Bars, Books and Covers

We all know not to judge a book by its cover but is it the same for bars? It depends, of course, on what you’re looking for and one man’s hovel might be another’s castle.

There are some places that will look more inviting than others but it is a matter of taste. I’ll steer away from places with shiny, modern fronts, too much chrome, marble and exposed ducts. Even the decor’s louder than the suited hoorays and heehaws that frequent them.

Doppelganger pubs are not my style, either, y’know, the ones done up as a wild west saloon, a Mexican cantina or, horror of horrors, an Irish pub that’s often as Irish as a flat pint of bitter. As for hipster pubs, well, they do get points for trying hard but those points get subtracted for trying too hard, too.

No, the old fashioned boozer has an unassuming look to it, slightly worn, frayed at the edges but lovingly cared for and quiet and dedicated in the delivery of its product.IMG_3234

The wily Guinness drinker is often the most discerning of pub afficianados. He, or indeed, she, will not be sold on fancy decor, illuminated signs or garden furniture. No, what they want to know is the quality of the pint, how often and how well it’s poured. To determine that they’ll cross any threshold and with a quick sweep of the bar, its full, half drained and empty glasses, they will have taken in all they need to know. And if the pint doesn’t pass that sight test, they’ll never darken that door again.

That said, I broke all those rules the other day when, afflicted by a sudden thirst, I took refuge in a well known city bar famous for its traditional music sessions. It was mid-afternoon, so it wasn’t busy. That was my first mistake. The only person in the bar before me was drinking a bottle of Corona and reading a paper. The barman was working his phone. That wasn’t a good sign.

When he tore himself away from his digital snapchat, I ordered a pint of Guinness. Now a good pint should take as much as 120 seconds for the perfect pour and let’s face it, this chap wasn’t run off his feet and I was certainly not going anywhere in a hurry. Despite that, my pint was delivered with undue haste and slopped (no exaggeration) before me, looking like it had dressed in the dark, was wearing odd socks and hadn’t combed its hair. Indeed, it’s head had a depressed, concave shape. I stared at it with horror, looked at the barman who had already returned to his phone and then turned around, in disgust, without paying for it, let alone drinking it.

Five minutes later, I was sitting in Frank Ryan’s of Queen St and happily, order was restored. The barman, there, poured his pint with dignity, no haste and plenty of respect. And there wasn’t a phone in sight, at least, not while he was looking after business.

The strange thing was, I reflected quietly, in enjoyment of the pint in front of me, was that both pubs, within a short distance of each other and both with reputations as good, traditional houses and a history to match, were as alike as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders; one, all show and little substance, the other, righteous and respectful, if a tad shabby, but who’s quibbling?

Music in the local, Nightmare or Nirvana

night1There are two kinds of people who drink in bars; those who like music and those who don’t. I grew up in a world where the thought of a band or a jukebox were considered sacrilege in a pub and the electronic beep of a one armed bandit or the ring and ding of a pinball machine were considered the rhythmic flap and beat of the flames of hell.

In that same world, no-one batted an eye when someone stuck a finger in their ear and struck up a come all ye, usually about the wicked ways of drink and faithless women, or men.

It’s all there in the songs, whether it’s folk, country, blues or jazz. One of the classics is from Frank Sinatra’s For Only the Lonely, Capitol Records album. The song is called ‘One for my Baby’. On the Live from The Sands album, Sinatra offers his own explanation for the song, ‘drunk songs are set in small bars or bistros in the wee hours of the morning and they’re talked or sung by a fella who’s got problems, like his broad flew the coop with another guy and all the bread, so, if you will assume the position of a bartender, this the way these guys behave…the classic, tinkling piano intro and those magic words, ‘it’s quarter to three, there’s no-one in the place, ‘cept you and me.’http://www.lyricsfreak.com/f/frank+sinatra/one+for+my+baby_20055223.html

And Hank Williams could not have put it any better with ‘There’s a tear in my beer’, when he sang, ‘there’s a tear in my beer, ‘cos I’m crying for you, dear, you are on my lonely mind.’http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/hankwilliams/theresatearinmybeer.html

Shane McGowan of The Pogues took a different stance on this, in ‘Streams of Whiskey’, when his protagonist encounters Brendan Behan in a dream who offers him advice on how to deal with life’s travails and then concludes, ‘there’s nothing ever gained by a wet thing called a tear, when the world is too dark and I need a light inside of me, I’ll walk into a bar and drink fifteen pints of beer.’Pogues – Streams Of Whiskey Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Of course, there is the ‘in vino, veritas’ argument, too.

