The Incredible “Shrink-ing” Man

There’s a notion still out there in Barland to me both flattering and downright baffling… that long held notion that barmen are shrinks and life counselors. You’ve heard of this, right? This thing where customers lay down their problems along with the price of a drink, and the bartender pours not just spirits but pearls of wisdom. We pour, we listen, we ponder (they say) with great deliberation, then lean in and guide the patron on the path to well being. Well, being that as it may, I don’t mean to be a myth buster here or to downgrade those who in earnest toil behind the stick, but are any of the following the Freud’s of which they speak?

The Actor: Now we all know the thespian who pours our drinks who is in the game for the short term, who uses the bar as his stage til The Great White Way calls. But though likable enough and fun to watch as he “Methods” his way through his shift, isn’t he more about hamming and jamming and checking his puss in the mirror, than one to be deemed what many might call august counsel? In other words, is this the guy you want to lean in and ask (after he’s just done De Niro’s “Are you lookin’ at me?” for the third time!!!), “I’ve been going through some pretty weird shit lately, man, whenever I stand in a bank line I feel like I’m gonna faint. What’s that about, Deke? Oh, and I dreamed this morning that Hitler invited me to tea. ” Does Deke have this covered?

The Gambler: Though I’m loath to report such a startling fact there are many in my profession who’ll put down a wager. Or two. On anything!!! Whether it’s ponies or football, baseball or hockey, boxing or whether the rain will fall by noon, the gambler has more conversations with his bookie than his customers. (Unless those customers have “inside stuff” he can use.) Yes, dividing his attention between ESPN and the phone on the wall or his cell phone, he barely has time to fill your glass let alone your head with good old fashioned horse sense. And you can always tell the gambling barman, just watch him as he watches the scores run across the TV screen. His mood swings will range from the zenith of joy to the nadir of utter despair in a matter of seconds. He can actually appear nuts!

So, that said, is this the guy who most likely can help when racked with fear and trepidation you ask most hopefully, “I’m thinking of switching careers, Lenny, after twenty five years on the job at State Farm. It’s with one of those boutique hedge fund outfits just three months old, but there’s the wife I haven’t told yet, three little kids still in school, and a balloon payment due on my next mortgage payment. Any ideas as to how I should tip-toe into this?” What are my odds that Lenny can nail this down?

The Lothario: You could be dying of thirst if this is your guy (let alone bereft of counsel) if there happens to be an attractive female in the house. For his only purpose in punching in is to punch some woman’s dance card… even more a priority than filling his tip cup. He’s the head lizard in a lounge full of crawlers who’s actually being paid to be that head lizard.

So in between winks and pecks on the cheeks and jotting down various phone numbers onto a bev nap, does one really want to break into that mess and ask this guy the answer to the following questions? (sotto voce) “I feel funny even saying this, Antonio, and it’s probably nothing, really… but last night I had a dream I was making love to my boss. And I’m married for Christ sake. And my boss is a guy!!! What the fuck is that about? Oh, and while I have your attention, what are your basic feelings on cap and trade?” Go get ’em. Antonio!

The Juggler: Now this is the clown who thinks his job is more about flipping bottles than actually emptying them. In the glass!!! For he once saw Tom Cruise in the movie “Cocktail”, found it a life altering moment, and after leaving the Barnum & Bailey Advanced School of Juggling, applied for the nearest job where spillage doesn’t count. In fact, so into “bartender-as-performer” is he, if they’d let him he’d wear a sequined shirt and leotards. So I ask you… in between flips and dips and whips do you really want to stop the show and say, “Sorry to stop the show, Zambini, and I know this is the big finish… the part where you light the drink and do a back flip… but after you manage to put out the fire could you please tell me how I can balance career and motherhood? Thanks, babe!” It’s all yours, Zambo!

And finally…

Mt. Rushmore: Well we all know this guy, right? It’s the Iceman cometh… that miserable bastard who folds his arms, stares right past you into space, and responds to any of your requests like you’ve asked for a loan. This is the guy who hates his job, hates you for being a part of it, and will get to you and your drink when he damn well pleases. So again, using your basic instincts here, is it wise to ask this man, “Do you Feng Shui?”

