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

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Blind Date

It's a familiar scene to me, by now. Guy walks into the bar, about 5 minutes until 7:00. Looks uncomfortable, not at all chatty, orders a stiff drink. In tonight's case, a Manhattan, after asking about and agreeing to one of our finest bourbons.

She arrives to join him, late and with excuses, at about 7:20. I look at her as if it's the first time she's set (well-manicured) foot in the place. She's never asked this favor of me, mind you, but I offer it out of professional courtesy.

It seems our restaurant is her favorite place to bring her blind internet dates. Tonight was #6 by my count.

"Do you have a wine list?" she asks, knowing perfectly well that we do. I hand it to her and smile. "What kind of Pinot Noirs do you have?" my inner voice says, right before she says it out loud.

"We have a house Pinot Noir by the glass or bottle, and we have many other bottle selections, I'd be pleased to tell you more about them," I say, in rote.

"I'll just have a glass of the house," her shadow tells me, right before she actually does. It's funny to me, the way her voice sounds inside my head. I probably began pouring before her lips moved.

It's a little like Groundhog Day.

#6 was a good sport. Sucked down two Manhattans before she arrived, and settled into her constant babbling rather easily. I'm no therapist, but for my money, the reason she's on blind date #6 is because she seriously cannot shut the fuck up about herself for one second.

The guy's drink is empty and I can't get a word in to ask him if he'd like another. He's completely silent while she talks endlessly about her cat being alone on Memorial Day and other such amateur, kill-our-first-date nonsense. They move to a table after I serve her obligatory glass of red, and I'm free of them.

In the kitchen, we gossip, and all agree that #4 was our favorite. That fella wasn't vibing her from the beginning, and when they finished eating and the server offered a dessert menu, he literally swung his legs out from the booth, clutched his car keys and said, calmly, "No."

"Not even a coffee?," his date asked.


If only she'd let him talk, just listen for a moment. She's a sweet girl, young, attractive, bright. Most people don't realize the level of excruciating boredom they subject others to, but it is a correctable behavior. You know it's hard out here for a blind dater, but I wish she'd arrive a little early for #7 so I could tell her how to avoid a #8.

In the spirit of the "blind love" motif, this song's for Travis, who's guilty (by suggestion) of implanting it in my brain for, say, the last month.

If you could only see the way she loves me
Maybe you would understand
Why I feel this way about our love, and what I must do
If you could only see how blue her eyes can be when she says
When she says she loves me

- Tonic, "If You Could Only See"

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Here's One Way To Get Me To Buy You A Drink.

Slip your bartender two sweet tickets to Wednesday's Reds game, with a parking pass, no less!

Now that's what I call a tip. And here I always thought free baseball tickets were for executives, and people you were hoping would buy stuff from you.

Thank you, Mr. Jansen. When I speak of you, I'll always speak well.

Bronson Arroyo Is Hot update... 6-2, 2.29 ERA (leading the NL), 53 K's and a complete game. Nice outing against Milwaukee in Monday's blowout. Purrrrrr....

Hi, Metafilterians! Wow! Thanks, tellurian... can I buy you a drink?

Friday, May 19, 2006

A Toast to Mr. O'Brien

Irish Chris has been coming in for about a month now; a Brooklyn native, 60-ish, boisterous, happy traveler, in Cincinnati for some kind of long-term business assignment. Comes in around 6, drinks about three Bud Lights, orders dinner, a glass of red, and, after his cognac, gets chatty. In the best way. He's a character, blessed with the gift of gab.

He has a Runyanesque accent that easily draws you in; listening to him talk is like watching the most delightful play. When I first met him, spellbound and amused by his rapid-fire chatter and laughter, I was finally able to get a word in, and asked him where on earth he was from.

"I'm Mr. O'Brien from North Carolina!" he said, pausing for effect, before throwing his head back with the kind of hearty laughter that made everyone at the bar look at him and start laughing right along with him, even though they had no idea what they were laughing about. Although he was only around for a few weeks, he was the kind of regular the real regulars asked about. "Where's Irish Chris?" they'd wonder, and then he'd almost magically walk through the door.

On his last night in town, he got a little loaded, and although we were long closed, Chef and I sat with him at the bar while he waited for a cab (a long ordeal in a town like Cincinnati). He ordered our finest Brut and shared it with us while chatting into the night about the Giants, the cornfields of Ohio, the slow death of baseball as we once knew it, who killed the Kennedys, and the luck of the Irish. When his taxi finally arrived, it made all three of us a little sad to say goodbye.

I'm not sure where he's going, but his next bartender is sure to enjoy his company as much as I did.

Here's to Mr. O'Brien, and those like Mr. O'Brien. Damn few left.

Those are the Irish ways, calling me home again
Old men all sat round the fireside
Singing the Seanós
Pints in their fists and their pipes aglow
The lilt of the tune and its Gaelic words

- The Pogues, "Irish Ways"

Friday, May 12, 2006

Cover of the Rolling Stone

I've had a really great week, and the weekend looks promising. Business has been on the upswing, June weddings approach, with abundant rehearsal dinners, and all is good.

