The Gypsy Bartender

I’m an ass (my own ass shot for posterity). After a few multi-year bartending stints in a couple of key NYC venues, I flew the coop. I had been in one particular bar so long, it had become unfortunate home. My regulars became my drinking buddies and, cursedly, my Facebook “friends.” I had become so comfortable – in a poisonous environment – that I had already “jumped the shark” in my own head and subsequently, career path. I knew the time had come to become… The Gypsy Bartender. As a vagabond, I would wander from bar to bar, doing guest spots, seasonal gigs, and mostly – not getting into my previous groove with my much-adored co-conspirator.

Dreaming of a life on the road as a traveling, naked contortionist… (err… what?) is not conducive to building a following, gaining long-term trust, seniority, and steady money. As a matter of fact, turning to the Dark Side and becoming a bartending slut, has the opposite effect – not unlike whoring yourself out fo shizzles. The rewards are initially high, the fun factor a thrill, and the prospect of constantly getting behind a new hunk-o-mahogany is uplifting and simultaneously terrifying. This is particularly true when – like most Hospitality Industry folks – you’re living on the nose bleeding edge, barely able to pay your rent and afford Wonderbread and ketchup.

Piss Boy. That’s what Gypsy Bartending really boils down to being. I’ll say it again – Piss Boy. Oh wait: you were the Head Bartender with 10 years seniority at your last gig? Survey says – you’re a nobody all over again at B-Bar, sir. You consistently rang $3,000 on your own on slow nights? Doesn’t matter here. You created the cocktail program, replete with a dozen infusions, uber-pricey East Indian spices, and select, small-batch Hipster-only spirits? We have our own Mixologist here buddy. You never broke a sweat every other Friday at 11pm, when the Point-of-Sale routinely went down, the ice machines both pooped and you lept at the chance to break up two brawls? No one here cares.

None of that, buddy, means a fucking thing in your new job. You’re the Piss Boy. Get that through your head. Smile, and pretend you’re as excited as you were getting naked with new lover, for the first time, behind old lover’s back. Because, you’re going to have to stand there all god-damned night, look pretty, and appear to be extremely overjoyed.

Never mind that you don’t know where the Anchorsteam is. It’s OK that the bar is 3 deep and you’ve just been thrown behind the stick. Forget that you don’t know where any of the menu items are in the computer. Mr. Wankermush wants to know the allergies in your catch-of-the-day? Don’t know where the ice machine is? Don’t know how to make the 15 house drinks created by the Corporate Master Mixologist? 3 people are barking 4 drink orders each at you simultaneously. Meanwhile, you have a “special needs” customer who insists you remove that shot she didn’t have from the check. Oh – and she’s positively desperate to leave this very instant. Can’t find a manager and his/her magical P.O.S. card to void it for you? Watcha gonna do? Are you going to reach in to your pocket, or even better, the tip jar, to “temporarily” reimburse her? Sucky environment for your first Trailing Shift, eh? Well, too fucking bad. Suck it up, newbie.

You’re the new dude. You’re on stage. Are you gonna break a sweat? Are you gonna start crying? Better not. It’s all a test. Some of it may even be carefully architected to evaluate your worth under fire. Yah – really. You can bet your schweddy balls that everyone and their Grandmamas are watching your dumbass - all night. But don’t fear, you’re a seasoned Mixologist with 15 years experience, right? Right!

Congrats! You’ve made it through Eval! Eval usually consists of 2 or 3 trailing shifts where, surprise, you act like a bartender, work and sweat like a bartender, but don’t get paid a fucking thing at the end of the night. Did you forget you’re the Piss Boy?

Ok, ok. The end of the night arrives. You haven’t made a seriously egregious error. No one has caught you stealing (yet). Better, no one has yet caught you not smiling and just about no one hates your dumbass (yet). Your ring is on point. You’ve gained your fellow bartender’s pat on the shoulder of approval. The bar manager finally says you pass muster. Coincidentally, he tells you that the lady with the nasty attitude wanting the void was a Spotter/Shopper. Good God. You go back the locker room for a cursory wash and to change into street clothes. Shit, the kitchen guys have played a cruel joke on you and made your cloths, iPhone, and $18.72 vanish – all because no one bothered to assign poor you a locker.

The schedule comes out. Didn’t get Wednesday through Saturday night shifts? Poo. You’re in the back (read: slow) bar, Sunday – brunch, Monday – Afternoon, and Wednesday night – Service Bar. More poo you say. You need off next Wednesday to attend you’re Dad’s funeral in Austin. No one will cover for you. Too bad, eh?

Welcome to my life. I am now The Gypsy Bartender… and yeah, I started yet another new bartending gig today. I smiled, I joked, I apologized profusely for both getting in the way and for knowing jack shit. When all was said and done, I thanked everyone of my handlers two too many times and told them that I understand the awkwardness, and would laugh it off in a couple of weeks. The difference here though, is that these are truly some of the (forgive the cliche) nicest group of people I’ve ever encountered in the business.

More to come.

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