Bartending was intended to be a temporary measure way back in 1994 when it all started. Post-college, I was just wrapping up a 2 year stint as a stockbroker – err… pennystock broker, actually. To put it even more succinctly, I was a high-volume, high-pressure, brainwashing, conniving but perfectly legal telephone salesman. I frequently socially engineered numerous secretaries to pitch everyone from Walt McNamara, Reggie Fountain and Bill Gates’ architect. I’d even pitch your poor old Grandma and Uncle Bill. Most of of the corporate “leads” were purchased as Dunn & Bradstreet index cards at $.10/piece. Although, it wasn’t uncommon to pick up mountains of old school phone books and spend all day cold-calling out of them.
I’d pitch them carefully architected scripts and rebuttals in an effort to swindle their life savings. We had giant, tabbed binders, full of well-rehearsed fill-in-the blank stories. Binders were tabbed for quick reference. There were categories for: Talk to the Wife, Talk to My Broker, I’m not Liquid Right now, Let me Think About it, etc. You never asked a yes or no closing question – always leading questions. For example, the tail end of a phone pitch would often end something like this:
Look Mr. Jones, you and I both know I can’t guarantee XYZF’s stock price will go up, but I can’t guarantee the sun will come up tomorrow either – read between the lines. If I can secure you a [small] allotment of stock today, can I have your assurance that you’ll give me a bit more confidence in doing bigger and better trades down the road?
Great. Would you like a joint or individual account?
I’d try to convince them that doomsday was tomorrow and that they’d better open an account with me right now and let me write them a fabulous “buy ticket” (this was long before the birth of the Interwebz). God forbid a client from your book ever called up wanting to sell (usually a result of a stock price drop). We’d put them on hold, literally put on a Fireman’s Hat, and “put the fire out.” Selling is highly discouraged; it took away from the firm’s “money under management.” We’d play mental mind games with them, convincing them they needed to double-up their positions because of the great buying opportunity. They’d be relieved to get off the phone holding only their existing positions.
If you’ve ever seen the movie Boiler Room, it’s based on the actual office where I worked, out in out in Melville, Long Island. The movie is pretty accurate. There were dozens of these voodoo shops around the NYC area back then. Among them, you had Robert Todd, Sterling Foster (formerly called J.Gregory & Company), Investor Associates, and the big grand daddy, Stratton Oakmont fronted by none other than the infamous Jordan Belfort – “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Honestly, he had little to do with Wall Street. He and several of the above mentioned firms’ Branch Managers lived in swanky, gated developments of exit #40 on the Long Island Expressway. Like a close-knit mafia, most of them knew, brainstormed, competed, and partied with each other.
These guys were making 22 year old, idiotic, cold-calling kids rich as sin nearly overnight at the expense of investors. I had college dropout buddies grossing $80,000 a month sometimes, with essentially no experience. That’s just the broker’s take. The second month of my cold calling phase, a “broker” who had been there maybe 1 year came in from the bank downstairs and fanned $40,000 in cash across his desk. Pandemonium (in a good way) erupted and a day-long celebration kicked off. The house was making theirs as well, I assure you. I’m not a genius, but a suspect, and many books on the topic concur, that a lot of those monies flowed back into some form of organized crime. Anyway, Long after I quit, they got raided and shutdown by the SEC and NASD. Lots of my ex-buddies got fined up the wazoo, were convicted of some gnarly charges, and even did some jail time. I caught wind, years later, that one broker even had to go into government sponsored “hiding” due to some seriously disgruntled customers in the “carting” and “bakery” delivery businesses. At a certain point, I was called into some lawyer’s office in Midtown to give a deposition.
There were multiple, daily pep-rally type speeches; the kind whose aim was to continue the long process of brainwashing young brokers into “acting as if” and keep them hungry. Spending all your monthly earnings and partying up a storm was highly encouraged. We’d rent houses in the West Hampton every Summer replete with drugs, booze and sex filled days and nights. We’d charter monthly propeller planes out of Farmingdale airport destined for Atlantic City. A limo full of nose-candy and liquor awaited for the short ride to the hotel. If there too many brokers for the small plane, we’d rent a bus. The bus itself was quite the party with a seemingly endless supply of, again, cocaine and hookers making the “rounds.” Office celebrations for writing big-tickets often involved strippers and prostitutes – OSHA and Human Resources be damned. Michael Lewis’ Liar’s Poker, Zig Ziglar’s Secret’s Of Closing the Sale and Og Mandino’s The Greatest Salesman in the World were our bibles. A little sprinkling of Tony Robbins and copious lifestyle rags like The Robb Report were thrown in for spice. The era was right after the height of the storied Goldman Sach’s days; the terms “Big Swingin’ Dick” and “Million Dollar Producer” were thrown around dozens of times a day.
Lots of us young brokers had atrocious credit and couldn’t get car loans. We’d all get sent to The “Sharks,” shady car dealers and loan outfits in Great Neck, L.I. Many of us would sign for new or nearly new big-ticket cars with basically no questions asked. There was no income check and no credit check. But, and this is a big but, the vig (interest rate) was almost always something like 25%! Nobody cared because the money was flowing. Long story. I digress…
Being utterly discouraged at something my heart wasn’t into, I caught wind of this new-fangled opportunity for make glorious benefit of cash and easy women – bartending. This would be something fairly easy to learn and didn’t require me to sell my soul screwing people over. I blame a co-worker buddy of mine, fellow broker Sal. Coincidentally, this dude curiously had a widespread reputation as having John “Johnny Wadd” Holmes stock – porn star endowment – not that I ever found out . He was constantly memorizing drinks via flash cards in the office and endlessly blabbing about his up and coming bartending career. I thought – OK. I can do it too temporarily, while I look for a real job. So off I went to some shady bartending school by the Port Authority bus terminal.
