Special/Signature Issues » The Bar Guide

Down, Simba!

A barkeep reveals life on the other side of the screaming hordes.


You see us across the bar at night. We sling your drinks, light your cigarettes, clean up behind you and break up your fistfights. Maybe you've even slid a cocktail napkin with your number on it to one of us. Hell, maybe you've even waited until 2 a.m. and had a life-altering sexual experience with one of us (aka contracting herpes). We are your bartenders.

A different breed. We sleep by day and we keep people properly inebriated by night. Our paycheck is nonexistent and we rely only upon the generosity of you, the tipsy bar patron. We like to party, probably just as much, if not more, than you do. You see us on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, but where do we go and what do we drink when our “work week” is over? When it's Sunday and Monday, the service industry's weekend begins.

If I'm out drinking with other service industry peons, I'll give 3-1 odds that the word of the night will be, “shots?”

The next thing you will hear is, “Bushmills?”

The local service industry's shot of choice tends to ebb and flow, but from my experience as a bartender and as a sales rep for a liquor company before that, Bushmills has remained remarkably consistent as the Richmond bartender's preferred method of getting hammer canned. Jameson, Tuaca, Van Gogh Double Espresso vodka and (my personal favorite) Rumplemintz merit industry shout-outs as well.

Not that any bartenders would ever drink behind the bar because of it being illegal in the state of Virginia and all, but I've heard that some bartenders will actually slip their manager a few bucks to put an extra bottle of their favorite liquor on the ABC order and then the bartender will hide the bottle somewhere behind the bar for their own recreational use. Although I'm confident they (cough, cough) waited until after closing time to quaff any of it. …

So now we're on the way to getting drunk off Irish whiskey, but where, oh where in the Cap City do we like to drink and lament the wrong turns in life that probably forced us into bartending in the first place?

Through an informal cell-phone text survey, I've concluded that there isn't just one watering hole where the industry congregates. But some of the better responses I received were as follows:

Any night is a good night to get tanked at Empire. — Derek R., bartender at the Hard Shell

On a tube in the river because cops don't have kayaks and you can't smoke a bowl in the bars yet. — Dane A., bartender at deLux and Cha Cha's Cantina

Metro Grill because Wells Anderson is there. — Wells A., bartender at Metro Grill

Caddies (on South Side). Smelly, grimy, surly bartenders, rednecks from 1989, karaoke 7 nights a week: A little slice of heaven. — Jay P., bartender at his apartment

Star-lite or Banditos. Don't use my name in your article, douche bag.” — Some girl who bartends in the Fan

Sunday nights at deLux or Cha Cha's Cantina. One dollar tacos, cheap booze and even cheaper women. — Me (Yes, I work at Cha Cha's. Yes, I like to text myself.)

Although brief and horribly unscientific, I hope this survey gives you a small snapshot of how the other half lives. Unfortunately I write this on a Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before my shift and my “work week” begins. If you hit the bars this weekend remember these things: Good tippers will always be remembered and always be treated like gods. You can buy the bartender a shot, although you probably won't get to see him take it (unless he really doesn't give a damn about the aforementioned ABC laws). And last but not least, get a cab. I don't want to hear about you wrapping your Ford Explorer around a tree because I gave you an ill-advised 17th shot of Three Olives Grape Vodka.

Jack Lauterback, who's worked at several Richmond bars, is a bartender at Cha Cha's Cantina. He keeps a similarly surly blog at www.jackgoesforth.blogspot.com.

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