The Oh So Sober Bar Manager

What is being a sober bar manager like? And by being sober I mean a recovering alcoholic. I suppose in one way it is like having a junkie working in a methadone clinic – Or having a contestant from “The Biggest Loser” working away in a Belgian chocolate factory. You are surrounded by temptation. You are surrounded by the very stuff which is normally your downfall. There are pretty much two things which can happen. The first is that you can give in. You sneak a box of truffles into your bag and nip off to the store room for some manic sugar indulgence where you are bound to be found hours later sobbing in your sleep, with chocolate smeared all over your face and hands…. with your belt unbuckled and splodges of nougat and praline splattered all over the walls. Or you stay behind after the bar shift ends and slowly sip a cold beer to shake off the arduous nature of the bar shift. Then you crack another and another. Before you know it you have the Karaoke machine blaring and are semi naked, drinking lemon flavoured dark rum mojito’s, singing some Brian Adams number as the sun comes up and the cleaners poke their non English speaking heads in the door.

The alternative is that you stay steadfast and resolute in the face of your former lover. You stay strong and just say no. I often wonder what my employers would have said in the interviewing process if I had told them about my drinking problem. It would have been kind of like giving a joyrider a job as a valet parker in the Hilton. Sure, of course you can have a job in our bar…you big handsome recovering dipso you. Step right in. Here are the keys to the stock room, the keg room and the spirit stores. Now don’t do anything we wouldn’t do now would you please? And sure, a joyrider knows how to drive better than any HR recruited, arse licking, PR trained supplicant and suitably servile candidate, but there is always the danger that one day, just one day, he will take that BMW he should be parking in Car Park 2 space 7 and pull a handbraker onto the main road, wheel spin burnout the red lights and then charge off into the distance never to be seen again. But everyone deserves chances – First and second ones.

Some people ask me do I not find it hard working in a bar being sober. Do people not annoy me more? In fact I find it easier than before as I know exactly what people are going through when they are drinking. I almost don’t notice the difficulties being in the face of constant booze should present as I am too busy dealing with my job as a custodian of the order and happiness levels. Others ask me how can I be so happy when I don’t drink and am surrounded by constant intoxication. The answer to that is that I feed off other people’s energy. Good times in a bar are often begun by the staff and fed to the customers. They in turn feed it back to the staff. There is a serious problem when staff don’t enjoy working in a bar. Discordant dissatisfaction will be resultant from such scenarios. Lack of patronage will ensue. Sacking of said employees will occur and so on and so forth. It is a big circle of love and pint glasses.

I still love being in a bar. I love the interaction of people. Just yesterday morning I had two single guys at the bar. One was an Aussie and had obviously been up all night. He had Irish heritage which he was telling me and the big burly lump of a lad wearing the Tipp jersey sitting to his left. The Irish lump was your standard quiet spoken country lad. Sitting at the bar in serene solitude, staring off into the distance, picturing himself running through fields of hay with his mother shouting at him “Come in Seamus for God’s sake, your dinner is getting cold”. But Seamus would never go in till his dinner DID get cold. He loved running around chasing them big red admiral butterflies on those long summery days. But this Aussie guy is prattling on. Telling him about his cousins in Dublin and his English Grandad and some pub in Cork which he loved, but moreso how he loved the spirit of brotherhood to be found with the Irish. And I can see in his eyes that Big Burly is getting miffed and irritated. He is shifting in his chair. His eyes are darting a little. He looks at me and tilts his chin a little as if to say “Are you really going to let this Aussie wanker talk shite to me when I am obviously in for a few quiet pints?”. He looks like something is about to snap when Loud Obnoxious Aussie says, “Let me buy you a drink.”

Be Jesus our burly Irish friend’s eyes began to twinkle. He chuckled and turned to the Aussie and said “arra sure go on”, gave him a wink, me a wink and before I knew it they were “sláinte-ing” and shaking hands and talking about economics. This was all the incorrigibly encouragable Aussie needed. He was harping on about this and that and I was getting sick of his loudness to be honest. Then he made a massive faux pas. As the pints neared their end he ordered another round out of turn. Big Burly Tipp man wasn’t happy and shook his head. After a flurry of insistence this way and that, the Aussie relented and didn’t pay. But the damage was done. Big Burly looked me in the eye and this time I tilted MY head AND raised my eyebrows. It was a warning. It was a passing shot just to let him know to keep his distance. Loud Obnoxious Aussie would be getting cut from the bar. I didn’t want him going down with him. Big Burly knew it was coming. He accepted that this was the way it had to be. He knew there was free drink all day with this guy, buy it would come at a price. He closed his eyes slowly for a second to let me know he understood. I turned to Loud Obnoxious Aussie and said “ Sorry mate, time to go home…you’ll be getting no more drink here today”. “Straight up? Fair dinkum?” he replied.

The currency of drinkers is the drink. The code of the drinker is multi layered and has different adaptations around the world. The simple idea of “I get one and then you get one” is one which most Anglo Saxon and Celtic cultures abide by. Some people don’t take notice, or break these rules and there are fallings out and friendships never made. I love to see the drinkers in their pomp and ceremony regarding each other and trading their pocket book psychology with each other. I love to see people laugh and interact and to watch happiness bloom amongst all those around me. I enjoy my role as a facilitator of that hotch potch or order, energy and chaos. I enjoy being sober to savour the subtle nuances which before were nothing to me. I suppose when I break it down I am what Jose Mourinho so aptly described his nemesis Arsene Wenger when he was manager of Chelsea – a voyeur.

4 thoughts on “The Oh So Sober Bar Manager”

  1. great article! I used to work in a bar for years as a student and didn’t drink – we had a great time and so right, you feed of the energy in the club/bar and with other staff. I think if you drink as a manager it is a real problem as you are responsible to keep it all together, not a good idea to get pissed in any event.

    having said this, it takes a strong person to surround themselves with temptation and not give in, especially with alcohol as it is so engrained in our society and pushed at us left, right and centre – not just in your bar.

  2. Lovely writing..I got confused half way down the article….I thought the aussie chatter box bought the round…then what happened? he offered to buy another round and this was an issue? excuse my dimness

  3. Fair play to you John. I was off the Peter Fargle for six months when I was younger and working in a bar. I couldn’t drink when I was working so that wasn’t a problem, but I really struggled when I was out socializing. How much bloody Coke can you drink??? I couldn’t seem to have the same sort of crack without a few beers. I was also a mischievous bastard with a couple of pints on me, jumping off the balcony in Zanzibar or sticking my head up a girls top at the local nightclub. I think part of my problem is that I am a social animal. My wife realizes this and lets me off the leash every now and again. If I don’t get out every now and again I become impossible to live with. However I was lucky that I discovered that I had a problem when I was in my early twenties. I now know my limit, very rarely do I do mixed drinks any more and I don’t do shots. I am not saying I don’t get pissed every now and again but I know when to stop. I also realize that I have a responsibility to my wife, son and daughter and that can sober you up pretty quickly.

  4. Hey Ava,
    Your dimness is excused!! – what happened was that the drunken Aussie guy began ton insist on paying for the secone round in a row. This is almost seen as an insult in drinking culture – it was as if he was saying that the Irish guy couldn’t afford to pay, or wasn’t a big a man as he was and that was why he wanted to keep buying the drinks….strange but true…


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