My personal favourite is Rosie Flores’ simple and succinct toast to bars and music in her rockabilly classic, ‘This Ol’ Honky Tonk’, from Dancehall Dreams, ‘here’s to the bar room and here’s to your dreams, you can bury all your worries in the honky tonk scene, your heart has a home, if you’re feeling all alone, just forget all your troubles, tonight, this ol’ honky tonk makes it alright.https://www.musixmatch.com/lyrics/Rosie-Flores/This-Ol-Honky-Tonk

All this musing was prompted last night while I sat, alone, at the bar of The Thomas House in Dublin’s Liberties and listened to the deejay spin old punk, pub rock and ska classics from my youth, to a bar full of people with an average age in the mid 20s, and I didn’t feel alone. I had conversations with a couple of people and exchanges laughs and jokes with a few others.

People choose their pubs for the company they can meet there and often, their decision is tempered by the music they’ll hear. If you like to natter when you’re in a pub, don’t go to pubs for hard line folk fans or jazz enthusiasts. If you like heavy metal, avoid country honky tonks or easy listening, pop joints. It’s a horses for courses situation.

In my teenage years I often went to folk clubs and bars where the insistent jeer of ‘ciúnas‘ (quiet) was part of the territory, however annoying. If you want to hear great singers sing great songs, find those pubs. If you want to hear the blues, find a blues club or pub and so on.

All publicans know that music draws customers and happy customers buy drinks. It’s a simple equation, or so it seems but if the balance is wrong, it’s a recipe for disaster.

 

Have I no compassion?

In my job I deal with the public, every day and in every mood and circumstance. A man, or a woman,image walks into a bar and most of us know a punchline that could round off that statement with a laugh.

But why do we walk into bars? For a whole variety of reasons, I can tell you. Some people are thirsty and want a drink. Others are tired and want to take the weight off their feet. Some want to use the toilets. Others are hungry and figure a bar is a good place to have a decent, no nonsense meal in congenial surroundings.

Those are some of the most obvious reasons but they barely scratch the surface. Yesterday, a lady came in to the bar because she’d just come from an interview and signed a contract to work in the health industry in Abu Dhabi. Delighted with her good fortune, she treated herself to a glass of wine and a light snack. She spent most of her afternoon there, sharing the news of her good fortune with family and friends, on her cell phone. She had a heavy bag with her and asked me for directions to her hotel. In the end, she had another glass of wine and decided to take a taxi to her hotel. We had a laugh and I congratulated her on her good fortune.

But while she was enjoying her good fortune, another regular but unwelcome visitor, one of our local street beggars and hustlers, was not having a good time and decided to share his discomfort with some of our guests who’d chosen to sit outside, in the spring sunshine. Now they were all sitting within our licensed seating area, separated from the street by a wind breaking glass and metal barrier. I intercepted him before he shuffled to the first table, his open hand, outstretched. This happens every day and sometimes, several times a day. He walked away.

As he left, a young man in a mobility scooter, arrived and I opened the door to facilitate his entry. He asked me to find him a table, which I did. It turned out he could walk but only with assistance and only then, very slowly. He parked his scooter beside the table I found for him. Then he asked me to help him to the toilet. Unfortunately, as our bar is in an old building, there are no facilities for disabled people and the toilets are down two flights of stairs. So I walked with him to the stairs. He held my arm, as tightly as he could, with both his hands. He was a determined young man. We got down the stairs and I helped him to the toilet and stood outside, waiting for him to finish. When he’d completed his ablutions, I helped him back upstairs and to his table. All this time we carried on a conversation about the pub and the kind of food he might have. He was interested in eating something that was popular and particularly Irish, maybe some fish. But after I’d told him about our fish pie, our salmon dishes and the beer battered fish and chips, he settled on Beef and Guinness stew. Intrigued by the notion of stout in a dish, he asked me some detailed questions about the makeup of the dish and, in the end, he loved it, washed down with a couple of glasses of Guinness.

