ANOTHER DAY (behind the bar)

The day started out shaky and quickly got worse.  This past Friday morning, with only four hours sleep, I found myself at the computer working on The Book.  (At least I’m putting the time in now after all these years.)

By noon I remembered that there was a big show at the club later.  The Motels would be playing — they had a couple of top-ten hits back in the eighties.  The dinner reservations were full and the advance tickets had sold out.

“That’s OK,” I told myself, “There’s still time to write, then I’ll catch a quick nap.”

Soon it was 3:30, and any nap would have to be half an hour or less.  “That’s OK,” I thought, “At least I’ll be able to lie down and close my eyes for a minute.”

The phone rang.  It was John Bonoccorso from the club.  I’ve worked with John for fifteen years behind the taps; he’s now the GM at Johnny D’s.  Any call before work is never good.

“The phones are ringing off the hook here,” John told me, “Any way you can come in an hour early?”

“Sure,” I said, “I’ll be in at 5:00.  No problem.”

No problem?  What was I saying?  I barely had time for a quick shower.

I put on my work shoes and rushed to the club.  At Johnny D’s, the day continued to go straight downhill.

Friday is pay day, when the employees get their checks.  (I do some office work aside from tending bar; I handle the payroll– go over the time sheets, call in the hours, then double-check the results when the payroll arrives.)

Something was different about this week’s checks.  On closer look, I saw that they were all printed to be drawn on our old bank account — an account we’d closed months ago.  With their new software system, the payroll company had sent us checks that weren’t any good.  If anyone tried to cash them, they’d bounce.

“Print me another batch of checks!” I yelled over the phone when finally connected to a payroll supervisor, “The ones you sent us are all screwed up . . . they have the wrong account number!”

I’ll spare you the details except to say it was a nightmare . . . but in the end everything was straightened out, and I still had half an hour to look over some food bills.  It was only 6:00.  With two bartenders already working upstairs, I wouldn’t be needed until it really got busy.

The intercom rang.  “Better get up here,” John said, “The bar’s getting slammed!”

The ice bins at the middle station of Johnny D’s, when in working condition.

When I stepped behind the bar, Julian was frantically melting down the ice in his left side bin.  Someone had broken a glass.

If you’re not in the business you might not know that anytime glass breaks anywhere near the ice, you have to melt it all down.  When glass shatters, tiny pieces fly just about everywhere, and you can’t see broken glass in the ice.  You have to make sure no small shards end up in someone’s drink.

“It’ll be fine,” I thought, “The waitstaff can come to my side.  I still have ice.”

I reached to grab a bottle behind me, and heard a waitress yell, “Oh, . . . FUCK!!!”

I turned back just in time to see the container of martini olives teetering over the edge of my service station.  Suddenly everything was in slow motion . . . my hands reached out in slow motion, trying to grab the container in slow motion, my mouth was open . . . “No-o-o-o-o-o-o-o!”

I reached the container just in time to receive a bath of olive juice as the remaining half of the juice, and approximately 40-50 olives splashed onto the ice in the right bin.

Cleaning up, the waitress had knocked the container over the edge.  Accidents happen, what can you do?

But now both 30-gallon ice bins at the middle station were temporarily out of commission.  Customers waved their hands, six waitstaff frantically shouted for their drinks, we were being slammed . . . and we had no usable ice.

Then behind me, Jeremy and Julian somehow smashed their heads together as they tried to scoot by in the narrow bar aisle.  Julian was standing with both hands holding his nose, and Jeremy kept asking, “Are you alright?  Are you alright?”

“This is not going well,” I finally admitted to myself.  The way things were going, next the roof would cave in.

Steve Morse

By the time the ice bins were operational, Steve Morse had come into the club.  Steve has been coming to Johnny D’s just about since it opened.  (He was the Boston Globe’s senior pop music critic for 30 years, leaving a while ago to work independently — click here to watch his interview with Joan Baez.)

Things had slowed down, I needed a break from the madness, so I stopped for a minute to talk with Steve.  He was telling me about The Motels, then branched off into other bands, . . . and somehow he began telling a story about a band that had once opened for The Eagles.

It seems he was in Springfield MA, covering The Eagles, and at a hotel bar he happened to run into the guys who were the opening act.  They started talking and drinking, and since they were in the same business and knew a lot of the same people, they ended up spending most of the night in that hotel bar, talking and recalling music tales.

Who was this opening act?  Jimmy Buffett’s band, before they became really big.

After that the only Boston area critic who got interviews with Jimmy Buffett was Steve Morse, of The Boston Globe.  It became so bad that after more than 20 years Buffett’s manager finally called Steve almost apologetically, asking if the band could do an interview — just one — with someone else, the Boston Herald.

“I’m sorry, Steve,” the manager told him, “But they keep calling every year . . . I really should give them an interview.  Is that OK?”

Steve said it was,  . . . but that he hoped it wouldn’t become a habit.  (You have to hear Steve tell the story to appreciate his dry humor.)

