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Interview with the Bartender: Tracey, March 20, 2006, New York, NY

Tracey The Bartender

BC: How long have you worked in the food service industry?

Tracey: My very first job was in my local theatre in London. I worked there when I was 13 years old -- ushering, setting the stage, being a dresser -- because I was going to drama school at the time. When I turned 18, I started to work behind the bar. I've pretty much been doing bar work or waitressing on and off since then, so I guess it's been about 18 years.

BC: What was the best service job you've ever had?

Tracey: Best job I ever had was actually my first job, I just thought it was so cool. It was at my local pub in London, the landlady was terrific, and she actually ended up asking me to move into the pub to open and close for her whenever she wasn't able to do it. In London at that time, you couldn't open a bar before 11 o'clock in the morning, so there'd be people waiting outside to drink their first beer of the day at 11 o'clock. All great people, really.

BC: So what was the worst job?

Tracey: The worst place I've worked was a bar and restaurant in Queens. To be honest, the only reason why it was the worst was just that the management didn't understand what they were doing. Serving food and drink in a neighborhood should be very simple, but they made it complicated and difficult. It was befuddling.

BC: What's your favorite drink to make?

Tracey: I love true cocktails, and by that I mean drinks that involve no more than two liquors, drinks that are about the enjoyment of the flavors of specific liquors. There's a drink called 1-900-FuckMeUp that has something like 10 liquors in it. We had to learn it in bartender's school here in New York and I hated making it primarily because there is no way that anybody drinking it even knows what's in it. I treat alcohol like a lot of people treat food. A well-made cocktail can be like a well-made meal when you blend good, balanced flavors. Some people come in and it's just, "How much alcohol can I get and can I get drunk?" That's frustrating because if they are paying me $10 for a cocktail, I want to make them something they can really enjoy while they relax and have a good time.

BC: What's your least favorite drink to make?

Tracey: I hate frozen drinks. They are a waste of time, energy, and alcohol. Most end up tasting like some sort of dessert, just a cream milkshake. If that's what you want, order ice cream.

BC: What about giving them to unruly children?

Tracey: For children I think it's fun. No, really I have an issue with giving a child a non-alcoholic drink that looks like an alcoholic drink. People will order their child a virgin daiquiri or a virgin pi�a colada. There's no need. There are plenty of drinks that are fun for kids that don't look like cocktails. Would you give a child a non-alcoholic lager? I don't think you would.

BC: I actually think that'd be illegal.

Tracey: Right! I certainly don't think that'd be a choice anyway, so why go for a virgin daiquiri or a virgin pi�a colada?

Tracey The Bartender

BC: What's the best tip you've ever gotten?

Tracey: My best tip -- a hard-earned tip, I'll add -- was $135. It was 3:30 in the morning, everyone remotely sane or sober had left the bar, and it was just me, the manager, and a couple of people drinking. This particular individual had a group of friends in that were just determined to stay out late and get drunk. I don't know if they knew they left me $135, or if it was conscious, but at the time they left that's what was on the bar. They were actually fun people, not obnoxious at all, just hard drinkers. They just wanted somewhere to relax and have fun.

BC: Is $1 per drink an OK tip?

Tracey: Yes.

BC: What is the weirdest thing you've ever thing you've ever seen working behind the bar?

Tracey: You become unflappable working behind the bar. If you're good at what you do, you understand the potency of various drinks that you serve and so you expect the unexpected. I think the weirdest thing might actually sound pretty tame. I was working at a sports bar in Chelsea and a woman walked in on her own. It didn't occur to me that there was anything wrong, and she sat down in one of the booths. She sat there, and sat there, and sat there. Later on a gentleman came in and joined her, and I thought it was her boyfriend or husband. I didn't think anything of it. Then at one point during the evening, they were joined by another man. It took me a while to realize that the woman was a hooker, the first guy to join her was her pimp, and this guy was a customer. They were doing this whole thing in a booth of a sports bar. It wasn't until much later in the evening, maybe 2 or 3 in morning, that she got up and left with the second male arrival and it occurred to everybody what was going on.

BC: Did they order drinks?

Tracey: They had drinks. She had an apple martini or something like that.

BC: Did they tip well?

Tracey: I really don't remember the tip, but I remember talking about it with the other customers who were sitting at the bar. I swear to you I thought they were just coming in and hanging out. It never occurred to me that anything salacious was going on. She came back about an hour or so later without the other guy, and that's when everyone absolutely knew. It had been just a rumor up to that point. I'd only been working there a few months, but I found out later that she was known and the manager knew what was going on. There was really nothing seedy about it. She looked a little trashy, but at that time of the morning -- it was a weekday, too -- any woman out drinking is going to look a little trashy in one way or another. Later I found out how it worked, apparently the pimp gets paged and then he arranges the meeting for the hooker and the john.

BC: How many times do you have to go to a bar to be considered a regular?

Tracey: For me anyway, it's not about times, it's about how you engage with me and the other staff when you're there.

BC: Does it help to be hot?

Tracey: Hot helps, too. But I've only worked in one bar where people were hot, most places I've worked have had an older crowd. It's really just about spending some time and having a good conversation. If that happens and I don't see them for a month, I remember them, if not the name then at least the face. If they know my name, they're a regular. It's not about the frequency, it's just about the relationship at the end of the day.

BC: One might say that about sex.

Tracey: It's true! Nobody necessarily wants to have that guy who's in at 11 o'clock on the dot and sits there from 11 to 11 and gets plastered and leaves you whatever tips he leaves you. You don't want that guy in your face every day of the week. It's a tricky thing. If I make a connection with someone, I remember the name, and it's cool.

BC: Sounds like Cheers.

Tracey: It is like Cheers. There are a lot of people who have the time and money to sit there all day but they're not necessarily the people you want to see everyday.

BC: Unless you're a liver surgeon . . .

Tracey: Unless you're a liver surgeon, absolutely. How many times can you hear about someone's bitch of a wife in the space of a week? It's hard. There's nothing worse than that, being stuck entertaining people. It's horrifying.

"Interview with the..." is a regular feature in which we talk all things food-related with people working in the biz. If you ply a food-related trade and you'd like us to interview you, email us at info -at-


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