Of Bars, Booze, and Bartending - Proving "Coughlin's Law" Invalid Since Feb '05

Thursday, December 29, 2005


One thing that has always annoyed me about the year's end is the crescendo of retrospectives and lists. They're kind of fun when they first pop up, say, around the first weekend in December. CNN usually kicks it off.

After that, it just gets frenetic. Now that Christmas is dunzo, every channel on cable TV has a retrospective show. Even VH1, aka "The List Channel", has gone end-of-year mad, and I didn't think they could possibly squeeze in one more list. And, sadly, every blog under the sun has a year-end round-up of some sort. Enough, already. I'm not going to make one.

Except that my favorite albums of the year were

"How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb" U2
"Stand Up" Dave Matthews Band
(U2 and Dave Matthews Band tie for Best Tour of 2005)
"Fijacion Oral Vol. 1" Shakira
"In Between Dreams" Jack Johnson
"Extraordinary Machine" Fiona Apple
"Plans" Death Cab For Cutie

Here's a useful list, though... my personal New Year's Eve bubbly wish list. I'll choose one eventually, but they're all excellent, if you're still shopping. In my opinion, you really don't need to spend a ridiculous amount of money to get a divine bottle of bubbles.

J 1999 Brut, Sonoma County, California (yum)
Bollinger 1997 Grande Annee Brut Champagne, France
Louis Roederer 1999 Cristal Brut, France
Moët et Chandon NV White Star, France (yum-yum)

And, finally, my dear readers, thanks for giving this blog a chance, and reading my silly little bar stories in 2005, the first official year of Tavern Wench. I can't thank you enough for your patience, encouragement, emails and comment entries. Writing this blog has been the highlight of my year, and I have all of you to thank for that.

I imagine most of us are happy to kick 2005 out the door. It wasn't the happiest of years. That's the best thing, though... years do end. Here's to a Happy and Prosperous 2006. May it be filled with abounding love, laughter, hope, and maybe just a little peace. Eat, Drink, and Be Merry!

And so we're told this is the golden age
And gold is the reason for the wars we wage
Though I want to be with you, be with you night and day
Nothing changes on New Year's Day

- U2, "New Year's Day"

Friday, December 23, 2005

Kid Walks Into A Bar

Kid walks into my bar. Has three other men with him. One is clearly the father, and I'm guessing the other two are his brothers. They just seem like family; they look like family.

Kid orders a
Grolsch, the other three ask for Coronas, which we don't have, so they settle, after a little prodding, on Peronis. I give them three limes, just for kicks.

After serving the limed Peronis, I have to ask Kid for his ID. He just looks young.

"Bro, you little, sweet, baby-face," his brothers kid him. I tell them that he is indeed baby-faced, and the rest of his party laughs. He confidently whips out a state ID, and backs it with a military ID, overwhelming my simple "year-of-birth-resembles-you" test.

As an aside: Rest easy, kids. I'm not so great at math. I regularly refer to a calculator, subtracting 2005 from 21 to know what year I'm looking for. I'll probably fuck that up again next year, because I'll be under-staffed and too busy to worry about tricking and catching you, so let that be a lesson of opportunity for all of you. I can't be the only one. If you possess an ID with a close-enough birthdate, and a photo that resembles you, and just a little bit of swagger, you'll be slurping the tastiest drinks any 19-year-old could hope to, because you'll
have a kick-ass bartender who can't add, let alone afford a doorman. Luckiest generation much?

"Are you currently serving?" I ask, sounding like a dumb-ass, as I'm pulling a cold Grolsch from the cooler. He smiles at me.

"Back from Iraq four days ago," the oldest of his brothers answers.

I serve the beer, apologize, affirm that he's baby-faced, and tell him that the beer is on the house.

"What? Thank you... you shouldn't," he says. His father slaps him on the back, and his older brothers lay back a little.

"Thank you. And you don't pay for beer while you're here," I reply. "Thank you."

I had a feeling, from watching, that a family reunion was taking place before my eyes, and I felt lucky to be a part of it. His father was positively beaming with pride, sipping his Peroni. He proudly sported a Navy tattoo. I wonder if he received the same response, when he returned home from duty. I hope he did.

