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Returning Ornaments to Bars

I saw this story on Belfast Live where a drunken reveller stole an ornament from Sweet Afton in Belfast and it reminded me of a tale from my Whites Tavern days. Above the fireplace we had a stuffed animal… honestly, I don’t know if I could accurately say what animal it was… maybe a Stoat? We told people it was a Lagan Rat – the thing was huge. Somebody took it home with themselves after a drunken saturday night. The thing was gone for weeks! To be honest, things get stolen all the time… glassware, cutlery – random things. It just becomes another thing to deal with, but this Stoat was iconic to us. Tourists asked of it all the time, locals too – our wee Stoat. Then one morning I turned up to unlock the building and under the shutters was a thick envelope… no Stoat, but wait… Inside were pictures of the Stoat from locations all around Belfast and the wider area. Someone had taken it to the Castlereagh Hills, to Stormont (the bottom of the hill), Scrabo Tower, Samson & Goliath… even Belfast Zoo (which seemed a bit morbid to me…). How someone took the time and energy to do all this was incredible! It had a note attached that simple said, “We wanted to show him more of the world.” The Stoat never returned home… but we know that he saw more of Belfast than he ever would have from atop a soot covered...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Ninth: Bomb Scare Special

The date was December 20th 2013. I had been managing Whites Tavern for nearly 7 years at this point, recently though I had also taken up managing The Point Bar & Grill in Ballyhackamore. The last Friday before Christmas, in the bar/restaurant trade, is almost as mad as it gets. Most people have finished work that evening for the winter break and to celebrate, they hit the bars like a tonne of bricks. We were fully booked in both bars, I had only been managing The Point for 3 months and had a team in Whites who had survived many christmas seasons, so I decided to spend the working evening in Ballyhackamore. What could go wrong…? I saw on twitter that there was a bomb alert in Belfast City Centre. Just around the corner from Whites. So I did exactly what every non-sane person would do, I got in my car and drove towards it. I’m sure this is common practice for emergency services, journalists and the like, but it definitely doesn’t fall into the “job responsibilities” of bar management… at least not the advertised ones anyway. Here is a crappily drawn map – The red circle is Whites Tavern. The Black Square is the suspect device, the blue crosses are police barriers and the green arrow is the only open route to get to Whites. I had spoken with staff who said the police had advised them that they were safe and that we didn’t have to evacuate as it was far enough away from the premises, so the staff were valiantly battling on. I arrived and the...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Eighth – The Engagement

Saturday night after a busy shift, I’m sweeping the floors and I find a purse, in the purse are the usual stuff, some bank cards, store cards, receipts, money and an engagement ring. Quite an expensive looking engagement ring too… although to most men, I think all engagement rings look expensive. There’s no contact information other than linking the woman’s name with her Boot’s Advantage card, that kinda thing. In situations like this I normally give it a few days and then contact the banks and tell them the card has been found and could the contact the account holder and tell them where they can pick it up. I probably should report the cards as lost straight away, but I always think they might come in the next morning, at which point I’ll have cancelled their bank cards and will have to through that whole fuss of getting new cards. So I wait. Sunday morning and I’m in getting set up for the day, I get a phone call from a woman who says she was in the night before and she thinks she lost her purse in the bar, I ask her name and it checks out so I tell her yeah, it’s here, she can come and collect it at any point. A couple of hours pass and then the woman and a guy come in, introduce themselves, he is her fiancé and she was out for the night with some friends when she lost her purse. I hand over the purse and say “I checked it when I found it, it looks like there is...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Seventh – Celebs

