Consider his girlfriend. He’d met her back in junior high when they were both around eleven or twelve years old. From that point on, all through high school and even five years later when Aaron was working at Johnny D’s . . . they were still a pair of love birds.
It was really kinda cute. Aaron’s steady girlfriend was his childhood sweetheart — and if you’re curious — she was currently working in a strip club. (As a cocktail waitress, not a dancer, but she could have been one; she was a knockout — a natural blond with the body of a gymnast.)
See what I mean, though? Nothing about Aaron was middle-of-the road-normal.
Aaron behaved like a movie star. He dressed like a movie star. One night he came in wearing these God-awful, ostentatious snake-skin cowboy boots. They were pale yellow, with snake-skin texture and long pointed toes.
“Aaron,” I said, “On anyone else those boots would be too much.”
His real name was Aaron Baird, but at that moment it was clear the name just didn’t fit. Aaron Baird?
“From now on,” I told him, “When anyone asks, I’m going to tell them you’re Aaron Bardolino . . . only someone with a name like ‘Bardolino’ would wear boots like that.”
(The name stuck; Aaron even had business cards printed up saying — Aaron Barolino, bartender. Then later, Aaron Bardolino, GM.)
Aaron Bardolino . . . where do I begin?
I guess I could begin with the day I hired him.
We had an open slot in the bar schedule, and Aaron was chosen after the first round of interviews. He had experience, lots of confidence (OK, he was downright cocky), and he talked like he could handle a busy nightclub environment.
I called his home around 3:00 PM on a Saturday afternoon to let him know he had the job.
“Heello?” an old man answered shakily. Aaron had told me he lived with his grandfather. He was taking care of him.
The grandfather was evasive. It seems Aaron was there, but for some reason he couldn’t come to the phone right now. I said, “I want to tell him he got the job at Johnny D’s.”
“OK,” the old-timer finally agreed, “I’ll see if I can get him.”
“Hel…llll…(o),” Aaron managed to mumble when he picked up the phone.
He sounded half-asleep and seriously hung-over. The “hello” had trailed off so much at the end there was barely an “O” in of it. It was obvious he was still in bed, and it was three-o’clock in the afternoon.
“Aaron,” I said, “This is Mike from Johnny D’s . . . we want you to start next week.”
“Oh, Mike!” Now his voice was immediately transformed. Instantly it was bright and alert, the voice of someone you’d have no second thoughts about hiring.
“Sure Mike! Mike, good to hear from you!” Aaron said in his suddenly responsible daytime voice. “Yes . . . yes, I’ll be there Monday afternoon!”
It was a small thing, but I never forgot that phone call.
Maybe I should have started by telling you about Aaron’s picture at the top of this post.
Everyone who knows Aaron will immediately recognize him from that photo . . . but it’s not him. It’s not Aaron. That’s a photo of actor Scott Caan (James Caan’s son) from the movie “Brooklyn Rules.” (When I saw the movie recently I couldn’t believe it.)
In that movie, Scott Caan looked, talked, swaggered and behaved exactly like Aaron Bardolino. It was Aaron’s attitude, the way he moved his shoulders, that little strut to his walk.
But I’d seen Aaron this way since the late nineties . . . and “Brooklyn Rules” wasn’t made until 2007.
So who copied whom?
When Aaron and his long-time girlfriend broke up, he went a little wild. Being a bartender in a busy nightclub only made things worse. Aaron was unstoppable.
I remember one night he was watching some really cute girls walk in the door, but they went to sit at a table in the dining/performance area.
No problem for Aaron, the club was packed with good-looking women. Behind the long oval bar he started chatting with a group of girls on the right side of his section. Then he was talking with some girls on the left.
While making drinks, Aaron kept spinning back and forth between the two groups, keeping them all entertained. All the girls were leaning forward to talk with him whenever he paused for a moment.
Then the girls he had noticed at the door came back to the bar, and Aaron saw them.
At first he was ecstatic, but now he seemed a little concerned as he glanced over his shoulder. (Behind him one bunch of girls was sitting on the right side of his station, another group was across from them . . . and now these new girls took seats at his bar?)
He just stood there, and his shoulders slumped a little. I was watching, and it was hard not to laugh out loud as his face slowly sank.
It was written all over his face . . . he had just realized that he couldn’t get to them all.
One night an Elvis tribute band was playing at the club . . . a Mexican Elvis tribute band, if you can believe that. The guy was really good — he called himself “El Vez.”
“El Vez” was rocking his stuff with the band, but Aaron wouldn’t be outdone. Working behind the bar, he grabbed the soda gun like a microphone and started singing along. It was hysterical as Aaron bumped and grinded — he shook his hips as though he was Elvis’ son, singing into the soda gun. (“Whole lotta shakin’ going on . . . Ah Huh!”)
Everyone loved Aaron, and Johnny D’s was like a stage for him . . . every night, all night long.
One of the most fascinating things I saw him pull off — some might say the lowest — was a carefully planned scheme to find a hot date.
(Again, this was right after Aaron split with his long-time girlfriend so I suppose he might be excused.)
By now Aaron was also working a couple of shifts as a floor manager in the club. Once I saw him talking with the doorman at the beginning of the night. Later, I learned that he told the doorman if any really good-looking girl came into the club, the doorman should remember her name and the home town on her license. “Just tell me what city she’s from,” Aaron told the guy checking ID’s.
A while later, after checking with the doorman, Aaron made a point to wander to the platform section . . . up to where he’d been told this really hot chick was sitting.
