This is not a place. This is a space. A hang-out space, a chill out space, a kick-back space. A space for creativity, innovation and ideation. A space where thoughts fly and conversations begin. A space where art is made, performed and celebrated. A space where relationships develop, blossom and flourish. A space where strangers become friends. A space where people become communities. This is, in short, a bar.
And this girl, the American, is a filmmaker. This woman, the French one, is a fashion designer. This man, the Moroccan, is an actor. Me? I am one of the few locals. I am one of the few who has no side hustle. I’m a bartender, pure and simple. At night, I dream of mezcal margaritas and espresso martinis. During the day, I dream of more frequent cigarette breaks.
A woman walks into a bar at seven p.m. No joke. She is older than the usual crowd. She is louder than the usual crowd. She is dancing. She is wearing revealing clothes. Her teeth are brown and crooked. Her accent is local. She wants a pint of Estrella and pays in cash. She drinks it quickly. She knocks over three glasses. I tell her to leave. She refuses. Security don’t work on a Monday. There is nothing to do.
It’s not particularly busy, so the man has pulled up a chair at the bar, even though this isn’t The Done Thing. He is well-dressed, well-spoken, and it seems so far, well-mannered and, well… okay. However, he is drinking Old Fashioned after Old Fashioned, which is annoying, because they take a long time to make.
He asks me what my name is. He asks me what I do for a living. He asks me for the more expensive bourbon. I am not surprised that he wants to know what my name is. I am not wearing a name tag. Nor am I surprised he wants the more expensive bourbon. The house bourbon is shit. I am surprised, however, that he wants to know what my job is. It seems that he cannot fathom that I am what I do: a server of cold booze, straight up, on the rocks, however you like it.
I look him dead in the eye and and let him know I think he is dim. This is because I think he is dim. ‘I am doing what I do. I am a bartender.’
He raises his eyebrows and, for reasons that are unclear, immediately proceeds to talk about himself. I learn that he left school at fifteen, stole a fiver off his mum, and from this seed funding, began his own IT business from his bedroom. Now, he is obscenely successful. Now, he is obscenely wealthy. Now, he is obscenely drunk. Obscene. He finishes off his rant saying that he owns two houses and is on his third wife. He tells me this last fact, that he is ‘on’ his third wife, as though this has been his greatest achievement.
I make little effort to respond or prolong the conversation. My looks are studiously blank. I imagine he thinks that there is nothing to me, that I am a simple being, that I am a little soul, unaware she’s even lost. If this were the case, he would be right.
Perhaps sensing my aloofness, the man finishes his drink, makes as if to shake my hand but instead gives me a fiver and tells me he thinks I’m going to make it big in this life.
‘I think you’re going to make it big in this life.’’
Without waiting for him to get up and leave, I spend the fiver on a shot of Café Patron, ask my co-worker for a cigarette and when he says no, take one anyway.
I bump into the man again by the door. I tell him that him and me are not so different. We are both thieves.
The woman – the one with the crooked, brown teeth – has now lifted up her t-shirt to show the entire bar, but mainly me, her naked breasts. I tell her she and her breasts need to leave or I’m calling the police. She laughs in a way which is more of a cackle.
She is already implicitly barred, but I do not give her the satisfaction of telling her so.
I am a better bartender when drunk. This is a fact. I am nicer, calmer, more into the shitty music. However, five pints on an empty stomach is really quite drunk. Nevertheless, I go to work, slap my boss on the back, ruffle my coworker’s hair, down a shot of tequila because I’ve come this far, so why not?
There’s a new knife. It looks fun. It’s slicing through the limes like butter, and through the butter like butter, so I budge my coworker out the way and take over. It takes me about thirty seconds to cut my fingertip. Only, I don’t just cut my fingertip. I cut my fingertip off. It’s there on the chopping board, and where it used to be is just a raw patch of flesh spouting blood.
I walk to the kitchen, and a chef wraps my finger in blue roll which quickly disintegrates.
I feel my legs give way.
I wake up with my head in my boss’ lap.
They let me lie down on the sofa. They let me eat food for free. They let me have orange juice even though they are weird about staff drinking juice. They let me have some days off, though they do not pay me for these days off, because I am on a zero-hour contract.
Two days later, my finger is still bleeding. I wrap it in kitchen roll.
‘Should I go to the pharmacy?’ I ask my coworker when she calls me drunk at four-in-the-morning to see if I’ve bled to death.
‘You mean, you haven’t been to the hospital?’
‘Should I go to the pharmacy?’