The nature of running a touristy historic bar like White’s Tavern is that from time to time, you’re going to get celebrities coming in. I’m not a fame-chaser, it’s kinda interesting when you see someone you recognize from TV or film or sports but unless it’s someone I’m a fan of, or they’re in something I’m a fan of, it’s just anecdotal. Here’s a few celeb anecdotes from my time in White’s. John C. McGinley This guy, I’m a fan of! I’m a huge fan of Scrubs, I would regularly binge watch series for days on end, Dr. Cox was a bit of an idol (if you’re not used to my writing, I’m a big fan of sarcasm…). If you don’t recognise the name, you may know him from films like The Rock, Any Given Sunday or Wild Hogs. So, being the Scrubs fan that I am, I was standing serving away on a busy Saturday night shift, I spotted John C. McGinley standing at the end of the bar, chatting away to someone. Not gonna lie, i was a bit starstruck… I mean, this is DR COX! So I threw all queue etiquette out of the window and went to him next, I didn’t want another server getting to him first! I stood by him, this iconic actor from my favourite show, this king of sarcasm, he was talking away to someone and I didn’t want to be rude so I politely waited for him to finish his conversation. He must have spotted me standing there, he turned to me and said “hey man, you looking for me...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Sixth – The Baby Guinness

My first ever shift in a bar was in White’s Tavern, when I was over visiting Belfast on half-term. I’d done glass collecting in pubs before, I’d helped in kitchens as a KP, but I’d never served a drink in my life… I used to tell this story regularly to new bar staff, partly to let them know that everyone makes mistakes, partly so that I was in control of the story, instead of them hearing the story from somebody else that could paint it even worse than it was. It wasn’t a particularly busy shift, and after a couple of hours, the shift supervisor, let’s call him Wayne, went upstairs to sort something out, leaving me on the bar alone. A guy came up to the bar and ordered a round which included a Baby Guinness. I’d never heard of this before and thought “that’s a bit of an odd one… but ok, whatever.” So I grabbed a half pint glass, filled it 2/3 of the way up with Guinness and left it to settle. I got the rest of the order together and set it up for the guy. The customer then saw the half pint of Guinness waiting to be finished and said “I didn’t order that,” I said “you asked for a Baby Guinness,” he replied, “No, a Baby Guinness… a shot!” I thought “that’s even weirder… but I guess if that’s what he wants, then that’s what he wants…” So I grabbed a shot glass, cocked it at a 45 degree angle and poured about half a seconds worth of Guinness into the shot...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Fifth – The Rasta & The Goth

This one goes back about 8 years, to when I was working in a cocktail bar in Waterloo, London. It was one of the more challenging bar jobs I’ve had, I can do cocktails and enjoy the innovation but back then it was just a chore to me, it was mojito after mojito after mojito after mojito… It was relentless! Within the bar, I was the only native English speaker who worked there, the owner and a couple of staff were Indian and the bar manager and all of the other front of house staff were Eastern European, if there was a problem or a situation developing, I’d be shoved to the front because I had better language skills than the other staff. This was normally fine, having to explain to a customer why it is in fact NOT impossible for us to run out of mint and have to take the mojito off the menu for the evening. Occasionally though, it would be to talk a situation down from a point of conflict. Most issues can be talked out, but when the staff member intervening didn’t perhaps have the right words or understanding of the argument in question, it can be more difficult. Waterloo, for those that don’t know, is on the south bank of the Thames in London, there’s a lot of… I’m thinking of the nicest way to put this… let’s say “tough areas,” there are lots of gangs, there’s a lot of crime. On one busy weekend evening, balls-to-the-walls, the owner came to the bar and pointed out a guy who was clearly absolutely wasted,...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Fourth – McCigarette

Next in the Behind The Bar Tales series, a short anecdote that I had forgotten about Danny, the mad-when-drunk supervisor from when I first started in Whites.  (Names changed to protect identities/me from being sued) After a Sunday night after-work-drinking session that had gone on perhaps a bit too long, we decided breakfast was needed. So we locked up and went in search of greasy food. Cafés weren’t yet open so the only option was McDonalds. Me, Danny and another guy ordered our grub and took a seat to eat. Danny lit up a cigarette (this was before the smoking ban but you couldn’t smoke in McDonalds), and puffed on it as he ate his muffin and drank his coffee. A worker who was cleaning the floor came over and said “Sir, you have to put that out,” Danny said “aye, OK then…” and made as if to stub it out. The employee went back to sweeping… Moments later, as he was mid-bite on a McMuffin, a woman who was clearly the duty manager came over and said in quite a firm (and perhaps a bit haughty) manner, “Listen, you can’t smoke in here, this is a restaurant…” Danny put down his muffin, looked her in the eye, brought his cigarette up to his mouth and took a looooooong draw on it, then took his time in blowing it out again… then said (and I will remember this until the day I die!) “Look luv, I’d hardly fucking call McDonalds a restaurant now, would you?” I don’t even remember what happened next, I hope that what happened was her...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Third – The Broken Arse

