Recently, a co-worker of mine suggested I try to take more time off for myself. She explained how she feels defined by her job, and that escape is needed to have a life outside of the bar world. I agree with that, but I also feel that, more people than not, are defined by what they do in life. One of the most annoying questions people ask when first meeting someone, is: "what do you do?".
Although, I cringe at the unoriginality of this inquiry, it is a reality, and will likely not change. After, working over 14 years in the bar/restaurant business, it is impossible for me to not, be associated with my place of work: Joanna, from Doc's. It is far easier to go with that title, to embrace it, and own it, rather than trying to find ways to escape it. One third of my life has been spent at my bar, it is as much a part of me, as I am a part of it.
It is almost Doc's 12 year anniversary, and being there since day #1, I often find myself feeling reminiscent of days gone, more than usual, around this time of year. Recently, the group of bars I am a part of, has been going through a centralization of sorts. And, I am truly the only one who has seen all the changes over the years, from the employee point of view.
April 6th, 1994. Alphabet City.
Home of Tompkin's Square Park, location of choice for the "squatters", drug dealers on street corners, very few bars and restaurants, and apartments still considered affordable. It was a different time, a different place. I was almost 24, pursuing an acting career, and paying the rent, like so many artists do, by working in the service industry.
I was just finishing a two year run at a theatre district restaurant, where demanding patrons poured in to fill their stomachs a few hours before curtain time.
The place would be full by 6 o'clock, and be empty again by 7:45. It was a decent gig. You would make all your money in two hours, but it was quite stressful, since you essentially had a "deadline". Two hours or less in and out, a kitchen that got busier than Grand Central at rush hour, with cooks yelling "pick it up, pick it up", and waitresses "stealing" other tables food, making things even more chaotic than they already were. On top of that, the owner was a surly middle aged Greek man, who would follow you around during the night, yell in your ear, holding your job over your head with idle threats.
As a waitress, during my employment there, I did cultivate quite the following, which is not as common for waitresses as it is for bartenders. I was extremely patient with the demanding elite, with their rum and diet cokes, egg white omeletes, and sauces on the side. They often pressed for special treatment, and tried to get a rise out of you, by treating you like a servant. But I learned very quickly, that they WANT to push your buttons. When you, unpredictably, smile, and say, "no problem", or "sure", they feel like the assholes, and have no choice but to shut up and enjoy. I was better with some kinds of customers than others.
Among the most memorable, were a group of three 60-something ladies, who came in atleast once a month. They always had such a great time, having a few cocktails, a nice meal, and sometimes, when they came in during "non- rush hour" times, I would sit down and smooze.
I began to realize, I had a natural talent: I knew exactly what kind of customer I was dealing with, the second I appoached my table.
There were the young couples: usually from Brooklyn or New Jersey, in for a night out on the town. Money was not an object, ordering Johnny Walker blacks, ketel one tonics, a bottle of wine with dinner, appetizers they don't finish, espresso with a cordial on the side, and often tipping way over twenty percent.
There were family outings, with high maintenance Long Island mothers, children in tow, sometimes, the grandparents too. Everything is "sauce on the side", with other special needs, and they usually tip exactly double the tax on the bill.
I often made repeat customers, which in a tourist heavy area, was unusual. I had patrons, who came into town a few times a year, and every time, they came to my restaurant, and sat in my section. I was a people pleaser. And got off on juggling 15-20 tables, running around like the spaz that I am, stacking 10 plates and my arm, getting the checks down and paid, with time to spare before curtains up. It was like a race, and the payoff were happy customers, and money in my pocket. The place was hit with a whirlwind of energy every night, and there were many stories to tell. I was also, still in my early 20's, and there were plenty of nights at after hours, many young boys to juggle, and an overactive social schedule.That is whole book in itself...
Anyway...a few times when the bartender was sick, I filled in. When you are a waitress setting up the service area for drinks, you quickly learn how to make them. I already knew most of the "recipes", simply from observing; the rest of the job required listening skills, attentiveness, and personality.
After a few fill-in shifts behind the bar, the "regulars" were bothering the owner to put me behind the stick. He was, as I alluded to, a cranky man, and retorted things like "you aren't tall enough", and other stupid crap like that. At that point, I had been there almost two years, and I felt my time was coming to an end. My closest friend, (who I had met there) had moved back to Boston, and it just wasn't as much fun anymore. And the owner, was way beyond unbearable.
I took a bartending course up at Barnard, which was cheap, held on 6 friday nights, where we used real liquor and were allowed to drink our concotions. I am sure I drank atleast half of what I spent on the course in liquor. And I learned how to make drinks, like Pearl Harbors, and Godfathers, which, as I have found, in my 12 years of bartending, to be of almost no use whatsoever.
I gave my two weeks notice, and started to scour the local papers for jobs. Little did I know, the owner of my bar had another bar post an ad for him, to screen potential employees and tell them to "come in and hang out" on a Friday night in March. He was to be in attendance, checking out the applicants, and approaching those with "potential" that very night. I believe I was THE only person who was literally hired OFF that very bar. After a song or three, of shaking it, I was introduced the "real" person who was hiring...and I was in. "Come in Wednesday" night, ask for Natasha.