All throughout Cocktail Week 2013, bartenders and spirits professionals have shared their favorite weird bar stories. To close out the week, here are tales from Charlie Bird's Grant Reynolds, Daniel's Raj Vaidya, Marea's Francesco Grosso, Corkbuzz's Morgan Harris, Polaner's Whitney Schubert, and Red Hook Winery's Darren Palace:
Raj Vaidya, chef sommelier at Daniel: I take the LIRR out to Flushing for a B.Y.O. night at a Sichuan place I like with a bunch of industry friends, a good place to drink Rieslings. After dinner, the sky opens up, and it starts to pour, so we opt to wait for our train back grabbing some beer at the nearest bar, a neon light down the block beckoning to us. A bit of an awkward vibe when we enter, but we just write that off as a clash of culture and we are a bit tipsy by this point so not easily offended anyway.
A quick round of Tsingtao in, I notice a couple of gents, the only other customers in the place, arguing in Chinese with the bartender. Seemingly they are haggling over the price of the drinks. After a bit more argument and an exchange of cash, one of the guys goes to the bathroom in the back room. The other fellow follows suit a minute later, and I am impressed that in this day, age, and neighborhood, two dudes still go to the bathroom together to do the drugs of their choice. Seems a bit 1980s to me, but I don't feel the need to judge. Instead I seize the opportunity to ask the bartender about the warm bottles of first growth Bordeaux standing on the shelf behind the bar next to the cheap cognac and try to haggle a by-the-glass price, figuring she is used to arguing about prices and that too falls in the category of "culture clash." She ain't biting. We keep sipping. It seems my attempts to haggle have pissed her off.
A beer or two goes by and she warms up again, leaning over the bar and trying to chat us up. "Is there anything you boys need tonight?" My buddy says, "No, beer we have and happy we are," but she keeps up with the pitch, finally after a couple of minutes stating, "You see, I am the mamasan here, if you need something you have to get it from me..." At this point I realize the two dudes from bar are still nowhere to be seen, and that we have been accidentally boozing in a house of ill repute. We drop some cash on the bar and make a run for it, barely making our train back to Manhattan and cracking up laughing the whole way home.
Morgan Harris, manager and sommelier at Corkbuzz Wine Studio: When I first moved to the City in 2008, I worked in a very popular, small wine bar in the low-70s. Late at night, when the dedicated drinkers were on their seventh or eighth glasses of California Cabernet or Sancerre, things tended to get a little weird.
This one night, around 7 p.m., a woman in a short, skin-tight dress with diamond earnings that probably cost more than I would make that year walks in and grabs a seat at the bar. She's that sort of indeterminate age: 45 to 62, but you don't know because she's so full of plastic and botox. By 2:30 in the morning, she's cackling and swaying all over the place.
This place only has one bathroom right by the bar, and she goes to stand in line. You can literally grab the bathroom door handle from some of these bar seats. She then slides down the wall onto her heels. I assume she's just drunkenly trying to give her feet a rest, since she's wearing five-inch Louboutins. What I don't realize is that she's squatting to pee all over the floor, but then she just gets up and goes back to her party and continues partying like nothing happened.
Now, I didn't realize she was doing this until five minutes later because I'm attending to another guest. My bar back, Valente, alerts me to the fact that there's a gigantic puddle of piss over by the bathroom door and I put two-and-two together. I don't bother confronting her, because she's just so wasted and we're close to last call anyway and because I'm a naive, well-intentioned 23-year-old. Plus, what am I supposed to tell her? "I'm sorry ma'am, is that your pee all over the floor?" Do you need some toilet paper?" Valente goes to mop it up off our Italian marble floor, and all the while the party rages on. Around 3:30 a.m., her man — Husband? Lover? Cousin? Brother? Who knows? — pulls out a personal Centurion Amex, leaves a healthy tip, and they stumble out into the night, never to be seen again. Let's just say we did a lot of cleaning that night...
