Have you ever had someone stare at you four days a week six hours a night for three months straight while you’re working? I have. To this day i’m not sure how creeped out i should be.
Back in the days i made my living as a bartender. It’s something i both loved and hated. Sometimes the job would be very cocktails & dreams like, just like Tom Cruise made it seem in the 80’s. Then there were the days when going to work felt like swallowing gravel or other sharp objects. You know the days when the weather was perfection and the only thing you wanted to do was to go on the beach. Or when a smart customer decided that it’s ok to grab your ass just cause you happen to be the only woman working at the bar. Oh the memories. Two of the bars i used to work at hold a dear place in my heart because these places and working in them taught me a lot. Both jobs were surprisingly at the same city in Hamilton NZ.
The first one was a brief love story. I worked at a local brewery and a restaurant and i felt right at home standing behind the beer taps smiling and sharing good banter with the customers. The second one was a story of its own. I was in desperate need of a job and went around looking for anything that would pay somewhat decent money. I stumbled across a Facebook post and got a job as a glassy/dishwasher at a local bar. And the bar! Oh was it a bar i say! Wonder Horse (the name of the fine establishment) was, and still is, located down in an alleyway like a good old speakeasy. A sneaky road sign painted on the pavement and a wooden old door as the entrance. The bar looked like something you see in movies and pictures. It was small and had a little indoor balcony where you could sit or watch what is happening at the bar. The bar itself was nearly the length of the room and behind it were more booze than i had ever seen in a bar. Old records were hanged on the ceiling and there was a piano in one corner. Dim lighting mixed with the fireworks you would see happening behind the bar made it both exciting and cozy. The team was a group of guys who knew everything there is to know about alcohol. Two locals, a token Aussie and a Belgian. All guys that could be from hipster/music magazine pages. The guys were a blast and fun to work with. I ended up staying at this place for 9 months and got to experience some interesting conversations.
I think bartenders are a cheap version of therapists. We listen, we give you a short term relief and make you feel slightly lighter inside. I remember when i started to bartend how there would always be someone who wanted to chat. Having the same customer sit there for a while sharing things about his/hers day and life while i would make them a beverage. People tend to be quite chatty in New Zealand and it was never hard to start a conversation. Most conversations were about the alcohol we served or how the work week had been. But then there were some that i ended up thinking a lot more. I had many interesting conversations with a tattoo artist who came in at least once a week. He told me his story and how he came to New Zealand from Indonesia. How it had been a struggle and how he had made it. Sometimes he would just sit and sketch there and talk to me and my workmates. Stories about his tattoo customers, artwork, fishing, how he became and artist… Once i had a conversation with a man who earlier that day had been told his wife wanted to divorce him. As you can imagine he was a mess. The look on his face was more than devastation and you could feel the pain he had inside of him. He told me the story and how he didn’t see it coming. It came out of the blue. His aim was to numb the day with alcohol whereas mine was to make sure he has someone to talk to and then goes home safe. I have never been that worried about any of the customers i encountered during my bartending days. I have also been given hairstyling tips and one particular guy said i would look good with a pink mohawk (my hair was pink at the time and i would wear flowers in my hair).
I think working in hospitality has given me the opportunity to see the best and the worst of people. There’s nothing quite like seeing middle aged business men blocking your toilet sink with puke. Or a group of guys deciding to throw ice on you from the balcony. Talking about the worst in bar life by far the most memorable ones were these two: The time when someone grabbed my behind without permission. I was so angry and shocked i went back into the kitchen to let some steam out. Our chef, from head to toe tattooed Swedish guy, asked what’s the matter. I told him and after that he and the rest of the boys at the bar went upstairs and confronted the son of a gun who had decided to do the unspeakable deed. He wasn’t so proud of himself after that. The second one was when a group of older people came in and said ”hey girl can you make this?” and said something about gin and a mix of things served with it. When someone i don’t know says ”hey girl” to me, i see red and get a bit annoyed. So it wasn’t the best start for the interaction. I made their drinks and they sat right in front of me judging everything about the drink from the cocktail glass to the ice flakes in it. The whole time i was thinking why do people bother to be like that. Why would you try to make someone feel bad about their work? These customers managed to surprise me just before they left by leaving me with a 40 dollar tip (New Zealand is a country where tips aren’t that common or required). I wasn’t sure if it was a mistake or an accident but just before they headed out the one who girled me yelled ”thank you for the great service.” Well, can’t complain.
But there has been so many moments of joy as well. On slow nights i would go check out the street and see if there were people going out and about. Across the street there was a karaoke bar where a friend was working as a bouncer. Sometimes he would take the mic outside and sing in the middle of the road. Hearing ”What does the fox say?” with that much feeling and effort that Benny gave it, well, it was probably the best karaoke i’ve ever seen. I also got to meet some of the greatest and coolest people i still keep in touch with. In the end working in hospitality gave me a lot and for the time i worked in it, it gave me a family and the chance to really experience people.