Anyone working behind a bar for an extended period of time has witnessed the elastic snap of human emotion: from elation to devastation, and every bad rendition of a Journey song in between. After bartending for a couple years, I realized my perspective on the buzzing pubs and their inebriating offerings had totally changed, leading me to wonder how those who’ve been in this trade for considerably longer felt about their highest frequenting customers, the draw of the scene and their own habits with booze.

Who have you found to be at the bar an excessive amount? Why do you think that is?

Daniel, led a fine dining bar program in Denver’s Larimer square— 
"The customers that tended to spend the most time with me at the bar were usually single and middle-aged or approaching it. The older the guest was, the more they tended to stay longer and drink heavier. My best guess to explain these customers is that they were lonely and came in so often in the hopes of stumbling into a drinking partner or a new friend."

Jason, 15 years experience bartending—
"Millennials and hipsters. It's of my belief they have come around in droves because it's a part of their culture and upbringing. Their societal upbringing rather. Its’ ingrained in them that they MUST drink in order to have a social life or to be cool. Its pretty much all they know."

Aaron, 17 years split between bartending, serving and managing—
"It’s never been the sheer amount of an individual drinker, regulars can put down an outrageous amount and seem merely buzzed — and they’re there out of simple habit. It’s the people that don’t drink or normally drink at home alone that are sometimes a wreck after just a few drinks.

Groups that have been isolated that come in are usually the most trouble — like ranch hands or natural resource laborers. They plan on drinking as much as they can and pick up on every girl they see. A lot have a tolerance, but aren’t as used to being drunk in public. The biggest surprise to me when I was a young bartender was seeing how age didn't matter when it came to people acting like fools. Seeing grown 40-year-old men get in a fight over a girl and 50-year-old women showing their tits was probably the most shocking. It became not shocking very fast. …"

Johanna, 8 years bartending— 
"While it might not be a totally conscious thing, my (service) industry friends come and stay all night because it scratches an itch for camaraderie and provides a chance — to meet a cool stranger maybe —  but with no strings attached. You can shoot the shit after a long day of whatever strife in a place where people know you. No one has to extend invites or flake out. Some are just convenience friendships, some become legit close, others blossom into drunken hook-ups."

Has bartending affected the way you think of/use alcohol?

"As I crossed over from a beginner bartender to one with more experience, I found my drinking habits changed and I viewed alcohol differently over time. First, I learned the trick that it's best to order alcohol straight up; no mixers. This helped me to learn my happy zone with alcohol and how not to overuse it. I started drinking less as a result."

"Absolutely on both counts. I hate being around drunks when I'm sober, they're really fucking annoying. But I drink, so when I'm drunk I hate being around the sobers, they're boring. Sigh."

"Not really, one aspect that is weird is working at the few places that let you have a few shifty's. It seems like a good idea at first. knowing 1 or 2 will pick up your mood as long as you don't get wasted. It just doesn’t take long before your tolerance makes it 6 or 7 to lift you mood and you don’t care if you’re getting wasted."

"It’s hard to not drink at work. It’s really hard to not drink at work. I’ve gone through one long phase of sobriety and a lot of short ones. First it’s a way to keep your energy and sociability up but then you get too comfortable and sometimes even sloppy. I don’t really like it anymore, but it’s still like coffee for me, a pick-me-up. I know I’m hitting it too hard lately, but it’s a constant battle when you’re standing in a hall full of bottles."

Favorite and least favorite part of the job?

"Working with the other staff members and all the crazy stories you experience first hand working behind a bar. My least favorite part of the job was of course dealing with those customers that treated me as if I were there personal bartender and behind the bar only because they were present."

"Favorite: the creativity, the camaraderie of patrons and tenders alike. Also the agility training. Let’s be honest here, if you're behind a bar with another tender doing the bartender dance, you gotta be quick and agile. You wouldn't think it but bartending has definitely made me more swift. Dislike: Unclean atmosphere. Oh and drunks."

"Favorite part is quick easy money and cash that night. Least favorite part is the drama that is pulled into the bar’s gravity field."

"The constant stream of new friends is probably still the best part. The easiest way to meet people in a new city is being a bartender. I used to love coke customers offered me also, but after getting bad stuff and having to finish the shift, I stopped being that stupid. People are probably the worst part of it too, actually. Seeing them cry, pass out, sucker punch, etc. burns out your empathy. It can push you towards this chemically fueled self-maintenance mode that any genuine interest you had in spirits knowledge and people just dissolves."

These four takes on the occupation made me realize how different perspectives and establishments can transform a job, but certain realities remain ubiquitous. The age and incomes of regulars doesn’t seem to matter when frequency is an unconscious shot at community. Drinking makes bonding easier and bars provide a neutral space to come and experience the old and the new; friends and strangers. It seems like an effective approach if one can handle moderation and self-awareness.

A week ago I overheard someone tell their bartender that they just enjoy the taste of beer and don’t care about the buzz, he replied, “Yeah but does someone who likes tea go to a tea shop after every shift and sample for six hours?”

They both laughed and shrugged.

[originally published August 11, 2017]