The week started on a bright note when the
1,000th issue of Rolling Stone showed up in my mailbox. I brought it into work, and we all gazed at it as if we'd just taken blotter, trippin' on a black light poster. I'm not one to get all giddy about a magazine cover, but Jann Wenner really hit it out of the park with this one. Too cool. A nice gift to RS subscribers and readers who suffered through the Britney-n-Boy-Band, let's look more like "Blender" era.

I had the pleasure of serving
Belgian Eddie tonight. He ordered his Gentleman Jack, neat, and complained about my pour. Eddie's so predictably obstinate. At one point he called the GM over, saying in his cancerous growl, "Tell your bartender to pour some actual liquor in her drinks."

My GM stood dumbfounded, as per usual, while I said, "Eddie, if you want a double, order one. I take instruction well."

"Then you charge me double so that you can get a bigger tip," he argues, making eye contact with my boss. That's our Eddie, with that absurd accent, reminiscent of a Euro-trash bad guy in a straight-to-DVD thriller, always trying to make me feel like a Dickensian scamp. He's so proud and full of himself. And idiotic.

"Eddie, if you order a double, you pay for a double. Order a single, pay for a single. A double is a single times two. It's not that tricky," I snip, while serving my tipping customers. Our GM sees a chance to help a server with her twelve-top, and makes a graceless escape.

Luckily, the bar gets so busy that I can avoid Eddie. The guy gets under my skin. He shouldn't, but he does, he knows it, and it's why he keeps coming back. Sadist.

Just as a nice businessman thanks me for my hospitality, another arrives in a bad mood, Bluetooth attached to his ear, rude as rude can be. "Something light," he says to me, sliding me into his conversation with some invisible person. I'm not even certain he's addressing me. Bluetooths kinda creep me out.

I have no earthly idea what he means, and since it appears I cannot address him, I gesture the best "what the fuck?" I can muster. He gives me a "huh?" look back. I act out a "drink, or menu?" gesture back to him.

I'm a mime. A humiliated, bad mime. Brilliant.

He finally hangs up, I guess, and decides its time to actually speak to me. "A light wine!" he snaps, and, surprised at the sound of his voice, I reply "White or red? Would you like to see the wine list?"

What is it with customers who think I'm a sage? It is my goal to please you and give you what you want, but you have to work with me. It won't hurt. I promise.

After perusing the list, he asks to taste four different wines. Not all at once, mind you. One at a time. He crinkles his forehead after each taste, and chooses another sample. I feel like a Pour Girl in Sonoma (not that there's anything wrong with that; the weather is nicer and they probably get vacations and benefits). The exercise turns into a Bob Barker shell game, so it cracks me up a bit when he gets his tasting all mixed up and ends up choosing the house Pinot Grigio. Snicker...

"I know what I'd like, but it's not on the menu. You'll make it for me, won't you?"

"I can ask Chef. What's your pleasure?"

"I want the swordfish, blackened. Lightly. They won't overcook it, right? Just put the fish on a Caesar Salad. And some bread. Plain butter."

If there's one thing Chef hates making, it's an entree Caesar Salad. "If they want a fucking meat salad they can go to fucking Wendy's" he preaches, and often. He'll make it, but he'll make you suffer for asking. I type a message to the kitchen about the blackened swordfish salad, adding "see me," and set off on the Walk of Shame toward the swinging brown doors.

"He wants the swordfish. On a Caesar," I explain. I bite my lip as Chef says, "Can he handle the fish, or does he want me to cut it up?"

"Don't make me go out there and ask," I beg of hinm. Chef makes hilarious Italian gestures at me. It's fitting with the mime theme of the evening.

When Bluetooth Man leaves, it's in a dash. He fuddles with his wallet, chatters away to nobody via the ridiculous device lodged in his ear, throws down cash, and bolts for the door. When I count it, I'm not surprised, having witnessed his exit. A $2.00 tip on a $25.00 tab. He was digging the cheap Pinot and the amazing service.

Belgian Eddie and Bluetooth are merely monkeys in the wrench to an otherwise good and lucrative week. As much as I adore the fun customers and generous tippers, the poorly-behaved always leave a more lasting impression. Doesn't that suck?

Thanks to spotting Michael Stipe, way in the background on the trippy Rolling Stone cover, I had the loveliest song in my head tonight, and it gently carried me, floated me, through the evening. I'm so thankful for the little things.

Sometimes I feel like I can't even sing
I'm very scared for this world, I'm very scared for me
Eviscerate your memory
Here's a scene, you're in the back seat laying down
The windows wrap around to the sound of the travel and the engine
All you hear is time stand still in travel
Feel such peace and absolute stillness
Still that doesn't end, but slowly drifts into sleep
The stars are the greatest thing you've ever seen
And they're there for you
For you alone you are the everything

- R.E.M., "You Are The Everything"

Edit: My baseball crush, Bronson Arroyo, pitched eight scoreless innings against Washington tonight. Ken Griffey Jr. came off the DL to hit an 11th inning three-run game-winning homer. The Reds seem to be the tonic to my salty mood of late. Fantastic.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A Creamy Orange Martini for a Warm Spring Evening

I hadn't made one of these in awhile, but tonight, when a customer challenged me to mix him an after-dinner cocktail, something orange-flavored and decadent, it came right back to me.

