Call Me Ishmael…

… or Gladys, or any fucking thing besides my real name! Jeee-zuzzzzz!!!

When your friendly bartender first started out he began as a waiter at Clarke’s… the famous P.J. Clarke’s in midtown Manhattan… and that’s where he got this rather odd piece of advice. It came from a guy named Tommy, one of the old timers.

“C’mere, kid,” said Tommy, my very first day on the job, “ya’ want a piece of advice you can take to the bank?”

“Sure, Tommy,” I replied in earnest, never thinking I’d be in this business long enough to open an account let alone make a deposit, “what’s your advice?”

“Never tell a customer your fucking name,” he said.


“I heard you tell that guy just now your name. Don’t do that,” he said.

“But why?”

“Because the son-of-a-bitch will own ya’, that’s fucking why. Just watch how many times you hear your name now.” We were interrupted just then by the sound of my name. “See,” Tommy admonished. “now he owns ya!”

Well, first off, whether or not this was sound advice was up for grabs at that moment, the dilemma was, “How could I not tell my name?” How could I not come clean with someone sitting with a group at a table, and the first thing out of his mouth is, “What’s your name?” To this day I still can’t think of a graceful sidestep. “None of your business,” doesn’t work. “What’s in a name?” is a little too Shakespeare and to not respond at all is just plain rude. Or stupid. Neither of which is the best approach if, just like Blanche DuBois, you “depend on the kindness of strangers” for your survival. Which in my case is tips.

But, dammit, Tommy was right (as the old timers usually are, by the way), for in almost ninety percent of the cases where a customer asks for a name, the customer then says that name til you hear it in your sleep. And then some!

“Oh, Bob… Bob? When you get a chance, would you get us another round, please? Thanks, Bob.” Then, “Hey, Bob, you were right, this soup is delicious. Good choice, Bob.” And, “Hey, Bob, more water, please. Thanks, Bob. Oh, by the way, Bob? You’re doing a great job!” And finally, “Tell us about the desserts, Bob, you might as well know right now I’m a big dessert guy! Any suggestions, Bob?” (Yeah, I have a suggestion, lose my fucking name or I set fire to your table!)

But what tends to irk even more, dear reader, during this assault on your handle… this placement of your very being in a freaking echo chamber… is the casual schmaltz in tone with which it is uttered. Because if your name really is Bob they’ll say, “Oh, B-a-h-h-h-b” not “Bob”, all drawn out, unctuous and way too cozily. Like a goddam family member. But hey, even if you were his actual family you wouldn’t let him pull off this schmaltz, you’d probably smack him upside the head and say, “Quit your whining, J-a-h-h-h-n, my name is Bob!”

Now of course this is all about being known, which I’m sure you’ve already gathered, as if knowingΒ  you’re name and shouting it aloud will somehow validate their “in-ness”, will make them part of the “scene” into which they crave entry. Especially in a place like Clarke’s where you once had celebrities. And it really is silly.

Anyway, this all came flooding back to me, this advice from good old Tommy, when a customer pulled up a stool with me a few weeks ago. Because once again I couldn’t apply Tommy’s rule.

(Let me just call myself “Bob” in the following exchange.)

“Hey there,” said the customer, a suit-and-tie in his mid to late thirties reaching out his hand for me to shake, “what’s your name, Sir.”

“It’s Bob,” I said, as I reached out and shook his hand.

“Nice to meet you there, Bob,” he replied, “mine’s Martin.”

“Well welcome, Martin, what can I get you?” I asked.

“Hmmmm, ya’ know, B-a-h-h-h-b, (right then I knew and thought about old Tommy’s rule!) I probably shouldn’t do this ’cause I’ve got a big day tomorrow, but I think I’ll have a Plymouth martini straight up. With an olive, Bob.”

“You got it, my friend,” I said, hoping that would end it. But of course it didn’t. He then proceeded to order some dinner and “Bobbed” my ass to death from soup to dessert. Non-stop! It was “Bob this” and “Bob that”, almost twice per sentence, til I wished we had a trap door through which to drop him. With Sweeney Todd waiting! And just for good measure, as if he hadn’t “Bobbed” me enough, he “Bobbed” me two more times on his way out the door. “Bob, this was great, thanks a lot, Bob.” (You’re welcome, Martin, believe me you’re fucking welcome, Martin!)

