Closing time always brings out the complicated

Four of them piled in right at closing. Two in clean white shirts – clearly servers – a bartender in a wine-stained shirt, and their leader in a pantsuit combination that positively screamed manager. I didn’t know where they came from, all I knew was that they were there now. Just minutes before our posted closing time.

We often think of Ryan Reynolds these days as the wisecracking Marvel superhero Deadpool, or as the spokesperson for his own Mint Mobile, or even as People Magazine’s sexiest man alive (2010). But few remember his 2005 tongue-in-cheek movie about the restaurant business called Waiting… In it there is a great scene of the staff waiting around for the clock hands to tick down to closing, only to be rendered furious by the arrival of a last-minute guest.

Things are different now. Firstly, there are no clock “hands,” instead everyone checks their cellphones, and secondly, with kitchen staff at a premium, nobody wants to anger the cooks, because they just might leave, and never come back. The same cannot be said of bartenders.

Four espresso martinis were ordered as I watched the cooks walk out the door. It’s odd how every generation has its pain-in-the-you-know-what drink. Thirty years ago, the old fashioned was the bane of the bartender’s existence; whiskey, bitters, muddled fruit and sugar, shaken and then topped with soda. Old Fashioned’s were originally called “bittered slings,” however the “sling” would go on to become another drink (liquor, lemon, and sweet liqueur according to David Embury’s “The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks”) of which the most famous version became known by yet another name: the sunrise. Eventually the Old Fashioned returned to its roots, and ease of preparation, and popularity, and is most often these days rendered, thankfully, as whiskey, bitters, and sugar.

Twenty years ago, it was muddled concoctions like the caipirinha, featuring lime wedges, lime juice, sugar cubes and cachaca (a Brazilian sugar distillate) or the mojito, a combination of muddled mint, sugar, soda water and rum. These days both of those have waned in popularity, but they do occasionally get ordered, and usually at the most inopportune of moments. Like, right at closing time.

But cocktails are different than food, sometimes it’s the difficulty of making them that makes them so popular. People want glasses rinsed with that, or swirled with this, even though just putting it in the mix would have the same effect. Or muddled, (mashing with a pestle) when just tearing and mixing would suffice. Different shaped ice is far less important than what water that ice is made from, and nobody ever asks that. But often cocktails are not about effect, they are about affect, and that is an entirely different story.

To wit, four espresso martinis. Typically, not much of a problem if made correctly: vodka, coffee liqueur (or cream liqueur) and fresh espresso. But as anyone who owns an espresso machine knows, cleaning the machine is time consuming and messy. And as anyone who makes shaken coffee drinks also knows, that mess moves on to the bar station as well. After a martini you can simply rinse the shaker and be done, but after an espresso martini, you must actually wash the containers and all the straining apparatus, with soap and water. Not really an issue, until after you have done both of those already. Like, five minutes before closing on a Wednesday night.

But visible frustration is neither good for tips, nor is it good for peace of mind. And take it from me, the person who is the most delicate, most precise, is also going to be the person most likely to complain. Not then and there, of course, but later in print and online. People who are most prone to psychological injury often appear meek in the moment, unable to voice even the slightest concern, only to turn into raging tigers behind the mask of distance and anonymity.

“You guys from around here?” I asked eventually, seeing how I now had plenty of new cleanup to do.

“Yeah, we work right down the street.”

“Don’t you guys close at 9pm too?” I asked.

“We had to push some people out early in order to get here before you guys closed,” replied the manager.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

-Not all similar things are equal.

-That place down the street has been three different restaurants in the last 8 years.

-If it wasn’t for PIA drinks, people might just make them at home. And where would that leave us?

-“Hell is other people” once wrote French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. We are still waiting to hear what the other people might think.