Francesco Grosso, head sommelier at Marea: About 10 years ago, at a bar called Sweetwater in Williamsburg, I met my younger brother for a beer while he waited for his girlfriend to get out of work. Sweetwater is a restaurant now in the same location on North 6th Street, but it was one of the best bars to shoot pool, drink beer, and listen to one of the best curated punk and hardcore jukeboxes that ever existed. I think it was a Monday around midnight and the place was dead. If memory serves me correctly, we were the only people there and were talking to the bartender and bar back who were friends with my brother. It was winter and there wasn't much foot traffic back then, but in walks a drunk guy in his mid-twenties who had obviously been drinking all night. He bellies up to the bar and starts loudly telling a story of being dumped by his girlfriend that day, and how he needed a shot of Jameson before he goes home.
The bartender tells him no and that the bar is about to close and that he is too drunk to be served there. The guy begs and pleads, and after about 20 minutes of back and forth, the bartender gives in and tells him he will pour him one shot if he promises to leave immediately after drinking it. The shot is barely poured before the drunk knocks it back and then proceeds to let out one of the most forceful projectile vomits I have ever seen directly onto the poor bartender's shirt (I worked on the Lower East Side for four years, and saw a few). The bar back, whose name was Lucky, then tosses the drunken fool out onto the street, and after a few "Did that really just happen?" moments of dialogue, we call it a night. I learned that night to always go with your first instinct when assessing someone's level of intoxication, and you'll keep yourself clean. [Photo]
Whitney Schubert, portfolio manager for Polaner Selections: I once witnessed some impressive initiative at Nougatine at Jean Georges. I found myself sitting next to a talkative woman who informed me that she had recently divorced and was determined to find a dinner date at Jean Georges for that night! I applauded her conviction (and optimism) and went about my business. She eventually said a quick goodbye and left the bar. On my way out an hour later, I saw her entering the restaurant on the arm of a dapper fellow. I smiled and winked as she strolled by, but her attention was elsewhere. Never underestimate the power of wasabi nuts and rosemary popcorn...
Grant Reynolds, a sommelier at Charlie Bird: I recently met up with some friends at a bar across the street from Charlie Bird. It was meant to be a mellow night, a quick mid-week get together. I ordered my standard — fried rice, a Corona, and a shot of whiskey. The night was predictable. The girls would go outside for a smoke, I'd order an extra beer, and then quietly pick up the check. I've seen it happen before. To me these are the greatest nights, the times when New York feels intimate, mature, and earnest. The check was paid, beer was finished, and the last bits of ash lingered on their fingers. I was now standing, a gesture to my girlfriend, that it was alright to go.
Up until this point, we hadn't noticed the table next to us. I can only assume their night was as perfectly uninterrupted as ours. It's one of those spots you go to catch up, without the need to be seen. Then suddenly, someone screamed, "He just stole your phone!"
Without hesitation, I took off running and quickly realized I still had my phone in hand. As I passed the table next to us, I realized it was one of their phones — a woman's, a stranger's. I thought to myself, "There's no way I can catch up," but I was already running. I noticed the thief slow his stride. "Oh shit, I got him," I thought. But wait — now they were two people. I stood off with the two men, who recognized my motive. We all stared, sizing each other up, contemplating the next move. It was clear to me I was about to get pummeled on a dark Soho street. I was way out of my league, winded, and burping cerveza. I called 911. The pursuit started again as I tried to explain to the dispatcher where I was. I was on the move and so were they. For a little while, I kept up. I had lost one guy and then the second faded into a crowded Houston corner. They got away.
When I returned to tell the victim about what had happened, she accused me of somehow being in on the theft. I don't know what was more unbelievable: her nasty attitude or the fact that my fried rice cost $18.
Darren Palace, the managing cellar master of the Red Hook Winery: One story that stands out is from my early years, post-college. I had been studying on the west coast. My friends who had stayed in Jersey also seemed to have kicked it up a few notches in my absence. Coming home was always a good time. I remember the feeling of anticipation and excitement that used to consume me when we would drive over the George Washington Bridge. The glistening invitation of the city to the south, the Funk Master Flex on the radio. It honestly never got much better than those nights. I always missed the city when I was out.
We would frequent a club/lounge on 23rd street... Suede. It was the beginning of the new millennium, post-Biggie Smalls. Those nights, I would find myself eating at fine restaurants with my friends who were starting their careers as chefs or continuing their educations at the CIA in Hyde Park — not my Jersey people. I would rendezvous with my Jersey crew later in the evenings, when I was full of foie gras and wine and feeling warm and fuzzy. Back then they would always wonder why I spent time focused on food and wine, to the point of almost clowning me about it. They are all proponents of the food lifestyle now, mind you.