Now I don’t know whether I’ll see him again, he gave me no real indication, but if he walks in again I’m putting on a pair of Grouch glasses. Or a ski mask!

But alas this problem still will exist when others of his ilk walk in, this problem of implementing Tommy’s advice with some grace. Or some tact. So I consulted two fellow bartenders to see how they do it.

Alex, who works the bar at Elaine’s, said, “If I can see the guy’s an asshole I just say, ‘Fred. Call me Fred’.” Now I’m not sure how that works but I like his gumption. Then the guy who works the day shift before me said without missing a beat, “I just say, ‘Call me bartender!’ and that’s the end of it.” Which I like even better. It quickly establishes, “I’ll be breaking the ice here.” But given those two rather sage solutions the fact still remains I’m screwed, I’m still up the veritable creek without a good oarsman. And here’s why. If I do apply either “Fred” or “Bartender” (both cold responses you’ll agree), I’ll have to change my name to “your un-friendly bartender”. (And you think you have problems????)

Over and out from Barland, see ya’ next week-end…

In the meantime… if you happen to visit your favorite pub between now and the next time we meet, try and keep the bartender’s name to a minimum. Like in saying “hello” and saying “good-bye” and maybe just once in between, unless of course you’re fame bereft which I doubt! πŸ™‚

21 Responses to “Call Me Ishmael…”

  1. 1 brenda cullerton April 30, 2011 at 5:35 pm

    So listen, Bob. HAH! can’t believe for once in my life… I’m the FIRST to comment. But great, great post, Bob. I mean it. Also good to know for one who occasionally calls her local bartender by his first name. From now, I’ll just yell Fred, I guess.

  2. 2 scribbler50 April 30, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Brenda: I can’t believe you’re the first to comment either, a REAL first. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Meanwhile, and speaking of “comments”, dear friend, I still can’t figure out how to comment at your place. Is it still under construction? I love visiting and would like to put my two cents in.
    PS: Tell “Fred” I said hi! πŸ™‚

  3. 3 Pharm Sci Grad April 30, 2011 at 5:53 pm

    I was at a place not that long ago for lunch, one of those places where they tell you their name at the start. About halfway through lunch I wanted to get our waitresses attention, who was across the room chatting with some co-workers. Strangely enough, I remembered her name from the introduction and at the sound of it she came right over. She said something along the lines of “no one ever remembers my name… what can I get for you?” I like treating people like people, bartender or waitress or not.

    But those guys, Bob… dos guys were ridiculous!! πŸ™‚ I love it when you give me food for thought. have a good week… Bob! πŸ˜‰

  4. 4 Comrade PhysioProf April 30, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    My approach is to not ask bartenders’ or waiters’ or other service professionals’ names until I have been to a place at least a couple times.

  5. 5 Donna B. April 30, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    If it’s good enough for us, Gladys…

  6. 6 scribbler50 April 30, 2011 at 7:33 pm

    Sci Grad: You have a good week too, my friend, glad to have sprinkled some salt on your “food for thought”!

    Comrade: I’m with you, unless that first encounter is indeed friendly.

    Donna: Then it’s good enough for me as well, Martin! πŸ™‚

  7. 7 Jennifer May 1, 2011 at 10:40 am

    A Scribbler by any other name would be as funny.

  8. 8 Anonymoustache May 1, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Or, you know, you could just get a real tough to pronounce alias….you could say, “I’m Fuamaatu Ma’afaala but I know that’s hard to get a handle on so you can just call me Bartender and that’s just fine by me…”.
    As for me, I’ll just call you Bartender but I’ll shorten it to Bart for convenience….so hey Bart, I was just thinking, Bart, about what you just wrote and you know what, Bart? It was pretty funny, Bart…..

    …and so it goes….;-)

  9. 9 scribbler50 May 1, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Jennifer: Except the name “Rose”!
    Thanks, blog friend.

