Later, I learned he wasn't drunk at all; rather, the reason he was the way he was stemmed from a terrible car accident that left him mildly brain damaged. I learned a valuable lesson in bartending that day: Do not assume that someone is drunk simply because they are slurring and wobbling.
A few years later, I encountered another slurbbler. After a short conversation, I surmised that he suffered from some sort of brain damage and, well, who needs a drink more than the brain damaged, so I poured the man a cocktail, and another, and another, and then.... Ka-clatter bam blam slammo! All 270 or so pounds of him fell to the floor followed by the evil green upheaval. I learned another valuable lesson in bartending then: Just because you have brain damage doesn't mean you ain't totally puke-butt drunk.
That was then. Today, of course, I am the cut-off pro. I've cut off celebrities and dignitaries. I could smash up Satan's moonshine still and he'd walk away glad that I did. But it hasn't always been that way. It took years of bad choices and good lessons to obtain my present level of Zen Master Cutter-Offer.
Now, the state of California says it is illegal to serve anyone who “appears” intoxicated (which is like evicting anyone from the dance floor who appears to be dancing). So before they sentence some 22-year-old rookie bartender to prison for some sorry sot's tragic drunken auto collision, I would like the state of California to know something: This cutting off business isn't as easy as it seems.
Case History: “K” was in his late 50s, living off disability, strung out on pain meds and drinking himself to rancid-land about four times a week. K's distinguishing physical characteristic was a lazy left eye that drooped lower and lower the drunker and drunker he became. It was a wonderful meter unto the saturation level of the K. When the eyelid approached half-mast you knew it was time to slow his consumption rate. When the eyelid reached three-quarter mast it was time to cease service entirely. The trick was to quit him before the eyelid completely closed, otherwise known as full mast.
Easy enough, right?
The problem was that K was on all these hardcore pain meds and sometimes he went from zero to stinky in no time flat. So you really had to keep an eye on that eye because the eyelid never lied, and with K it was crucial because he was constantly falling off his bar stool, which was dangerous in itself but not nearly so dangerous as his other appalling habit-which was occasionally driving home with one eye blind and the other one drunk-and the reason for which I eventually 86'd him.
This cutting off business sure is complicated, particularly when you consider the considerations that the server has to consider. For instance, what about serving fellow employees? Have you ever tried to cut off an off-duty bartender? It's like taking a banana away from a baboon. Really, it's easier to serve him and go to jail afterward. And what happens if your boss demands that you serve somebody who you know in your heart is legally-un-servable. How can one ignore the boss' request knowing full well that you are risking a terrible fate of being doomed to work Free Pool Mondays for the rest of your career?
Case History: The owner of a club where I once worked was in the bar hanging with some friends, one of which was a well-known local bartender. The bartender-in-question was pasty-faced and woozy and most definitely in the clutches of a blackout and getting blacked outer. When he ordered his M-teenth tequila shot, I politely told him no more. Being something of a little bitch, the bartender-in-question complained to the owner, who then demanded I serve him.
“Hell no,” I said, quite irritated that the owner was not presently having my back (of course, he was as slurbbled as the bartender). “I know exactly how much he drank tonight. He'll be dead by dawn if serve him another. If you want him served so badly, then come back here and do it yourowndamnself.”
Well, that infuriated the bartender-in-question, who then burst into a rage and lurched across the bar to strangle me. It took three of us to drag his drunk ass out of there. Afterward, the owner said, “See, you should have served him.”
Yeah, this cutting off business ain't easy. And a poorly written law compounds the problem. Can there be a larger gray area than “visibly intoxicated”? I wonder how much tequila the committee drank before they wrote that inane law? For the record, I would like the state of California to know there is a word to describe a bartender who doesn't allow his customers to get drunk, be drunk and act drunk in his bar. The word is “unemployed.”
Next week: The art and the skill and the joy of cutting off.