And those are just some of the Bar-land “shrinks” whose antics to my way of thinking don’t rate the doctoral shingle, and of course there are more. Which now begs this question. Is there any kind of bartender out there to justify this long-held myth… some person behind the stick who can double as “shrink”? Well of course there is, silly. I charge forty five dollars an hour plus the price of a cocktail!

Over and out from the couch, see ya’ next week-end!

By the way, I did a post a while back called “A real flaming asshole” which covered the true antics of bartender-as-performer. (Click here) if you’re interested.

29 Responses to “The Incredible “Shrink-ing” Man”


  1. 2 scribbler50 February 27, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Very funny, Prof, and I can safely say I’m none of the five highlighted.

  2. 3 d-a-p February 27, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    …to listen to my stuff..i’d better just pay $90 bucks for an extra hour right off the bat…and please just keep the makers coming…
    i’ve seen a couple of guys like you describe..and you have them down pat…
    d-a-p

  3. 4 scribbler50 February 27, 2010 at 6:12 pm

    d-a-p: I’ll take the ninety but make it cash, we don’t need Uncle Sam getting involved. Thanks, Bud!

  4. 5 serendipity37 February 27, 2010 at 7:20 pm

    You are not one of those, but what name does come before the Phd. on your business card? Love your blog, and I look forward to it every week.

  5. 6 scribbler50 February 27, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    serendipity37: Kind of you to say but (alas) no advanced degree… unless you I can claim Doctor of advanced Mixology. 🙂

    Thanks for your weekly visits.

  6. 7 Anonymoustache February 28, 2010 at 8:31 am

    Great stuff, as usual, Dr. Mix-a-lot!
    Incidentally, if you dispense shrink-ish advice without having the appropriate credentials, would it be called Freud-ulant advice? I know I should quit the punnery but I just Kant, man.

  7. 8 Jennifer February 28, 2010 at 9:35 am

    Yeah, I was wondering, when would the “Hemingway” bartender category come up?!?

    I don’t think I’ve ever asked for advice from a bartender… not even a “What would you recommend?”…

  8. 9 physiobabe February 28, 2010 at 10:13 am

    I swear you’re clairvoyant. I met Antonio at a bar in Italy! Bello, but dumb.

    How’s the eye, Scrib?

  9. 10 scribbler50 February 28, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Anonymoustache: Of course you Kant stop, you pun therefore you are! But don’t be a-Freud, my friend, it’s a good thing. Along as you don’t put Descartes before the horse.

    Jennifer: The Hemingway category comes up when “the bell tolls for me!” Meanwhile, friend, it’s good you’ve never asked for any advice from a bartender, except for directions to the Ladies room we’re highly under-qualified.

    Physiobabe: So looking into his eyes and seeing that no one was home did you say, “Antonio, Antonio, wherefore art thou?”
    Ciao, Bella Mia.

  10. 11 jc February 28, 2010 at 11:57 am

    oh shit, Anony infected Scrib.

  11. 12 Anonymoustache February 28, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    —“oh shit, Anony infected Scrib”—

    But with a fairly weak strain—if it were severe, Scrib50 would have said “….Descartes before the Horace”

    so sorry…..

  12. 13 physiobabe February 28, 2010 at 12:23 pm

    Ugh, those puns! Can’t you be Sirius for once?

  13. 14 jc February 28, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Babe, you didn’t say “for ounce” so you got a weak strain too!

  14. 15 physiobabe February 28, 2010 at 12:55 pm

    Funny reparte! My favorite pun just for you Scrib:
    A toothless termite walked into a tavern and said, “Is the bar tender here?”

    OK, I’ll go drink now.

  15. 16 scribbler50 February 28, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    Good grief! At what point did I lose control here???

    But seriously, folks, keep the funny punnies coming… they brighten an otherwise gloomy day.
    (love the termite joke, physiobabe!)

  16. 17 Anonymoustache March 1, 2010 at 7:13 am

    Physiobabe,
    The termite joke was superb! I’m gonna be chuckling over it all day.

