The Sad side of Bartending

How Alcoholism can make you question your profession

Bartender Lloyd from The Shining

The first time I took a sip of alcohol was when I was 22. I was at a party with a few friends from work. We were all playing Liars dice, a game I’d never played before. Sitting beside me was a girl I’d had a mega crush on for over a year. That night had been her last as she’d quit to move to Halifax for the upcoming school year. Deflated due to her impending departure, I was eager to try something new that evening. As a going away present to her, our boss Dan had given her a bottle of her favourite Scotch, Oban 14yr. With the bottle now firmly in play on the table before me, shots to the loser were soon to follow. By round 4 my time as a non drinker soon came to an end as I’d lost this rounds play. With the 5 of them eager to see me taste my first sip, I took the 2 finger pour down as best I could. Laughter and screams soon ensued as everyone watched in horror the pain I was now in. “Holy shit! That stuff burns” I’d soon yell out. Red faced with a tear in one eye, a sigh of relief soon washed over me. I’d done it, I drank my first sip. By the end of the evenings proceedings, another 5 shots of Oban would ensue with a final nail in the coffin shot of gin to put me out for good. I was drunk. Hoping to finally get a kiss, all I ended up with was a quick sleep and a massive headache. That was the night I first tasted alcohol. It was 14 years ago.

I now drink a lot more. I’m now a bartender. To see how far I’ve come since that fateful summer’s evening I’m amazed still that I didn’t throw up. I still haven’t. In 14 years, I’ve yet to throw up from drinking. Not once. I’ve come close…many times…but only close. Nowadays, I prefer wine to Scotch. I’ll still drink an Oban from time to time, reminders touch always there with each first sip. But as I’ve gotten older and maybe a little wiser, my affection for alcohol has changed little. A shot can be much fun at a concert. A glass of wine is perfect with a nice meal and there’s nothing better than that first sip of Guinness. I’ve come to love drinking as much as the next guy. Cocktails are great and so is port. I’ll never understand the appeal of a vodka soda but hey that’s just me. All in all I believe I’ve seen pretty much everything you can imagine. 14 years of bar tending will do that for you. But for all those late nights serving drink after drink the one aspect that always hits me the most is the one guy who’s had one too many.

One month ago I was informed by a colleague of mine that a guest I’d been serving had fallen ill and almost died due to lung and liver failure. One night he’d admitted himself to the hospital complaining of chest pains (he’s a heavy smoker) and pain in his abdomen. His doctor would tell him that his body was failing and that some internal bleeding by his liver had accounted for his severe pain. Surgery had to be done.

This guest was a person I’d come to know well over the past few years. He was nice and gracious. But within his time at the bar, nightly I would see him drink. A lot. By my guess close to — if not — more than a bottle of Jamesons Irish whisky per day. This was just with us at my bar. Rumor has it from other bartender friends of mine we weren’t his only daily stop.

I want you to stop for a second and say that figure a loud with me.

1 full bottle of Jamesons — PER DAY!

That’s a lot.

The sad part is I knew that this was happening. I was a catalyst to his addiction. His drug dealer so to speak. I know this as did he. Serving him was my job. It’s how I pay my bills and live my life. For the most part I love it.

Seeing him fall this way wasn’t.

It hit me hard knowing how close he’d come to dying. A few days later I’d see him by the bar. He was limping and he seemed extremely pale. Not knowing what had happened to him, I’d soon ask.

“Hey how are you?”

“I’m fine.”

“Everything alright?”

“Yeah, I should be fine.”

Not thinking much of it at the time, I’d later be told of why he looked so bad.

Over the next few weeks he would continue to sit at the bar. Only each time he’d look worse and worse. Green was his colour the last time I’d see him. That was two days ago.

Seeing this is hard. Over the past 4 years, he’s probably spent 20 hours a week sitting at my bar. Drink after drink I said nothing. As, his addiction soon became a lifestyle my indifference to his problem never led me to stop serving him. I wish had.

The doctors have now told him that if he keeps on drinking he’ll die. His liver is failing. They’ve urged him to seek counselling. He refuses, motioning to me that he’s got it. He’ll be fine.

I don’t believe him.

His is not the only case I’ve seen. Alcoholism is always around me as it hides itself in various forms. I’ve seen bartenders with the disease and many many patrons. Trips to rehab and AA are never uncommon to hear of.

This is the sad part of my profession.

To not feel anything for these people who struggle is wrong. Some of them are friends and some are not. I’m not sure why he drank the amount he did. He was not too old and and he seemed happy. Was it loneliness? Boredom? I’ll never know.

There’s a horror that oftentimes comes with individuals like him. Was I partly to blame? Should I have said something? Could I have stopped him? I ask myself these questions a lot now.

As a kid, growing up in my home my mother never drank. It was just the 3 of us, my mother, sister and I. We were a poor family as my mother was a bi-product of a troubled up bringing. Things were different back then. Abuse more prevalent. With little education and a loving heart she found a way to get us by. With no fatherly figure to help guide our way, my sister and I clung to the morale that we could survive anything. Stealing your friends lunch at school because you have nothing to eat will do that to you.

Growing up poor was tough. Growing up without a father even tougher. Almost seeing your mother die as your sisters drunk father tries to stab her was even worse. I’m not afraid of my past nor am I ashamed of it. He went to prison. His was my first encounter with Alcoholism. I was 6 at the time.

To this day I think I’ve only seen my mother drink a handful of times.

I believe I know why.

The pain Alcoholism can cause is brutal. It’s a disease that has probably touched you or someone you know in a personal way. To see its effects can oftentimes bring you to tears. Or worse yet to a funeral.

I hope the man I’ve been serving makes it through. I pray he does. I pray he one day stops drinking.

I love my job and I love serving alcohol. Making people happy is wonderful.

For every good part of something there’s often a bad. Alcoholism is the sad part of my job. Accepting this is hard to swallow.

I’m not sure how much longer I can watch this.

I hope I never have to again.

This is the sad side of Bartending and it makes me want to cry.