No sooner had he left when I was confronted by a woman who’d walked in, off the street and who asked me, ‘have you no compassion?’

The subject of her rage was our homeless vagrant friend, mentioned earlier, who had by now curled up, asleep, in the street, directly across the road from the bar. Why did I not help him? Why did I not call an ambulance?

I explained to her, with all the patience and goodwill I could muster, that I knew the person in question, that I’d already had an encounter with him and that he was simply sleeping.

She didn’t like that. No, she had done volunteer work, she was a Christian, she would never pass a person lying in the street without inquiring about their welfare. So I told her the same person’s regular spot on the street was standing by the ATM, intimidating lone females, that occasionally he tries doing the same with our customers and just the previous week had threatened me with a bottle. But that’s all in a day’s work, I told her and if she felt compelled to be concerned for his well being, she could go right ahead. My job was keeping this chap from bothering my customers. And though she seemed a little dazed by my response, she accepted it. I wondered why the burden of this exchange had fallen to me and not the manager on duty, who had pointed her in my direction. And ten minutes later I wished she had hung around to see two junkies fight over a spot by the ATM and I stood watching, helpless and hoping they didn’t come my way.

In many ways and for a whole raft of reasons, you can say, it’s all in a day’s work and these are the things you have to deal with. You don’t sign up for fun and games, 24/7. First, you have to make that possible, so you scrub and clean and prepare. And always remember, no matter how much you prepare, people will and do surprise you. Take Trip Advisor, for example. It’s a great idea, on paper and it does help a lot of travellers as it’s other travellers, sharing their experiences. But somewhere down the road, that has changed or is changing. For a start, angry customers are the most likely to write reviews and they will, inevitably, be bad. Never mind that you’ve served 99 satisfied customers (who haven’t written about it in Trip Advisor), it’s that one customer who has had a bad experience, who will. The trick is, of course, don’t have dissatisfied customers and that, in my experience, is impossible. But that’s a story for another day.

My final tale is about a customer I encountered on a sunny, summer evening, last year. Himself and his three companions had had a few drinks. They were happy, getting a little messy but manageable. Then one of them went off to a local shop and bought a stash of peanuts and crisps. Now, since we don’t sell either of these items and have a full menu of decent meals available for customers, I felt this was taking a liberty and setting a bad example/precedent for other customers. So, I told them so, respectfully, and asked them not to eat their snacks on the premises, pointing out there were plenty of snack options available on the menu. They didn’t argue and put their snacks away. Or so I thought. Five minutes later I was walking by their table when one of them suddenly slumped over their table, clutching his throat while one of his female companions began to scream and shake him.

I ran over and took a look. There was an open packet of peanuts on the table and the man was having trouble breathing. In fact, his face was such a high colour, it was turning from puce to an angry blue. The girl was still screaming and his other companion was staring at his friend, slack jawed. I pushed the man upright in his seat, got both my arms around his abdomen, under his arms. Then, my hands joined in a fist, I jerked forward, driving my joined fist into that space at the centre of his abdomen, below his ribs. He sputtered and coughed out the peanut I suspected was caught in his oesophagus . His female friend stopped screaming and sobbed, silently. The other one still stared, slackjawed. Not a word was said and they left, five minutes later. Did they say, thank you? No.

So, regarding the question of whether I have any compassion? I must answer, yes. Whether that’s a good thing, I don’t know, anymore.

Tipping is not a town in China

Tipping is often a contentious issue and regardless of what people tell you, there is no standard rule.

Everyone likes some measure of appreciation for what they do, whether it’s praise,  a pat on the back, a thank you or a fiver in your pocket; it’s all appreciated. Now I’ve spent time travelling in North America, Europe and Australia but not so much in Asia or Africa. I’ve been to every country in Europe except the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden or Iceland. One thing I’ve learned is there is no country where people don’t tip. The only difference is the frequency and quantity, tipped.

