The light flickered just slightly in the little bar. Not enough for everyone to notice, but enough for the bartender to.
He flicked the little light with his index finger, causing it to flicker some more.
“We gotta get this fixed,” the bartender said in a fashion that suggested he had said it before.
Two couples sat at the bar; the first staring long into each other’s eyes, the second sitting cross-armed and avoiding eye contact at all costs.
The bartender took a look at them and then went back to the light. If the key to happiness is to fix the things we can and accept the things we can’t, then that bartender had already made his choice.
“I thought you said you were gonna get that fixed,” said the regular, sitting by himself between the two sets of lovers.
“That was last week,” the bartender said, his tone suggesting a long-held familiarity.
The man shrugged. Sometimes understanding something is far less important than merely knowing that it’s true.
The bar filled and emptied of patrons like a tide of humanity, in and out, as timeless as the moon.
A squealing female threesome finally ran out of steam — or baby-sitting time — and left before the man’s salad arrived. The big-talking money men in the corner reached their witching hour early and made a hasty retreat. Responsibility certainly can take the time right out of the day.
In the bar business people come and go. The hipsters hop around desperately trying to stay one step ahead of conformity. The foodies follow the restaurant reviewers around like they are demi-gods, never quite sure of what they like until someone they don’t know tells them. The trendies will drink you out of a particular beer or whiskey or cocktail, regardless of whether they actually like it, just in order to belong to some invisible fraternity. People you have never seen will tell you things about your business they couldn’t possibly know, never once thinking to ask if any of it is true.
And through it all, the weekly regulars will come in, chat, eat, drink and leave. They are the real backbone of the restaurant business. They are not there because they think they are cool or smarter than the rest or because they “know the owner” and want something for free. They are there because they simply like the place.
The melodrama of the rest of human existence happens all around them. Maybe their spouse travels. Maybe they don’t like to cook. Maybe they have demanding jobs. Whatever the case, all they want is a little respite from the storm. Don’t we all?
And it’s the bartender’s job to provide it.
Too often successful businesses pine for what they don’t have. They want a younger clientele. They want a hipper scene. They want more big spenders. More men. More women. An older clientele. What they end up doing is losing sight of what they already have. It’s akin to telling your spouse or partner the same thing. You are virtually guaranteeing that at some point you will be looking for a new one.
Soon enough some stocking-hatted scruffies descended on the bar interrupting the regular’s enjoyment of his entrée.
Shots of Pappy Van Winkle whiskey were soon chased by Pliny the Elders and finished with shots of Fernet Branca, before Uber whisked them off to somewhere cooler.
The regular finished his meal and followed it with his favorite dessert. The pattern is always similar ifnot exactly the same. Change can be so overrated, and not all change is good.
Eventually he rose to go.
The bartender looked up from his flickering light.
“Take it easy.”
“See you soon,” he said before heading back to his life at large.
Somewhere in your town, maybe right down the street, a similar story will play out tonight, just like it does every night in the bar business.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
• “Familiarity breeds contempt,” wrote Chaucer in his “Canterbury Tales,” a notion I completely disagree with.
• Without constants there would be no way to measure change.
• “It’s not having what you want. It’s wanting what you’ve got,” Sheryl Crow observed.
• Thanks to all my regulars out there. I wouldn’t do it without you.