ADVENTURES IN BEERLAND
is a two time winner of
the Quill and Tankard
writing award from the
North American Guild of
Vince's column is now
a regular feature of
The Day The Bar Stood Still
It’s not easy being a bartender; they just wear so many hats. They’re the customers’ temporary pharmacist albeit
with a limited pharmacy, best friend to every drunk, professional babysitter, part time psychologist, vigilant security
guard, and insightful arbiter of political, domestic, sports, work, and of course the most pressing world issues.
They’re the subject of songs, poems, and even baseball home run calls. My favorite is the one from ESPN Radio’s
Neil Everett describing back-to-back home runs - “ "Matt Carpenter goes deep to lead off the game. Carlos Beltran
wants in on the fun, BARTENDER! ONE SHOT AIN'T ENOUGH!"
Through it all the bartender has to keep smiling, be helpful, dutifully serve, and of course, be polite. Or else. The
logic behind the “or else” is indisputable. The bartender is the face of the establishment. To every customer bellying
up for a drink the person behind the taps represents management, ownership, and the most important entity, the
bank that holds the note. If he brings in customers and keeps them gleefully spending money everyone is happy. If
that doesn’t happen the bartender is given the heave ho-ho-ho. I once knew a bartender who was infamous for
standing around while people sat with empty glasses. When he got fired he claimed it was because the manager of
the place got jealous. People started thinking he was the manager.
Excellent bartenders often develop a personal following, customers who become regulars mainly because of the
service they receive. A big part of that service is being welcomed to the pub by name. People get a feeling of
comfort. Nothing matches the homey warmth of entering a pub and having the bartender greet you by name; a
friendly “hello Joe” does the trick every time. Of course if your name is actually Mary all bets are off.
A good professional bartender can put a name to a face for over two hundred of his customers. Don’t ask me where
I heard that, I can’t seem to remember. Right, I don’t bartend. Then again my memory isn’t all that bad; I can tell you
exactly what I ordered the last four hundred and seventy six times I was in a bar. Beer.
Great bartenders not only know your name but also your preferred drink. We craft beer folk however make it hard
on them. There are just too many choices of beer; too many styles; too many options to match thirst and mood.
However it’s not too difficult for them when it comes to whiskey drinkers. If someone is a Johnny Walker Black person
they’re probably always a Johnny Walker Black person. If they’re a vodka martini or Black Russian devotee they’re
going to order it every time. It’s also true for wine drinkers, or at least one I know, my friend Leo. He is a wine
expert’s expert. Ask him about some vintage and you will surely get more information than anyone could possibly
know and far more than you wanted. “Yes, this is it’s a 1958 Cabernet for the north side of the third mountain on the
southwestern side of the vineyard with grapes planted in April by a left handed farmer.” Well of course it is, thanks
Leo. Despite his encyclopedic wine knowledge and his appreciation for all things of the grape, Leo has one favorite
wine and that’s all anyone who hangs out at his favorite watering hole, The Libertine Pub, has ever seen him drink.
At the Libertine, Leo is a regular’s regular. He has been there so often and tipped so generously that he has
justifiably achieved celebrity status. You know someone is a bar celebrity when their drink hits the bar before their
rear end does the same to the stool. Leo hasn’t actually ordered anything for years; the bartender knows exactly
what to pour.
I’ve been to the Libertine many a time and have marveled at the fact that Leo’s glass is always waiting for him and
how it’s always filled to a level worthy of a middle range potentate He gets what we other less influential regulars call
“The Big Pour”. And of course since he gets more liquid than anyone else it is served it in the largest wine glass in
the place, one which could easily substitute for an Oktoberfest liter sized Maß in a pinch. For the record, Leo never
asked for such treatment. He is a most modest and unassuming gentleman. It’s just something that fits a person
who makes the Dos Equis ‘Most Interesting Man InThe World’ look, well, uninteresting. After all, Leo’s the guy whose
passport requires no picture, who when he drives a car off the lot, its price increases in value, and if he were to pat
you on the back, you would list it on your resume.
Being a most gregarious chap Leo always greets just about everyone in the pub while he sits which in turn means he
never glances down at his glass. To retrieve his drink Leo blindly extends his hand and amazingly it is always
successful in finding his vino. The glass, by the way, is always put 6.4 inches from the edge. Why exactly 6.4
inches? Because that’s where Leo likes it. The process is a marvel of synergy between bartender, beverage, and
drinker with nary a drop ever having been spilled.