(A good bartender loves a challenge. Tell us what you want; it'll hopefully be just what you craved, and if it isn't, you get a free buzz, because we'd never dream of making you pay for something we made up that sucked. Most of us have really huge egos when it comes to showing off our mixing skills and coming up with potables-on-the-fly.)

I made him one of my own concotions, which I call "Martini Arancione." Arancione is the Italian word for orange. Or balls. It really could mean balls, for all I know. Sometimes the kitchen plays tricks on me when I ask them to translate, so I can never be too sure.

Martini Arancione

Begin with a level bar scoop of ice in a pint glass. Combine:

1/2 oz Grey Goose L'Orange Vodka
1/4 oz Kahlua

1/4 oz Cointreau
1/2 oz Light Creme de Cacao
1/2 oz Baileys

Shake very well... Baileys is a tricky mixer, since it has a tendency to curdle, especially when it meets Cointreau. If not well-shaken, the drink could end up lumpy. That wouldn't be delicious, would it?

Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a fresh orange wheel.

In closing, I'm sad to report that my latest baseball crush, Bronson Arroyo, suffered his first loss of the season. He didn't get rocked too hard against Arizona, allowing only three runs and eleven hits (career-worst), so lay off. I'm still in love. Plus, he's on my fantasy team; you should see the rest of my pitching staff. It hurts.

Don't you just love spring?

Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?
It went zoomin' cross the left field wall
Yeah boy, yes, yes, Jackie hit that ball
And when he swung his bat, the crowd went wild
'Cause he knocked that ball a solid mile
Yeah boy, yes, yes, Jackie hit that ball

Buddy Johnson, "Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball"

A sampling of previous Tavern Wench Recipes: Tokyo Iced Tea - The Boxer Martini - Espresso Drinks - The Scarlet and Grey - Sour Patch Martini - The Ten-Minute Gimlet - The Italian Mojito

Friday, May 05, 2006

Here's Why I Hate Going Out.

Like any normal girl, I just wanna have fun. Cindy Lauper preached it.

What sucks about being a bartender is that after-work fun is hard to find. First of all, we work until most other bars close. Second of all, who wants to go hang out at a bar after tending bar for hours? It would be like asking the head of Exxon-Mobil to go to an Oil Fiesta after the markets close.

Although he'd probably enjoy that. Bad analogy.

But, I got off early tonight, and was thrilled to finish up in time to go out and see my friend's band play in Northside. The bartender seems cool. I'm a beer-and-a-shot girl, nothing complicated. I tip him ridiculously. It's bartender karma. I'm in for two rounds.

I go up to the bar for a third round, and suddenly, my name is Skip. Bartender spends his time at the far end, chatting up his buddies, chillin' with regulars. I understand playing up to your friends and regulars, of course. But, from time to time, a good bartender takes a sweep of the bar, a mental inventory, if you will, of the half-full beers and empty drinks sitting before new customers. He does this, kinda, but manages to overlook me each sweep. I tap my foot. I'm probably exaggerating (they all do), but I'm thinking it's been about eight minutes that I've been standing.

I finally catch him when he's at the register. "Hey," I call out.

He snaps his head in disgust and says, "What!??!" Damn, such snark, and he's not even in the weeds.

I say, "I'd like a round, same as before."

He ignores me, closes his cash drawer and heads to the opposite end of the bar. Chats with his buddies. I get a big drink of nothin'. I'm really quite shocked, and a little embarrassed. Nobody likes waiting empty-handed when they're thirsty.

Still, I wait patiently, thoughts in my head of being in his shoes on a busy Thursday. I make up every excuse for his behavior that I can, but never would I have treated a customer I've already acknowledged, especially one who has tipped me so obscenely, in such a horrible manner.

And that's why I hate going out. I think I know all the rules, but apparently someone didn't read the Basic Rules of Bartending Manual.

I guess he's trying to teach me a lesson for not being a regular or a buddy of his. When he finally decides to serve me, I ask him, earnestly, "Hey, did I not tip you enough on those first two rounds? Seemed like a lot to me."

"Oh yeah?" he snaps back. "So, what do you do for a living?" He thinks he's being cute. It's really uncalled for. I've been nothing but patient and polite and generous since I arrived at his fine establishment.

"Me? I'm just a bartender," I reply. He doesn't even flinch, not that he should. But, still...

He serves me an Anchor Steam and an icewater, and I I flip him yet another big tip; it's that bar karma thing, I guess. Each tip I gave him has been unearned, but he's completely unaffected.

Is it a generational thing? Where is the love, junior barkeeps? I hate to think that I'm passing the torch to the likes of you.

All that being said, Happy Cinco de Mayo, my boozy friends!

It's a quarter to three, there's no one in the place 'cept you and me
So set 'em up, Joe
I got a little story I think you oughtta know
We're drinking my friend
To the end of a brief episode
So make it one for my baby
And one more for the road

- Frank Sinatra, One For My Baby