“At least I’ve got you Wilson,” I said, or thought, or I thought I said, to the late season pumpkin still sitting on top of the bar tap tower, one gourd, lucky enough to escape the humiliation of the jack o’lantern’s knife, only now to be reduced to sagging into an exaggerated face all on its own.
After several hours alone in a room the mind can start to play tricks on you. It’s not like I have never been in a room by myself before, it’s just that I had never been in this room by myself before. This room is used to the sound of gaiety, laughter, and bad behavior. It is used to glasses clinking, oaths of friendship, and singing. This room has served as the backdrop to many a human melodrama, and now it sits empty, lonely, a monument to human frailty.
Without people bars are just big empty rooms, which is an argument I often have with the so called “mixologists” out there: drinks are great, garnishes are great, glassware is great, but it is the people that really matter. Without them you don’t really have anything at all.
As I looked around the room, I noticed that beyond all the prebatched ToGo drinks in their mason jars, past the small- as necessary only – garnish tray, and beyond the unused but tastefully selected and stacked glassware, sat all the bar tables piled neatly in the corner, surrounded protectively by their barstool guards, bristling like porcupines with their legs in the air.
Eight months later and we are back to outdoor dining only, which combined with indoor bartending, equals quite a different dynamic than what I originally signed up for.
Truth be told, bartenders don’t sign up for anything, there is no formal training and there is no state certification, which does kind of explain some things doesn’t it? But do it long enough and the lessons become self-taught. There is no social experiment quite like the chemistry that happens behind the bar, or the alchemy that happens in front of it.
I do remember wondering on that very first day of “at the bar” seating (now rescinded) how long it would be before someone acted out inappropriately in public. Two hours later the couple sitting six feet off to the side of me answered that question in the flesh. They started making out. In fact, they did almost nothing but make out, all through that first drink, through dinner in the main dining room and back again on those two barstools after.
“Why don’t they just go home,” asked someone else in that room, back when someone else’s were allowed in.
“I believe they want to be anywhere but there,” I replied
Even then, even with them, I didn’t think we were heading into trouble. People were reasonably complying, we had gone from 25% to 50% occupancy pretty easily, partly because that is not a big number, and partly because of the six foot spacing, which in our case really only meant one more table, and an additional four people at the bar. Those are not big numbers for a bar that eight months ago handled five times that number.
However, the moment I knew we were in trouble came later, that same first night. Another gentleman had removed his mask immediately upon getting his drink. But that really wasn’t the problem.
“How are you?” asked his late arriving date.
“I’m getting over a cold,” he had said.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You know, a cold: cough, chills, fever,” he added.
“Did you get a Covid test?”
“Nah,” he said. “I don’t have it.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do.”
That’s the moment when I realized we were in trouble. Once we rely solely on self-regulation, then the prognosis for success goes right out the window.
“Isn’t that right Wilson,” I said to my new little pumpkin friend, several weeks later.
Wilson, to his credit, didn’t answer.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
– “It’s not like the idea of washing your hands after visiting the bathroom was some goofy new theory,” wrote Anthony Bourdain, in his third book, 2001’s “Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical,” which strangely seems more relevant today.
– “When a physician prescribes for his own malady, and a lawyer pleads his own cause, the one is considered as having a fool for his patient, and the other as having an ass for his client,” once wrote Sir William Osler M.D.
-Saying “I told you so,” is never an option in the service industry. More’s the pity.
-There’s now a vaccine, which means we really are on the back nine. Now, that’s something to be thankful for.
-Everyone likes a good listener.