Equally, through my experience both as a consumer and a service industry worker, whether as a bartender or a waiter, I know of no hard and fast rule as far as tipping is concerned although I do know there are some people who tip and some who don’t.

I always try to tip someone and I work on a simple measure of 10%, as a base and then, based on the level or quality of service delivered, I might pay over the odds. That’s pretty much a standard with people who work or have worked in the service industry; they know what it’s like.

On the other hand, I’ve often railed against the practice in the United States, in particular, where tipping is a required imperative and measured in precise mathematical terms, somewhere between 15 and 20%. Now, as a waiter and bartender, part of me wishes this was standard practice in Ireland, too but what I rail against is the absence of any discretionary choice for the consumer; it’s pay the money, regardless.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I understand the mechanics of the argument. In the United States, service industry workers are paid minimum wage and the bulk of their income derives from tips or gratuities. In addition, the often tightly structured work chain involves a maitre-d’, waiters, busboys and kitchen staff and while the maitre-d’ might be seen to pocket the big dough, he or she will have the others in the chain to look after, too. So the waiter looks after the busboys and someone might throw something in for the kitchen staff along the way.

In Ireland, even if you’re working at minimum wage, it is, arguably, a living wage but that doesn’t exclude tipping. Ask anyone in the Irish service industry and they’ll tell you their life would be a whole lot harder if they weren’t getting tips. It’s a whole lot harder to maintain a pleasant demeanour and a welcoming smile if you don’t feel your work is being appreciated. It’s a whole lot harder to maintain and deliver the type of service you’d like to get yourself, if all you can look forward to is a sullen shrug and an empty pocket.

And ask anyone in the service industry if they’ve ever heard a tourist tell them they were told not to tip in Ireland. Now that’ll open a rage of fury because that instruction or advice is given to visitors. I’ve even heard people, Irish people, tell visitors that, right in front of me, as though they’re imparting some magnificent insight of arcane knowledge about Ireland of the Welcomes. These same people are usually those who will regale their new found tourist friends with cringe inducing broguery while slugging back the drinks their bought, as though they’re monkeys getting fed with nuts at the zoo.

While there is no hard and fast rule, some nationalities tip better than others. Irish people, I find, are good tippers when they get good service. Not all of them, of course, some Irish people never tip but I remember, as a child on family holidays, how my father would slip a coin, with surreptitious dexterity, into the hands of a grateful waiter. Strangely, southern Europeans, particularly Spanish and Italians, are notoriously bad tippers. The French don’t tip. Germans do tip but rarely, generously. The English, as a general rule, do tip and often tip well. When I worked in London pubs in the 1970s, many customers liked to ‘buy’ the bartender a drink. This often happens in Ireland, too. Of course, as the staff cannot drink on duty, it is customary to say, ‘thanks, I’ll have it when I finish work’ and then pocket the price of the drink. Canadians don’t tip, as a general rule and Australians are the same. Americans do tip and tip well.

Having said that, I’ve been tipped well by French, Spanish, Italian, German, Canadian and Australian customers. I’ve had parties of Americans spend as much as €174, hand me €175 and wait for the €1 change. This latter happens more regularly than you might suppose or imagine.

Visitors often ask me what is the tipping protocol in Ireland? and I give them the same answer, every time. I tell them to ask if there is a ‘service charge’ on their bill. Service charges are often added to bills – anything between 10 and 12½% – that never see their way into the pockets of the service employee. If there isn’t a service charge, then use 10% as a jump off point and then measure the level of service you’ve received – attentiveness, speed and standard of delivery, demeanour etc – and pay more, at your discretion. If a customer asks me if there’s a tipping policy related to where I work, I tell them there is no service and that tipping, while entirely at the discretion of the customer, is greatly appreciated. The trick, I’ve found, is expect nothing so you’re never surprised.