Buy a beer for a veteran, any and all veterans, this holiday season. It goes a long way, and it's seriously the least we could do.


Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Silver and Gold

It's Christmas Week, and business is brisk. Shortly before close, one of my favorite regulars, Baseball Doug, shows up. He's a thrice-married, ballcap-wearing easy talker who really knows his wine, and he's an absolute pleasure.

Tonight we're on the topic of Christmas. I'm feeling a little melancholy, and over his glass of Barbera and appetizer of sausage and mushrooms, I ask him to tell me about his worst Christmas, and then his best Christmas.

"Same Christmas," he says, without skipping a beat. "I lost my wife, my father, and my dog that December." He pauses, stops chewing for a moment, and adds "It's probably bad to say, but losing the dog hurt the most. He was all I had left."

I feel guilty for asking him the question in the first place, but wine really makes a guy open up, and he keeps on. "I was at my lowest, lonely and in a new apartment. I was there maybe a day, still unpacking on Christmas Eve, when I hear the back door open, and it startles me. Then, I hear footsteps, and I see this animal, this brown thing, zipping through a hallway. My first thought is that it's the biggest damned rat I've ever seen and it knows how to open a door, and I had just signed the lease, so I'm thinking, great, this is all I need."

He takes a sip, and continues, "But then it comes toward me, and it's a puppy, a Chocolate Lab puppy. My ex-wife sneaks up behind, and says, 'Merry Christmas. I didn't want you to be alone.'"

"What a wonderful gesture, just after the divorce!" I exclaim, while thinking it's a little weird, but kind of nice, considering all he'd just been through, and not really knowing the circumstances. I'm just Doug's bartender, after all.

"It was nice, and it surprised me, and made Christmas not so bad, and I thought it was awfully forgiving of her," he explained. "Then I got the $850 bill from the breeder on my January credit card statement. She was a giver, and a taker."

"$850?! For a Lab?" I ask.

"She was never a good shopper," Baseball Doug laughs. He still has the dog, she's nine years old now, and her name is Snickers. And she's his best friend.

Well, Snickers and Wife #3, I suppose.

Here's a toast to silver linings, nonetheless. A Holiday Cheers to All!

Sixteen, I fell in love with a girl as sweet as could be
Only took a couple of days 'till she was rid of me
She swore that she would be all mine and love me 'till the end
But when I whispered in her ear, I lost another friend
Good Times, Bad Times
You know I had my share
When my woman left home for a brown-eyed man
Well, I still don't seem to care

- Led Zeppelin, "Good Times Bad Times"

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Frosty the Freak

My apologies for the length between posts. The holiday season can be hellish to bartenders, and I've been exhausted. More importantly, as much as I wish this could be a daily blog, the truth is that bartending can be as tedious and predictable as it is interesting and fun, and sometimes I just have to be patient until some worthy stranger happens upon my corner of booze, brass and wood.

Tonight was that kind of night, and I was amazed to discover there was no full moon. Couldn't judge by the caliber of bar customers.

Very Nice Guy is one of the first customers of the evening, and politely requests a "beer list," which I find cute. He's a little nervous, but sweet, and asks to see a menu. I set him up with cutlery, salt and pepper, and bread, and he finally admits, sheepishly, that he's waiting for a blind date and isn't planning to eat at the bar. While trying to help me clear everything away, he knocks over the salt, which might have been his first clue that the night would go badly.

He's nursing his Michelob Ultra (Mich Ultra... why???) when his date arrives with an enormous shopping bag. It's the first time they've met in person, but they have an odd rapport which suggests an internet hook-up and a few phone conversations. She asks for a pair of scissors before she orders a drink, and she quickly employs them to rip into a cardboard box in the bag.

Then she whips out a three-foot animatronic snowman, and, ignoring her nervous date, installs the batteries. She dumps all of her package remnants on my clean, shiny bar.

I find it just delightful when patrons hand over their trash to me as if I were some sort of handy receptacle.

The snowman looks kind of like this, but when she turns him on, he lights up, and one of his hands swings a string of well, honestly, they look like anal beads. I don't really understand what they are supposed to be. He sings "Frosty the Snowman" while his hand just goes crazy, swinging these beads around. I don't get it.

