Despite the drama, it’s possible to miss it all

I received an email from a reader about last week’s column, How bad could it be quickly becomes apparent.

“I love reading your Sunday columns, but this week reminded me of bad old times. Of course, I guess that is part of why I read you. I was one of the managers for a bar/restaurant. I had never worked in a bar. But I had spent many years in residential treatment working with severally disturbed teens. It really wasn’t all that different.

I was only the closing manager. I had nothing to do with the hiring and firing. Once I had to block a bartender from jumping into a domestic issue where the woman (whom he knew) was doing just fine getting the guy out the door. Another time I realized another bartender had a gun and the owner told me he thought that was a good idea (this was in a hotel), and then that bartender had an early out, got drunk, went up to a room with someone, had a good time and got more drunk, left the room, forgot where it was and left his pack (which probably had the gun in it) with a few hundred dollars in the room. When I got the call from the front desk that he was on the 2nd floor pounding on a door and yelling, well, that was crisis management, and I knew about that! Anyway, thanks for unleashing the memories!”

The restaurant/bar business is not for everyone. And, some of the people who know that are still in it anyway. There is a saying, “It’s never the same day, in the restaurant business.” And as someone who has done it for years, I can attest to that. It is never boring. Not for me, and not for anyone who has done it.

After receiving this letter, I thought I would share my own Good, Bad and Ugly moments.

The Good: All the regular customers. They come and they go, but after 3 decades in the business I have several groupings from several places of employ. I still enjoy music from many of the bands who played at the clubs I worked at, and thanks to online media, I have stayed in touch with many of them. I also now know some people whose children’s children are now brought into the restaraunt where I work (pre-Covid).  Some of these people I’ve known through three or four different bars/restaurants and I count many of them as my best friends.

The Bad: We were having a bar meeting at 10 am. I sat next to one of our other bartenders. An exchange of idiom followed, “How’s it going?”, “Can’t complain.” The meeting went along as usual, do this, don’t do that, etc. At the end, the manager asked the bartender sitting next to me to stay after. Apparently, the night before, he had clocked out early, stolen a bottle of tequila, drank it, took his pants off and then punched the manager while the manager was trying to put him into a taxicab. Not 9 hours later he was sitting next to me saying “Can’t complain.” 10 hours later he was singing a different tune.

The Ugly: The nightclub I had worked at for several years had been sold without any notice to the employees. One of it’s selling points was the longevity of staff. That soon changed. If it wasn’t the owner’s son trying to date all the cocktail waitresses, or the “rehiring and retraining” process that weeded them out, then it was the first “Ladies Night” promotion they dreamed up that did it. The sight of watching the 60 something divorced owner and his twenty-something son stripping down to leopard spotted speedos and then grinding half naked into the startled faces of a meager crowd was more than I could handle. A year later the club which had been a fixture for 15 years, sold again, and then again, ending its entertainment run as a nondescript office building.

All of which leaves me with these thoughts:

-“Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have,” once wrote Anthony Bourdain.

-“I hate this place, people are always gossiping,” once remarked a bartender I knew, who had just been suspended for “unprofessional behavior.”

-“Watch this!” said the son of a restaurant/bar owner two minutes before taking his pants off, which was one minute later than his father.

-In the restaurant/bar business, it can really be, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. But truth be told, I sure do miss all of it.