Unless your reason for entering a bar is to meet someone in a tryst, to go undercover for the C.I.A. or to sit by yourself in the corner and cry in your beer, then “You wanna go where everybody knows your name.” For, just like the message in that theme song from Cheers, camaraderie is usually the name of the game and it helps to pull up a stool where you are known. But if your name is not on everyone’s lips… you’re at best a semi-regular… do you know what throws down the welcome mat just as effectively? A bartender knowing the name of your drink instead. If you don’t believe me, check out this little exchange of a few weeks back. It surprises even me.
This couple in their early sixties came in, having only been in once before, and the time of that initial visit was almost a year ago. So they slid onto their stools, handed me two warm smiles, then the woman put down her purse and leaned in to order. “I’ll have a Pinot Noir,” she said, taking the lead in their dance, but before her husband could follow I quickly cut in. “And are you still a J & B rocks, Sir, with a twist?” Well, after picking them both off the floor (so to speak) they recovered enough to have the following conversation…
Him: “Jesus, man, you remembered that? You re-mem-bered that?”
Me: “Based on the way you’re acting, looks like I did.”
Him: “But how? I was only in here the once and that was a year ago.”
Her: (teasing) “Are you sure about that, dear? Are you sure it was only the once?”
Me: “I’m sure of it, Ma’am, I met him the time the two of you came in last year.”
Him: “But how do you remember one guy, one drink, almost a goddam year ago? I’m flabbergasted!”
Me: (serving up bartender B.S.) “Hey, classy people are memorable, what can I tell ya’?” Then, my healthy tip rather neatly assured, I moved down the bar leaving in my wake one very happy, very “welcomed” couple.
Now I don’t bring this up to brag, dear reader, (more B.S. there!) because I’m not really sure just how I was able to do that. And though the story just told was clearly a home run… that rarest of feats in my game… what isn’t so rare are my frequent doubles and triples. Nailing the drinks of my occasionals… those people who come in every two or three months… is almost as common to me as that home run is rare. And I’ll bet almost every other bartender can make the same claim.
Names? That’s a different story. If I don’t write the names at the top of the tabs of the people who don’t come in often, Ben will invariably become Barney, Joan will be addressed as Janet, and Luke will morph into Lenny or freaking Aloysius! Which brings me (maybe) to a theory on how this all works.
See, a drink somehow carries a built-in identity, it pigeonholes the person who is ordering, and when the person orders that drink an association is made. She’s a Sapphire and tonic, he’s a Johnny Black rocks… painting an image more vivid than Janet or Lenny. For you don’t actually “make” something based on a person’s name, it’s just a handle in the ether, but you do make something based on the name of a drink. You perform a thirty second task matching face with that task. And it sticks. At least that’s how I figure it, else how can a guy who can’t find his keys two or three times a day, do the stuff I just stated with any regularity?
Now where you don’t want use this drink memory prowess, a mistake I’ve made in the past, is when someone comes in with a client and wants to be low key. “Hey, man, the usual? Belvedere martini straight up?” is not what the guy wants to hear when he’s wearing his serious suit. He doesn’t want it to look like your bar is his office and jumping the gun on his drink can often convey that. A furrowed brow and a detached delivery is usually the signal he gives, but if you miss that signal you’ve clearly blown the man’s cover.
Yes, to identify a drink when the name does escape is often the perfect equalizer. And a rose is a rose by any other name but a drink is definitely who you are when you walk into Bar-land.
So in closing (and if you feel like it) how about telling your friendly bartender who you are. In other words, if you have a regular drink tell us what it is. It might just give us a mental picture to have fun with. Are you a dirty martini? Are you a whiskey sour? Are you a pint of Guinness? Are you a Side Car? Are you (good grief!) a frothy Pink Squirrel? Just for the record… your friendly bartender happens to be Jack Daniels rocks.
Over and out from Bar-land… see ya’ next week-end!
PS: For those of you not familiar with Tony… my eighty five year-old colleague and walking malaprop… see my post of December 21st called “Say What?”. For those of you who are familiar, this just in…
The other night Tony had a disagreement over policy with our benevolent owner, a woman who inherited the business from her father, so to show his clear disgruntlement he declared the following. “I can’t believe you’re doing this. If your father was alive today he’d be rolling in his grave!”