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Making Rent in One Night: My First Big Bartending Gig

March 26, 2008 By Matt Meltzer in Miami: Nightlife  | 4 Comments

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A lot of people come to Miami with no job and no practical work experience and figure “Hey, if nothing else I can bartend.” And if you are a skinny girl with a big chest or a guy with some bartending experience (or at least the ability to lie about having any) it is not an unrealistic plan. Miami is chock full of hotels, bars and nightclubs all in search of people to serve overpriced drinks to tourists and locals alike.

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Many are lured with tales of bartenders here who make their rent in one night of working, slinging drinks for 14 hours at a time and walking home with so much cash they have to buy a firearm. And I will tell you, dear non-bartender, that this is no urban legend. These jobs do exist. And, yes, it is possible for a guy or a girl who is not a supermodel to get one. It only takes one thing to get these types of jobs: Luck. Or, more specifically, being lucky enough to know someone who can introduce you to the exact right person at the exact right time.

THE GHETTO GOURMET AS GATEWAY

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Such was my case, as what initially seemed like an unjustified firing turned out to be the gateway to the greatest job I ever had. In February of last year, I was summarily dismissed from a bar I was working at in South Beach. Most of the management there loved me and thought I was a terrific bartender, but one didn’t and as such I was let go. Oh well, this is the life when you are in the service industry. At the same time, Gus (the proprietor of this site) invited me to some dinner event called “The Ghetto Gourmet.”

I won’t go into too much detail about the event, as that is a whole nother long, entertaining story in and of itself. But among the attendees was one of the more-tenured managers at the bar which had just fired me, who had no idea that I had been dismissed.  Surprised at this turn of events, he referred me to a friend of his who managed a new superbar/club downtown that was in desperate need of bartenders on Friday nights. It was only one shift a week, but, hey, it was better than the zero I was working then.

ALWAYS WORK SOMEWHERE YOU’D NEVER GO

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Now I had been to this bar on a Friday once and swore up and down I would never go back. It was packed with a crowd that was not exactly my type, but whats worse it took me an hour to get one drink. Bartenders summarily ignored me wherever I went, one even going so far as to stand and count her tips while I was waiting right in front of her. She was six feet tall and blonde with a very expensive chest, so I guess she figured she could get away with it. I left in disgust.

But if I have learned one thing, it is that bars that you would hate to go to (at least if you are an impatient asshole like myself) are the exact bars you want to work at. Because when they are understaffed, the bartenders are getting seriously paid.  I went into this bar the Tuesday after the Ghetto Gourmet meeting and met with the manager, who said he’d give me a one-night tryout on that Thursday to see if I could handle the volume. He set me up at a bar with a guy named Frank, and I didn’t see the manager again. Frank and I worked pretty well together that night, so he said he’d tell the manager to have me come in on Friday. We went to look for him and after about half an hour we found him at another bar and he looked at me and said, “Who are you again? Oh, yeah, sure, be here at 4:00 tomorrow.” Looks like I had a job.

BARTENDING THROUGH THE PERFECT STORM

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I showed up at 4 the next day and the place was deserted. As a matter of fact, I was the only bartender who was even there. But when you’re new, it is always better to be early than late. I wore a long-sleeved black shirt and black slacks, which I later learned was a major mistake. At about 5 everyone showed up and we had pre-shift meeting and then hit the back of the bar. So far, so good.

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I was stationed at a large outside bar that was set up for four bartenders but instead staffed 8. This was supposedly so we could serve more people faster and nobody would be waiting an hour for a drink. Like I did. But the computers only ran so fast, and by the time we had a steady flow of customers it became clearly apparent that the lack of places to ring people up made the extra bodies behind the bar pretty much useless.  I made it though happy hour, thinking that it had been a pretty good pace, and that, yeah, I could handle a bar like this. And then the rush came.

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Now, I had worked in some busy places, but this was like nothing I had ever seen. Every time you looked up there was a wall of people waving at you. Every time you bent down to get money out of the register, somebody was yelling “Hey, bro, just lemme get 2 Heinekens.” You never stopped moving, you never stopped pouring, I had sweat through my all black ensemble by 8:30, and I was starting to get thirsty. We started to run out of everything, every customer was complaining that we took too long and that we were ignoring them. But there was no way to service everyone. I think I rang up about $4300 that first night, which was a little below average. By the time I got used to the layout I was topping $5000 regularly, which apparently was still lower than it had been before we had 8 behind the bar.

I JUST WOULDN’T SUGGEST ROLLING AROUND IN THE CASH…

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Finally, about 2:30 the wave started to recede and I was able to use the bathroom (the density of people inside made it nearly impossible for me to go before). I got back and the manager was kicking out the drunk and belligerent lingerers. I was instructed to start counting the cash in the buckets.

By the time I reached $800 in one bucket, I knew it was going to be a good night. I finished that chore early and helped the barbacks clean up for a little bit (busy bars like this usually have barbacks doing the bulk of the setup and cleanup) and then watched the bartenders who had computers close out their credit card slips. We stopped serving at 3. They got done doing this about 5.

Counting the rest of the cash took another hour and at 6 I went into the checkout room where a large stack of cash sat on a table.

“We gotta split that up?” I asked the head bartendress of my bar.

“No, honey. That’s yours.” She laughed. “Get used to it.” (This was the single worst piece of advice I ever got. Never get used to making that much cash, because it will be insanely painful to give up.)

