Tag Archives: bars

A man walks into a bar (and other clichés)

I love a good cliché. With my unrivalled ability to roll out a casual inanity for every occasion, I could probably have been a football managercoach were it not for a terrifying lack of ability and an underlying loathing of anyone whose ego is so large that it can’t even be carried on to an airplane as hand baggage.

Nonetheless, I consider it a personal failure if I don’t manage to crank out at least one over-used phrase per day. You’ll simply not see me happier than the moments after I’ve just managed to slip a cliché into an otherwise normal conversation. Well, unless you happen to catch my pumped-fist salute coming out of the toiletbathroom, after a painful four day bout of constipation has triumphantly been brought to an end, that is.

Personal favourites include ” actions speak louder than words”, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, “it ain’t over til the fat lady sings” or “no pain, no gain”, although try as I might, I’m yet to find a way to fit “there’s a thin line between love and hate” into a meeting without being given the look generally reserved for the moment when you realise that the falafel you just bit into was actually a breadcrumbed sheep’s testicle.

The fact is though that most clichés are borne of the truth. And none more so than “it’s a small world.”

Last night I walked into a perfectly everyday American bar just around the corner from where I live in the depths of Brooklyn. Faced with the choice of American beers that look and taste like water (or, worse still, look and taste like urine), I opted for a taste of Britain, in the shape of a ‘pint’ of Bass.

Bass is a strange thing. I’m not even sure that there still is a beer sold under the Bass name in the UK, and if there is, I probably wouldn’t order it (although to be fair, drinking canned Shandy Bass as a kid was one of my great not-as-illicit-as-it-seemed pleasures). But here, Bass seems to have a connotation of high quality – a seemingly safe bet when faced with mountains of six packs of Coors Light, Bud Light, and that weird lime tasting beer that I’ve never quite understood the point of.

Reader, I digress. Having downed my first beer with a speed that would make Usain Bolt’s face blanch, I walked to the bar to buy my second libation.

“Where in the UK are you from?” asked Woman Who I Would Call A Barmaid In The UK.

In the United States, being asked this question fills a Brit with joy and unabandoned glee because it means three things . Firstly, it means they’ve heard of the UK (not a given, trust me). Secondly, they haven’t confused you with an Australian, a Swede or a Canadian. And thirdly, there’s a vague chance that they’ve heard of some British city that’s not London.

“I come from a place called Chester,” I said meekly, readying myself to give directions from London or – at best – Manchester.

“Oh right. I spent my first day in the UK in Chester. My husband’s from Liverpool. I like Chester, although it’s a bit strange.”

I laughed at the thought of an American being confused by a city that has anything older than 500 years in it, and walked back to my seat.

A few moments later, a completely unrelated guy came over to our table.

“Excuse me, mate. Did I hear you say you’re from Chester? I’m from Wrexham actually. Nice to see you,” he said, before wandering out of the door.

Wrexham’s probably eight miles from Chester. I used to date a girl from Wrexham, and one night drove all the way home without realising I didn’t have my headlights on. I rarely came across someone from Wrexham when I was living in London though, let alone in suburban Brooklyn.

I’m now on eager alert for the random appearance of somebody who lived on my street as a kid, or who used to drink in the pub I used to work in and remembers the low cut Hawaiian style shirt I was forced to wear. After all, don’t these things come in threes?

Or would that just be a cliché?

Absolute filth

Just before I went to university, and was living at home with She Who Was Born To Worry and Little Sis, I managed to get a job as a barman working in a new pub in a renovated warehouse in Chester. To be fair, I wasn’t strictly honest when it came to the interview process. I may accidentally have suggested that I was pretty confident that I had completely messed upflunked my exams, and was going to need to take a year off. After all, no one was likely to take someone on with no experience of bar work, train them up, and watch them leave three months later.

Of course, my cover was well and truly blown a few months later when a picture of me and some classmates celebrating our exam success was printed in the local newspaper. But by then I’d found out plenty enough about the bar trade to get a job in any pub if ever I was to fall on hard times.

I’d like to say that all the lessons I learned were positive, but that would be a lie. Let’s just say that the management of the bar weren’t exactly scrupulous when it came to matters of consumer hygiene. Especially if it meant saving a bit of cash. If the wrong drink was ever poured, nobody was allowed to throw it away. Instead, it just waited on the side until somebody really did want that drink, and then it would surreptitiously be brought up from underneath the counter and proudly placed on the bar. And I always tried to steer clear of the kitchen if humanly possible. I went in a couple of times, and suffice to say that I never ate there even once afterwards.

The practice that horrified me most involved the barrels of beer that lay in the cellar beneath the pub. Every night, the landlord would collect up the slops that had collected underneath the beer pumps, take them downstairs, and empty them into the barrel of his choice. The fact that the collected drippings contained beers of all kinds, and probably every liquid from orange juice to gin, was neither here nor there to him. Let’s just say that the pub’s food wasn’t the only thing I didn’t consume.

Of course, it’s not just management that are guilty of unhygienic acts in bars and restaurants. From the chef who provides some of his – erm – ‘special sauce’ in the dish of a customer who has spent back his food one too many times, to the waiter who accidentally-on-purpose spills some water in the difficult diner’s lap, staff aren’t exactly innocent bystanders in the lack of cleanliness game.

That said, is it really necessary to make every American restaurant display a sign in their toiletrestroom proudly proclaiming that ‘all employees must wash their hands before returning to work’? I mean, if I’m in a restaurant, enjoying a foam of this or a ceviche of that, the last thing I need to think about is a collection of people who would be walking around with filthy toilet-soiled fingers if it wasn’t for a little notice on the wall. And to be honest, if you’re the kind of person who needs a sign to remind you to wash your hands, you’re probably not the kind of person who’s going to take notice of a sign urging you to wash your hands.

Maybe this is the first step in a series of restaurant and bar signs that do nothing more than state the obvious? Next time you’re in a swanky Michelin-starred eaterie, watch out for notices reading ‘employees must not scratch their arses when walking past a customer’s table’ or ‘please remember not to help yourself to a customer’s wine’.

As for a certain bar in Chester, the management have moved on and the name of the place has changed. But I still wouldn’t drink the beer, just in case…