  17. 18 Physiobabe March 1, 2010 at 7:15 am

    Thanks Scrib and Anony, please tip your waiter. I’ll be here all week.

  18. 19 Scicurious March 1, 2010 at 10:51 am

    I swear, every bartender in my town is Mt. Rushmore. Or possibly something else which has more of a negative bias than an inscrutable Sphinx. “Here’s your drink, pay me and LEAVE!” Don’t make it so fun to drink…

  19. 20 scribbler50 March 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    Sci: On behalf of all those who don’t act that way, please accept our apologies. I never understood that crap, by the way… playing the hard ass. Hey, everyone has a bad day now and then and it can definitely sneak into your job performance, or a customer can set you off and affect your mood, but for that to be your M.O. is utter bullshit. It’s some attempt at “cool” or, “I’m above all this,” but either way it sure doesn’t make for what I call customer comfort.
    Hang in there!

  20. 21 Stephanie Z March 2, 2010 at 1:01 am

    You know, Scribbler, this is one stick you might have the wrong end of. You’re trying to figure out what it is in the bartenders that makes them Freud. You might just be better off looking at what’s going into the “patients.” Sometimes it doesn’t take much more than being there when the tongue starts to loosen and the problems start to spill.

    Of course, none of that should stop you (and I’m thankful it didn’t) from writing a damned funny post on the topic. Cheers.

  21. 22 Chris March 2, 2010 at 8:39 am

    Scrib I think it has little to do with the brilliance of bartenders and more to do with people just needing a drink and someone to listen. There are a lot of lonely people in the world and just finding someone to listen can mean a lot. Perhaps some people go seeking advice from bartenders because they figure you’ve heard a lot of stories and perhaps you can give them some bit of wisdom that you have learned from another lost soul. But mostly I think its just for the ear and if the bartender happens to offer advice, then that just means someone is actually listening and cares at least a little.

  22. 23 scribbler50 March 2, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Stephanie Z: Of course you make a good point, sometimes just being a good listener fills the “prescription”, but when advice starts to pour forth…. well… then you have the point of this post which I’m glad you found humorous. And to be honest (what else?) that was really the motivation here, to have a little fun. And while we’re on the subject, a friend of mine said it’s pretty much the same with hair dressers, right? Some women share their lives with these people and the next thing you know they’re not just trimming locks they’re hanging up shingles. How does “wash, cut and rinse” give rise to “Let me tell you what to do here!” Again, funny concept.
    Thanks for your comment, Stephanie, always good to hear from you.

    Chris: Couldn’t agree more on each of your points… all well made, all food for thought and certainly a nice thing to say about bartenders. But as I said to Stephanie, I was just taking the concept and having a little fun with it. Believe me, I’m most sympathetic to a customers need to unload (for whatever reason), and to listen while that person does so, but this wasn’t a swipe at them just some good natured ribbing at me and my comical brethren.
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  23. 24 JSaw March 2, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Brilliant as usual Scrib. I think your cast of character is really just part of the show behind the bar. Though honestly for me all of them are like a really good one-note song. No matter how good it is, you get tired of it really quickly.

    Now give me a good honest bartender with a good ear, a good pour and willing to join in a little repartee and I’ll keep coming back.

  24. 25 scribbler50 March 3, 2010 at 9:36 am

    JSaw: Thanks, and we’re in agreement. That’s pretty much the formula.

  25. 26 Donna B. March 5, 2010 at 5:32 am

    I just read a list of therapist stereotypes and the most beloved was the St. Bernard, because he’s not only friendly and listens well, he brings the gift of a good drink.

  26. 27 brenda March 5, 2010 at 10:36 am

    Wonderful. Absolutely brilliant, S. And My God! I think I’ve actually met them all.

  27. 28 scribbler50 March 5, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Donna B: Not sure I get what you mean but if a St. Bernard could work the register I’d be his customer too.

    Brenda: Thanks for that, my friend, glad you enjoyed.

  28. 29 Donna B. March 5, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Scrib – simply means that the bartender types you recognize have similar “personalities” to types of therapists — but at least all the bartender types can offer a drink, which puts them one up on all the therapists except the St. Bernard type.


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