There’s the Door

by Francine Cohen

Though respectable bartender Charles Joly of The Drawing Room cites Patrick Swayze in "Road House" as the penultimate illustration of a badass bar employee who gets unruly guests out the door in the most permanent way, it is understood that that method doesn't suit every bar.  Particularly not cocktail bars where civilized behavior is expected and/or demanded (note, the rules of conduct posted in the bathroom and on the menus).

Since, as Justin August Fairweather of www.justthetipple.com points out, “Just because someone puts on a tie and will listen to your 15 minute bitters spiel doesn’t mean they know how to act,” it’s become necessary for bartenders to find a different way of dealing with those folks who have worn out their welcome.

There's something to be said for the tactics employed by Times Square policemen on horseback who, with a strong word and subtle body language are able to control the crowd and convince the "wrong element" that they need to move on.  Moving an unruly/obnoxious/inappropriate guest out of the bar without creating a scene is a skill.  And, when handled skillfully, it’s masterful to watch, reassuring to any who witness it, and (unless in dire circumstances like chairs flying) invisible to other guests.

One night years ago at The Randolph in New York City, Jason Littrell and James Menite determined that an overly aggressive patron had crossed the line with a female guest and quietly but swiftly expedited his exit with just a few words.  No scene, no fuss or fight; the gentleman was just told he was no longer welcome there. And he exited on his own petard. Were they lucky he didn’t cause a scene?  Possibly.  But the reality is that they read the situation right and realized what words it would take to get him out the door without anyone seeing it besides them, the patron, and the woman he was annoying.

Sometimes guests need a little help getting out the door.  While working in a Chicago nightclub bartender Todd Appel was glad to have his doormen to back him up though he admits that sometimes the doormen weren’t the filter they were supposed to be.  In those situations the unpleasant task of telling someone, “You’re out of here.” fell to him.  And he watched his back on his way to his car. 

Zach Sharaga, owner of the East Village cocktail den Louis 649 notes, “For the truly unruly patron, my approach has always been to be on their side as I walk them out and hail them a cab. I always follow that saying that you get more with honey than vinegar. I really always hope that it never happens but occasionally the opportunity presents itself. One of the common versions is the NYC transplant frat boy who can’t handle his liquor and becomes derogatory. As psychologically astounding as it is, when you physically (but not aggressively) walk them out, like hand-on-shoulder, it usually deflates them quicker because if you keep just trying to "You have to leave, sir" then their ego won't allow them to back down. Walking them out gives them a subconscious motivation to comply so they don't continue to behave like belligerent miscreants.”

Sharaga continues, “I'd like to point out that the hand-on approach should only be accompanied by a friendly demeanor and usually puts the aggressor at ease because their ego isn't on display to the others in the room anymore.”  TJ Lynch, proprietor of Mother’s Ruin concurs, “It is important that you find ways to do it so they are not embarrassed in front of people.  Guys, when drunk, are prone to getting violent and will react." Fairweather’s solution, “You have to be firm and adamant.” 

Firm, adamant, and injecting a little humor works for Lynch. With years of experience (and a monogrammed baseball bat to prove it), he’s had to 86 so many guests he actually spends time thinking up new and creative ways to do it.  He notes, “You just have to let them know they are done drinking for the night.  Tell them you’ll serve them tomorrow, but tonight they are done.  When I see someone hammered about to order a drink I’ll ask what year it is.  Usually they’re like, ‘huh?’ and I’ll say, “You can’t even tell me what year it is?  I can’t serve you.”  Another favorite method Lynch employs is pointing to that sign posted in every bar which indicates that employees can’t serve someone underage or visibly intoxicated.  He says, “I point them towards the sign and say, ‘See that buddy?  Read that out loud.’  And once they do I say, ‘You’re number two.  I can’t serve you.’”

Serving wasn’t the problem for barman James Moreland who had a notable cocktail journalist show up early one night and suck down five gin cocktails in about 35 minutes before promptly falling asleep.  Moreland wondered, “How do I kick him out?  Wake him up?”

Whether they are guests who are having a lovers’ spat that disturbs the peace, or lecherous, obnoxious drunks, there’s a way to handle all of them.  Fairweather’s surefire method of getting that guy who has become a little “handy” with the cocktail server to cut it out?  He just gets real close and says, “I bet you'd love it if I pawed your sister that same way.”  Guys get the picture and you’re saved from having to take a page out of Swayze’s handbook.

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