Thursday, January 8, 2009

tentwentytwo south

As a few you know, I've been working sometime on a new bar. It's been part political wrangling, part salesmanship, and frankly, a good portion of luck (of course, I assert that you mas o menos make your own luck...). I've had and continue to have a crisis of conscience about running/owning a bar. My thinking is this: bars/pubs/lounges are good for communities when they promote people coming together, talking, and enjoying each other's company. When the bar promotes getting drunk or watching television or fucking in the bathroom, it's not good for the community; which is to say that one can do any of the above things and have a great night, but if it's the establishment's goal that the patrons do them, then something is wrong. What's happened is that I have the opportunity to build an establishment in my neighborhood that will be here when I'm gone, that can be a fixture, a place where people come together and enjoy and imbibe.

The quick and dirty on the background is that I worked for Laura at The Monsoon Room for a long time. I ended up managing, which is when I started to become the face of the place. Almost a year in, Laura made it mandatory that I go to a group therapy session with her. It was everything that I hate about crystal-sucking, dream-catching nonsense. I processed for a day, then wrote a resignation letter where I stepped down as manager, but I stayed on as lead bartender. Things continued to be weird until Laura hired the wife of the man who assaulted K. I asked her not to only because I didn't want him around the bar. She refused stating that it was business. I quit that night.

While I managed I worked mas o menos 60 hours a week. Part of the reason that I did this was that Laura covered for me while I went on three (four?) tours, two of them as long as six weeks. The other reason was that I felt I was gaining valuable knowledge, that if I wanted to be in this business, then this was an opportunity to learn what succeeds and what fails. I did it, I learned a lot, and when it was no longer cost effective, I walked away.

I should describe my time there to put this in context. The quick and dirty is that I made more money then I ever have. I was tipped in drugs and girls offered to blow me in the bathroom. I know it sounds melodramatic, but I felt like a rock star. It was ridiculous, but I got caught up in it. I drank for virtually free, I made a lot of money, and people treated me, well, let's say strangely because I was the bartender.

After I left I was angry with Laura for what I perceived to be her throwing me under the bus. I felt like she wanted me out, but she was too much of a coward. Looking back on it, that was probably the case. The woman she hired that led to me leaving quickly washed out like most of her hires. Maybe she wanted me out because I was becoming identified too much with her business (she didn't bartend at all), or maybe because she didn't like me (I think she tried, but we never really clicked - moreover, I think that we never actually liked each other), or maybe it was ultimately a business decision and nothing more. What matters is that I was gone and I wanted to see her fail. I kept an eye on her business, I watched what she did and how business increased and decreased until a year later I was working elsewhere and thinking about getting out entirely (grad school, teaching, farming, et al) when I received a phone call from a friend asking me if I would run the place if she lost it. Then another person asked me. Then another. Here's how it happened (I know I shouldn't air other's laundry, but I feel that this ties into my story as well, so here we go...):

Laura replaced me with a nice guy who had never before worked in the industry (see and beverage, hospitality). If I recall correctly, he was driving a forklift at the time. He does a good job all things considered, but the place begins to spiral out of control. For most of this time (and when I was running the show), Laura refused to bartend, to work in her own bar, despite the fact that labor was killing us. Eventually she did go back to work, but the damage done. It all came to a head when the guy who replaced me was caught serving minors. The LCB pulled the bar's records, found them to be not in order, and promptly shut it down. While this will sound like merely a clerical oversight, it is indicative of a systemic problem with how that business was run. Laura broke ties with her original business partner three or four months after opening. She then changed the name of the LLC that owned the bar. A year or so later she went fishing for another investor (her original business partner financed the entire bar), which is where my friend came in. I drank the Kool-Aid and now he's out roughly 40,000. In the process of all of these wheelings and dealings, she never transferred the liquor license over to the new LLC. We had stayed of the LCB's radar up until that point, and I honestly think it would've been a clerical/admin thing had they not been caught serving minors. It didn't matter in the end, they shut her down. Without a source of income, she eventually (I think she might always have been...) was behind in rent. It so turns out that her landlord(s) are my current boss(es). They asked me if they kicked her out if I would go in and make a craft cocktail bar. I agreed and they gave her a pay or vacate; she didn't pay and signed over the entire bar for back rent. Now, maybe my current boss(es) would've done it anyway, but I suspect that knowing they had someone to turn around the space fast influenced their finally getting tough with her.

Alors, here I am. The point of this really, really long preamble is that I am going to document the experience of opening a bar. I have the skeleton in place and she walked away from virtually everything, so I don't need to buy a lot of bar tools. What I have to do is some renovating so it doesn't look like the same space and I need to write a menu, hire a staff, and make it run. This is what I'm going to document here.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

My Failure

I wouldn't normally blog something like this, but, well, the counter inspired me. This woman I have stories about.

Go here. That's Natasha from the Volcano for whomever is counting.

I promise that I have more interesting things coming than this. I think this satisfies a certain something for those involved in the Tacoma social scene. You know who you are. Eat it up.