Your friendly bartender nearly laughed out loud when he took in a recent article in the New York Times. It was about a bartender here in New York who’s become quite the star. The “bartender’s bartender” is what he was called who “had speed, stamina, dexterity, and an awe-inspiring memory.” Awe inspiring memory? High praise indeed. But that was just the beginning. By the time the article had run its course… the dizzying accolade run dry… this man was placed in the all-time pantheon of pourers. And I agree. I know the guy and he happens to be all those things.
So what in the world made me titter when I read that article? Well it brought back a memory that’s what, of someone who might not make that so-called pantheon. See I know firsthand the bar in that story… it’ a place where I used to work… and I wished as I pictured a fiasco in my head which took place there many years ago, that the author of the piece (Frank Bruni in this case) had been in the bar the day that fiasco took place. Talk about “awe inspiring”!
The bartender’s name was Jimmy, and Jimmy could be as mean as a bagful of badgers. Not always of course but definitely when rubbed the wrong way. Jimmy was well into his seventies at the time, spoke through a box of a jaw, and his words were laced with an Irish brogue upon exit. And depending on what the topic was (or the customer’s prodding or cajoling), that brogue could be pure lilt or impure menace! Jimmy wore specs as thick as diamonds with blue eyes twinkling behind them, and his frown when turned to a smile could warm up an igloo. Get the picture? Sweet and sour rolled into one tough package. But on the day when the “man in tweed” walked in… yes, tweed cap, vest and blazer… I assure you there wasn’t a “lilt” to be heard within miles.
“My good man,” said the man in tweed, “would you mind pouring me a fine glass of your Guinness?” (Strike One!)
See, Jimmy and those who worked in this bar… guys who ate gravel for cereal and treated their eight hour shift like eight rounds of boxing… hated to pour the Guinness, mainly because of the people who ordered that brew. For your Guinness man always made a big fuss while observing the bartender’s pour (revering the rite as preparing the Eighth Sacrament) and anything shortening the ritual bordered on sacrilege. And the fact that Tweed had said, “My good man,” sure didn’t help his case, in fact it placed his ass further in the sling. Because if a customer couples the words “My good man” with “I’ll have a pint of Guinness”, and the guy is not from Ireland but born in the states, a big bag of wind has surely blown in the door. And Jimmy felt it.
So while Jimmy was pouring the Guinness, adhering not to the four or five steps the purists would prefer he be honoring, Tweed was spreading his newspaper out on the bar. (Strike Two!!)
Jimmy also hated newspaper readers and not just because they were sippers more than they were drinkers (though that was certainly a part of it), but because their newspapers took up too much bar space. Working space! And in this case, ironically, the paper was the New York Times so this guy might as well have laid out a fucking tarpaulin. So when Jimmy laid eyes on that newspaper there, spreading its printed wings wider than the man’s shoulders (infringing on neighboring spaces both right and left), the blue in his twinkling eyes quickly turned to flint. He set down the Guinness with a bang on the bar and while trying to decide whether to let the man have it right there, Tweed unwittingly made the decision for him. He produced from his blazer a scroll made of felt which unfurled to reveal a pipe and the implements for cleaning it. Strike Three!!!
Now bear in mind, dear reader, this man up to this point had absolutely no idea he’d done even one thing wrong, let alone three. He thinks he’s still the country squire… the man in tweed with his pipe and his Guinness and the New York Times in tow… cutting a dashing figure for all to see. Which is why his reaction was triply shocking when Jimmy let go with this raucous screed from hell.
“That’s it, yer’ out!” he screamed, slamming his massive palm down on the bar top. “Take yer’ pipe, take ‘yer paper and take yer’ fookin’ ass right out the front door!!!”
Tweed was flabbergasted. Again, having been given no warning up to that point he’d even done one thing wrong, this thing hit him in the nose like some kind of sucker punch. Pow!!! For it’s one thing to know you’re on thin ice so caution of course can be taken, but to think you’re fucking royalty here, showing the peasants what for, only to be told you’re an asshole can be quite alarming. Which is precisely what happened.
“My good man,” said Tweed, backing away in horror, “but what have I done?”
“You’re an asshole, that’s what you’ve done. With all o’ this shite here! The pipe, the paper, the pipe cleaners (bell, book and candle) where da’ ya’ think ya’ awr’, a fookin’ men’s club???”
“I thought I was in a fine establishment, that is what I thought,” said the squire, recovering. “Where’s your manager?”
“That’s ‘yer man sittin’ over thair in the cahwner.” And so Tweed walked over to the man sitting in the corner.
“Are you the manager?” he asked.
“I am,” said Jack the manager, regarding his querier with a wary eye, his one hand resting on the cane that aided his short leg.
“Well, for no reason whatsoever, Sir, your bartender called me an asshole and then…”
Jack didn’t let him finish. He rose from his chair with the help of his cane, held up his free hand as a Stop sign and shouted furiously, “Well if he called you an asshole you must be a fucking asshole. That’s it! Now g’wan, get the fuck outta’ here!!!” And when he raised his cane to make his point the man made a bolt for the door in record time. Bingo, gone! And one can only imagine what he said, not just over at The Blarney Stone Bar which was right across the street and to where the man fled, but for years to come when he related his amazing experience. “Wait til you hear this one, my good man. I walked into this bar you see, I wasn’t bothering a soul, I ordered my pint of Guinness like always, then all of a sudden this bartender…”
Well, you get the idea.
But as I said, one can also only imagine what Bruni from the New York Times would have said had he been witness to this story, had he been witness to this old school “bartender’s bartender”. The times, they are a changin’, sure comes to mind!
Over and out from Bar-land… see ya’ next week-end!