Unarmed Robbery…

One of the things your friendly bartender definitely hates to hear (besides, of course, “What do you think I should order?”) is some yahoo saying, “This is my fourth drink, where’s my buy-back?” For as any bartender will tell you, that’s the quickest way to never see a free drink again. Ever!

The “buy-back” is not some law, my friend, handed down from the Inebriate’s Court of Appeals… it’s a gesture to be used both sparingly and with discretion. It’s a way of saying, “Here, have one on us, we like your company.” Or, “Here, have one on us, we appreciate your patronage.” It could happen after the second drink, the fifth drink, or, (though rare) even before the first drink if that’s what is called for. But it isn’t some numbered event, to be sure, robotically taking the discretionary gesture out of play.

And, hey, not for nothin’ (and speaking of the four-drink-compulsories), what if your fourth drink happens to be a martini? And you’re already speaking in “Tongues” from the three which preceded it?  What about that, Corky? Should I lean in and say, “Here, have one on me, Reverend!”? Just because you think you have it coming? No, not on this planet.

Yes, giving a customer a drink on the house has many ramifications, and how and when it is used will determine its worth… to both “House” and customer. And that being said, and speaking of the “House” and their sanctioned or unsanctioned role in this, the reverse is also true in gumming up intention. In other words, giving away too much also kills the gesture. Like the guy in this story…

I recently walked by a bar that I hadn’t walked by in ages, or at least I hadn’t noticed it in ages, and the first thought that ran through my mind was, Well at least they’re still in business… the guy didn’t manage to kill the place altogether! It was a neighborhood joint on the  upper esastside, in the 80’s on Third Avenue, in which I’d spent a Saturday afternoon I’ll never forget.

I and some friends had been wandering around engaged in a whole bunch of nothing, taking in the brisk autumn air and the sights of the city, when one of us suggested some football and an afternoon cocktail. The women in the group liked the second part best, and the men in the group liked both, so we stopped in the aforementioned bar which was right there in front of us.  And the first thing I noticed when I walked in the door and which seemed at the time rather odd, was the guy behind the bar and what the man looked like.

Who cast this movie??? I thought, isn’t this just a sports bar with burgers and beer?

For the guy behind the stick, in all his glory, looked like a small time hood… a wise guy wannabe… a man more suited to a lounge with velvet and B-Girls. And normally I like meeting characters like this, they’re often funny as hell and loaded with sports knowledge, but this situation was funny for all the wrong reasons. So let’s start with his get-up.

With his bright gold watch and diamond pinkie both of which flickered in the darkness, as well as his mop of slicked-back hair which, if dipped in the Prince William Sound, would have easily rivaled the Exxon Valdez oil spill… this look was not your typical afternoon sports fare. But what did fit the bill, I’ll grudgingly admit, and which valiantly he tried to pull off, was a massive Jets football jersey that stretched to his knees. And he looked ridiculous in it. For that Jersey, if not for its number, would’ve been a caftan!

But it’s not just the fact that it fit like a joke, it’s the fact he decided to go that route in the first place… wise guy as sports geek. This man was well into his fifties, had the rugged good looks of a Tony Musante, probably slept in a pin-striped Armani, and here he was bustin’ out Modell’s sportswear. He looked as comical and out of place as… well… as me trying to go “wise guy”… me trying to bounce in a black pin-striped suit, black silk shirt, white satin tie, slicking my hair back and sporting a diamond pinkie ring. For if ever I did try to pull off that look… the gangster on parade… I’d immediately be hauled in for questioning, and not by the cops but the fashion police who would politely ask me, “How ’bout some nice Kelly green, pal? And here, dry your hair, you look like a trout lure!”

But above and beyond the wardrobe part, as hilarious as that was, here’s where it gets (to me) downright outrageous. Remember all the stuff I said up above regarding the sacred “buy-back”? Well, as they say in wise guy parlance, “Fugg-get-a-bowt-it!” Here’s why.