A young couple sat together in the place where I work. They ordered a pint of Guinness and a glass of wine. As the evening progressed, I paid occasional visits to their table when I spotted their drinks depleting to a point where a refill might be in order. They were deep in conversation and we engaged in some banter. They drank three more rounds and appeared merrily on the bright side of tipsy when they asked for their bill, which amounted to €45.60. I left them to count it out and returned later to scoop a pile of assorted notes and coins from the table. It amounted to €58.60, so I returned to them with their change, assuming they may, in their tipsiness and unfamiliarity with the currency – they were both English – have made a mistake.

‘No such thing,’ they told me, smiling, ‘that’s all for you and thank you.’

The Perfect Pint

IMG_3899IMG_1542IMG_1744You always know a serious Guinness drinker, the minute they walk in the door. First, their priority is not the people they’ve come to meet or where they’ll find a seat. Second, they won’t be too concerned about the surroundings, the bar’s decor or atmosphere. No, what they’re looking for is the state of the pint of Guinness.

They want to know how frequently the Guinness is being poured. They want to know the state of those pints, as in, how well are they being poured.

So let’s say, our man (or woman) walks into your bar. His eyes will sweep the room, table and bar level, although he’ll concentrate on the bar as this is where he (or she) would sit. Why? So they can keep an eye on the pour and the Guinness gets to them as quickly as possible and doesn’t sit around, waiting for someone to deliver it.

I poured my first pint of Guinness in 1966. I was 10 and it was in my uncle’s bar in Sligo town, Co Sligo. Back then, pouring a pint of draught Guinness was an even more complicated affair than it is today. The glass tilt (45°) remains the same. Back then, though, a pint was poured in three stages, compared with two, today. It was an elaborate process, watched with studied attention by my uncle’s regulars. I felt it was like a rite of passage. The second part of the process, then, brought the pour to the top, when the bartender would take a swipe and smooth the creamy head across the top of the glass. A further ‘settling’ ensued. The final ‘topping off’ brought the gleaming, creamy smooth head ‘proud’ of the glass, lending it a mildy elevated dome shape.

So here, according to Guinness Master Brewer, Fergal Murray, are the six stages of pouring a perfect pint of Guinness,

Step One: The Glass

“The bartender takes a dry, clean glass, which should be a 20-ounce tulip pint glass,” Murray says. “The internal aerodynamics of a tulip glass allows the nitrogen bubbles to flow down the sides of the glass, and the contour ‘bump’ in the middle pushes the bubbles back to the center on their way up.”

Step Two: The Angle

“The glass should be held at a 45-degree angle under the tap. The tap faucet should not touch the tulip glass or beer. If you just hold it straight under the faucet, you’ll get a big block of bubbles and a fish eye.”

Step Three: The Pour

“Let the beer flow nice and smoothly into the angled glass and fill it up three-quarters of the way.”

Step Four: The Head

“Let it settle. On the way through the faucet, the beer passes through a five-hole disk restrictor plate at a high speed, creating friction and bringing out nitrogen bubbles. The bubbles are agitated now — they can’t go back into the solution, so they flow down the interior sides and back up the middle — but they can’t escape. So they build this wonderful, creamy head on top. It’s like an architect building a strong foundation.”

Step Five: The Top-Off

“Once it settles, you want to fill up the glass and top it off. You allowed it to settle, you created a domed effect across the top of the pint, and now your head is looking proud over the glass. That’s the perfect vision of the perfect pint.”

Step Six: The First Sip

“You drink with your eyes first. The cosmetic look of the pint is critical to the Guinness experience. We don’t want anybody just putting liquid in a glass. And finally, drink responsibly.”

(Source: http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/how-to/a2763/guinness031207/)

Now, all this might be dismissed as a whole load of marketing baloney but not if you drink Guinness, particularly in Dublin. Or Ireland. But you can get a bad pint, anywhere. In the end, it depends on the pour.

Take the three pints at the top of this article. The first one was poured in a pub in Roscommon, beside the Shannon river. The second was poured in a Dublin city centre pub, The Long Hall and the third and a ‘bad pour’, was slopped up in a pub that carries the name of the beer and brewery’s founder, Arthur Guinness and stands on the corner of the same street where the famous black beer has been brewed for more than 200 years.