She decides he needs a seat. She pulls a barstool close to her, sets him on it, and asks for a drink. For the snowman. As I prepare a highball of water and lime for the doll, her date looks on with horror.

Our POS system allows servers to send me messages from all over the restaurant, which print as chits in red ink. They rarely abuse this tool, and management frowns upon it, but tonight, they're piling up like crazy. Each time I hear the printer, I choke back tears and laughter while pretending to busy myself making drinks. A sampling?

"Those seriously look like anal beads"

"Frosty the FREAK"

"Put them in my section and I'll fucking kill you"

For close to an hour, she fusses with Frosty, laughs at Frosty, makes conversation with Frosty. She even answers for him in her best Frosty-voice! She shows Frosty off to other customers who are beginning to pile in. "This seat is TAKEN!!" she cackles to onlookers eyeing the stool. She throws her head back in laughter with regularity, and doesn't much acknowledge her poor date, Very Nice Guy, who tips me nicely as the hostess takes them, and Frosty, to their table. The remaining bar customers look at me as if she's my fault, or something.

I wonder if she always brings a holiday-appropriate doll on her blind dates. Perhaps that's her version of a way out of a bad date, an "emergency phone call from a friend," if you will, only in the form of a really obnoxious animatronic snowman.

I also wonder if she's ever had a second date. In her life.

Ya know, I don't believe there's a "War on Christmas," but, after tonight, I'd consider enlisting.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Welcome, PatriotBoy Readers!

I thank you, Sir, for the hits.

Jesus' General

The Italian Mojito

There's nothing to write, other than the holiday season has just begun, and along with it, "Bar Season" is in full swing. Since it's far too early in December to begin bitching about the holidays and holiday customers, I thought I'd offer this interesting twist on the classic Mojito. Since this recipe adds the delightfully dry, traditional Italian sparkling wine, Prosecco, it gives the Mojito just the festive kick it needs to take it from a summer to winter drink, in my opinion.

Like any other Mint Julep rip-off, mojitos require some prep, if you don't already prepare simple syrup at your bar. In a pinch, you could muddle sugar and water, but it's worth the extra effort to mix up a batch of simple syrup to have on hand... it keeps for about two weeks. And, don't forget to buy some Prosecco! I love Nino Franco NV Rustico, and the leftovers are fun to sip on...

The Italian Mojito

Approximately 10 fresh mint leaves
2 lime wedges, pulp separated from rind
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon cooled simple syrup
1 1/2 oz. white rum (Bacardi or better)
2 oz. Prosecco
1 sprig fresh mint, for garnish
1 lime wheel, for garnish

Rub lime rind into the lower third of a pint glass. Reserve one lime rind. Add the mint leaves, lime pulp wedges, brown sugar and simple syrup. Muddle until the sugar is completely dissolved. (The aroma is intoxicating! Enjoy it, but don't stop muddling until all the crystals are gone. Nobody likes a gritty drink. Take your time... customers are oddly fascinated when watching you muddle. Servers? Not so much.) Add one level bar scoop of ice, followed by the rum. Shake the contents with a tin, and pour into a large highball glass. Add more ice if necessary, but leave one third of the glass empty. Slowly float the Prosecco. Stir gently to mix the contents and release the aroma, but try not to disrupt the fizz.

Rub remaining lime rind around edge of glass. Garnish with lime wheel and fresh mint sprig.

(My version of a recipe from the July/August 2005 issue of Cheers Magazine, which was adapted from a recipe developed by Xavier Herit)

I'm trying my hardest to keep my spirits bright, instead of morphing into my predictable, grouchy, holiday self. Liquor, music, and good cheer seems to help.

I'll cheerfully accept any and all suggestions, by the way.

She was his girl
He was her boyfriend
She be his wife, take him as her husband
A surprise on the way, any day, any day
One healthy little giggling, dribbling baby boy
The wise men came, three made their way
To shower him with love while he lay in the hay
Shower him with love, love, love
Love, love, love
Love, love is all around

- Dave Matthews Band, "Christmas Song"