After the first round of drinks, for all six people, everything else from there on out was on the house… or better put, on Nino, the man in the caftan. Which was scandalous because we had us a shitload of drinks. Yes each time the drinks were placed in front of us he tapped out the bartender’s code… rapping his knuckles on the bar… which means in tacit {bar-lance}, “This one’s on us!” And I thought, By the time we’re ready to leave, fer Christ sakes, this man’s gonna have to soak his knuckles in brine. That’s how nuts it was. We could not pay for one single drink, no words were ever exchanged, just his pouring and rapping and winking for the full three hours. Buy back? Good grief, we barely purchased!!!!

At one point, finally having had enough and almost embarrassed by it, I tried a new approach to see what would happen. I actually picked up a twenty, placed it in the palm of his hand and said, “Here, man, take those beers out of here!” But what does he do when this happens… this guy whom Tony Soprano would’ve made a crew boss? He walks himself over to the register, bangs out a blatant “No Sale”, and not only hands me twenty in change but fans out the bills on the bar so I know what he did.

Now of course you know what’s going on here, don’t you, dear reader? Well if you don’t, let me quickly spell it out for you.

See, when bartenders get other bartenders as customers, or friends who are in on the deal (and not that this is right or that I’m condoning it), they charge them less to get more in final gratuity. In other words, if the tab should be around fifty dollars you give him a check for ten, and the customer will probably leave you a twenty as tip.  The customer still makes out on the deal, the house of course gets screwed, and no matter what you call it it’s chicken shit stealing. Have I ever done this? Yeah, a long time ago, in the first place I ever worked, and only because the senior guys… the guys with whom I pooled tips… said that I had to. Noblesse Oblige, Bar-land style!

But back to this guy who’d taken this art to grand larceny…

What to this day still baffles me (and given that lesson in sleight-of-hand 101), is why this man chose us to pull off this heist? I mean God knows we weren’t his friends from the nabe so we didn’t have a preplanned attack, and I wasn’t wearing a name tag that said “I’m  a bartender”. Yes why (unlike everyone else who was seated along that bar), were we the ones who were chosen as aiders and abettors? Because I watched what he did with the others that day and their money went right in the till, and his knuckle rapping from what I could hear was minimal. Plain and simple, and for reasons known only to himself, we were his afternoon score that day in whose basket he’d placed all of his hard boiled eggs.

But one thing I do know is this, dear reader… it made for some crazy tallying when it came time to leave. This shit always does. And I hate it. Because then we had to look at each other and make some kind of a decision (while the bartender watched in the mirror as he stood with his back to us), to determine just how much this fiasco was worth. Because thanks to Nino’s “generosity”, there was still on the bar about eighty dollars and to leave an outrageous amount of that swag would be to condone his actions, as would leaving a ten or twenty paint us as rubes. So we arrived somewhere in the middle and left about forty.

But the funny part is this… had he charged us for all we’d consumed that day he probably would’ve gotten thirty anyway, and none of us would’ve felt like we had to take a shower. Yes, the drink “on the house” is one thing, but the “give-away-the-whole-god-damn-store” is a whole ‘nother ballgame. And Nino that day had gone and pitched a no-hitter. One can only wonder, on the way to his car that night, did he smuggle a bunch of steaks out under that “caftan”?

So what’s the lesson of this story, I hear you asking? Well it’s this. If you’re going to pull off a full-blown heist in the middle of football Saturday, don’t just wear a Jets jersey wear a ski mask!

Over and out from Bar-land… see ya’ next week-end.

10 Responses to “Unarmed Robbery…”

  1. 1 Anonymoustache April 19, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Wow. A kind of money laundering in which you the customer is essentially forced to play along….
    In an ideal world you could have him charge the tab to a credit card, leave him a $40 tip on a $20 bill on the CC receipt and see if someone in the establishment gets wise to it. In the real world that would probably be a bad strategy as he’d have your name etc and then that may not end so well….

