Last week was the beginning of Outdoor Retailers and the Sundance Film Festival. Traditionally, these are some pretty good weeks working behind the bar. It’s a lot of out-of-towners with expense accounts that don’t give a damn about Utah’s liquor laws and consider Herculean consumption of Jack Daniels, Grey Goose and Bombay Sapphire all in a day’s work. I got a handful of them in the club on Thursday and they put me through the paces.
Even though they looked like completely normal people when they walked through the club doors within in moments of meeting them, I realized that they were on a mission. The day’s business was done and it was time to relax with clients and co-workers. They were the kind of people who don’t drive Hondas or Fords – they lease a Lexus. They move in small packs of three to five people. I was quickly able to identify the alpha dog because whatever he ordered, his friends would follow suit.
With almost 75 different bottles of liquor behind me, I am always surprised that the drink of the business class is vodka and Red Bull. I think it speaks a lot about this group of people: vodka is tasteless, flavorless and aggressive and Red Bull tastes like gym socks dipped in vanilla extract. There’s a big misconception that vodka and Red Bulls allow you to get drunk but still keep you composure. I don’t think there is anything further from the truth. Booze and energy drinks just bring to the surface your true personality.
My biggest pet-peeve with vodka and Red Bull drinkers is that they treat the used can of Red Bull in my service well as general consumption. One can of Red Bull is enough to make three cocktails. After I pour the drink, I leave the can on the bar mats in front of me. Invariably, customers don’t give any thought about grabbing the can and either slamming it or topping off their drink without asking. You wouldn’t reach over the bar to grab the orange juice to top off you Tequila Sunrise, so why do you think you can grab my Red Bull can for your drink?
Because the club’s focus is the dueling piano show, I have to work hard to reach an equilibrium with service. Once I get everybody into a rhythm, it is actually very easy to bartend for a hundred people. It looks chaotic to the uninitiated but in reality, it is very organized once everybody has something in their hand. There’s a manic thirty minutes of getting everybody taken care of and then I am able to settle into cruise-control. I’ve learned most of the people’s names, what they’re drinking and slowly be able to casually interact with everybody.
It’s a common complaint of mine about middle-aged guys dressed like they’re rushing a fraternity. There’s something unsavory about a bad interpretation from a GQ Magazine. Probably because I am over-weight and am forced to dress like Andy Richter on vacation, I really dislike the new male fashion. It looks cheap and gaudy. It lacks utility and frankly, it looks like women’s clothing. The last time I wore a T-shirt with a dragon print, I had a velvet bag filled with polyhedral dice and was getting ready to play Dungeons and Dragons. I wished more business-types dressed more like Don Draper and less like The Situation.
For all of the different facets which compose Salt Lake City, in the end, it is a sleepy little ski town. Tourism is big business in Utah and I reap the benefit of working in that industry. Working as a bartender in Downtown Salt Lake means that you often are serving out-of-towners. This means a club like Keys on Main doesn’t get a lot of regulars. My guests are from around the country for conventions and recreation. Not only do I pour them drinks, I act as an informal consular for the city answering any numerous questions ranging from where to eat, what to do and how to get a drink in town.
If you’re in my bar, I suggest either my Muddled Old Fashion or the French Tickler. The Muddled Old Fashion is made with macerated cherries, orange wheel, sugar and bitters topped off with Maker’s Mark and club soda over ice. The French Tickler is a champagne cocktail made with Grey Goose, Chambord and pineapple juice shaken and strained into a cocktail glass topped off with cold, dry champagne. Both are appropriate for people on holiday or on business and don’t carry any of the stigma of vodka and Red Bull.
You’re in the wrong business as a bartender if you don’t like explaining Utah’s liquor laws. Beyond the fact that most out-of-towners think that Mormons have horns, the Great Salt Lake is swimmable and the liquor is water-downed, people from other parts of the country are painfully ignorant about Utah. They know as much of the cultural experience in Utah as the average resident of Riverton. Even though it is exhausting explaining the laws a couple dozen times a night, at least I have something to talk about with anybody outside of the 801 area code.
While I should be working for the Chamber of Commerce with my knowledge of Salt Lake City and the available amenities, there is still a question that I always cringe at: “Where’s the pussy at?” I am able to procure a lot of things but delivering women as chattel is something I haven’t mastered yet. I’m really good at putting liquids into glassware. I’m not very good at organizing brothels. As a word to the wise, if you have to ask this question, chances are you wouldn’t know what to do even if I was able to serve up a harem of women on a silver platter. Isn’t it enough that you’re dressed like you’re rushing Phi Alpha Gamma? Fair warning: if you ask me this question, I am going to direct you to Club Try-Angles.
The hangover goes both ways. I know I properly installed more than a few hangovers on Thursday night making Friday morning rough for everybody going to the Salt Palace or back up to Park City. For me, I suffer from the hangover of going back to my boring desk job up at the University of Utah. No matter how much I find most of the customers distasteful, it is still really exciting pouring drinks for five hours in a crowded, busy bar. Moreover, there are a few diamonds in the rough. There was a family that came in where the youngest daughter just turned 21. If you ever want to feel old, consider that a legal drinker of alcohol was born in 1989. They were LDS, drank virgin strawberry daiquiris, ate nachos and sang to every song. They were a bit more demanding than most of the guests but in the end they were also my best tippers. And, no matter what, they’re hangover was much more manageable than most of ours. Chances are the consideration of a Prairie Oyster was the furthest thing from their imagination the next morning.