Next up in my Behind The Bar Tales series of candid accounts of real life incidents during my time in the hospitality industry: The Story of Danny. (once again, names changed to protect identities/me from being sued) Danny was a decent guy, sober – absolutely solid bloke… after a few drinks, all bets were off. When I first started working at White’s Tavern, Danny was a supervisor and I was bar staff. During the occasional lock-in, there was no knowing what Danny would get up to. He’d had a kid very young and had been in an on/off relationship with the kid’s mother that from my view, wasn’t healthy for either of them. When he let loose with friends and colleagues, it was like he was making up for lost years… sometimes, in one night. There are 3 Danny stories that spring immediately to mind. 1: During an after work session with a few staff, for some reason (known only to the gods of rum) the subject of a 3-person-piggy-back came up. I said it could be done, Aaron (the manager) said it could be done, Danny however stood by his opinion that it was impossible. So attempt it we did. Quick note… the bar floor in White’s is solid stone… Aaron was the biggest of us and was the clear choice for a sturdy base, he assumed the position. I was a few inches taller than Danny so I was up next, jumped up onto Aaron’s back and we held a good solid piggy back. Danny, still renouncing this as impossible (and in hindsight, perhaps not a good...

Behind The Bar Tales: The Second – Dildogate

So, one story into the Behind The Bar Tales series. The premise remains the same, candid anecdotes from my time working in the hospitality industry, names will be changed to protect identities (mainly to protect me from being sued). When I managed White’s Tavern, like many pubs, we had our daily regulars. These folk become furniture and family (both for good and bad…) some of them were fantastic people that I’ve a lot of time for, some of them were absolutely terrible human beings, but when they are there 4, 5, 6 or 7 days a week for anywhere upwards of 3 or 4 hours a day, you learn to survive in their presence. One regular, who would have been among our most frequent, we’ll call him “Tim,” he was an arsehole. Just an absolute dick. There’s probably a few Behind The Bar Tales in his dickishness alone. But this isn’t for that… He was a complete sleaze with women, never anything that was a reasonable excuse to get rid of the old git, but enough to make me want to. So, here’s the story. Tim is in his 70’s, early one afternoon he gets chatting to a middle-aged woman, dressed a bit provocatively, doesn’t reject his pathetic attempts at flirting… so Tim thinks he’s on to a winner here. He’s buying her drinks all afternoon, probably 5 or 6 rounds of spirits and wine, he’s being REALLY sleazy by this point, arm around her, just really EUGH. She isn’t rejecting him though so there’s no accounting for taste I guess. For some reason (and I have no idea...

Behind The Bar Tales: The First – The Bad E

Now I’m not working in the hospitality trade, I find myself remembering some of the more entertaining occasions during my time in the industry. The clarity afforded by not having to live it daily has helped to clear the mind of the constant necessity to unblock toilets/fix the glasswasher/work out who’s stealing the salt cellars, now the humour has room to breath. Now the exciting times, the “you cannot be serious” moments, even the odd dangerous occasion, I now look back and remember them freer than I could from within. I thought I’d write them up here in a new series of blog posts. Also, it will hopefully lead to me blogging more often,I tend to write longer think pieces which are less frequent than I’d prefer, so maybe these short interludes will encourage my writing bone to act more. Some will probably be quite short, some may take a bit longer to tell though. I’m pretty sure most people who work in a bar, restaurant, nightclub or another front-line business in the hospitality trade have had a conversation along this line before… “TV production companies should put cameras in this place and do a fly-on-the-wall documentary, but nobody would believe half the shit that goes on here was real!” I’ve been part of that conversation in at least 3 bars and I imagine it’s a pretty common thought. This isn’t a fly on the wall documentary though, just a memory. Throughout this series I will be frank and honest, but I will change people’s names as I don’t want sued… So here it goes. About 7 years ago...