Imagine a person you’ve never met before, yet you’ve seen them hundreds, maybe even thousands of times.
You know their age, their relationship history, where they’re from, how much they earned on their last job, perhaps even their weight. They, on the other hand, have neither seen nor heard of you before. You are a complete stranger to them.
But today is different. Today the role you’re playing is a familiar one: a friendly, impartial face amidst a sea of intruders and sycophants, patrons and paparazzi, yes men and nobodies. You’re their bartender. And you’re here to help.
I’ll never forget the first time I served a big celebrity at my bar. I was hunched over the sink behind the bar at a trendy SoHo restaurant where I was bar managing and suddenly I looked up to see Kate Moss peering at me from between the beer taps. She was smiling a little and said hello as soon as we made eye contact. For an instant I forgot where I was, and wondered if I had met her somewhere before recently. Obviously, I knew her, but how on earth did she know me??
She spoke again, “ I have a bit of a sore throat and was wondering if you had something back there for it. Maybe a-what’s it called…a Hot Toddy?” Suddenly jolted back to reality and context I realized I was in fact her bartender and it was my duty to produce a drink for her. “Sure. Would you like whiskey, brandy, or maybe… rum?”
“Whatever you think is best” she said. Her being British, I settled on a nice scotch diluted with warm water, fortified with a bit of honey and lemon. I stirred it up and handed it over. She took a sip and as she complimented me on it I found myself feeling strangely disoriented again. Not because I was star struck, I’m from New York and had met or been around numerous celebs since I was 8 years old. But there was something in the dynamic of this exchange that seemed odd to me. Here was a very well known celebrity who is often forced to shun and avoid public attention. A supermodel that has had to contend with being recognized wherever she goes. She must tolerate being approached by strangers who want things from her and who approach her as though they know her because they know her image so well. Yet on this day, at this moment, she has come to me seeking something, and she recognizes me, or at least the role I play behind the bar. My image as the bartender is one that is familiar and for a bewildering instant, the typical social dynamic is inverted and it’s as though we both inhabit the same stratosphere. We are breathing the same oxygen and Kate Moss is my friend.
Well ok, not really, but it feels that way.
You see, being a bartender means that, in a sense, you become a public figure. People know you. For the duration of their stay at the bar, you’re their buddy, their confidante, their matchmaker, their life concierge. Like the song on the TV show said, “Where everybody knows your name…” And your name is “bartender.” Participating in this charade of friendship with your guests can be annoying at times, as can, I imagine, being a celebrity. Guests, especially regulars, can start to feel like fans. They want know what you’re up to when they’re not around or not at work. They can sometimes push the envelope by making judgmental comments on your appearance or demeanor. They expect things from you, and they keep coming back for more. At the end of the day though, this is what you want, and what you need. Fans. A loyal group of people to sustain you when it’s slow or when you’re bored. To get you through the lean times. You may start to feel a hint of contempt at the familiarity and routine of it all but ultimately the show can’t go on without them.
Kate Moss sipped her Hot Toddy and resumed her conversation with her agent or whoever she was there with and when she was done, she paid, said thank you and left. I plummeted back to earth and landed with a dull thud, returning to my quotidian rituals of polishing glassware and cutting fruit. But for a brief glossy moment I was on stage. I breached the paper wall of that magazine cover, and was recognized and awarded. With a tip.
½ oz. brandy, whiskey, rum or combination of two
1 teaspoon clover honey
½ oz. fresh lemon juice
Combine in a mug and fill with hot water or tea.