It’s gala season in New York City, and I am your sober incompetent bartender.
I’m on a sobriety kick. I cycle through these kicks about twice a year. Back in September, life was being particularly good to me, and I reveled by ordering whiskey ginger after whiskey ginger. Then my apartment got infested by bed bugs and my drinking took a self-pitying turn. There is a lot of alcoholism in my family history so whether I’m drinking to revel or in self-pity there is always a part of me wary and disapproving. By many people’s standards, my drinking was not out of control, but I have my own kid-of-an-alcoholic standards. According to those standards, I needed to cool it.
Nothing makes me want to drink less than bartending. From my limited understanding, this is not the industry standard. Then again, I am not a real bartender. After returning to my catering gig from a 18-month hiatus, I started getting bar shifts. Why? Haven’t a clue. I am a mediocre (at best) waiter. I’m good at smiling at the guests, but I invariably show up with a rumpled shirt, wet hair and proceed to sneak hor d'oeuvres in the the back stairwell (I know the best spot to hide and eat in every fancy event space in Manhattan). During my hiatus, I worked as a mediocre (at best) receptionist. If anyone needs a admin assistant who can deliver all the mail in a timely manner, but always shows up with rumpled clothes, wet hair and proceeds to complain loudly about throwing her back out during sex again, don’t call me - I’m not available. If I had to venture a guess as to why I’m suddenly getting bar shifts I’d say it has nothing to do with my sweet little ass and everything to do with my reliability - who else cancels hours before a shift with a one line email - I HAVE BED BUGS - not once but twice in one week?
I do not know how to bartend. I understand that liquid needs to end up in drinking glasses, but otherwise it’s a lot of guess work. I slogged over to a sketchy restaurant supply store on Bowery to buy myself the required kit hoping a bar spoon and jigger would imbue me with some knowledge beyond ‘martinis go in martini glasses.’ Luckily, it’s catering. You can get away with a whole lot more than at an actual job - which basically sums the entire appeal of catering. At a recent event, my manager suggested I steal a cocktail shaker from the rental bin. “Just take it,” he said as he gave my co-worker the universal ‘you have coke all over nose’ hand gesture, and launched into a ten minute diatribe about how Samsung definitely planted a mole in Apple’s design department who purposefully let those bendy iPhones go to market. Corporate. Espionage. Sobriety felt good that night.
New York City gala season means self-congratulatory speeches, unfortunate facelifts and open bars. The causes vary (lung cancer, affordable housing, natural disaster relief), but the events all feel the same. The crowd hits the open bar, refuses to quiet down when the host takes the stage no matter how much it’s shhhed, scarfs down a chicken dinner and returns to the bar. At a recent event raising money for global health initiatives, Samantha Power spoke about the ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. Then a horde of drunk people in formal wear danced to a live band’s rendition of Pit Bull’s Timber while a gargantuan slideshow of sick African people played above them. Sobriety felt very good that night.
When the guests are packed in three deep at the bar, my alcoholism spidey senses zero in the problem drinkers in the swarm. It’s my kid-of-an-alcoholic superpower. The blonde marketing rep declaring a little too giddily she’s ‘getting crunk on a Wednesday.’ Mr. Vodka on the Rocks in a Water Glass glancing over his shoulder to check if his wife is watching. To the weary middle aged woman insisting unprompted the fifth glass of Pinot Grigio is for her friend. I see you. My imagination cannot help but fill in details of their lives. A good bartender never judges her patrons, but I am not a good bartender. I still google ‘how to make a martini’ every goddamn time.
I miss passing hor d'oeuvres. Specifically, pounding hor d’oeuvres three at a time in back stairwells--that I am good at. Bartending does not give you access to the endless supply of free food. I’m adjusting though. Professional bartending tip: drunk people will bring you food. It’s their most redeemable trait. All you have to do is ask. If that fails, take a bathroom break, whisper to a waiter with a tray full of food ‘meet me in the back in two minutes’ and when his eyes light up, clarify: ‘Bring the short rib.’