‘Two Roads Diverged in a Wood’

I find myself at a crossroads. I think my years of bartending may have run its course. This blog has given me an avenue to articulate experiences, vent frustrations and detail opinions. I have fiercely defended my profession as being a valid and worthwhile one and  I don’t regret my time in the industry. It has made me more attuned to mine and others’ needs, I am more empathetic and respectful of people than I was when I started and I have a hell of a lot of confidence, which I largely attribute to this work.

However, I find myself eager to be challenged by something new. I want to learn a new host of skills and make mistakes and learn from them. I want my nights free to volunteer and to see my loved ones. I want more time to read and study and go to bed early so that I can enjoy the whole day.

Luckily, there will always be a need for bartenders and I can rest assured that it will be there if I ever want to go back. I sense a restlessness inside of me, I think its due time I take a risk and step out of my comfort zone.

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‘Table for one’and the importance of self-care

My job requires me to talk. A lot. I have written a previous post about needing to be friendly, outgoing and charming and at times, assertive. I have to keep a smile permanently plastered on my face, and appear as if I am interested in everyone’s day.  This takes energy. Sometimes, at the end of a long shift I don’t want  to talk anymore. I don’t have the motivation to be social after a long day of it being required of me. As a previously extroverted social – butterfly, I am becoming a lot more of a hermit. I chalk this up to my profession and perhaps my life experience. Whatever the cause, there is nothing I love more than the having the house to myself, soaking in a bath and dancing alone to Motown classics. As I have gotten older, I find myself yearning for the quiet.

Further, I realize just how important putting yourself first really is. If I don’t pay attention and indulge my needs I will be no help to others. There are negative associations with words like ‘alone’ and ‘lonely’. Not being surrounded by friends or romantic partners is looked down upon. This is compounded during holidays and specifically, Valentine’s day.

I am often looked at with pity in restaurants when I take myself out on dates. The thing is, I like myself and think that i’m pretty good company. I don’t have to negotiate and compromise. I don’t have to think about conversation topics and/or whether the other person(s) are enjoying themselves, I can just be.

Here and here are some useful self-care tips.

East vs. West

I am often asked which pub I prefer working at. I definitely have more in common with the patrons that frequent the west end pub. However, there is something comforting that comes with years working at a local dive bar in the east end. I was raised in that neighborhood. It’s unpretentious. People don’t expect wine lists or a cocktail menu, they expect cold beer and friendly service. We (usually) have both. Although I cannot disregard the shortcomings. The bar is situated in a  lower – income neighborhood with some criminal activity. Despite its relative shabbiness, it’s the least sketchy in the general region. We get highly intoxicated people stumbling in and I often have to cut people off, or refuse service all together. That is often met with resistance. A few fights have broken out and while my personal safety wasn’t threatened directly, I felt frightened. During those situations, I always had a few trusted regulars who helped me sort things out. There are many people who would protect that place as if it were their own home.

In terms of everyday stimulating conversations? There are not many. As mentioned in my previous post about my experiences, there are often problematic comments being made that just wouldn’t occur in the west end pub. In terms of demographics, there is an overwhelmingly obvious lack of people who are not straight White men. Yet, I stay. There is something keeping me there. Something reassuring and comfortable about that place.

The west end pub has diversity, good food, live music and interesting patrons yet I still couldn’t choose the better of the two.

 

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The Music Dabbler

There is live music at the west end pub twice a week. The duo that play on Wednesday nights have graciously allowed me to share the stage with them every week. I literally stop working for the time it takes me to belt out a diddie for the patrons. People love it. It’s fun for them to see their server on stage, and it’s exciting for me to have a chance to practice with a pair of incredible and accomplished musicians.

People have begun referring to me as a musician. I reject this label. I see my friends who have degrees in music, who earn a living playing and teaching music, who live and breath music. They are musicians. I merely dabble. I perform weekly out of circumstance. I would never want to rely on it, I am an enthusiastic hobbyist.

For any budding musicians out there, I would recommend bartending in a live music venue. It’s an excellent networking opportunity.

 

me and guitarMe rocking out!