I could say, if you have to ask what’s wrong with it, you’ve no business drinking it or you’ve got what you deserve. But it isn’t what a true pint of Guinness deserves. This pint was poured in a hurry, not allowed to settle and then topped off, badly. Look at the head; it’s flat at the top of the glass.

Which brings us back, neatly, to our friend who walks into a bar scanning the pub for signs of pint pour activity. What’s he looking for?

New pints with good heads, plenty of them and a few, half drunk, that’s what. This will give him most of the information he needs, short of watching the pour, him (or her) self. And the half drunk pint? That can be the real giveaway because, y’see, as every pint drinker will tell you, a good pint, poured well, in the right glass, will hold its head intact for the length of the glass, leaving a trail of concentric circles of residue, right to the end of the glass.

Slˊainte.

pour

 

Pub jokes

Listing jokes as ‘the best’ could only invite trouble but jokes and pubs are a good combination. One of the best known type of pub jokes is the ‘…walks into a bar’ genre.

So here’s a few off the top of my head.

A man walks into a bar. He says ‘ouch.’

A horse walks into a bar, sits down. barman looks at him and asks, ‘why the long face?’

A dog walks into a bar, bandaged foreleg in a sling. Barman asks, ‘can I help you?’

Dog says, ‘I’m looking for the man who shot my paw.’

A sandwich walks into a bar, orders a glass of beer. barman says, sorry, we don’t serve food.

A ghost walks into a bar, asks for a whiskey. Barman says, ‘sorry, we don’t serve spirits.’

A friend of mine opened a bar on Mars, the drinks were great but the atmosphere was shite.

A duck walks into a bar wearing one shoe. The barman says, ‘how’re ye, Duck, di ye lose a shoe?’
And the duck answers, ‘no, I found one.’

Paddy the Irishman, Paddy the Scotsman and Paddy the Englishman are on the tear in Rome when they wander into the Vatican and get separated. Paddy the Irishman finds himself in a private chamber where he’s told to shut the door, the pope is gravely ill. He could die in 24 hours. Paddy returns to his hotel and tells the other Paddys his news. They reckon it’s a good chance to make a few bob so they pool their money and set out to lay odds on the Pope dying in 24 hours, in bookies all over Rome. Sure enough, when the pope dies, Paddy Irishman and Scotsman, while sad, are also rejoicing because they’ve won a fortune. Then in walks Paddy the Englishman, whom they haven’t seen all day and he’s all gloomy and sad. ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Says the boys, ‘we’ve made a fortune.’ ‘You might’ve’, says Paddy, ‘ but I lost my shirt on the Archbishop of Canterbury in a double.’

A tall, well built and distinctly morose man walked into a bar.
What’ll ye have? Asks the barman.
A pint of stout and a whiskey, came the gruff reply.
The barman served the drinks and the man raised his glass and drained the pint in one swallow. Then he raised the whiskey glass and drained the contents into his breast pocket. This ritual was repeated six times until the barman could not contain his curiosity and asked, ‘do you mind me asking you, but why do you pour the whiskey into your pocket?’
The tall, morose man glared at him and said, ‘mind your own fucking business’
At which point, a distinctly drunk mouse popped his head out of the tall man’s breast pocket and said, ‘and ye can tell that to your fucking cat, too.’

And on the subject of dogs and, in case anyone should interrupt, pedantically, let me say these are not just pub jokes per se but also jokes that are best told in pubs, but anyway, I digress; a man was taking a morning walk when he chanced upon another man with a small dog on a lead, approach. As they got near, the dog decided he needed to respond to the call of nature and, approaching a small wall, he raised himself so his front paws were leaning on the wall while he relieved himself, standing up, as it were. Now, our man was taken aback by this and stood there, marvelling a this dog.
‘That’s remarkable,’ he said to the dog’s owner, asking, ‘did you train him to do that?’
‘No,’ he replied, nonchalantly, ‘a wall fell on him when he was a pup.’

