Last night was a long one. We had the usual assortment of weekenders, tourists, dates, hookups, rejections and the ever-present marathoners, or “pacers” — those folks you see popping in throughout the night, finally standing outside your closed doors while you’re shutting down at 3 a.m.
They want the standard fare at 3 a.m: take-home beers, the bathroom, they left something inside (it’s actually in their pocket). Sometimes they just want to talk. The proper response is “NO. GO HOME.” Or, “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?
You have to yell because god help you if you unlock that door.
When the cozy confine of your bed is the only thing to look forward to, the last thing you need is some wastrel wanting to discuss the finer points of our foreign policy and how it relates to ELO while you’re mopping.
In North Carolina. the law says that a bar can no longer serve alcohol after 2 a.m. At 2:30, everyone not an employee must be off the premises. So every night there’s a ballet. It’s a process you must prepare for as a bartender. Otherwise it catches up with you and before you know it, its 4:30 a.m. and the next day is ruined. What was going to be a gloriously beautiful day full of promise is now spent in a fog of recovery, only to prepare for the same thing the next night.
It goes like this.
At 9-11 p.m., you’re just getting in, getting situated, prepping for the crowds. Most of the day-drinkers are gone by now and there’s a short period of calm. Maybe you’re going to have a slow one, you might be thinking, one of those nights where, if you’re lucky, you can have a decent conversation, make some good (but not great) scratch and be out of the door at 2:30 and asleep by 3. Those nights are nice. No stress, no fights, no having to explain to the creeper why telling a woman that she looks “fertile” is grounds for being kicked out. But the night is just beginning. “Black Star” radio seems to be the vibe of the night. The after-dinner crowd starts to filter in and, just behind them, the servers from down the street.
Around 11-12 a.m., the lightweights, the day job folks, the dates, they’re paying out. Skateboarders are avoiding head injuries and Ubers as they do kick-flips in the street, entertaining the crowd on the porch. The porch has intermingling clusters of groups, buying shots, taking shots, people weighing their chances with the latest crush. A group in their thirties sits at a back table, their laughter carries inside as a member comes in for another round of drinks. The door guy turns away the third kid of the night who believes a patchy mustache to be sufficient ID. A mostly innocent night. You’re able to keep up, no one has asked for “THAT ONE SHOT YOU MADE SIX MONTHS AGO, I THINK IT WAS ORANGE OR SOMETHING!” You tell the guy who’s never been there before that a “French 75” isn’t really our demographic, drink-wise.
By 12-2a.m., it’s professionals, mostly. A couple of people are in over their heads, but they don’t know it yet. They will. The show down the street is starting to let out and you get another hit. Thankfully, it’s mostly domestics, shots and one-and-ones. Round of tequilas on Mark’s tab. Wu-Tang radio, now. A few new faces, one of which nods off as his friend is ordering. The door guy escorts him out, and the friends follow. At your busiest, a group of nine women come in with crowns and sashes, one of which proclaims: “BIRTHDAY BITCH” with bright red glitter and feathers that are continually disintegrating onto the bar, the floor and everyone they brush against. Nine Sex on the Beaches, “and make them strong please!”
The night is almost over, you keep telling yourself.
At about 1:58 a.m., the inevitable crowd comes in for last call, even thought it was 10 minutes ago. They want rounds, beers to go, smokes and to close out tabs they left behind. At 2:01, four out-of-breath guys come in just to be disappointed. They bargain still.
Tabs are closed, most people are leaving. The great clean-up begins. You stock, wipe down, do the register. People are still wandering in. The lights go up and the music is cut off at 2:15 sharp. The back door is locked. At 2:25 the back porch is still half full of potential all-nighters and you tell everyone to wrap it up. 2:30, the drinks are snatched away and trashed. The remaining customers are herded onto the sidewalk where they can plan on the rest of the night’s adventures under the stars. The front doors are locked and the porch is gated. Another night, done.
The quiet that remains is calming, even with the ringing in your ears.
The walk to the car has an air of finality. The radio station a block over plays their nightly programmed playlist to the sidewalk and you can hear Three Dog Night echo up the street. You see the remaining clusters waiting for their rides, or walking away. The street is peaceful. The night is over. You get in your car, thankful for it. Tomorrow might be better. Tomorrow might be worse.
The best part about the job, honestly, is that you never know.