Needless to say a large part of the credit for the cohesiveness of this impressive ritual belongs to the Libertine’s
regular bartender Rachel. She is widely considered by the unofficial “Libertine Regulars Brigade” to be one of the
truly gifted ones. Then one day, to great surprise and dismay, she wasn’t there for reasons unknown. Asked to
take over as the new bartender in Rachael’s prime Thursday and Friday working slots was the Libertine’s other star
behind the bar who works on Monday and Tuesday nights, Eva. Since I’m a Tuesday regular I can attest that she
too is great at her craft. I can also attest to the fact that she didn’t know Leo at all nor did Leo know her. Leo you
see is not a Monday or Tuesday kind of guy; he barely allows Wednesday on his calendar.
Eva was quite busy on her first ever Friday shift when I arrived at the LIbertine. A few minutes later Leo strolled in
and headed for his usual seat. Everything was as it should be except that except on this singular Friday, Leo, for the
first time, was just another customer. The world of the Libertine was about to stand still.
Leo sat down, back to the bar, nodded hello and, congenial as always, chatted with those around him. Then, for at
least the two thousandth time at the Libertine, he slowly rotated his shoulders and reached his hand back. His first
grasp brought nothing but air. He reached again only this time a few inches farther back. More air. As a man of
patience and fortitude, he tried again, this time sweeping his hand in small increments from left to right. This time his
effort’s only reward was a small, damp, crumpled napkin. As the hushed bar looked on, Leo, having no choice,
turned to look for the glass that wasn’t there.
“Leo”, I said, “Rachael isn’t here tonight. That’s Eva. She has no idea about your wine.” Leo sat quietly, calmly
looking ahead barely hearing Eva say, “what would you like, sir?” He was either in clinical shock or in the throes of
wine deprivation. Or both. He mumbled something that to some sounded like ‘fine’ but to others was clearly an
explicative from one of the six languages Leo was known to be fluid in. We then waited for his righteous explosion; it
Leo simply sat there. In silence. Could it be that after all these years he had forgotten what to order?
“Ah, wine” Leo blurted out using muscle memory.
“Yes sir, what kind?” Eva had upped the ante.
“Red”. Leo was down but fighting back.
“What kind of Red, sir?” Eva’s gloves were off.
“Pinot Noir” said Leo, using a bottle sitting a few feet away from him as a teleprompter.
The wine was poured and placed in front of him. To Leo’s surprise it not only was a small glass but it had a very un-
Leo like pour, barely reaching the half way point. Compounding this fiasco, the glass was placed at an
indeterminate distance from our venerable Oenophile. Several people watching this unfold began looking around
for Rod Sterling as they wondered which episode of the Twilight Zone they had inadvertently wandered into.
Being ever sympathetic and empathic to the downtrodden, I told Leo I would use my cache with Eva to explain
exactly who he was and how she could correct the situation. He politely refused my offer. Leo was going to tough
it out. And that’s exactly what he did for three additional refills of the minuscule glass.
This went on for weeks. Each and every time Leo not only ordered the same wine but was sure to include its
vineyard, style, and year. He then politely waited for his glass, looking for it every time. And even more, when
leaving always said goodbye to Eva along with a sincere smile and large tip.
So regular was the process that most of us began to accept it too, which by the way, doesn’t mean we liked it. Leo
might be a wine guy, but he was our wine guy; he had beer in his soul. Still, if he was sanguine about the new reality
who were we to cause a scene. After all, Eva was the bartender and the prime directive in dealing with any
bartender is they are always right.
Another Friday rolled around and I greeted Leo as he sat next to me, “Hey, Leo, ready to order, heh, heh.” Okay, so
I was being a wise guy; that’s what friends are for. A small almost imperceptible smile crossed his face as turned to
me and nodded hello. In the same instant his hand reached behind his back and with a Houdini like flourish Leo
produced a glass of wine with which he toasted to my good health. I looked behind the bar. No, Rachael had not
returned, Eva was still our Friday bartender.
I had to ask, “Leo, what’s going on?
“Ah, some things just take time, my friend. Let me buy you a beer. Why don’t you call Eva over so you can order.”
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