Terror and Triumph

 

Trigger warning: Domestic abuse

Last week I witnessed a  dispute between a married couple at the east end pub. He left in a huff and she stayed on, crying softly at the bar.

I approached her and smiled. I asked if she wanted to talk about it. She said she was fine. I asked again five minutes later. She shared that she is sick of the way he treats her. She said that she knows she should leave but she is afraid of telling her family that her marriage has failed. She is embarrassed to admit to her loved ones that he is abusive.

I asked her if he is violent and she said that the emotional violence is worse, that he discontinued punching her when she stopped using make-up to cover it up.

I wanted to rescue her, to shake her, to tell her everything he doesn’t. I was at once horrified and numb. I knew enough about dynamics of domestic abuse to know that she wont leave until she is ready to.  I said, “You know what to do. I can tell that you are courageous”.

She probably didn’t leave him the next day, it may take years. But in the hour I had with her I offered my empathy, compassion and respect. I didn’t lecture, pity or try to educate her.  Bartending is one of those professions that can place you in positions of brief intimacy with perfect strangers. Sometimes situations like these arise when I feel a responsibility to try to make a real difference in someone’s life. However, experience has taught me that even if all you can offer is a beer and a smile, it can go a long way.

We hugged before she left. She told me that she was grateful and felt confident. I took a deep breath and went back to serving my patrons. I wonder about her, I wonder if I made any lasting impact. What I do know is we briefly shared a space of understanding and caring, and that I did all that I could.

 

 

‘Real jobs’ and climbing the social ladder

“So, you’re in school right?” or “What do you actually do?” or “What’s the next step?” these are all variations of the frequent unprompted inquiries I receive about my current social status. According to this logic, twenty – something year olds should be investing in their future, gaining as much education necessary to be a successful adult. Jobs like bartending are only meant to be a transitory means to an end, AKA a temporary rent – paying gig. Something to pay the bills until your REAL job begins.

These patrons have heard me say something that sparked their interest. Maybe it was a passing comment about the current political state, or an observation I made while touring abroad. How disappointed would they be if I responded to the previously stated questions with, ‘I’m not in school, this is what I do, there is no next step’. What a waste, they might think. So much potential that’s being squandered in menial task work.

Instead, I usually reassure them that I am still in school and am pursuing post-graduate studies. Sometimes, this satisfies them. More often, this is followed with unsolicited career/life advice. What I don’t mention is that I have been and off and on student for years and I lack a five year career plan. I don’t mention that I am okay with my current uncertainty.

Sometimes I feel compelled to defend my profession, to explain that I have learned more about the human condition through this job then in my four- year Sociology degree. But this principle goes beyond me. What about all of the people who are in these ‘low-level’ professions in a long – term basis with no interest to advance? What about the people who aren’t able to access the social ladder?

Interestingly, I am never asked those prying questions by my twenty-something peers. They are usually in the same boat and would never think to ask the same things that they are tired of hearing themselves. They respond, “bartender? Cool”.  And that’s the end of it.

I ask you to withhold these questions until there is appropriate evidence to suggest the bartender/server/barista is pursuing other avenues. Further, you will be asked for advice if they are seeking it.  Another bonus is that by not assuming anything about this quasi stranger, you don’t run the risk of an awkward interaction.

 

 

 

 

Bartender AKA cheap therapist

Considering the amount of emotional support bartenders provide their patrons, I think we deserve a pay raise, or, at the very least, more social recognition for our efforts. The real work, my friends, is not the pouring of the pints, it is the therapy we provide. The environment is ripe for it, picture this: you’re a regular, drinking at your favourite watering hole. The bartender is a friendly face that always looks pleased to see you. They ask you about your week. They ask about your sick dog. They ask if you want another drink. And another. As you sit there your bartender is starting to get more charming/clever/wise than when you arrived. You start speaking passionately about an issue and that reminds you of a very personal story that you haven’t shared with your close friends because you’re worried that they will judge you. You can disclose to your bartender, however. They are seemingly objective and removed from the situation.

You are a bartender and a regular is sharing something that is way too personal and it makes you slightly uncomfortable because you barely know them. You didn’t ask to be privy to this information but you are subjected to it anyway. This happens a few more times during your shift.

REPEAT.

