Behind the Bar

King Street at night rumbles with smells of stale food, alcohol and shouts of drunk people. Step into a bar and it only gets more congested. Who could possibly keep their cool in this crush of people and sensations? Who could pin a smile on their face for hour after hour of chaotic work? The bartenders of King Street.

Joe, a 27 year old bartender at Juanita’s, has been bartending for about two and a half years. Every moment on the job has been memorable, right from the start. During his first training shift, a bachelorette party of about 15 women entered the bar. The girls came in and announced that they wanted to take body shots on the bar. Unsure of what to do, Joe looked to his manager, who accepted their offer, much to his amazement.

Photo by Hannah Broder

When asked what advice he would give customers, Joe said, “Don’t be a dick. Know where you’re at and look around at your surroundings. If there’s 150 people in the bar and you’re one of two or three, I have to prioritize.” He was also adamant about customers not waving money at him like a stripper because, “I’m not gonna take my clothes off for you.”

Sophie is a 24 year old bartender from Long Island, who now works at Closed For Business. She has six years under her belt, and has worked her share of crazy shifts. She used to bartend during “college nights,” when students funnelled shots and played flip cup with mixed drinks. After College of Charleston’s graduation last year, a father and his six sons walked into the bar and each purchased a boot. All the sons partook in a chugging competition with the father cheering them on in celebration.

“Know what you want,” is her tip to those ordering in an overpopulated bar – especially important considering Closed For Business has 43 beers on draft. “We [bartenders] always have fun working, but we’re still working at the end of the day. If a bartender is short, realize you’re not the only person in the bar.”

Just a few doors down, Kathy bartends at Ink n Ivy. She has over 15 years of experience on the bar scene, here and in Columbia, South Carolina. Most of the memorable moments for Kathy affected her personally, such as somebody offering her $100 for her belt.There was no comment on whether she accepted.

“If you get my attention, be ready and know what you want. Have your money and your card out and don’t close out every time. It slows everything down. Also, we [bartenders] most likely do have a boyfriend or a girlfriend, or if we don’t we will probably tell you we do. Don’t hit on the bartenders,” said Kathy.

Photo by Hannah Broder

Kathy’s manager Chris used to work at Crocodile Rocks, a dueling piano bar in Columbia, where he witnessed a couple having sex on a piano while the store was closed. More recently, at Ink n Ivy, he handled a situation where a man defecated in his pants, went to the women’s room, discarded his underwear in the trash can and put his pants back on. He proceeded to sit back down at the bar, but as the stench was obviously unbearable, was kicked out immediately.

Last but not least is Meg, a 30 year old bartender at Burn’s Alley. She has been a bartender for about five years with every bit of that time working out of the Charleston area. She is originally from Camden, South Carolina and knows how to handle herself in tough situations. She’s seen her fair share of bar violence and has even had a guy swing at her for cutting his drinks off.

Her favorite moment at the bar was when the Cubs won the World Series. She had a lot of Chicago regulars and everyone was just extra excited that night. Once again, her advice to the average customer is to know what they want to drink before getting her attention. Meg loves bartending and has met some of her best friends through the occupation. She enjoys making “Bloody Marys” the most, but prefers Jameson when it comes time to kick back and relax.

Bartending is a profession that requires a plethora of skills and the ability to multitask in high-stress situations. However, along with their work comes the opportunity for them to meet many different kinds of people and make lasting connections through these experiences. Bartenders, whether young or old, male or female, are all unique individuals with their own take on the job. No matter where you go, you will never find a bartender with the exact same views and stories as the last. All you have to do is listen.

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