Confessions of an Irish bartender working in New York City


You listen, you nod, you laugh, you anticipate, you carefully joke back. An actor must know the audience but a bartender must be in the audience, mixing with the customers, making sure they come back again even though the show remains the same every night.

Because it’s all about that...bums on seats. Getting people in. You have to doctor the script enough so they don’t realize it’s the same as the night before and go elsewhere.

In Irish bars prices are set. Optics makes sure people get the same amount of liquor. Free drinks are rarely given.

Over here, prices are interchangeable. A good customer who stays and drinks a lot will get a nicer bill than someone who didn’t. Bar owners understand this. You have to spend money to make money.

An owner I worked for once saw a pretty girl leave the bar and called me over to make sure I let her have a few free drinks. I assured him I did.

I was lying. All her drinks were free! When she came back a week later, she was with friends. You have to know your audience.

I was once told a story by an Irish bartender over here in his late thirties, or an old veteran as we call them, despite not being old. Anyone in the business more than a few years over here tends to be an expert.

He told me a story about one of the first bars he worked in when he was in his twenties where he was noticed by an older gay gentleman. He talked to the man for a time and was taken aback when he saw the man left behind a $100 tip for two drinks.

The bartender then remembered that he never mentioned a girlfriend, or even liking girls. The customer was hoping this young Irish man played for his team.

So the next time the man came in, the bartender played up to this by being deliberately vague about his sexuality. The gay man tipped accordingly, unaware that the only thing the veteran wanted to take out of his pants was his money.

As a bartender, your best customers and biggest tippers are always other bartenders. And you are their best customers. They visit you, you visit them, the generous money going back and forth, as if we’re playing Frisbee.

I went to a birthday party at a former regular bar last week after a lengthy break. The bartender smiled as I came in. My absence was noted.

“I thought you were in rehab,” she said after giving me a hug. I smiled back, thinking well played.
The hamster keeps running so the wheel keeps moving.