Well, the eagle has landed. I’ve got a new gig in one of New York’s uber-busy and desirable destinations – The Meatpacking District. For those not in the know, there are very few actual meat processing facilities there. Rather, it’s a trendy bar/restaurant/lounge/hotel “scene.” The area has a storied history dating back to a time when – yes – it was a dingy/dirty/stinky meat processing, warehouse infested, blue-collar industrial strip. An elevated railroad ran through the West Side, beginning in MPD in order to deliver pre-processed carcasses as well as to ship out post-processed meat products. Though the train ceased all operations decades ago, alongside the exodus of most meat processing facilities, the elevated tracks remained and have been famously turned into the urban oasis called the Hi-Line.
There are several key NYC neighborhoods that service industry folks clamor to work in due to popularity, foot traffic, coolness factor, transportation factors, or all of the above. Those include L.E.S., M.P.D., Union Square, the Bedford area of Williamsburg, and to a lesser degree, Times Square. Times Square is both loathed and loved; loathed, because of cheap-ass tourists by the hundreds of thousands and loved, because of cheap-ass tourists by the hundreds of thousands. It’s all about the volume there.
Anyway, MPD is a huge nightlife destination and is always crowded – a big plus for someone like me who depends on throngs of cash-rich revelers with a penchant for being “seen,” and consuming copious amounts of distilled spirits in the process. It sits in a key location, nestled between the equally drunkard packed West Village and Chelsea.
When this area first began the gentrification process, all you really had, destination-wise, was Hogs-N-Heifers and Lotus. Then came the modern mainstays such as: The Gansevoort, The Standard, Pastis, Cielo, Spice Market, STK, Griffin, Gansevoort 69, The Darby, Tenjeune, One Oak and Abe and Arthur’s. There are dozens more. Some new “it” spot is always debuting. Net-net, it draws huge crowds nightly. As you can imagine, come Summer, the outdoor spaces exacerbate the crowding – a good thing. There is absolutely no way in hell to get a bartending gig here if you haven’t “paid your dues” by having had put in verifiable years behind other bars in New York.
My job search didn’t take all that long this time, or did it? The reality is that most people didn’t see the exhaustive efforts I put into getting the gig. I spent about 8 or 9 days trolling Craigslist incessantly – all day. I sent out dozens of individually tailored resumes and pictures. I walked the streets numerous times and applied to seemingly uninterested bars. I physically interviewed at pre-scheduled appointments couple of times a day. I got absolutely grilled by managers, sizing me up – expected. I called in most favors with former co-workers who were working elsewhere. I kept a diary of contacts, appointments, applications, schedules and callbacks. I upped the exercise/diet routines, prepped particular outfits daily and brushed up on long-forgotten obscure drinks I learned 15 years ago. In all, a whole lot of preparation and effort went into it. The primary reason was that I could not afford to be without work for an extended period as I have mouths to feed.
If you go into any kind of job-search with half-assed preparation, unrealistic expectations, a ridiculous entitlement syndrome (as opposed to confidence) in NYC, you’re in for a very rude surprise – except, again in many places, if you’re a hot girl. It proved difficult even for me who has tons of experience and is well suited to just about any bar environment. The issues are, as I alluded to in my previous article (1) the sheer and overwhelming number of qualified applicants in this City (2) the female factor (3) cattle calls or advertised jobs (4) timing (5) the fact that barkeeps that have great jobs rarely leave them and (6) those interviewing you don’t know jack about your actual skills nor can they reliably substantiate your claims without an actual evaluation behind the bar.
So now, I have to “look forward” to one of my other least favorite things in the world, one which kept me working, for far too long, in an environment where I didn’t belong: Trailing. Trailing is an unfortunate requirement at most bars and restaurants for Front-Of-House staff. It involves various intensities and durations of “Training.” You learn the menus, familiarize yourself with the bar layout, liquor inventory, people, command structure, and other requirements a facility may have. You’re watched by management and co-workers during this time and critiqued. It sucks the big one but it’s a necessary evil. The bad ones and liars get weeded out quickly. The good ones stay. Depending on the local management, Training/Trailing can last a couple of hours to several days or several shifts. Some of the really picky corporate management groups can even ship your ass to a training facility for a couple of weeks to mold and zombify your dumbass.
In most instances, this is not paid training. If you trail with live customers, you usually do NOT take home any tips the first few shifts. You’re the newbie and it’s not a great feeling. On the flip-side, you’ve landed a fabulous for-make-glorious-benefit-of-my-wallet job.
The difficult first couple of weeks will pass. In time, you’ll be the one training others and looking at them curiously – doubting why they think they can take your place and/or work beside you. You’ll look back on the training days and snicker.
Take care of your customers, and you’ll be tapping that in no time – making plenty of cheese in the process. That’s my plan at least…