While Mardi Gras may be something different to everyone, for many, the gas that this engine of chaos runs on, is the booze. And though the police are highly touted for their ability to control crowds while on horseback, the bartenders are the ones who have to control the crowds on the front lines. During Mardi Gras week, the bar scene is a sight to see; or to paint a better picture, Lara, the bar manager at the restaurant the Marigny Brasserie, tells me she once had to "ask [the lady] to take her baby off the bar." So I've decided to interview a couple of bartenders and relay some tips in order to enjoy your Mardi Gras bar experience as much as you can.
As a bartender myself, this article is not meant to be my version of throwing you into a bathroom, with Brad Pitt/Edward Norton explaining how you should "Not (fornicate) with us." This is more my way of trying to prevent that scene in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where the off-duty cop is poorly handling his lack of control as the hotel clerk nods, enjoying his moment.
A tip that every bartender I talked to relayed to me was that customers will get better service if they are nice. Though I can picture you all looking at me in a similar fashion as the other bouncers looked at Patrick Swayze in that scene in the movie Road House, the tip seems to hold true. "While I will fight the urge to spend too much time trying to debunk the logic of people feeling that the way to get someone's attention in a deafeningly loud room is to try to scream louder, I do believe people are shocked at how effective being nice is," Kilgore Rodriguez, a bartender who works on Frenchmen street, said. In a room where a bunch of people are acting in a way that is more primate than person, the quiet, patient patron seems to be the beacon of light in a crowded bar. For in this case, the silence does drown the screams.
On the other end of the spectrum, the repeated "hi's" and tapping of credit cards do not seem to be a proactive way to endear yourself to your bartender. Kilgore mentioned that "these repeating noises, during an 8 to 12 hour shift, become more reminiscent of white noise than an intelligible way of communicating" that you want the bartender's attention.
Other noises, such as whistling or snapping, are considered to be equally irritable. As Geoffrey Ward, host of web series, "The Drink Show" pointed out, "whistling and snapping your fingers is how you call a dog, not a human being."
Create a Good First Impression
Your first encounter with your bartender is much like a first date, so first impressions matter. Geoff mentioned how simple things, such as saying "please" and "thank you," register in a bartender's mind. A big tip also goes a long way in being remembered. Though no one is arguing that every rum and coke should be accompanied with an extra 10 dollars attached to it, leaving a big tip on the first drink, as opposed to the somewhat customary dollar-a-drink, would be a way to distinguish yourself in the sea of faces that the bartender will be seeing all day and night. And though it may go without saying, let it be said, all the bartenders mentioned that you should not stiff your bartender, especially on the first drink. Thinking that this will go over well, is like taking a girl out, not calling her afterwards, then expecting hugs and kisses the next time you see her on the street.
Be Prepared to Order Immediately
Kilgore explains, "While many bartenders may moonlight as amateur philosophers, meaning some of us may know the potential of how every decision is an existential dilemma, when you have reached the bar is not the time to go deer in the headlights on us." This quickly forms into a downwards spiral, where other customers who were sharing in their struggle to acquire drinks will begin to turn on you as you pontificate your decision. Having you and your group's drink orders ready so the bartender can get to them quickly is a great way to have the bartender, your friends and the crowd on your side.
Another time waster is the crumbled money epidemic. "I don't know why people crumble up their money, but they do," Kilgore laments. Though some customers may be very talented at origami, it seems that one of the last things a bartender wants to do is un-crumble your money, hoping that the inside of the piñata that you've made them into will have a tip that doesn't fall on the floor. For when the night is over and everyone has left to drink elsewhere or go to sleep, bartenders do not want to be on the floor, looking for tumbleweed dollar bills that were dropped in the ruckus.
Be Respectful to the Bartender
"Do not touch the bartender" was a tip relayed to me by Geoff. You may picture a nice tap of the bartender as something friendly, adding a new sense to the relationship. But to the bartender, there's a good chance that if all the customers outstretched their hands, making somewhat indistinguishable noises, it would look more like something out of "The Walking Dead," than anything endearing that you pictured.
Shouting your orders at a bartender's back is another common pet peeve. When ordering a drink, "eye contact is key," Lara tells us. Think of bartenders as the world's most prolific lip readers, if there is no eye contact, they cannot hear you. Kilgore explained how most of the time "we will have a song stuck in our heard, so while you're shouting at us how you have decided to do an audible on your order, there is a good chance the last thing we heard was 'Black Hole Sun.'"
Choose Your Costume Wisely
Costumes are a huge part of Mardi Gras, some of them taking months to construct. But one wonders how much time was spent on actually thinking about how wearing this costume will affect you throughout the day. As impressive as a pair of angel wings may be, Geoff points out that "no one wants to be ducking you as if you were a drunken sailboat every time you turn around."
Geoff gave us three rules for wearing a costume on Mardi Gras. First off, be able to enter the bar. If you are dressed up as a giant port-a-potty, you may be very disappointed that you are not able to enter many of the bars. How many 18-wheelers have you ever seen in a McDonald's drive-thru? Secondly, be able to order. If you have a mask on that makes you sound so muffled that it sounds like you are waterboarding yourself, it is going to be hard for the bartender to decipher what you're trying to say. Lastly, and most importantly, wear a costume that allows you to easily access your mouth. If you order a beverage, it is assumed that you would like to drink it. Wearing a costume that requires you to undress yourself every time you want to have a drink is not the most efficient way to go through your Mardi Gras.
Geoff might have explained the bartender/patron relationship best when he said, "You entered into my bar with the understanding that you need me to serve you drinks." Every bartender I talked to, myself included, agreed that a good bartender wants to serve their patrons. No bartender wakes up scheming on how to ruin a customer's day, whispering "excellent" Mr. Burns-style every time a mischievous act is successfully performed. The fact remains that if the patrons are happy, the bartender is happy, and vice versa.
As I was sharing a beer with Kilgore at the end of the night, we came across the idea that bartenders are the gatekeeper for a fun and drunken night. And it got us thinking, that there is no place we'd rather be during Mardi Gras, than New Orleans. So don't curse out St. Peter as you enter through the pearly gates, it may be what lets the devil know you're dead, and we know how that ends. Have a great Mardi Gras, and to those who indulge, enjoy your drunken holiday.