Fast forward to 2012. I’ve been bartending professionally, on and off, in both Miami and NYC ever since! Yikes! The Wharton MBAs, attorneys and other traditional types may indeed scoff at the blue-collar life. But, slinging booze has bought me a private house in NYC and provided for a family of 4 over the years.
Oh yeah – I should mention that there is a full-time day job in corporate IT sprinkled in there for good measure. Back when my wife got pregnant with our first child in 1998, I thought it might be a good idea to perhaps – you know – consider a job that provides insurance and didn’t keep me out so late. I summoned all super-tech powers of the past and landed a job doing Tech Support, router installations, and webmaster stuff for a regional ISP at the time when residential dial-up was king and DSL/Cable was barely ramping up. I learned more and more, and progressively parlayed that career into a few more prestigious and better paying jobs as the years went on. I still maintain a full-time IT job today in addition to bartending. I’m a busy boy I guess – lots to juggle.
Anyway, it’s not impossible to make a six-figure income getting people drunk. I’ve worked clubs where it’s not unusual to make $800 – $1,000 a night. Unfortunately, God forgot to grant me boobs, but if you have them, and otherwise look really, really attractive, you can make upwards of $2,000 a night bartending at the odd NYC strip club without ever taking your bikini off. Not bad, ay?
Strip club and dance club bartending are not without peril – they’re tough gigs and I don’t think I could tolerate those environments at this point. So be it. I still do OK. Bartending is one of those professions where sexism is skewed in favor of women. Men cannot compete with a hot girl behind the bar in any way, shape or form these days. What I can do, however, is run circles around nearly all the other barkeeps – a mad man crushing everyone on volume, ability, and service. As a result, in many busy hot-spots, you’ll find a really attractive girl or two flanked by male troops. This is not accidental. Bar owners/managers know the deal, and staff accordingly. I’m referring to straight bars – the majority.
With respect to gay bars, I’ve worked at a few. As a straight dude, I have zero problems with it and am actually happy to do so. I’m even happy to work shirtless, which I’ve had to do on occasion. Note to fatties, flabbies, and hairy gorillas: you won’t be working at a gay bar anytime this century. Gay guys also tip better in general! W00t! Bring it on.
Where I’ve tended bar?
All over. The majority of my career has been spent in New York City with a little sprinkling of Miami. I’ve worked big night clubs, medium size lounges, salsa clubs full of Tony Montana types, Italian and French fine dining spots on Collins Ave and the Upper East Side, Cafes and comedy clubs in Greenwich Village, lesbian bars, gay bars, and your dime-a-dozen pseudo-trendy spots in Meatpacking, Chelsea and Union Square. I’ve done all kinds of special event planning and bartending as well. I’ve happily worked shirtless when called upon to do so – no problem. I think the only type of bars I haven’t worked in yet is are old-school Irish pubs and uber, over the top eateries like Cipriani, Babbo or Le Cirque.
It’s not necessarily adviseable to name/list all the places I’ve worked. Moreover, it’s probably a worse idea to name where I currently work lest I be invaded by the goons of the InterToobs and be branded a G-List mini-celebrity. Things can get hairy in a hurry – I could be stalked, harassed or fondled (well, fondling is ok in my book). There are also some regulars from past bars that I would prefer not to have as regulars any longer. Lastly, and most importantly, Big Brother, management type of folks don’t take too kindly to having their dirty laundry exposed for the whole world to see. None of them want to see a former (or current) employee detailing highly personal and emotional experiences, some of which may or may not have taken place at their establishments. Lots of those folks already lose sleep and hairs over Yelp and CitySearch comments.
Although the experiences and people I write about here are 100% real, I do my best not to personally identify folks. I’m not out to be a rat, or destroy anyone’s business or careers in any way, shape or form. This is just another bartender with an attitude’s rants – nothing more. Don’t take it too seriously.
Why this blog?
Frustration more than any other reason. Second, it’s fun! It’d be nice to have someone laugh, learn, scream, cry, etc. as a result of what I’ve shared. Third, I suffer from a bit of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I love my drinks to be served perfectly and often feel like I need to correct fellow bartenders that are quite simply screwing things up horrifically. That last one is a losing battle really as there is a seemingly endless supply of ignorance and apathy. That’s really it – just sharing the wealth and stupidity. There are thousands of folks calling themselves “bartenders” (or worse, “mixologists”) out there that who need a reality check as their skills are sorely lacking. On the flip side, there are even more bar patrons who act like ass and need to be called out. If not, maybe they’d just like to be better informed of what goes on behind the scenes.
I find that contributing to and maintaining this blog is enormously therapeutic – that pretty much sums it up nicely. Unlike a lot of the crap out there, this blog is not a content-farm full of useless crap. Those moronic sites are only out to drive traffic, improve Click Through Rates and host paid advertising. This blog, is the real deal – real experiences, advice, and critiques from an honest to goodness NYC bartender – a service industry “lifer.” There are endless cocktail recipe, hipster foo-foo cocktail, waitress bitching, and commercial bar/restaurant consultant blogs out there. But, there are very, very few down and dirty, actual bartenders, telling it like it is – what it’s like to be in the trenches tending bar. So here I am.
One last note: I’m not a writer, professional publicist, psychologist, or newsman. I’m actually a Mechanical Engineer by schooling – go figure. I readily admit that I’m not the perfect/best bartender or mixologist out there although although I do believe I’m up there in many respects. I make mistakes. I am flawed. I mess up, make grammatical, observational, and spelling mistakes sometimes. I was going to add that I’m not a professional blogger either. However, after several months and dozens of posts now, I don’t know that I can really use that cop-out anymore, can I? Enjoy.