    Anonymoustache: Hah! I love it… a name too hard to pronounce… well done, Sir! (Is Fuamaatu still playing football?) Also love how you collapsed the word “bartender”, though I have to picture Bart Starr and not Bart Simpson here.
    Thanks, “Stacey”! (Speaking of collapsing a name.)

  10. 10 ratso8701 May 1, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    Funny. I never thought of it before, but I’ve never asked a bartender for a name. There are (well, were) a few places where I knew the bartenders’ names, mainly because having been in each of their establishments a number of times, they volunteered their names and asked for mine. Once that happened, I figured I was a “regular”.

  11. 11 Anonymoustache May 1, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Scrib50, As for the ‘name too hard to pronounce’ idea, I came by it honestly, if you know what I mean…:-)
    I think Fuamaatu has been out of football for a few years now…and of course you’d be Bart Starr, dude, not Simpson!
    The Bart Starr reference reminds me…I got a chance to meet his fellow Tide QB Ken Stabler once…have a ‘little Al’ (small stuffed toy version of the grey elephant mascot Big Al) signed by him…I remember thinking while shaking his hand, “This guy won a national championship in college and then a SuperBowl”. One of my very few ‘brush with fame’ stories…

  12. 12 Chris May 1, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    i live in a hamlet somewhat smaller than New York and, as a patron of the pouring arts, am a familiar face in one or two local establishments. Okay, three of four, but that’s not the point.

    I was just asked my name by a barmaid the other night, since she’s seen me from time to time. It’s nice to be known, and to know the staff, but the overuse of the name you write of is patronizing and obnoxious.

  13. 13 scribbler50 May 1, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Ratso: I’ve asked for customers’ names, sometimes first time customers, but after I’ve offered mine first and after a nice conversation has taken place. It’s good policy and a way of welcoming them back.

    Anonymoustache: Good stuff, man. You touched the hand that passed the ball to Branch, Casper and Biletnikoff. I remember him most from those brutal wars in the 70’s with our beloved Steelers. The man had ice in his veins.

    Chris: You’re right, it is nice to be known (as the theme song from Cheers indicates) as long as it happens organically or over time. To come in and demand that status “tout de suite” is just as you said… “patronizing and obnoxious”.

  14. 14 The Hornet May 2, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Ken Stabler’s a great name-drop for Bob’s…er… this blog, because he was certainly known to tip back a few now and then. In one of the all-time classic sports star responses, a reporter once asked the Snake how he could possibly be prepared for game day given his hard-partying Saturday nights and he replied: “Well, you can always study the playbook by the light of the jukebox.”

  15. 15 scribbler50 May 2, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    Hornet: Terrific stuff, THAT was The Snake!

  16. 16 Irishirritant May 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm

    How could it start so well…Plymouth Martini, and proceed to bad, BOB.
    Other names I’ve seen fine people in your profession tolerate, YOU, BUD, KEEP…all poor.
    Bart Starr was outstanding till he went to management, keep that in mind. However he was always a gentleman and approachable as he trained every year at my Alma Mater under St. Vincent.

  17. 17 scribbler50 May 4, 2011 at 12:18 am

    Irish: Yeah, I know about Starr’s managerial shortcomings, I was referring to Bart the player. And I’m not surprised he’s a gentleman. Thanks.

  18. 18 physiobabe May 4, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Bob πŸ™‚ good default setting, Scrib.

  19. 19 scribbler50 May 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    physiobabe: Shows how dumb I am, I just looked up “default setting” and I still don’t understand your comment. But the smiley face tells me it’s not a bad thing. So thanks.

  20. 20 mvpalex May 11, 2011 at 12:50 am

    Sometimes when they ask my name I say “WHY” and it throughs them off. Personally I like Doctor. Anyhow, the patrons who call me by first name I generally like….

  21. 21 Emmett November 28, 2012 at 8:25 am

    I am curious to find out what blog system you are utilizing?

    I’m having some small security issues with my latest site and I would like to find something more safe. Do you have any suggestions?

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