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.
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.
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.
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 rocking out!
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.
This hilarious video illustrates a few of the annoying things bartenders have to deal with. Enjoy!
“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.