So, having already mentioned one benefit of acquiring a friend who used to tend bar (I love focusing on that verb--"to tend bar," which evokes an imagine of needing to sooth an unruly and disgruntled piece of very big furniture, as opposed to dealing with the people behind it demanding beverages--instead of focusing on the role--"be a bartender," which evokes an image of someone shrugging slightly and frowning to him/herself before filling a glass with way too much tonic and way too little vodka), I am now discovering that there is much more to that subject.
I guess I should acknowledge that I've been friends with people who tended bar while I knew them, and that two obvious benefits were that they mixed me stiff drinks, and would see me and ask me what I wanted, even when I couldn't make it to the bar because of the crush of people before me. And I guess I should acknowledge as well that I've known other people who once tended bar who aren't nearly as cool as this new friend and colleague of mine, whom I shall call Dr. C.
Thursday night, which is not exactly the most happening night in the dismal little town in the rust belt where we live, we went out. We sat at the bar in an establishment that was anything but crowded, and I got to watch THREE masters at work.
I'm sure it helps that Dr. C orders expensive alcohol and knows what she's asking for--the bartenders know they're going to get a decent tip. But Dr. C is also extremely personable, in ways I can only admire and envy. I mean, I try to be sincerely pleasant to people who work in the service industry, but I have this thing about not wanting to exceed appropriate boundaries, because I do not want to bug people while they're working. As a secretary, I used to get really annoyed when people who came in the office would try to have conversations with me, both because the conversations were usually stupid and because my boss would get mad.... But now that I think about it, the rules are probably a little different in a bar....
Anyway. Our first bartender was a young, pretty, elementary school teacher who supplements the crappy income she earns shaping the lives of America's future, by serving alcohol to people her own age. The bartender responded to Dr. C's questions about the bar, its patrons, and her own life with excellent service and relief that the interesting conversation she was having wouldn't end with a request for her phone number. When she left, a young guy who looked like a hotter, straighter version of John Travolta in Grease showed up to finish out the night.
It took him a while to warm up to us (and when I say "us," I of course mean the amiable, articulate Dr. C and her largely silent, standoffish friend), but before long he was spending most of his time talking to us, regaling us with tales of his experiences managing a whole slew of bars in Vegas. (I never did work up the courage to ask the obvious question, "Why the hell did you leave Vegas and come back HERE?") Dr. C asked him about the most disgusting drinks people tended to order, and he said one of the worst was "an Irish car bomb: a draw of Guinness and a shot glass of Jameson's topped off with Bailey's."
Now, I love Guinness, I like Jameson's OK (I'm not really a whiskey drinker), and of course I ADORE Bailey's. But that doesn't mean they should go together, right? I mean, I love both ice cream and bacon, but I wouldn't mix the two.
Then they talked about disgusting, syrupy girl drinks. I admit I like a cosmo (which Dr. C said she resented mixing more than any other drink) but I never did the thing of mixing butterscotch schnapps with Bailey's and Kahlua and god only knows what else. At that point I made one of my few significant contributions to the conversation: I said, "I didn't start drinking, really, until I was about 30, at which point my taste buds were dead enough that I didn't need all that sugar to cover up the taste of the alcohol. It's something to be grateful for, I think."
Not long after that a trio of guys at the other end of the bar ordered a round of--that's right--Irish car bombs. The bartender asked if we wanted to see them poured and consumed. I was curious and willing to watch, but I rather expected we'd spy on the proceedings from a safe distance. But Dr. C walked right up to the guys and said, "Hey. We were talking to the bartender about this very drink, so we wanted to see what they're like. You mind if we watch?" The alpha male of the group responded by putting his arm around her shoulder and offering to buy her one too. "That's OK; whiskey isn't my drink," she replied. She introduced me--I was standing a few feet back--and I waved and mustered an uncomfortable, strained smile. There was a little more chatting about the drinks in front of the guys, but when they delayed drinking them, Dr. C extricated herself from the situation and we went back to our end of the bar.
I marveled at what I had just seen. "You're so freakin' friendly," I said. "And not weirdly friendly, either, just--kind of, like, graciously nice. It's impressive."
"I used to be a bartender," she said. "It was my job to make people feel happy."
"I used to be a Mormon," I said. "It was my job to make people feel like they were going to hell."
And that was the personal revelation the evening had to offer me. It wasn't an entirely new insight--this goes back to why I have said and continue to say that I would rather hang out with a bunch of average beer-drinking joes and jills than the most devout of Mormons. And it also has to do with why I so love the movie Babette's Feast, a topic I've been thinking about since the entry on movies about art, and one I hope to write about further before the week ends.