Commentary: Behind the Bar, a Descent Into Chaos
The Rusty Rudder is family restaurant by day and nightclub with live bands and DJs by night. My cousins and I rented a slanted shack in Dewey Beach, Delaware. There was sand seeped in the carpet and only one bathroom. But we didn’t mind. We worked 15-hour shifts six days a week. We were bartenders, and we were making money and having fun.
Memorial Day weekend was our first time behind the bar. That’s the busiest weekend of the summer. I had never even stood behind a bar before.
My first night, I toppled the shot glasses over every time I poured liquor from the shaker. Everything was chaotic. A bachelorette party came in, and the bride-to-be ended up going home with the random Stella-draft guy at the end of the bar.
Day two, I learned two lessons. One: Even though it’s legal for bartenders to drink behind th
e bar in Delaware, don’t do it. My boss says it relaxes customers if you do shots with them. But if a bachelorette party has vodka with you, and then frat guys have tequila with you, and then the lonely old guy who you’ve been awkwardly chatting with all night does Jameson with you, you should start worrying. I wasn’t a big drinker, and I wasn’t gonna start there.
Lesson number two is to always please the customer. I’d shake their hands and ask them where they’re from. If someone was eating alone with a beer during the day, I’d slide my plate of chicken fingers from the kid’s menu over to eat with them across the bar. I wanted good tips, but I also really enjoyed it. I loved the atmosphere of people in swimming trunks, drinking beers, and bobbing their heads to the music.
You can almost always tell what someone is going to order before they get to the bar. Most girls are worried about their figure so they say, “Um, can I have a vodka soda splash of cran?” Guys make you run through the whole list of beer choices, throw their hands up when you say you don’t carry Miller Lite, and then say, “Screw it, I’ll just take a Bud draft.” Older women say, “Can I just get a Pinot Greeg?”, and older men make
you fish for that weird bottle of Glenlivet or Old Grand-Dad.
At 2am, we’d dump buckets of wet one-dollar bills and sticky quarters onto the tables to count our tips. On my first night, I thought I’d make $100. I started peeling the beer-soaked money apart and counting it. Finally, I looked up from my money pile completely speechless. I’d made one thousand dollars in one night. I had never seen that much cash in my life. For the whole summer, I’d hide the cash in my mattress and old cereal boxes until I could take it to the bank. The bank teller would always give me a stern look when I’d dump sandy one-dollar bills on her counter.
I came back to bartend the next summer. I wasn’t nervous anymore. On my first day, I shook each customer’s hand with a firm excited grip and felt ready for the wild ride. Those were the best summers of my life.
BACK ANNOUNCE: Claire Pires never orders a “vodka soda splash of cran.” And she ALWAYS leaves a big tip.