  2. 2 physiobabe April 19, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Exactly where is this bar? 😉

  3. 3 d-a-p April 19, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    ….quite the scam…but i’ve only had this happen in “friendly”bars or restaurants where we knew each other…and its always flattering…and,quite frankly…i probably did tip more…but usually since it came from the establishment’s owner..i just felt comfortable in tipping an already good waiter or waitress…that job has to be one of the most difficult around…and these people deserve as much as we can afford to give them..after all they add so much to the dining out experience…or just the friendly visit to the local bar…but who knows better than you…
    and besides who would wear a jet’s jersey on a saturday for god’s sake…sunday i get…but a chemise with a college name would be far more appropriate…
    totie fields would not be proud…

  4. 4 scribbler50 April 19, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Anonymoustache: Yeah, your last sentence says it… I don’t want my name on any of this bullshit. In a way though, I thought the whole thing was funny (not for the owner of course) because this was the worst I’ve come across as far as “contracts” go. And I’ve been a part of a lot of this crap over the years. But mainly this was nuts because he had no idea who we were. At all! Bartenders just don’t do this with strangers, not to this degree. You buy a couple drinks, ya’ wink, and hopefully the customer will throw down an extra pound. But this was, as I said, unarmed robbery. This guy must’ve lost big on the pony’s that day.
    Hey, man, thanks for trying to make sense of things as usual.

    physiobabe: Wouldn’t you like to know! 🙂

    d-a-p: You’ve got the right idea about tipping. It should be commensurate with the service. A waiter can make or break a dining experience and the gratuity should reflect that. As far as the jersey goes, the day of the week doesn’t matter to me… sportswear is actually wardrobe now to some people and they might wear a Giants jersey on Tuesday to the fucking opera (sadly), it was the knee-length fit that got me and of course the character inside it!
    See ya’ next week, friend.

  5. 5 Jennifer April 19, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    And here, dry your hair, you look like a trout lure!”


  6. 6 scribbler50 April 19, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    Jennifer: Hah! You picked my favorite too (if I may say that). Is there nothing I won’t suffer for my art???

  7. 7 Old Crusty Stan April 21, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    You should be ashamed of yourself, Scribbler50! We Jets fans are a magnanimous and kindly bunch. As prone to good deeds as we are to soul-wrenching defeat and disappointment.
    I’m headed out to that bar right now in my Namath jersey to offer an apology on your behalf and… well… maybe have a drink or seven on Johnny Boy.
    Cast no more aspersions on the disciples of Gang Green!
    Fun post.
    Keep your whiskey wet and your powder dry.

  8. 8 scribbler50 April 21, 2010 at 4:48 pm

    Crusty: Just for the record, it had nothing to do with his choice of team. Why, as the old saying goes, “Some of my best friends are…” etc. It was the hilarious fit and the fact that he looked like a fish out of water. Hey, I’m a Steeler fan, I’m hardly in a position to cast aspersions on ANY team right now!

    But to the real point… glad you found the post “fun”. Thanks for checkin’ in again, man.

  9. 9 Chris April 23, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    Sorry, Scrib, I’m so late in the week on replying but its been a busy one. Anyway little story of my own that I never quite figured out. There was a brief time in my life when my morale was a little low. So I stopped in the neighborhood bar a little more than I otherwise would, like everynight, as opposed to maybe once every couple of months. lol I don’t know if the bartender just liked me, or he sensed I was a bit down on my luck but for about a solid month that I went in there it seemed like every other drink I had would be on the house if not more. There were some nights I might drink 10 beers and a few shots and might pay for 4 of the beers and thats it. We never discussed my problems as I’m a rather private person but perhaps he had the bartenders 6th sense. Either way he was a very friendly person who was really great to me and made me feel welcome, and most importantly he gave me a healthy respect for bartenders.

    As for your asshole who thought he had something coming to him I wouldn’t have givin him shit either. There are many people who just expect things, those are my favorite people to disappoint. lol 🙂 Have a great weekend Scrib.

  10. 10 scribbler50 April 24, 2010 at 9:39 am

    Chris: Thanks for that. And though I understand how this bartender made you feel better, certainly financially, I question that bartender’s ethics with regards to The House. I don’t mean to come off like Johnny Be Good here (’cause I sure as hell ain’t), but if I owned that bar this guy’s on thin ice. Or gone! Because he’s giving away inventory no matter how you cut it. Charging four out of ten is way over the line. Hey, you can’t walk into Macy’s and just because you’re sad that day walk out with a free sweater to go with the blazer, right? Inventory is inventory and unless the bartender owns the store he’s gotta’ charge for that inventory. Just my opinion.
    Thanks for checking in, always good to hear from you.

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