Toby Cecchini

There’s an unsavory aspect of human behavior that emerges, sulphurlike, whenever the Open Bar sign gets hung out. It’s counterintuitive; you’d think when people are getting something gratis they would be charitable, amiable, something approaching grateful. In fact, they are noticeably more brisk and condescending, and you’d better hope you’ve locked the gratuity into the tab, because the only tip you’re in for at the typical company wing-ding is the crumpled thong left behind by the soused temp. The phenomenon is so pronounced that its reversal is my favorite social research experiment: the moment the tab runs dry and customers must pay again. Suddenly the revelers find their bearings, address you politely, tip, and cease trying to massage the shoulders of the recalcitrant accounts manager. Go figure.

’Tis the season when the office-bound let down their hair and gather uncomfortably to exchange perfunctory Secret Santa swag. These tepid parties are fermentation vats for every strain of bad behavior. In the past two weeks I’ve had to intervene in people smoking dope at the tables, taking off their pants and skirts and exchanging underwear with one another, deciding to hoover flake right off the bar top, getting in shoving matches over who was sitting on what bar stool, wittily trying to construct a balancing pyramid with all the tables and chairs, engaging in a vociferous, expletive-laced contretemps over one woman’s back touching someone else’s, losing themselves so deeply in the proverbially taboo bathroom fornication session that they pried the sink from the wall, and one I missed, where some idiot decided to dance on the bar top and, before he could be gotten down, fell backward onto the back bar shelves, dragging down several bottles of scotch and gin before striking his head on the cash register and cutting a huge gash across the bridge of his nose.

Almost every day now there is a message on the answering machine from someone trying to rent the bar for a private party. I should encourage this type of thing, should, in fact, be hustling for such easy gold. But I’m loath to encourage more pushy telephonic entreaties from people who want to redecorate my space with offensive seasonal trappings, install their co-worker, the “slammin’ DJ,” who lambastes me all night with tired disco, and then vacillate passive-aggressively over paying the tab after their advertising-company Visigoths have just laid siege for several hours to my top shelf.

But I couldn’t resist letting the Mormon art collector have his wedding reception here (the way we couldn’t say no to a bat mitzvah last year, simply because who on earth would want to have their child’s bat mitzvah here?). This guy, Greg, had hired a free-lance producer to put the event together for him and had a plan to turn the bar into a red-carpeted, organza-draped grande éspace, which sounded humorous to me. I should point out that my bar is teensy-tiny, literally 15 by 20 feet, with 13 stools and five small tables. I should also point out that Mormons don’t drink alcohol and are known to espouse plural wives. The whole thing seemed sort of charmingly perverse.

The couple invited more than 200 people from around the world. To house them all they got a city permit to raise a big tent on the sidewalk in front of the bar. Just in case anyone was confused, the address was custom-scrawled in a white neon sign. We had to create a second bar, with juices and sodas only, for the Mormons who refused to enter a den of iniquity to take refreshment. The groom had pastries and ice cream from Berthillon Glaces flown in from Paris early in the morning. After such Croesian displays, I was anxious to see how many wives he would have in tow, all in poke bonnets and calico shifts, but he seemed content with just the one, a very pretty, leggy number named Jean who did enormous justice to a silver satin sheath.

I’d warned my staff to dress up a notch from the usual torn Yo La Tengo T-shirts and dirty cords, and we took our places with near-obsequious expressions on our freshly scrubbed faces. Then, to my dismay, the doors swung open to the same art-world flotsam that routinely washes up on my shores. I’d forgotten to consider, in all my visions of horehound and sarsaparilla, that a prominent art collector, even a Mormon one, would have plenty of connections to the New York art scene and all its hangers-on. It was mortifying to witness the two-fisted ransacking of my single-malt scotches by one particularly miserly specimen, an English sculptor I often have to chase down just to extract the $4 for his single pint of beer. Now, on the groom’s open tab, he was ordering $80 rounds of four double Lagavulins at a pop, undoubtedly stashing them away for himself. Two very pleasant gay gentlemen found their way in, somehow unaware they had crashed a wedding. I decided to let them stay and drink, precisely because their proclivities run contrary to Mormon edict. With teetotalers crammed three deep at the juice commissary, one intrepid girl, tempting the powers below, kept returning to the bar to order her Cokes, confiding to me that living in New York had given her just that kind of elbow up on her fellow Salt Lake Citizens. I told the groom he should have concocted another neon sign to hang above the entrance to my bar, reading simply: SIN.

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