Behind the bar: Triad bartenders recount ridiculous and unbelievable things they’ve seen

photo by Alex Klein

These days, my boss is too preoccupied with running a business to tell too many stories from his time as a bartender and miscreant in New Orleans. But in the five years I’ve worked alongside Brian Clarey, I’ve heard at least a dozen hilarious and usually wildly inappropriate stories involving late nights of inebriation. None are fit for print, and most wouldn’t be believed anyway.

Unless, that is, you’ve worked as a bartender, too. Because anyone who’s bartended long enough is filled with these kinds of tales, even if they didn’t spend years behind a bar working the third shift in the Big Easy.

As a booze columnist, I often hear these absurd and ridiculous recounts once my notebook is closed. I’ve done and seen some stupid things when I’m off the clock, but my anecdotes pale in comparison to what industry folks witness while pulling their shifts.

Here, a few Triad bartenders and owners agreed to share some of the good, the bad and the downright foolish things they’ve seen.

All of them — even the most forthcoming — have held back some of the more obscene incidents, but still be warned that many of their memories should at least be rated PG-13. Better yet, these bar stories are probably best suited for those of legal drinking age.

Here’s a sampling of the sorts of things that happened in and around Triad bars in the last decade or so. It’s by no means anything approaching an exhaustive oral history. Instead, we invite other local bartenders to share their own yarns in the comment section of the online version of this piece.


Tiffany Howell: Owner at Burke Street Pub (W-S)

When Tiffany Howell joined the team at Burke Street Pub in 2005, she’d already spent a few years working in local bars. She’s been at the Irish bar ever since, save for a two-year period when she left to finish her degree, and in the beginning of 2015, she bought the pub.

One of Howell’s favorite stories happened a decade ago, in the summer of 2006 while she worked at the pub’s upstairs and outdoor beach bar one weekend. A beloved customer pulled himself up on the side of the fence around the patio where Howell was closing up, to where she could see him from the nose up. He offered to snag her a hot dog from a vendor nearby and she declined, but it’s what he said next that stuck with her.

“He said, ‘I love you; I love this pub,’ and then he said, ‘Burke Street Pub is to Winston-Salem what Disney World is to America.’”

And then he fell off the fence.

Later that night, he wrote it on his MySpace page. Earlier this year, Howell used it for branding, putting it on T-shirts and attributing it to “BSP,” which are the man’s initials as well as the pub’s.

The clearest indication that Burke Street is akin to Disney World is another customer. Howell said this one is fond of showing up in full costume, be it a monkey suit, Santa Claus getup or a beer-wench outfit. He’s affectionately known as “our class clown,” and is known for “autographing every hard surface he can find” and returning the next day to paint over his penmanship.

Burke Street Pub is home to three national championship teams for a quarter-bouncing game that Bud Light used to sponsor — teams traveled to Las Vegas and Cancun to bring back $25,000 each in winnings, hanging their oversized checks inside the bar. Other patrons have left things behind too, though somewhat less intentionally, including underwear, bras, socks, wallet photos of their kids and, oddly enough, eye patches. One guy almost had to leave a front tooth.

Howell remembers him ordering a beer right at the corner of the bar by the taps, and a false front tooth fell out into the motor of the cooler.

“My tooth! My tooth!” he exclaimed.

Howell could hear it spinning in the motor, but she managed to unplug the thing and force the tooth out. The man, grateful, headed for the bathroom and stuck it back in, seemingly undamaged.

Howell prefers not to dwell on the more unsavory stories — she tries to forget them, she said, and she doesn’t want to give the industry a bad name. But she did offer one other inoffensive memory; one busy Saturday night, she looked up to see the bar’s big Altoids-dispensing machine bobbing its way towards the front door amidst the crowd. The staff quickly stopped the man, who Howell said was just being silly and seeing if anyone would notice.

Now he’s one of her employees.

Read more: