Monday, July 26, 2010

All Growed Up

I have a grown up job. And I love my grown up job.

Bartending is chemistry without the math. It's a creative controlled chaos and an excuse to spend my day chatting with strangers and friends. It's equal parts precision mixing, breezy interaction and cultivated style.
Some mornings I open the bar. Cool San Francisco mornings when the fog hasn't quite rolled back far enough. The streets are busy enough, but inside the bar it's quiet and calm. I like the days that are slow enough to put on the jazz station. Maybe I've been reading too much Dashiell Hammett, but to me that's what a bar should be like in the day time. A little Duke Ellington while I'm polishing the brass beer taps, wiping down the warm lacquered wood, and cutting garnishes for the day. The most steadfast regulars come in the early afternoon, around 3, and that's when I start to put out the bowls of pretzels. I'm almost in tune with their routines. Royal comes in with a magazine, orders an IPA or two and says little. Mary usually comes in with a book for a double of Jameson with a water back and a little conversation. She's easy to talk to and has an easy, infectious laugh. Pat and Mary come in for a bottle of O'Douls non-alcoholic beer and a cosmo (respectively). He looks every inch an Irish fisherman, complete with a round salt-and-pepper beard. Justin comes in for a couple IPAs and, through conversations about travel and world events, reminds me that I majored in economic development to improve the places in the world that most need improvement. Every Friday, like clockwork, old Josef comes in with his two middle-aged sons, Dean and Dev, and I get ready to serve a few rounds of Stella, MGD and Becks. Sometimes they are joined by the rest of the family, a couple of daughters and friends close enough to count as blood, but they always bring the party.

Of course after a few deliciously slow afternoons, I've developed a hankering for a busy night. I can't wait to get into the zone of rush, on a night when everything is going right. Ducking in and out of the bar, slipping through the crowds of people to deliver drinks, or grab clean glassware, spinning glasses and bottles and pouring out a rainbow of colors in to shakers. We ARE the movers and the shakers behind the bar on nights like that, dancing from one end of the bar to the other, working together based on intuition more than communication. And can I help YOU, sir? The blender whirs in the background, seemingly constantly, over the low dim, occasionally relieved by the humming of the refrigerators and the blended margarita machine. Three margaritas, an IPA and an Amber, coming right up! On nights like that, it feels like there are almost as many people lining up around the bar and there are bottles lined up in front of the mirrors and I'm presiding over them expertly, grinning and laughing like a fool, completely high on the pandemonium. Nothing beats the feeling of presenting two perfectly poured pints and a newly shaken jewel of a martini with the crystals dancing on the top of the liquid to an eagerly expectant audience.

And at the end of all that bedlam, at the end of the rush and the running and the occasional stress panics, when the very last regular has staggered out into the night, comes the most peaceful time of the night. If I time it right, I can get most of the bar closed up quickly, everything wiped down, screwed on, and covered up. I turn off the "open" sign and lock the bar doors. Everything is pristine and perfect in a way it can never be when the bar is open. I drag the mats and the trash cans out back into the refreshingly cold night. The chairs go stacked on the tables, their legs sticking boldly up in the air. The music is low and most of the lights are out. Even though mopping and vacuuming lengthens the distance between my weary bones and my warm bed at 2am, I kind of like this part. Wiping away the insanity of a long day. Then I turn out the lights and leave. I love the sound of my footsteps echoing in the foggy streets, disturbing the sounds of night in a city - a shower or the buzz of the blue glow of a tv, the flickering of a street lamp or a confused bird twittering the coming of the sun, yet two hours away, and of course the dim moan of far-off cars, pounding through the night.

And that's why I love bartending.