The Thirsty Bartender
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, 333 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-523-1000, or visit yolorestaurant.com.
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.
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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.
But despite his charitable words, I give up. It's only 7:46 p.m., but I've been accosted by a set of dentures and proven incompetent at the simple task of mixing three liquids together. I think I know my place in the world — and it's on the far side of the bar. I drop myself onto a stool and order a stiff one.
It's a tad before dark, and the older crowd starts giving way to a mob of 20-somethings. A gorgeous flock of fancy-heeled females orders Strawberry Kisses, one of YOLO's signature drinks. I overhear that they're on a manhunt. I spot a hot-and-heavy couple making out. Glittery lights come on and outline the palm trees, and glamour seems to burn from the fire pit. Everyone comes to YOLO to be seen.
I'm ready to mingle. I go to sip my vodka tonic but spill it instead.
"You're not supposed to tip your drink when you have a straw," Rob, a fellow patron, schools me. I explain that I was bartending earlier — maybe give a hard-working woman a break?
"You're not very good at what you do," he notes.
I peer at him. "Let me see: How can I describe you?"
"Tall, dark, and handsome," he offers.
Freed from whatever bar etiquette I might've had while on duty, I express my agreement by laughing.
"What? Am I not tall?" Rob asks. "Seriously?" he continues as he looks up and down analyzing himself. "I'm very casual, very unpretentious." On his roughly five-foot-seven frame, he wears jeans and a teal T-shirt with so many showy gold embellishments that it almost ceases to be a T-shirt.
"Oh, you're wearing loafers," I observe.
"I love loafers," he says as he stretches out his leg to admire them. "Do you know what that means?"
"No, what does wearing loaf — "
"I'm casual," he cuts me off. "Loafers with no socks mean I'm a casual guy."
"Are you growing out a mustache?" I ask.
"No," he responds. "Everyone told me to shave it off, so it looks like a little buzzed mustache. Like you have a little mustache, but you really don't want a mustache... like a little silhouette of a mustache. Very L.A. — like Brad Pitt."
Ah, I see. I chuckle. I like Buzzed Mustache — he makes me laugh.
By 10:40 p.m., the main bar is packed. I run into a few old schoolmates. I converse with a coworker from my day job. A cute man with dimples is unpursueable because I'm waiting for food.
Then randomly, a dude hobbles through the bar's beehive, showing lady after lady a pink razor. When he presses it, shaving cream smears onto the bar. "This is going to change how people shave," he declares. "No more shaving cream cans!"
He stops at me. Surprise, surprise, turns out he is a friend of Buzzed Mustache's. After introducing himself as Lou, handing me his business card, and asking my name (Mickie), he bursts into song: "Oh Mickey, you're so fine/You're so fine, you blow my mind, hey Mickey!" Like no one has sung this to me before.
I consider the opening lines of that '80s Toni Basil hit — "Hey Mickey/You've been around all night /And that's a little long" — and realize it's time to split.
Bartending Grade: C+
Nightly jolt: Toni Basil's Mickey
Status: Definitely still single
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