We would meet up next door to Suede at the dive bar, which might be called any Irish name. It was the homogenous local NYC pub. We would have a Bud bottle and a shot of Jack Daniels. Jameson really hadn't been on our radars back then. This was our meeting place because, mind you, this really was before everyone had cellphones. I know it is hard to imagine what life was like without them. If we had them back in those days, it would probably make remembering things much easier, because we could all just refer back to the photos we had taken that night. We were waiting to see if we were on the guest list for that night. Suede had become a hang out for a who's who in the music industry. If we were on the guest list, we would get a VIP table because of my friend Anthony. Anthony is a dear friend and Anthony had recently taken over his father's business at that time. Suede was a client of Anthony's. Anthony is in the environmental services business, a leading provider of solid waste removal, or "carting" as it is better known.
Suede was a fantastic place, but they managed to get a little behind in their monthly payments, and in turn, we got to sit next to Russian "models" and their millionaires and new "it" celebrities. The early 2000s were not bad for Champagne-drinking and 1999 Cristal was the weapon of choice up in da club. All I know is that the monthly costs of waste removal must have been staggeringly high. Suede was special because it wasn't quite a club but you were legally allowed to dance there. Most people don't know that technically you need a cabaret license to have a dance party in your establishment...
It was a good night so far. Some German tycoon who was very "Sprockets" lost most of his female entourage to us on the dance floor. The robot moves somehow didn't fly with the flow of 50 Cent's "P.I.M.P." His tinker-tok seemed even worse when Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins started the "Get Low" serenade. But the German models sure knew how to drop down to the floor. Epic is a strong word for how the cards were being played out in our favor.
As the evening wore on, we ended up procuring a bartender to cater to our alcohol needs, whom later became wife to Anthony (true). The bouncers had started to kick out the German contingent to make way for someone. We didn't feel nervous because we had carte blanche privileges, but I was somewhat tired and because I am not a fan of chemical induced second winds, I decided on an Irish goodbye. With visions of hot black and white cookies in my mind, and a yearning for a sesame bagel loaded with cream cheese from H&H (a straight shot on my way to the West Side Highway), I departed for the exit.
The funny thing about Suede is that it wasn't very big. There was only one door and you entered and exited in the same direction. I grabbed my belongings and was fussing over my American Spirits, almost oblivious to the four stunning video vixens marching by me in fluid rhythmic motion. I also missed the two six foot plus, 250-pound hired linemen, who were probably brandishing licensed heavy metal. I had just put the charcoal filter end to my mouth as I raised my head to a violent smack of chest to chest contact and sunglasses to corrective lens abutment. My cigarette flying in pieces, I gathered my senses to focus. Emotions ignited by alcohol started telling my body to emit a vocal squall upon my aggressor... but I shut my mouth fast. I was red from all the blood rushing to my face. I uttered the F word like I was the kid from A Christmas Story.
Puffy, actually P. Diddy in those years, was a gentleman. He looked at me like I had just punched him, which I guess was not too far from what had happened. "Mr. Combs, I am sorry," I sort of muttered. I felt a steam bath on my back from the breath of the two bodyguard mountains that were at that moment putting their hands over my shoulders. "Accidents happen." Like it was a loop off of one of his platinum R and B singles. I started to breathe and I started to wonder why I was not in the middle of 23rd Street, thrown out dodging taxis on my ass. "Nice sweatshirt," says Diddy. "No way," I am thinking. Living in other parts of the country I would find myself buying clothes in NY and keeping my fashion roots loyal to the home front. That night I was wearing my charcoal gray Sean Jean Hoodie. Diddy had noticed and given me a pass, even though I had run up on him.
The next few hours were sort of a haze. I did not leave the establishment. Don't get me wrong: I didn't join the table with P. Diddy, but we did cheers each other and danced the rest of the night away while our teams of friends co-mingled in the VIP area. A few hours later, I was venturing home, sober driving after filling up on Famous Ray's or Original Ben's or one of the Famous Original's, watching the sun rise over the blurred lights of the world's best city
I don't have much fashion sense nowadays and I am mostly covered in fermenting grape juice at this time of year. But I do still have that sweatshirt.
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