the bartender

He was absolutely the most suave man anybody had ever met. Dressed all in black, with a silver bottle opener tucked neatly into his faux-leather belt, the bartender made his rounds, checking on customers as if each were the only one in the place. It was quiet, for a Thursday night, but he would not let one drink go empty, one pretty girl's cigarette go unlit. He walked with a slight swagger and spoke in smooth, one or two word phrases like, "Oh yeah?" (with a mischeivous smile) or "Nice," used to punctuate a funny story. Sometimes he would wink after that one. "Niiiicceee." Wink. That's how you get the girls. The above is a hopeful description - as in one I'm sure the actual bartender in question might have hoped for. He would see no tinge of sarcasm in this description. In fact, to make fun of this bartender to the point where he noticed it would, I'm sure, bring about pain too harsh for me to even think about. The strange thing is, I like this guy.

Last night after a few beers a friend and I decided it was time for a glass of wine, and an inevitable headache the next day (which did, on schedule, arrive). We chose the aptly named "Pub" for its charming decor. Christmas lights hang outside around a plastic covered dining area. The inside is smoky and "mysterious" with a bar surrounded by several tables and booths. On our only other trip to this pub my friend and I had planted ourselves at the bar right about where we ended up last night.

Again, the conversation with friendly strangers was effortless. We talked about fishing with our new best friend to the right, a gentleman who inspired the subject when he produced a picture of himself with a monstrous fish he had caught. To the group in back of us, more our age, the conversation was one of casual shouts more than anything really meaningful. "Drink!" "Woo!" Stuff like that.

My friend and I, experts in the art of baring our innermost thoughts and worries when out together, interspersed our deep dialouge with observations of our magical surroundings. Fake pine-tree vines climbed about the bar and over liquor bottles. "Is it Christmas?" I asked the bartender, probably one too many times - two times, being too many.

The bartender laughed though. His nonchalance about the place brutally clear; he made it so. The food? Not so good. The crowd? Pretty tame tonight. The red wine? May have been uncorked several weeks ago. His mission was clear. This was an ultra hip bartender in a mediocre bar - or at least, this was the persona being thrown in my face - "thrown," of course, in an extremely subtle way. This was his way.

He had an act. He had his black shirt tucked in neatly and his hair styled. He really did look after his customers, the bartender, and although he mentioned several times that this was an unusually small crowd, I got the feeling he liked it that way.

But I liked him. I liked this bartender because he made me feel cool. He made me feel like my friend and I, having our late night glass of red wine and deep, neverending talks, were special. He made me feel justified in making fun of the Christmas decorations in August. He made me feel like I could just go this bar alone, sit, and spill my worries, because that was his job - to listen - as the bartender.

I probably won't do that.

The last time my friend visited this particular "Pub" the bartender was a different sort. He was wearing safety goggles and encouraging us to attend '80's night. When we inquired about this other bartender and the famed "'80's night" to Mr. Suave, he scoffed at his competing co-worker, muttering something like, "Sure, he's always got some crazy thing going on..."

For last night there was no talk of Dixie's Midnight Runners or The Cars. Last night was about a mysterious man all in black who provided us with a hip attitude in a Christmas-decorated pub in a strip mall, a chance to talk, and red wine that had been opened for the least amount of time.