jungian in me wondering, why do these things bother me so?

My reader added, “I try to follow all of your advice but I often enter a busy bar to find many people camped at the bar and I can’t get the bartender’s attention to order a drink. What is the right way to do this without looking like the 7-year-old kid with the answer?”

For many people, bars are not just bars. They are one of the social hubs of their lives. A place to meet friends both old and new. But as such they are also the place where we try and be the person that we all think that we are, or perhaps, would like to be. We’ve all seen James Bond order drinks in his many films. You are probably even thinking, “shaken not stirred” right now. Furthermore we see commercials with dancing girls and celebrities all ordering drinks. It’s the very epitome of cool. How many movies can we see where people fall in love by kissing on New Year’s Eve? Where are they? They are in a bar of course.

Whatever the reason, the social watering hole holds a special place for many people. But as a result the bar can also become a mirror for who we think we are. Add in a couple of cosmopolitans and that reflection can take on a funhouse aspect.

The simple answer to my reader’s question is the most obvious. What would get your attention if you were bartending? Followed by, what would annoy you? But remember one little thing, a Jungian might be watching. Practically speaking, however, I humbly offer the following advice:

• When trying to get a bartender’s attention, simply raise your hand once, as if saying excuse me, or signaling a cab. Most bartenders are aware of the people coming and going from the bar and will acknowledge you with a nod. They will then conclude whatever business they are engaged in and get to you.

• Be prepared, just because you’ve been acknowledged, doesn’t mean that you are next. They might have just done the same thing to three or four other people.

• Just because a bartender isn’t mixing drinks doesn’t mean he’s not doing anything. Taking food orders, giving directions, describing wines, telling jokes, and answering a million different questions are all part of the job. Perhaps that is why it is called bar-tending and not drink making.

• Some people hold money visibly in their hand, which clearly indicates that they want to purchase something. You’d be surprised at how many people in a very busy bar simply want to be acknowledged, but don’t actually want anything.

• Bartenders tend to gravitate towards people that they already know, perhaps even like. It’s nothing personal; you would do the same thing yourself. Three minutes is not a long time. It just seems like it when your ego is on the line.

• Jockeying back and forth is not going to speed things up. You can be seen with peripheral vision. He/she knows you are there. Moving around anxiously isn’t going to make your business more desirable.

• If you still can’t get your bartender’s attention, I have a simple solution. Come see me and I’ll get to you as soon as I can. This might explain why I have always worked at the busiest place in town. It might also explain why the bartender my letter writer refers to, doesn’t.

Two things have since occurred to me. One, my Jungian half still wonders if perhaps I am the worst customer ever (my Freudian half has even weirder concerns). Two, my journalist half remembers the adage: steal from one and its plagiarism, steal from many and its research.