It is no secret that your bartender is one part mixologist, one part psychologist, and one part proctologist. What some folks don’t realize is that some seasoned tavernistas are also highly skilled “drunk whisperers.”
Before working on the service side, I put in a good many years on the belly-up-to-the-bar side and went so far as to fancy myself a fairly good drinker. I knew when to say when. I knew precisely which drink was going to be the one that made me bulletproof. I knew how to drink myself uber-pretty, and was highly skilled at drinking various companions witty and fascinating. I learned that tequila could land me in jail, that rum could land me in maternity garb, and that ouzo was my personal gateway drug to, let’s just say indescribably unsavory situations and call it good. Furthermore, I am proud to assert that I have never driven with more than two legal toddies down the hatch. I have never once had to chew my own arm off to get away from a man in the morning, and (to the best of my recollection) have never found any extra arms in my bed either.
While all this information is fine and good, it is rather hard to work into a job resume, which is precisely why I decided to take my incomparable bottle-opening and vessel-washing skills over to the paying side of the bar. Well, that – plus the fact that I flourished in second-hand smoke and dark lighting, loved the creative aspects of making libations, and no shit, who wouldn’t voraciously pander to the notion of a captive audience that gives you dead presidents to pay attention to them?
The bartender wields a certain amount of power, particularly in coastal Alaska where a disproportionate amount of quaff-guzzling frequently occurs due mainly to the nature of local industries and the reputation associated with said industries; inclement weather and the phenomenon of extended periods of darkness; major cash infusions from fishing, tourism, annual PFD checks and Native corporation payouts; and also because there are historically limited venues to socialize in small communities outside of church – and besides, the bars are so much more fun! (though you are encouraged to tithe your bartender). Like a librarian with the power to “Sshhhh” your patrons, the bartender is the final word on who stays and who goes. We know which booths are for spawning, and which barflies have cooties. Contemporary professionals are highly skilled at applying knowledge of extensive drink recipes, prices, nuances and local lore, as well as having the ability to assess critical situations as they transpire. Alaskan bartenders are especially good at breaking up brawls, engendering romances, preventing precarious liaisons from escalating, and alleviating fishermen of their extra money… all the while maintaining humor and confidence. (Extra points if you do this stuff with your lipstick on.)
As for the local patrons, if you are lucky, they will like you. If you are really lucky, you will grow to like them back. I did. I understand them. I adore them and sometimes I abhor them. To a certain degree, I am them. These are the regular folks of the Alaska I grew up in (not to be confused with a certain politician’s exclusive and misleading definition of “Joe Six-Pack”). And so it was with some mixed feelings (yeah, I know it’s a pun) that I recently retired my bar hook and moved on to another vocation.
Oh, I am still a Drunk Whisperer, just a different flavor. Today I work with chronic indigent inebriates in a shelter-type setting. While the scenery has changed a bit, the protocol is essentially the same – except that these guys haven’t been much for tipping. That’s okay, because so far, no one has rang the bell on my shift either.
*Many thanks to Bartender4Rent for the Dog-tender picture