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

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Gratuitous Nickelback Slam

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Bartenders enjoy a little fun, but often, the last thing a bartender wants to do after a shift is go to another bar. Still... it's the night before Halloween and I'm desperate for some merry-making.

A song by a band that sounded exactly like Nickelback came on the jukebox, prompting a conversation among the bar customers about the merits of Nickelback.

"That's not Nickelback!!" proclaimed the woman to my left. The man to her left said, "Nickelback still sucks," and she smacked him, rather hard, on the hand.

"He only hates Nickelback because I love them," she told me. I hadn't asked.

"So, that's your boyfriend?"

"No, he's my ex-fiancé. We broke up months ago."

"Really? You guys seem pretty close," I probed. They started arguing, I started feeling awkward, and I turned away.

Moments before, they had finished carving a pumpkin that said, "I love you." It was very well done; impressive, in fact.

It might not have been Nickelback on the jukebox after all, but it's clear to me that they're capable of breaking hearts as well as eardrums.

Finally, as an update to last Tuesday's post, the Cincinnati Enquirer has a photo archive of Willie DeLuca's memorial service here. May he rest in peace, so long as peace is a noisy bar crowded with his friends during Monday Night Football. A toast to Willie DeLuca!

Happy Halloween to all. Trick, or treat?

~~~ insert favorite Nickelback lyrics here ~~~

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

On The Rocks

It was a very strange, very busy evening; lots of walk-in business which overwhelmed the short floor and kitchen. We were expecting a chill, cold October evening, and got just the opposite. Predicting restaurant business is an impossible science.

A woman called in for such a substantial carryout that I had to go back to the kitchen to make sure they'd approve. Chef gave me the usual, colorful hand gesture, and I took the order anyway. When she arrived to pick it up, I was taken by how beautiful and stylish she was. Probably in her mid-sixties; she radiated grace and light.

"The kitchen's a little behind tonight, and it's going to be a short while," I tell her.

"Long enough for a drink?" she asks with a smile.

"Oh, absolutely. Maybe two."

She orders a Makers Perfect Manhattan on the rocks, and asks me to add just a touch of cherry juice. As she stirs it, the smell of bourbon eventually reaches a customer at the far end of the bar, and he kind of purrs.

I ask her if she likes her cocktail, and she replies, "Oh yes, especially because I just really needed one." The barkeep in me snaps to attention, and it's not difficult to read the cue that she needs someone to talk to.

"Are you OK?" I ask, and she pauses before answering, "My father died today. I'm just here to get all this food to take home to everyone."

I draw my breath involuntarily, trying to silence a gasp. "I'm so sorry. Drink's on me, of course."

She looks down at her Manhattan, stirring the drink again, and the bar is so quiet you can hear the ice cubes clinking into one another. When she looks up at me, she says, "You know what? It was a blessing. He was 91. He wanted to go ten years ago. It's really OK." I could see her fighting tears, but something came over her, as if some lovely memory crossed her mind, when she smiled and repeated, "It's really OK. It is."

On what must have been one of the saddest days in her life, she managed to carry herself with such elegance that I don't think I'm ever going to be able to forget her.

To cap off my melancholy evening, after my shift I learned from the online Enquirer that Willie DeLuca had died, after suffering a heart attack in his home. I knew he hadn't been well, but it came as a shock to me. Willie was an old regular at a bar I worked at years ago, and he was one of the most memorable characters of my career. Anyone who knows Willie knows his special talent... the man could balance a bar stool, the old-school, really heavy kind with metal legs, on the end of his nose. It was astounding, and for my money goes down in history as the most impressive bar trick ever. He will be missed; it makes me profoundly sad to realize I'm never going to see him walk into my bar, or any bar, again.

Rest in peace, to a man I knew, and a man I didn't.

You don't have to put up a fight
You don't have to always be right
Let me take some of the punches for you tonight
Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don't have to go it alone
And it's you when I look in the mirror
And it's you when I don't pick up the phone
Sometimes you can't make it on your own

- U2, "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"

Friday, October 13, 2006

Bad Jokes Are Better Than No Jokes

God, it's been a slow week. Painfully slow. As in, I'm-going-to-miss-my-minimum-credit-card-payment slow. I've been dying to tell everyone a story, but if they're not walking through the door, I'm not blogging about them.

It was a joy, therefore, to see Mr. Vee, an oldster, a favorite regular and the kind of guy who loves to tell corny jokes. For once, he told one that I laughed at authentically.

So, two vampires walk into a bar. Bartender says, "What can I get for you guys?"

One vampire says, "I'll take a pint of blood. My friend wants a pint of plasma."

Bartender replies, "Got it. One Blood, one Blood Light."

Yeh, yeh. Don't worry, he's got a day job. But I giggled heartily.

It's Friday the 13th. Something's bound to happen tonight. Right?

Thursday, October 05, 2006


Some people are just intolerable. I've been doing this bartending thing for awhile, and I've met all kinds, but the really rude ones still just blow me away.

It's a pretty busy night, and even though it's hectic and I'm not spending the kind of time I want to with my customers, I'm thrilled when Baseball Doug comes in. I haven't seen him in weeks, and he's really just the best; the kind of regular that can make a bad night good, the kind of regular all regulars should aspire to be.

We start chatting and catching up when a couple takes the barstools nearest the server station. It's one of those May-December things; he's a little overweight, grey, and sweaty, and comes off as wealthy, while she's youngish with hilarious cartoon breasts, the kind you can't help but gawk at. I can't wait to tell the guys in the kitchen to come out and ask me for orange juice just so they can bear witness. I tell Doug I'll be right back and ask the couple what they'd like.

"Ummm, wine list!" she says. She actually snaps her fingers and it makes my head jerk involuntarily. I forget that some people can tell when I'm annoyed with them, but she's the kind of woman who enjoys it.

They end up ordering our cheapest Pinot Noir, which surprises me. Two glasses instead of a bottle. I serve them, and scurry away to talk Detroit Tigers with Doug.

I'm in mid-sentence when I hear, "Excuse me!" Now, "excuse me" is certainly a way to get attention at a busy bar, but not a good way. Doug smirks and I head over to them.

"We want the big glasses," she says to me. I probably sound like like a wiseass when I reply, "For your Pinot Noir? You want the balloons?"

"Yes," he answers this time, serious as the heart attack he looks like he could have at any moment. It pains me to appease them, but it's the path of least resistance and since it will get me away from them faster, I choose it.

The bar gets busier and as I'm taking a new, polite couples' order, she barks out to me again. This time she prefers to shout "Hey!" Without taking my eyes off the nice couple, I give her the finger... the index finger, the universal bartender sign that I'll be with you in just one fucking moment so please try to control yourself while I help another customer. When I finally respond to her emergency, she asks, or, rather, commands me to pull down a bottle of Barolo from the rack. It's one of our best bottles and when she tells him that it's her absolute favorite wine ever, I'm surprised she can tell it from a bottle of Genesee. She knows it's expensive, that's for sure.

As I stand there awaiting her next order, the hostess arrives to take them to their table and I'm off the hook. I hand him the check, she snatches it away and says... wait for it... she actually says, out loud, "If we transfer it to the table you don't have to tip her."

She's the kind of girl who never gives a thank-you wave when you let her into crowded traffic. I hate to admit it, but she got under my skin. Him not so much, but they do seem perfect together.

Enough about them. Go Tigers! And get out there and enjoy Tall Stacks, everyone... what a kickoff; even the rain felt good.

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh just like that river I've been running ever since
It's been a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die
'Cause I don't know what's out there beyond the sky
It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come, oh yes it will

- Al Green, "A Change Is Gonna Come"