Mediation, public relations, therapy, consultation. We do it all. It’s a hard job that deserves more respect than it gets. Show your bartenders a little appreciation.

 

Aussie

I can’t write about the pub in the east end without mentioning its most infamous character: Aussie.

If you drink at this pub, you have signed up for the company of Aussie. He comes in at 11 AM and stays on until at least 6 PM every day. He is a staple, a part of the furniture. He is also the embodiment of all that challenged me about working in that place. Two and a half years ago, our relationship began. On my first day, I was scolded that there was too much foam on his beer and it wasn’t in his proper glass. Miserable and unwelcoming, I disliked him immediately.

Aussie belongs to a group of elderly migrants from the UK who have brought their daily pub drinking culture with them. Here they have found a network of like minded folks who, widowed/divorced and retired, are all staved for company in their twilight years. They play darts, pool and playfully ‘take the piss’ out of each others’ opposing premier league football teams. Mostly, they sit at the window, sipping their pints and judging the people that walk by. They are also willfully ignorant and distasteful of so-called ‘bleeding heart liberals’ and often make disparaging comments about immigrants. The irony that they belong to that  category is apparently lost on them.

Aussie is the worst offender. When told that his views are outdated and offensive, he defensively asserts variations of, “i’m too old to change my mind about these things, don’t waste your time”. Or, “if you don’t like it, take a hike”. This job immediately followed my volunteer work with marginalized communities- often the targets of their attacks- so I found it difficult to justify my place in that environment. I attempted to debate with them and eventually found it fruitless. Relating with them seemed impossible.

Eventually, Aussie and the others got used to my company and decided they liked my “spunkyness”. They taught me how to play darts (I eventually joined a league). They somehow taught me, someone who has never cared about sports, to appreciate British football. I have spent more hours with Aussie than I have with many of my friends. A consistent presence for every one of my weekend shifts, he jokes, complains, but mostly gives me a hard time. I at once adore and detest him. “I only know what I was taught’, he told me once, ‘you think i’m prejudiced, you should have met my father’. I have resigned myself to the fact that I am in their world, that I am just temporarily taking up space. I began realizing that these men really care about each other and depend on each other for companionship and support, they are not just drinking buddies in solidarity against “all of the weirdos in the world”. On a Sunday afternoon, the pub resembles  life back home, they have found a refuge that makes sense to them.

Despite my pesky liberal leanings and sharp comebacks, Aussie is quite fond of me. “Hey, when are we getting married? Just for the weekend though, that is as much of you I can take”.

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“Give me the girliest drink you can make!”

This phrase is often accompanied by a smirk that never fails to make me squirm. As a bartender I am torn. Should I make him something with cranberry juice and move on to dealing with my less annoying customers? Should I ask what exactly makes a drink “girly”?

For my first post I have decided to tackle an experience that often occurs in public house culture. Definitely not the worst example of annoyances that have undercurrents of sexist assumptions, but definitely one of the most common. This man either prefers sweet/sugary drinks and instead of just unapologetically ordering what he wants like everyone else, he puts on a front that this is a special occasion. Or, the idea of ordering something other than beer or whiskey strikes him as momentous and so hilarious that he is compelled to take me on this thrilling ride of his act of rebellion.

In Britain, I am told, it is the norm for woman to drink half pints. Men, however, would never be seen in public with half a beer. I can’t help but pity those male – identified persons who like a little sweetness with their alcohol. Or perhaps, just don’t feel like a pint-size glass of brew.

As a woman who drinks whiskey, I am often met with surprise and admiration when I order my drink of choice. It’s as if my palate automatically makes me a more interesting person. I am not one of those cosmopolitan drinking girls. I must be (insert any word synonymous with cultured). My love for whiskey drinking allows me entry into the ‘boys club’, I am no longer just a pretty face. The double standard is unmistakable and frustrating.

As the lone woman working in an east Toronto pub, I have to tread the thin line between affable and assertive, easy-going and stout. I often choose to ask critical questions rather than angrily retorting in the face of problematic language. However, when it comes to silly statements like the one informing this post, I tend to go the passive aggressive route:

I served him a Jameson. Neat.cosmopolitan-150530_960_720