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Punch Drunk

This Week: Bright Lights, Medium-Sized City: Part 2

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It's 2:15 a.m. There's blood in the men's room sink. Glass shards and countless cigarette butts line the patio. Both phone lines are lighting up. “Uhh, I lost my debit card. ...” There are sticky gobs all over the bar that are possibly bodily but hopefully alcohol-related. Twenty-five industrial trash bags full of bottles await. There's a tab still open, sans debit card information, for that so-called friend who gets insulted whenever you ask for his card — the same friend who always forgets to pay. Half of the employees' girlfriends are still sitting at the bar impeding the closing process. The aforementioned rabble continues to mill around like sheep. An incoherent throng keeps walking in the front door even though the lights are shining like the sun. I'm positive that Albert Camus had a late-night bar in mind when developing his theories on absurdism.

I just want to get this shit done and have a beer.

Late night at a bar isn't the glamorous, coke-fueled, hook-up and Grey Goose fest that many people imagine it to be. Do we have our fun from time to time? Of course. Are we there until 6 a.m. having a dance party and doing body shots off of whatever girls our bar-trim coordinators lined up for us that night? Almost never.

The cleansing of a bar, for bartenders with work ethic and pride, is a ritualistic process. Show me a bartender who does a poor job after 2 a.m. and I'll show you a bartender who won't last long in my bar.

This is the process that builds strong bonds between you and the people you work with in the industry. “The nightly cleanse” is arduous, which is why many bartenders really only hang out with other bartenders. They understand each other's plight and they've earned each other's friendships through sweat.

As for visions of after-hours romance, I can count the number of customers I've hooked up with from the bar after closing on two hands, and that's because by the time we're done, the girl that was staring at me all night is passed out, or in someone else's bed. Girls and guys who will sleep with a bartender that they just met are out there every night, and they're a dime a dozen.

So now that the bats have been cleared out of the belfry, we still must count money. We owe the house a deposit, we owe the bouncers, we owe the DJ, we messed something up with a tab and have to reopen the checkout. Damn, we forgot to wipe down the bottles. “Oh hey I just found a hundred-dollar bill that we missed under the register. ”

Eventually it all culminates with us getting a fat wad of cash in our pocket. It's an orgasmic rush similar to a real orgasm — sometimes better depending on how many C-notes it is. We all sit around the table and grin like foolhardy idiots. While we finally escort each other into the night's cool air, we remember what all of this toil and trouble was for in the first place: cold hard cash and the friendships that are built in that bar.

The body shots, dance parties and trim are just the icing on the cake.

Click here to read Part 1 of this series.

Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback consumes and slings drinks at a number of local establishments. He also writes a surly blog at jackgoesforth.blogspot.com. Find him on Twitter @jackgoesforth. Have a question or comment for the bartender? E-mail: bartender@styleweekly.com.

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