Bartenders are submarine captains of the psyche, working long hours in cramped conditions, dealing with vastnesses of liquid and pressure to plunge into those long dark voids of time, space, and psychology that to all others remain unknown. But with submarine captains it’s because no-one else has ever been. In the bar it’s just that no-one else remembers.
And I met the worst one in the world.
Note that being ignored, shortchanged, or punched by a bartender doesn’t they’re bad. It means they’re making their shift easier, more profitable, or easier again, and if a bartender punches you I guarantee it’s your fault. True, sometimes that fault is “entering a bar while non-local” but you need to be aware of that. Too many people treat bartenders as servants. The bartender is instead an extremely generous lord allowing you into their castle: you may request whatever you want, and they will work to make your stay pleasant, but disrespect them at your peril.
A while back I wrote about the excellent Professor Elemental, and thanks to the real rule 1 of the internet – “Assume everyone can always see everything” – he read it. We talked, we interviewed, and after one of his shows we retired to the green room. When that ran out of having drink and being in an open club, we went elsewhere.
To the worst bar in the world.
UK bars have a traditional two-word naming scheme, either double-noun (“The Lamb and Flag”, “The Elephant and Castle”, “The Non and Sequitur”) or adjective-noun (“The Leaky Cauldron”, “The Prancing Pony”, “The Twee Naming-strategy”). This bar could only handle one word in the name, and it was an adjective, and I was honestly surprised it was spelled right.
The only other customers in the place were a very loud table playing “I never”, a classic college drinking game where you claim you’ve never done something, and then anyone who has has to drink. It’s a turbocharger for college drinking, admissions about sex, getting the subject onto sex, and sex. It’s usually played in first year. I’d never seen it played by a table of thirty-somethings before, but it looked like it had taken them that long to learn enough words to play it. When everyone involved has clearly grown up within ten miles of each other, and has been that close for the last ten generations, it’s hard to have original experiences. We’re talking “I’ve never had more than one copy of each gene in my family tree”. Still, they seemed to be having fun.
Two AM on was Thursday night in an estate bar about a mile from anywhere is nice and peaceful. We commented on this in a positive way and the barman thought “Aha! Fellow racists!” Though ‘thought’ may be too strong a word. I think it’s standard opener. Out of nowhere he angrily explained that the lack of custom wasn’t due to the weekly cycle of work, his bar’s location somewhere slightly less central than the Kuiper belt, or the fact it was passing 1 AM on a weeknight, but because everyone thinks it’s a damn Polish bar! It’s not! It’s a good English bar!
If I’d been on my own this would have set my conversation for the night. My favorite topics would suddenly have become
- the effects of the Earth’s magnetic fields
- Formula One and the importance of a good qualifying time in getting the optimum starting position
- the amazing destinations of Ernest Shackleton
- the cosmic beauty of Alpha Ursae Minoris
- exotic dancers employing vertical rods for acrobatic maneuvers
Which wouldn’t have been hard, many of those being subjects I’m quite fond of already. I discussed talking about an ex-girlfriend of mine called Malgosia, but her surname would have reduced him to inarticulate choking, because that’s the closest he could have gotten to pronouncing it. As well as being his reaction to dating a Pole. As it was I was actually there with someone worth talking to, so we tried to move on by turning to the drinks.
Well, drink. Almost all the taps had gone dry. Which, if you know anything about bartending, is a hundred times worse than walking into a dentist’s and seeing rusty instruments, because a dentist can only ruin the contents of one person’s face at a time. The bar was quieter than a morgue after the rapture, but this barman still found the steps to the cellar an insurmountable challenge. When if a barman can’t be bothered to even connect the kegs, their lines are likely cleaned only by passing ice ages. As long as something yellow and beery was pouring he considered his job done. Everyone in that bar is damn lucky he’s too short to fill the glasses at crotch level.
We all know racists are stupid, but I swear the following is not a joke. This is not an exaggeration. Elemental asked for a gin and tonic, and the barman had to double back and check what he wanted and how to make it.
Not a joke.
That’s why truth is stranger than fiction. No-one would imagine anything that stupid and expect to be believed. I think it’s because you have to turn off so many of your higher functions to be racist that it leaves you crippled for everything else. Gin and tonic isn’t just a cocktail, it’s a complete ingredients list and mixing instruction. The other drinks were no better. I tried the only tap that was still working, and the beer was so bad I considered explaining the crotch-fill strategy to the bartender after all. Seeking spiritual assistance I saw that there were only ten bottles, they were all on optics, and three of them were Malibu. Nothing wrong with a bit of coconut rum, but bars aren’t meant to give 30% of their spiritual capacity to Malibu, they’re meant to use it to spot underage drinkers. And by this point the only other people in the bar had managed to turn a “I never” into “I have never started a screaming match in a bar because of a fun party game”, and then lose at it.
So what did Elemental and I do? Well, we drank and had a great time.
After all, it was a bar.