I had entered “Stage left.” Or was it “Stage right?” I have never really understood theater direction. Maybe that is because stage direction is always from the point of view of the performer, and not of the audience.
But explanations and descriptions, if too elaborate, often serve to only further obfuscate the matter, rather than clarify it. Ten instructions on how to make an extra dry vodka martini don’t make that drink any clearer. Because how many instructions are needed for essentially a one ingredient drink? And no, I don’t count ice or garnishes as actual ingredients. So all you mixologists out there changing the garnish on a Manhattan and calling it your own, well…
The characters for this night time’s drama (or comedy) had gathered at the pre- shift meeting. The late arriving bartender had missed a large patch of chin stubble with whatever razor he had used. He often had skin infections and nicks, but that’s what happens when you don’t regularly sleep at home. And trust me, using the razor that whatever new she there is, uses for her legs, is not going to do your face any favors.
“My [insert sports car name] wouldn’t start,” he said.
Of course, it wouldn’t, he hadn’t had it serviced since he bought it from that cute divorcee three years ago.
All good bartenders are characters. That’s typically what makes them good. But not all characters are the same. And not all characters are good. Regardless of what you see in trade magazines, not all bartenders have tattoos of the alcohol molecule on their arm, nor do they wear funny hats, or suspenders. And beards? Just read your safe food handlers manual for the regulations regarding that. I am not knocking any of that, I am just saying that it is far less prevalent than the impression often given
But the people gathered at that stage, regardless of the performers, because it really is the performance itself, that matters. I once hired a bartender at a live music club. He quit after a few weeks. “I am always looking at the back of people’s heads,” he said. “Because they are always looking at the stage.”
For a long time, the words “bar chef” have haunted the industry. And while I understand the point (creating drinks) two things get lost in that. One) chef means “chief,” as in chief of the kitchen, and bartenders are usually more solo operators. And two) many chefs are known for being notoriously unable to take criticism. Every server everywhere has probably had a chef tell them to go tell a customer that “they don’t know what they are talking about.” Ask around, you’ll see. As if that is ever an option when serving the public.
But the show must go on. I know of no restaurant that just decides not to open, if they can, because they aren’t ready. Whether it’s staffing, or food, or a pandemic. It can be the QE2, or the Titanic, it doesn’t matter, because that ship is still leaving the dock.
But as much as people go to bars for the people behind them. It’s the people who gather in front of it that keep those people behind it. Because, sure there are characters on that stage, but every night there are characters in front of it, too. Date nights, liquor venders, other bartenders, musicians, actors, and even people from the Midwest.
“All the world’s a stage,” wrote the Bard. “And all the men and women merely players.
They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.”
The question is whether anyone is watching. Because in the bar business, people often forget that people are watching them. Both from the audience, and from the stage.
Just once, I would love to have a peace officer come into my bar, show me a picture, and ask “Have you seen this person?” Because guess what? I have. They just might not know it.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-“When you stare into the abyss, the abyss also stares back at you,” once wrote Friedrich Nietzsche.
-People call bartenders “Dr.” all the time. Just FYI, patient confidentiality does not apply.
-One difference between a psychologist and a bartender, is that a bartender can prescribe.
-Fun fact: The penalty for a bartender being intoxicated while working is twice what it is for serving a minor.
-“Places everyone. It’s showtime!” A line from the Broadway play, “A Chorus Line” about auditioning and performing a role in a Broadway play, told from the point of view of the performers on the stage of that play.
-It was stage left, as it turned out, on that particular night. Just saying.