The texts are waiting for me when I wake. As I orient myself to the morning with a cup of coffee and the daily routine of “HAVE YOU POOPED YET?” to the dogs, I scan the various responses to the group text that arrived as I was blessedly asleep.
“Thank you, Jesus!”
We had lost another customer, never to darken our door again. Icarus finally flew too high and the long-suffering bartender who had reached peak doneness finally melted those wings off with the blazing intensity of the sun. The door guy passed them a garbage bag full of their Fireball-soaked feathers as they exited, vaguely threatening repercussions before tripping on the curb on their way to the next place.
An 86 list is indispensable at a small bar. It’s usually tucked behind the cash register and lists names of customers who have been banned, i.e., “86’d.” It can be long-standing, immutable in its power, a hasty name or description scrawled on the taped-up list above the register. A nickname suffices — hell, there’s a couple of dogs on there that don’t know how to play well with others. Some people on that list have only been to the bar once, choosing immediate chaos on that first visit; others might have come in for years before being anointed as an exile.
I’m lucky to work at a place where the front-line staff can make the call on who can be there at any given time. They, more than any other, should be able to. This isn’t a power-trip or a show of force. We’re past petty excuses of, “That guy ghosted my friend so he’s banned.” We have a front row seat to the debauched, the cringe-worthy, the dangerous and yes, the occasional tete that ends with, “Listen dude, I love you but you need to leave right now before her boyfriend hurts you.” There’s a fine line between hilarity and a threat.
“One time, there was this guy who kept asking out [another bartender] to the point where he became a problem,” says Morgan Roland, a bartender who is opening a bar on Trade Street with a ready-made 86 list of local toxicity. “This guy is 6-2 and 300 lbs, and he calls her a bitch after repeatedly hearing no. The man ends up coming to the Moon after being banned from the first one, showing up drunk. Tries to bring in a beer that he was drinking in his car, so I tried to take it.”
He received a ban after raising a fist to her and garnering the wrath of a couple nearby regulars.
There are others who run the gamut of worthy offenses: creeps who never learned how to handle rejection, abrasives who court drama, drunks who lose any decorum in a public place, fighters and sexual predators.
Confrontations usually get an automatic ban. Repeat offenses from people who are terrible at drinking catch a ban eventually. We also don’t cater to those who offer random women unknown substances, the swaggerers who attempt to bring in actual children, the harassers who don’t get the hint after following a group of women around the bar who are obviously uncomfortable, the dosers, the already hammered, the random arm wrestlers and for good measure, the ones who insist on driving. Threatening the bartender will catch a ban. A big pet peeve of mine are the gross dudes who “bat cleanup,” where they show up stone-cold sober at 1:45 in the morning looking for love. Some of these people don’t even have to show up to be banned.
Even though we’re the fifth largest city in the state, the network of bartenders is a close one, and chances are if you’ve been banned from our bar, the bar down the street will know you’re on the way there to cause more chaos. We are also well aware of your sketchy close acquaintances.
Most corporate entities come with the credo “The customer is always right.”
Nope. Not here.
At a restaurant, a customer may be right. Wrong meal, wrong temp, I get it. Even at a bar, a bartender can mess up a drink.
But a bar is a fun experience, where everyone should be welcome. It should also be a safe experience. If someone stands in the way of that, we don’t need you. Bartenders shouldn’t be scared to work, and customers shouldn’t be scared to drink there. The crew that work each night should be allies, masters of deescalation and aware of anyone off-kilter. If there’s no ally in sight, even behind the bar, it’s not a bar to drink at.
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