Tales From the Bar Side
MLT assistant editor Emily Riley describes the pros and cons of bartending.
It’s another Saturday night, and I find myself in the same bar, with the same drinks and undoubtedly the same crowd. It’s coming up on last call, and I’ve been here since early evening, the hoppy scent of Yuengling lager permeating my hair and clothes.
And so it is every weekend—and even on a few weeknights. I won’t be forking over $10 for a margarita (and a pretty decent one, I might add). But I’ve got everyone else covered for the next seven or eight rounds.
I’m no lush (at least not very often). I am, however, a party to many a business deal sealed over a shot, and I’ve witnessed enough PDA and schmoozing to melt your heart and turn your stomach.
I’m a bartender. And I know all your secrets. OK, maybe not every one, but more than you think. After putting in my time as assistant editor at Main Line Today, I often have to hustle down to Delaware. As Wilmington’s white-collar brigade is just settling in with their after-work pinots and martinis, I’m trading my office attire for a pair of beat-up Crocs and an all-black getup. I accessorize with a notepad in my back pocket and a dish towel tucked into my belt loop.
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At first, I was a little overwhelmed by the drastic differences in my two places of work. But while my business cards clearly say otherwise, I’ve come to accept that “babe/sweetie/HELLO?!” is a moniker I simply can’t avoid after 3 p.m.
Of course, I hear things. Sometimes I wish they actually were imaginary voices in my head, and not the sort of jaw-dropping revelations my customers divulge after knocking back a few. I guess it comes with the territory—being a bartender and a 24-year-old female. It’s sometimes annoying, often hilarious and, on occasion, incredibly uncomfortable when someone works up the liquid courage to make a move on a member of the opposite sex. Alas, I know many of the wives, husbands, bosses and kids of those on the prowl.
Thanks to my regulars, I also know who’s the fresh meat at the local law office and which real estate agent is targeting a new market. Sober or otherwise, people can be fascinating. For some patrons, it’s a dual therapeutic role I play, prescribing the first round of treatment on the rocks, before lending a patient ear. I don’t give hugs, but I might throw a free drink your way if I know it’s been a tough day. You warned me about it when you were here last week, and here we are—again.
Which brings me to another point: Bartenders remember everything. Every new guest is a first impression waiting to happen, and some are far more memorable than others. It shouldn’t be a secret that the best tippers get the best service, that friendly folks are a joy to talk to, and that snapping at me will make you last on my list of priorities (right there with whipping up four tedious mojitos).
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I wonder what an intolerant jerk I might’ve been if I’d never worked eight years in the hospitality field. If bartending has taught me anything, it’s the importance of social etiquette.
Oh, and I can change a keg in 10 seconds or less.
Sooner than later, Emily Riley hopes to make one of her jobs a full-time career. (Hint: It’s not bartending.)
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