Gotta love those bar connections.  Anyway, talking with Steve put me in a better mood.  I do love a good bar story.

Back to work, and a woman came up to the bar.  “Can I help you?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” she said, looking at the beer list, “I just had a Lagunitas IPA, but now I think I want something a little darker.”

Feeling revived, I ran down to grab at taste of the Clown Shoes Brown Angel for her.  “Try this,” I said, “It’s made by a company in Lexington, MA . . . just up the road.”

Her eyes lit up with the first sip, then her whole face practically turned into one big grin.  “Oh . . . that is good,” she said.  She was beaming.  “That is really good . . . I’ll have one of those.”

Chef Rudy Garcia, out of uniform.

“Thanks for the sample,” she said with a genuine smile of appreciation.  I was beginning to see some light at the end of this day’s long, dark tunnel.

Rudy Garcia walked in.  He’s a chef with The Elephant Walk in Cambridge, MA . . . just a few blocks away.  We love Rudy.  He’s a great guy, and a great chef.  Usually when he leaves he’ll say something like, “Are you working tomorrow night . . . I’ll bring you something from the restaurant.”

It might be three or four more visits before he actually remembers, but when he does, it’s always worth the wait.

Leehea, with Cris Holt and Joe Shea.

Leehae (pronounced LeeHay) Choee walked into the club, just off her shift as a manager at The Blue Shirt Café.  She’s smart, cute as a button, and such a pleasant person.  She was the capper . . . the person who finally finished turning this entire evening around, 180 degrees.  I challenge anyone to stay in a sour mood with the lovely Leehae sitting at their bar.  She is such a sweetheart.  Damn, I was feeling good now.

Then The Motels broke into their top-ten tune, “Only the Lonely” — and everything else in the club stopped.  No drinks were served, no one was moving, no one talked.  People were spellbound listening to the song.

When it was finished, everyone in the place seemed a little high.

At the end of the night, the waitstaff happily tossed down their shift drinks.  And while us bartenders counted tips and enjoyed cold pints of Clown Shoes Brown Angel, I thought, “All in all,  . . . this been a fine day.”

(As I’m writing, I can still hear The Motels performing “Only the Lonely.”  Click the image below to listen.)



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10 Responses to ANOTHER DAY (behind the bar)

  1. Starbucks8295 says:

    Wow what a great story. You made me wish I was at your club hearing the Motels do Only the Lonely!

  2. Case says:

    It reminds me another post you did before on what its like to be a bartender. This one focused on one day and its a good picture of the life. Love your blog. Wish I’d been there too.

  3. Colleen says:

    You didn’t tell me that story. But as usual, you handled a bad situation with patience and fortitude.

    When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on!

  4. Delia says:

    I want to sit in your bar :0)

  5. Llylak says:

    Cute story. So, a few decent customers turned your night around. They can do that can’t they? I recall my nights as a waitress in college, customers can make or break you.

  6. scribbler50 says:

    I could feel the rumblings of an anxiety attack just by reading the first part of this post, Mike, let alone living it. Any one of those events can throw off a night… especially on a night when you’re slammed… you broke the damn record for starting on a bad note. Glad it ended on a melodical note and you all drank happily thereafter.

  7. Jackie says:

    Choas and redemption, a good read all in all. You have good tales. A shoutout from Chicago.

  8. Mike Q says:

    Starbucks8295: You would have loved the show, Starbucks . . . and we probably could have used you behind the bar for a few minutes. Always good to see you here.

    Case: During the night I had a sense that this was some type of composite of the good, the bad, and the ugly of bartending. . . that’s why I had Jeremy take the photos of Rudy and Leehae . . . because I figured I might do a post on the day, the way it worked backwards from ugly to pretty damn fine. (Damn, I should have used that as the post title — “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” — this day sure had all of them.)

    Colleen: Trust me you would have heard about it the next day . . . but you were away for your parent’s 51st anniversary … member? This happened last Friday. Had the post up before you got back, so I didn’t mention it.

    Delia: Wish you WERE sitting at this bar, Delia! Anytime, please! (To anyone reading here, click on Delia’s name above if you haven’t already checked out her great new blog.)

    Llylak: Yup, the customers can make or break your day, Lly. We’re lucky at Johnny D’s . . . in general we have exceptional crowds. They’re all here to listen to one of their favorite bands, so almost everyone is in a noticeably good mood.

    Scribbler50: We definitely could have used you behind the bar for that crunch, Scrib, when the ice was being melted. But as you know, that’s just part of being slammed. Stuff like that happens all the time . . . what can you do besides push through it.

    Jackie: Glad you liked it and thanks for commenting!

  9. Delia says:

    This post inspired my most recent post… I made an FB page for the blog too!
    i now have 26 followers! you inspire me

  10. Trish says:

    I love your blog! You’re a good writer and you have interesting stories to tell!

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