As he walked by one table in particular, Aaron paused. He stopped for a second as though caught by surprise.
“Mary Beth?” Aaron said tentatively as he stopped in front of one seated young lady.
“Mary Beth?????” Aaron said again as though just now recognizing an old friend.
(He didn’t know this girl from Eve. He’d gotten her name/hometown from the doorman.)
“Mary Beth,” Aaron said, “You don’t remember me?”
“I’m Aaron,” he said, “Aaron from Wantagh, Long Island.”
“We went to grade school together,” he said.
Aaron didn’t even know where “Wantagh, Long Island” was . . . but he apparently convinced the young lady that they’d gone to third-grade together. He convinced her that as a toddler he’d always had a crush on her, and that now he was totally shocked to see her sitting in the club he was managing.
I don’t know all the details, but after that we did see Aaron out on the town with the Long Island lady.
Throughout all of this, Aaron was still a kick-ass bartender, one of the best. I remember the night a band called From Good Homes played at the club.
All that afternoon we were getting calls from people interested in seeing this New Jersey pop band. One caller wanted to know how to get to the club. He sounded stoned out of his gourd.
“Hey Dude!” the guy said when I answered the phone, “How do I get to Johnny D’s?”
“Well, where are you?” I asked, thinking I could give him directions for wherever he was coming from.
“I’m at my friend’s house, man!” the guy said cheerfully.
What we didn’t realize was just how popular “From Good Homes” had become. We didn’t know until a large chartered bus pulled up in front of the club. Apparently the band had followers all over the East coast, and this bus held 65 drunken fans from New Jersey.
Then another bus pulled up (this one from New York City) . . . and we were wondering why we only had two bartenders scheduled, not three.
Suddenly all those people departed their buses and began streaming into the club. People were also showing up from the Boston area, and within minutes we were mobbed. It was like 300 thirsty people had walked into the club all at once, and behind the bar Aaron and I were running around like crazy.
Then the power went out.
It was in the middle of summer, hot as hell, and the demand for air conditioning must had overloaded the local power grid.
Dave, the owner’s son, was running around all over the place. He brought up boxfuls of candles, and we had candles all over the bar, candles on every table, candles in the rest rooms.
Dave talked our neighbors (who for some reason had power just next door) into letting him run extension cords from their apartments. Now we had electricity to run the kitchen refrigeration units and to power the band’s equipment on stage . . . but we had no electricity in the rest of the club. Everything was lit only by candlelight.
With the walk-in cooler off, the draft beer was getting warm so we were selling bottle beer. But behind the bar, the coolers weren’t working either — so the bar back just kept bringing us bus buckets filled with ice and cold beer, and we were serving bottled beer out of bus buckets stacked anyplace we could set them.
The registers didn’t work so we kept the cash drawers open and just made change, jotting down the amounts on a note pad at each register — just hoping that we were doing the math correctly.
There was no air conditioning.
The place was packed to capacity, with a line outside, and Aaron and I were literally dripping in sweat as we ran back and forth. It was a slamming three-man night, and there were only two of us.
I have to say, though, we kicked ass.
With both of us spinning and whirling in continuous motion, it was one of the top three shifts I’ve ever worked with a”two-bartender” team. (The others were with John B. on one occasion, and Eric P. on another.)
When the power finally came back on a couple of hours later, the first thing we heard was the beer-cooler motors, then the lights flickered on, and then the air conditioning kicked in.
Aaron and I stood behind the bar with our spread arms raised and our fists clenched, and we were shouting . . . “YYYEEEssssss!!!! YYYeess!!!” That first blast of air conditioning felt so good.
I could go on — there are a hundred stories I could tell you about Aaron Bardolino — but this last one is definitely one of my favorites.
Aaron, John B. and Eric P. were out in Boston’s Combat Zone one night, hitting all the strip clubs. At the end of the night, they decided to go somewhere for breakfast, and they stopped at a local diner at the edge of the Zone.
They were only in the place for a few minutes when they realized it was primarily a gay and transvestite hang-out.
“I’m not staying here!” Aaron said under his breath, “I’m not staying!”
Aaron is a man’s man, and often dramatic about it.
John and Eric convinced him to stay, and they settle on their stools to order breakfast only to be waited on by a totally flaming counter guy.
John B. loves to bust balls, and he couldn’t resist now.
When the counter guy was in front of them, John turned to Aaron and spoke to him as though confidentially, but loudly enough that the guy taking their order could clearly hear.
“Don’t you ever tell me that!” John said to Aaron with an exaggerated lisp, “Don’t you EVER tell me that I can’t satisfy you!”
Aaron choked on a mouthful of eggs. The counterman’s head snapped back on his neck.
Later, just when Aaron thought things had calmed down, the counterman came back to them. The guy put one foot up on something back there, and leaned forward to address Aaron. The guy was leering in a smooth, come-on way.
“So . . . ,” the counter man said, smiling slickly. “So, . . . I hear you’re hard to please.”
Aaron was so red-faced and completely flustered that he just sat there shoveling two slices of toast into his mouth, one with each hand.
“You’re an asshole!” Aaron said to John under his breath, “You’re a fucking asshole, . . . and you’re buying when we’re done, by the way!”
[Ed. note: Aaron eventually left Johnny D’s to become the GM of a bar/restaurant in western MA.
Also, I didn’t get to mention that he’s a talented musician, good enough to open for James Montgomery at a recent outdoor music festival. You can catch Aaron playing every Thursday (Ladies Night) at Piccilono’s in Shirley, MA.]