Annoying things people ask in bars…

IMG_1542

Mindful that barwork is a service industry, then ‘service’ is the business of the bar employee. That said, there are other criteria or ingredients, that make good service, not only possible, but a pleasure, to give and receive.

Good manners, consideration, respect and logic are four that spring to mind, immediately. Personally, good grammar and diction are required, too.

Any bar worker will tell you, when asked, a list of things they get asked, that customers do or say, every day and night, in every bar in the world. Not all of these things are, by any means, offensive or irritating, but some are.

So I’ve made a casual list, derived from conversations with bar workers in several Dublin bars.

But first, I own personal bugbears, creeping Americanisms.

The American version of the English language has crept into our lives and daily argot through film and television and these days, by even more common inference, through the internet and YouTube.

But when people persist in prefacing their request for a drink with ‘can I get…?’, my immediate reaction is ‘no, you can’t, because y’see, that’s why I’m here…to ‘get’ it for you. On the other hand, if you ask me, ‘may I have?, then all becomes clear and order, proper English and good grammar is restored.

The other ‘Americanism’ that has taken a niche in Irish conversation occurs when a customer is asked, when their glass or their plate is almost empty, ‘may I get you another or something else? is ‘I’m good.’ What does that mean, for God’s sake? I haven’t made any inquiry regarding your moral disposition, so why tell me if you’re good? Like I care?

But that’s me. I’m a writer. So, shoot me.

But here’s another few of those nonsense irritations:

abbreviations, like cabsav (Cabernet Sauvignon), or heino (Heineken) or what about ‘sauvignon blanc white wine’, eh?

Then there’s the customer who saunters in and orders ‘a pint.’ Well, a pint of what, exactly? Sure, there was a time, now almost forgotten, when a pint, meant a pint of stout and the other three taps in a pub, lager, ale or cider, were the secondary alternatives. Now most pubs have multiple choices in stouts, ales, lagers, even ciders and wheat beers. So think specific or ask advice, it helps and everyone’s willing to help, if you ask.

Then there are the drinkers of a particular American beer (Coors) who assume, when you name the brand, you will know exactly what they want. Unfortunately, ESP (extra sensory perception) is no longer a requirement for bartenders, although, in the case of a good customer and an experienced bartender, it can be a useful asset.

I worked in a bar, once, where the oldest member of staff was close to retirement age and most of the customers were a third of his age. He was, not to understate this, intolerant and fools, in his mind, would never be suffered, gladly or otherwise. So when an unsuspecting misfortunate approached the bar and asked for ‘a Guinness’, he got our man’s gimlet eye and question, barked, ‘d’ye want a pint, glass or a bottle, I’m not a fucking prophet, y’know?’

So I caution those who ask for a beer to be specific, in quantity and product, ‘a Coors’ can mean a bottle, a pint or a glass.

And that brings me then to every bartender’s greatest bugbear, an English customer. Don’t get me wrong, this is nothing against English people, per se. It’s just that their bar rules are very different to ours. Having worked for years in English bars, I have first hand knowledge of their drink ordering technique. First, they order one drink at a time.

Now that’s just wrong, especially to an Irish bartender. We have memories and we pride ourselves on our ability to remember long, complex orders and to deliver the drink in the most efficient manner possible, given that knowledge. So, please, don’t order a drink at a time and, above all, never end your order with ‘and a pint (or multiple pints) of Guinness.’

And finally, while saying this list is by no means conclusive, let me add just two more caveats. There is a saying, ‘it’s nice to be nice’ and a ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can go a long way. Most bartenders remember a customer by their drink but a small gesture of recognition and respect with a gracious request and a word of gratitude, will lay a ground mark that will be remembered and reciprocated.

Which brings me, neatly, to my final bugbear, the customer who demands that you ‘smile.’ Why? because you’ve bought that with your drink? I don’t think so. I do believe and agree that a happy, smiling bartender can make your visit to a bar more interesting and make the whole experience more pleasurable, for all concerned. But since you don’t know the circumstances of the frown or grimace, why interfere with an inane and insensitive demand that they ‘smile.’ Give them a reason, tell a joke, give them a tip, say please, smile at them first, say hello.

It goes a long way.IMG_1542