‘Go to the hospital.’
I settle on the GP. She looks at me as though she thinks I’m stupid when I tell her what I’ve done.
‘And why didn’t you go to the hospital?’
I shrug. ‘It’s just a finger.’
I go to the hospital. It turns out, fingertips regenerate. Like starfish.
N.B. This is not true for all human appendages
The woman with the crooked brown teeth lets out a continuous stream of abuse. Simultaneously, she lets out a continuous stream of bad breath. While she does this, she cackles. After drinking other people’s drinks, she gets up and comes behind the bar. I do not notice her until I see her going through my stuff.
My boss arrives, separates us, tells me to take a break.
I take a break.
The girl picks up the glass I am about to pour wine into, and vomits into it. I tell her friend I never want to see that glass, or her friend’s face, ever again.
The place is heaving. It is baking. I pick up ice cube after ice cube and let them melt in my palm. I stand by the fan which moves the warmth around sarcastically. I am soaking with sweat. A droplet runs off my nose and into the margarita I am making. The man downs it, asks for another, this time, more salt.
I am stressed. The please-make-it-stop kind of stressed. The my-heart-cannot-be-pounding-this-much kind of stressed. The adrenaline-is-making-me-blind kind of stressed.
It is stressful. I make hundreds of gin and tonics. I make dozens of espresso martinis. I pour innumerable pints. I am earning £8.21 an hour. If my boss could pay me less, she would.
I am tired. My feet hurt, my legs ache, my arms are shaking. It is a ten-hour shift and I get a maximum of thirty minutes rest, all divided into six five-minute chunks. It is time. I go outside, light a cigarette, let my legs crumple on to the pavement somebody has probably pissed on.
I go back in and the shit has hit the fan. The till has broken. We need to do maths. Without a calculator.
I consider running or feigning a faint. I consider telling everyone to Get The Fuck Out. I consider drinking beer straight from the tap.
I approach a man who is pointing at me.
‘You found my wallet!’
I look at him blankly.
I look at him blankly.
‘See this girl? She found my wallet!’
I manage a half-smile. ‘You’re welcome.’
The man decides to empty his bank account by buying everyone in sight a drink. I get three shots of tequila and a five pound note. I do the maths wrong, overcharge him massively and keep the change.
Time passes, eventually. When I get home, at seven a.m., I sleep the sleep of the dead.
They pull up directly outside even though it’s a double yellow line. They come in. They look no older than seventeen. I do not ID them. They order cider, lager, rum and Coke. They do not pay. I do not ask them to pay. One has two gold teeth (that I can see). One has something or other shoved in his cheeks, which makes him look like a hamster, as well as making him incomprehensible. One is tiny. They are wearing baseball caps. They have a plastic bag full of cash.
The tiny one speaks to me. ‘Do you want some cash?’
I stare at him as though I think he’s stupid. This is because I think he’s stupid.
I want some cash. ‘No, I don’t want any cash. But I do want to know, has the rise in credit and debit card usage affected your business?’
He looks at me as though he thinks I’m stupid.
They talk to the woman with the crooked brown teeth. All of them go outside. I breathe a sigh of relief. Then, through the window, I see the hamster pour his cider over the woman’s hair. I breathe a sigh of relief. They all come back in.
‘Can I buy a cigarette off you?’
I hand him a cigarette, bat away his pound coin.
‘What’s your name? Do you live nearby? Where’s good to go out around here? How long have you worked in this shithole?’
I answer with a fake name, tell him I live right by Big Ben, tell him this bar right here is a pretty good place to go out in, tell him I’ve worked in this shithole for seven years.
The woman with the crooked teeth won’t go away. This is a problem because everyone else has left and we want to go home. Eventually, we pick her up and carry her off the premises. She fights back, tries to bite me. She bangs on the door when we lock her out. We close the blinds. We drink beer in the dark. We wait. If I close my eyes, can still see the afterglow of her naked breasts.
This is not a space. This is a place. A place where there’s a queue to get in, a queue to get served, a queue for the loo. A place to get tequila, wine and beer sloshed over your clean white tee. A place to sweat. A place to go deaf. A place to throw up in the sink. A place for a pint, a shot, a line. A place for a five-minute friendship, a five-minute fight, a five-minute fuck, a fiver.
This is, in short, a bar. This girl, the American, is a filmmaker. This woman, the French one, is a fashion designer. This man, the Moroccan, is an actor. Me? I am one of the locals. I am one of the few who has no side hustle. As for me, I am one of the few who is living the dream.
Image – Pixabay.com