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So I began counting the bundles of hundred-dollar stacks, not fully realizing that I had just made more in one night than I had made in the entire last month. After I tipped out the barbakcs (usually between 20-25%, they often made more than we did)I tried to stuff the cash into my pockets but didn’t have enough room, and had to borrow a plastic Publix bag for the rest. I was still a little hesitant to walk the block to my car through a questionable neighborhood, but made a mental note to bring a club or a knife next time.

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I got home and felt like I’d been through a war. Every muscle I had hurt and all I could do in the shower was let the water cleanse me of the layers of Grey Goose and Johnny Walker that covered my arms. My fingers were red from cranberry juice for days afterward, and when I woke up at 2 the next day it was hard to get out of bed. But large amounts of cash tend to make pain go away prety quick. And so the pattern repeated for months after that.

Knowing full well jobs like this are hard to come by, I did everything I had to make sure I never missed a Friday night. Some weeks I would see that I was not on the schedule and would go in and ask why. The manager would invariably say “Oh, well, you’re supposed to be,” and add me back on. I would volunteer to work other shifts (which usually netted about $300 anyway), and never, ever took time off. Of course, when you only have to work one day a week, this is not a difficult thing to schedule around. But I did whatever managers asked, never complained, and made sure that I was held in high regard by the bosses.

HATE THE CUSTOMERS, THE GUYS HATE ME, BUT THE WOMEN ARE A DIFFERENT STORY

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When you start making that much, you stop being so nice to customers. After all, typically I’m making more money than they are. The nice ones, or even the indifferent ones, I was ok towards, but anyone who got an attitude got attitude right back. And if they didn’t like it, well, no drinks for them. Yes, the money gives you a bit of an ego as a bartender, just as much as it does when multiple girls leave their numbers on credit card slips every night. Of course, you have no idea who they are when you finally look at the slip, so nothing ever comes of it. But without a doubt it gives you a big head.

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My coworkers, for the most part, were all female as well. So, yes, they would bitch because they typically brought in more tips than we did, but we made up for it by ringing up more sales.  More importantly, though, it caused a lot of resentment among other, non-bartending staff members. For a long time, male servers and barbacks just assumed the bar didn’t hire guys, so they would have to work their way up to make the insane money the bartenders did. But when a new guy gets hired on, immediately there is some resentment.

I was as nice as I could be to all these guys who I knew hated me for taking their job, but hey, they didn’t know the guy I knew who sent me to the guy I needed to talk to, so there wasn’t a whole lot they could do. I was harshly scrutinized, I got dirty looks, and I think a couple of people even quit over it. But in this situation there is nothing you can do. I’m just trying to make my money, not take it from you. Some people, though, just don’t care. So if you are a guy and fall into this sort of situation, expect everyone to hate you at first.

THE ROOSTER IN THE HENHOUSE

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The upside, obviously, to being one of four guys on an all female staff (and only one of two single guys) is that the available female bartenders often take a liking to you. Now, I tried to avoid shitting where I ate for as long as I could, but sometimes you just can’t say no. One night when I was the last bartender on, the tall blonde with the expensive rack who had ignored me 6 months earlier as I tried to order a beer sat down at my bar to have an after-work vodka tonic. The temptation to completely ignore her as she had me was strong, but, hey, when the hottest bartender in the place sits down at your bar, only a dork ignores her.

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We ended up going out for drinks after we closed, and hit it off, and we ended up dating for a couple of months before I moved away. I won’t go into too much detail about the relationship, for a variety of reasons, but I will say that this was a girl I would have had zero chance with had I not been working at this bar. So in addition to making more money than I had ever made, I also got to sleep with, hands down, the hottest girl I had ever been with. And if you’ve ever wondered how it is you get to hook up with the hot bartender, working with her is a good place to start.

ALL GOOD THINGS MUST END

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As summer came the place started to die down as it got too hot, and too rainy, for the throngs of people to show up. My fellow bartenders started quitting and not being replaced. $1000 nights turned into $500 nights which turned into $300 nights. Last I checked with a girl I used to work with she was down to making less than a hundred a night before she quit. But that’s how it is in Miami: You’re hot for a while until the next big thing comes along. So just ride the gravy train as long as you can.

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I was lucky, folks, simple as that. For once in my life I was in the right place at the right time and found myself a bartending job that gave me everything I fantasized about when I decided to start in that field. Tons of cash, tons of time, access to lots of women and even, for a short time, a hot girlfriend. But all good things come to an end, and so did the dream job that I had. Maybe someday I’ll be lucky again and get back in the high life, or maybe you’ll be the one taking the job I so desperately want. No matter what, as long as people in Miami are drinking and partying like they are in no other city in America, jobs like this will exist. The question is, will you be lucky enough to land one?

Related Categories: Miami: Nightlife,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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4 Comments on

"Making Rent in One Night: My First Big Bartending Gig"

cmd says:

I really enjoyed the story. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us.

Posted on 04/20/2008 at 8:33 AM

VAL says:

I am a bartender. I really enjoyed reading your story, it kept me hooked all along..

Posted on 05/31/2008 at 9:29 PM

Angelo Cassanova says:

I really enjoyed your story and i’m very inspired,thanks a lot i’m going to look a bar tending job with confidence now; thanks a lot choa!!!!

Posted on 09/19/2008 at 1:31 PM

Felisa Williams says:

any leads on bartending jobs right now? i’m certified and attractive. i have no idea why i can’t find a gig here in Miami right now…I need all the help I can get.
Thanks,
Felisa

Posted on 11/24/2009 at 8:28 PM

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