The Thirsty Bartender

I'm on YOLO's stage now.

It's Friday evening at the onset of happy hour, and I'm in YOLO's O Lounge — having second thoughts.

A manager here has offered me a guest stint as a drink slinger, and I have accepted. All week, I debated whether to study the five pages of recipes I'd been given to prepare for this, my first bartending experience. Cavalierly, I decided I'll wing it. Only now does it dawn on me that the only drink I'm proficient at mixing is a vodka tonic.

Perhaps the manager has suspected this, because I am — thankfully! — assigned a bartender baby sitter. Expert cocktail maker Fred has a tall, skinny frame, and when asked to describe his bartending style, he says "stork." Watch out for his flailing arms, he warns. I take note and suck down the rest of my prework cocktail. It's 6 p.m., time for my two-hour shift to begin. Let's do this.

YOLO — for You Only Live Once — is a swanky restaurant and bar that opened last October on Las Olas Boulevard, Broward County's version of Rodeo Drive. Out front, there's an open-air patio bar filled with outdoor tables and couches. Inside, it's all glam. This place appeals to a certain species: to the flat-ironed-hair, shiny-tank-topped females of the world and to buff, smooth-talking men — the type of men with nice shoes. I'm in uniform-like apparel: black pants, black shirt, and a pair of gray Chuck Taylors.

Fred and I exit the O Lounge (sometimes affectionately referred to as the "Ho Lounge" by insiders) and stroll up to our station: the main bar. Half of this bar sticks outside facing the patio area, and the other half is inside, facing the dining area. The bar is the busiest part of the restaurant. Already, there are groups of people ranging in age from 20 to about 70. As the night progresses, this will be the oasis for hundreds — maybe thousands! — of very thirsty customers. I stop, suddenly wishing I'd brought a cheat sheet.

"Are you nervous?" Fred asks.

"What do you think?" I take a deep breath and march behind the counter.

Normally, I sit all day (during work, behind a computer; after work, on the barstool); bartenders, though, are performers. Closely watched, on center stage, they must earn their tips.

I worry aloud how people will respond to my poorly poured drinks. I realize I'm going to have to abandon my signature move, the eye roll. But the amiable bartenders — Fred, Jenna, and Suzette — reassure me with a pep talk. Drink recipes be darned, they say. I already possess the best weapon: a persistent smile.

After watching Fred expertly handle a few orders, I decide to try this on my own. So I head over to two cute male yuppies in need of drinks. They want Stellas. After watching me wander bewilderedly for a minute, Fred tells me to stop looking for the drafts — there are none. I thrust my hand into the beer fridge, catching a falling Heineken before a beer-domino effect occurs. I plop the bottles in front of the customers and smile sheepishly. They don't complain. I take that as a triumph.

Soon, I get the hang of things. A charming gal in a flowing dress who has been chugging wine requests a refill. Her wink to me gets her an extra two inches of white wine. Jenna, the platinum-blond bartender, coaches me through a mojito, bless her. Most folks are jovial pairs with simple requests: wine, beer, a Captain and coke, vodka tonics.

Later, two dressed-up, middle-aged females approach. I am sauntering over to help them when a white-haired man with a bright melon shirt fiercely motions with his twitchy hand.

"These ladies would like to order," he says sternly. The drinks will be on his tab. He has big, denture-like teeth.

"Of course," I respond.

The ladies order two glasses of wine.

As I turn away, Mr. Teeth regrabs my attention: "Make sure they get happy-hour prices." He shoves his flip phone in my face. "See. It's still 7." When I hand over the wine, Mr. Teeth begs, "They were happy-hour prices, right?" Within moments, the ladies pick up their drinks and ditch him. I flash my winning smile again.

Other patrons are much more lovely. A man with slicked-back dark hair and olive skin moseys up.

"What can I get for you?" I ask cheerily.

"One Stoli and tonic," he responds. "And one Stoli and tonic with grapefruit juice."

I freeze on the word grapefruit.

"What goes with the grapefruit juice again?" I ask him.

Mr. Slick-back repeats.

I scoop ice into the glass, but... damn it. I find Fred and tell him I keep forgetting the second drink. Fred takes over like a champ.

"Are you a rookie?" Mr. Slick-back asks. He keeps his neck curved forward, resembling a ferret standing on hind legs.

"That I am," I say, my smile saving me again. "I'm sorry I keep forgetting your drink order."

Fred hands him the other drink with his stork-like arms. Mr. Slick-back kindly tells him, "You know, she has potential. She's worth keeping." I thank him.

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