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Behind Bars

An Unexpected Education

10 years behind one of NYCs most notorious late-night bars that you might not have heard of.

Due to the late night, or rather early morning nature of the proclivities that take place – not to mention the legality of said activities/location at that time,

I won’t be using any real names. That said, those of you who know, know.

Many of the stories take place in after-hours – happy hour for those of us in the industry that,

at the end of a night of taking orders, have enough energy left to expend on taking in some libations of our own.

The Learning Curve:

When I started my tenure/sentence (call it what you will) behind the bar I was fresh-faced,

bright eyed and excited for what was to be a new beginning a fresh new start, a career even.

I wasn’t prepared for just how much of an adventure it would turn out to be.

One story that perhaps highlights my naivety involves Sammy, a larger-than-life, bombastic son of an African diplomat, and a longstanding fixture on the industry circuit long before I made my bow.

Moonlighting as a door man at many of the east villages finest watering holes, Sammy was also a savior of many coworkers and fast friends when it came to tax time.

A man of many talents it seemed – and vices as I was about to find out.

I’d met Sammy several times between our first encounter and the night/Morning in question,

a sweltering evening not long after July 4th.   It must have been about 1:00 am and it was still in  90’s,

The AC in the bar was particularly temperamental that summer.

Sammy, rolled in, patting his forehead with his customary towel – never far from his side.

He wasn’t alone, though I had been the sole occupant of the bar to that point.

His family was with him, all clean-cut and wholesome,

racking up a few games of pool with his mother and sister.

Being a mixture of curious and eager to make fast friends with this well-known widely liked behemoth, tinged with a hint of boredom ,

I decided I could leave my post for a couple of minutes at a time—

 

Why not, I figured.  No other customers, and I’m pretty good with peripherals, so if anyone pops in, I’d be back in like 2 mins flat.

It was all going great. the clock was rolling along and I was starting to feel accepted. 

Despite having been at the bar for all of nine months.

Anyone who walks cold turkey into a neighborhood bar where everyone knows each other or is connected by a few degrees of separation knows exactly what I mean.

Even now, removed slightly from the nightlife I once lived for, I envy that tightness, that close-knittedness.

“Do you like to party?”

Five simple words.

Now, if you work in the nightlife industry, and/or haven’t lived under a rock for the majority of your adult life up to this point you’ll know exactly what Sammy was inferring.

At that stage of my journey, I did not. My response, “ah yeah, I mean, I like to go out.

But sure, I work most nights and don’t get finished till 4 am (wink wink nudge nudge). I wasn’t lying,

I was giving him what I thought was a genuine answer to what I thought was a pretty straightforward question – turns out I was mistaken.

Not that `I need to explain to you what he meant – but he decided it best to illustrate to me.

One quick look to see we were still the sole occupants of the bar (I must remind you, alongside his mother and sister),

and Sammy whipped something from his pocket and I was suddenly left in no doubt as to what it means to “like to party.”

When I say I’ve seen smaller bags of white granules sold at hardware stores for gritting sidewalks I’m only slight exaggerating.

Coke

| Image by Not sure what this is

This was a whopper. It would be unfair to call the golf ball-sized heap of ‘Medellín marching powder’ that Sammy navigated from bag to snout, a bump.

It was a full-on collision.

I was shocked at first, out of my depth having never seen or experienced this before, I politely declined.

Made up an excuse, and then worried about my job— like what the hell is he doing at the bar? My boss is going to be watching the cameras.

I thought, that’s it, I’m done, I may need to start looking for a new job.

However, I was also torn, I was just becoming part of the ‘insiders club’, was this the norm?

I mean my boss knows him, how do I go from zero to a hundred and kick him out?

 I knew he was a regular, surely, he would know better if this wasn’t acceptable.

 

I decided to take a route that served me well in my time behind bars – placate, deflect, and encourage – I figured no foul no harm.

No one else was there, I told Sammy I couldn’t have him doing that, not at the bar. “Do me a favor, Sammy,” I said.

“I’m all for you doing your thing, each to their own, but you can’t let me or anyone else see you do it.

Whatever happens behind closed doors when you’re in the restroom or whatever, is beyond my control.

Bathroom

Bathroom | Image by DD

But you’re putting me in an awkward position here.” Sammy, being the absolute gentle giant as always, was as amicable as always . 

“I’m so sorry brother,” he said as the magic towel appeared once again and he patted down his furrowed brow.

An hour later we were all on the street, Sammy and family heading for home, as was I, pondering whether I should have been more adventurous.

A valuable lesson in the late night life.

Needless to say, on another industry night with Sammy, at a different venue, I decided it might be time to partake.

No judgements