Let’s start with this… a seat at the bar on a busy night is considered valuable real estate, it’s there for you to spend money not just your time. It’s not a park bench. And few things make your friendly bartender gradually more un-friendly, than having someone sit at the bar and park. For hours! Meaning, not have a drink beyond the first, just sit and sip and sit til the cows come home. For it’s not unlike a book store customer knocking out “War and Peace”, or reading a stack of his favorite “mags” without the slightest intention of making a purchase. Browsing is fine if it leads to a sale and so is sipping if it leads to a second drink. Or a meal. Or some thing! But to pitch a tent and nurse one drink for half of my fucking shift….well… you get the picture…
So I had this woman a few weeks back who took up a seat at the bar, pounced on the seat is more like it (like a panther down from a tree on a hapless prey), barely letting the exiting woman exit. Zoom! Bang! “Excuse me, I’ll take that seat!” she declared. Once installed, this woman I would gauge in her early fifties, blond and well dressed, she plopped her purse on the bar with a thud… of a size, by the way, to house a family from Utah… then proceeded to send me on a verbal journey of our Reds. What we we “pour”. At journey’s end, perhaps because of my limited knowledge of which I freely admit (I’m not what you’d call an oenophile on wheels) she asked me then what’s popular and what people like. And though all of our wines get a good review I said to her “Cotes du Rhone” and gave it a pour. She sipped, she smiled, she nodded and off I went to go sell whiskey. Mission accomplished!
But a good half hour later while chatting up this guy who was sitting next to her, and I do mean chatting up as he was just listening, she called me over to complain about the wine. The wine that is now half gone and perfectly fine.
Scrunching up her nose she said, “You picked the wrong one, I can’t drink this.”
“What’s wrong with it ?” I asked, knowing this was bullshit. I’d just served the same to someone who loved it.
“I just don’t like it,” she replied, not making her case.
“That’s it? You just don’t like it after drinking half of it?”
“Yeah, sorry,” she said, with a smile you normally see after one sucks a lemon. So I poured her a glass of Cab and walked away.
Then two and a half hours after that… let me repeat that… two and a half hours after that, during which time she’d often disappeared for God knows what crazy reasons, for fifteen minutes at a clip sometimes, her jacket on the back of the stool her claim to the space, she called me over to pay for her one glass of wine. And given the fact that she had staked that claim for seemingly half my shift, I wanted to charge her for rent instead of her intake. Like fifty dollars!
“That’ll be nine dollars,” I said, charging her the more expensive Cotes du Rhone price. The wine she didn’t finish. See I don’t ever charge for a drink sent back if the reason is at least valid, but in this case I figured I’d make her pay the higher price. By one whole dollar.
“Nine dollars?,” she shrieked, truly feeling put upon. “That’s outrageous! For that price I can drink at the St. Regis.”
In spite of the fact that was also bullshit, you’d probably pay nine dollars for a Coke in the King Cole Room, I said, “Then maybe that’s your stop the next time you’re thirsty. Have a nice night, lady?” So she paid the nine dollars, slid a buck under her glass, then hauled her purse and her ass out the front fucking door. End of sitting number one.
For there’s now yet a second woman, dear reader, who likes to sit and sip, to whom, unlike the first, my heart goes out. And who I don’t mind serving now. Why? Well first off, the major difference between “Sitter” number two and Two-and-a-half-hour-Tilly, is not just the fact she’s polite and nice but she also knows that what she’s doing is frowned upon. She’s not oblivious. You could sense it in the way she always responded to me.
“Can I get you something else, Miss?” I’d say when I saw her glass almost down to empty. In not the warmest of tones, I might add, in the beginning. She would look almost embarrassed.
“Uh, I’m okay for now, Sir, but thank you. Maybe in a little while, okay?”
She was also in her early fifties, dark haired and just as attractive as “Tilly”, or unattractive depending on how one viewed it. I know that sounds chauvinistic and crass, my bringing looks into play, but sadly that’s the measuring stick and often the reason some people drink alone. Very sadly.
“Sure, miss,” I would say, watching her fairly blush, “just give me a holler whenever you think you’re ready.” Knowing of course she wasn’t ever going to be ready. It was always only one glass of wine, unless, of course, some guy would buy her a second. Which sometimes happened.
Now, did I like this? Hell no, as I said before my job is about selling drinks. But reluctantly somehow I bit the bullet and would let this woman sit, until one night I damn near swallowed the bullet. Here’s what happened.
I wandered into Elaine’s one night, my usual Friday night stop after I get off, and lo and behold there was Sitter number two. Alone. And it was late. I’m talking maybe two thirty, three in the morning. Yet there this woman was, tragically, acting out a sequel, down at the end of the bar and nursing a wine. One which I bet was only her second of the night. And my heart went out to her.
How terribly sad this must be, I thought, if this is how a woman hopes to meet someone. A woman this age. How fruitless, I thought, how heartless, how absolutely cruelly this game can play out. For even if she did happen to meet a guy at this ungodly hour, what’s his potential of being any kind of gem? Not much. He’d probably be drunk or well on his way and not what you’d call a find, just out for a roll in the hay at best not a girlfriend. Yes, this whole scene kind of hit me hard and gave me a new perspective, a new perspective on people sitting and sipping. Especially this woman. Because when she turned and noticed me sitting at the bar, staring at her from afar, based on what her reaction was it was almost as if she read my sorry thoughts. For at first she started to nod and acknowledge, then quickly looked away, then downed the dregs of her wine as if she were just leaving. She called for the check, paid her bill and then left. Alone again. And I was sorry (damn it!) she caught me staring.
So there you have it, dear reader, an unlikely tale of two sittings… one from hell and one from limbo, the latter of which can sip any time she wants to. At least in my place. Because now that I see how important it is for her to still play this game, to sit and sip and wait til she no longer has to, a few extra bucks in my cup have very little meaning.
See ya’ next week-end!