Good morning, Tuesday. I ruefully said goodbye to my stay at home life yesterday as I start a nice little freelance gig today. Khan and I strolled around my BK neighborhood- I took an 11 am barre class (the luxury), and sat in the park and read for a while as the whole afternoon tra la la is about to become very much a non sequitur. I've appreciated this time of quiet so very much, but now it's back to it. Because a girl can't survive on mid morning workouts and indulgent dog walks alone. If only...
So I thought it would be fun to do a once a week series on some of the (very) odd jobs I've found myself doing throughout my life. We've all had some weird ones- that's what makes a person whole. In high school I did everything from retail in clothing shops to telemarketing. I ended up going to college in Philadelphia at Temple (my hometown), and worked in the restaurant world all throughout. Man. Oh man.
I remember a few things. Well, very few things. Ha. Have you worked in restaurants? It's party central. And it's really fun. Particularly when you're young.
After working at a couple swish spots around the city, I ended up being a hostess at Downey's, a restaurant since closed since being featured on Bar Rescue where that hang faced host tried to turn it back into the Irish pub of its former glory. It was not disgusting at the time, mind you, but back in 2011 it was named worst Irish pub in America, so there's that. In its heyday, it was owned by an Irishman named Jack Downey, who incidentally was related to the infamous Morton Downey Jr. I used to see him quite a bit with lots of well endowed young ladies at the height of his fame. Jack hung around with a bunch of creepy old men who wore sunglasses at night and liked to party. I didn't bother with them much. Jack was a bit of an elusive character anyway- he lived in an apartment above the bar which he often stumbled up to after a busy Friday night. There was also a speed fueled jazz trio that played every Sunday completely out of their minds- three old men who were absolute crazies. That kept things interesting. Somehow, I had two managers back to back who always protected me- both men by the way and infinitely kind to me, which seemed to somehow piss off everyone else. They served as a nice barrier to all the creeps.
Let me be clear- I had very little experience with Irish anything other than growing up in a fairly Irish town. But I did like to drink. So that worked in my favor. I learned quite a bit about Irish food at that time- from corned beef and cabbage (a big no for me) to all sorts of bisques to whiskey soaked soda bread. It was all there. Oh- and don't think I was a waitress or bus person- I was a hostess. I'm too spazzy to serve people food. But I'm good at taking reservations and showing people to their tables. Particularly when fueled by, well, let's just say we were all very wide awake. Another interesting cultural nuance of restaurant work. ;)
I worked at that job for a few years and almost full time throughout college- I received hundred dollar bills for seating some mafia guys on a busy Friday night, and I would do inventory with our manager till 6 in the morning while nursing a Jameson on the rocks and listening to Chicago blues. In many ways, restaurant work prepared me for my career in advertising. No- I'm not talking about cocaine. I'm talking about knowing how to work under pressure and work as a team- if a table needed bussing you bussed it. If someone was slammed, you didn't seat another table in their section. You learned how to share the wealth on a slow night and understood the mechanics of brunch vs. dinner. You learned who to be nice to in the kitchen and who to hang with at the bar. I learned that first impressions go a long way- particularly when you are the first face a customer sees. We were all kids then amidst some professional restaurant folk- two of the waitstaff had been there their whole careers and were wisecracking tough ladies who had to endure a ton of dirty jokes and pats on the ass. Our bartenders were pros who would most likely kill themselves if they had to make any of the crazy cocktails we enjoy today. We worked hard, and played very hard. We ate staff meals together and often came to eat there when we were a bit skint. We had to wrangle a crowd on St. Patrick's Day that was the height of mess- they would take out all the tables and everybody was there to get completely annihilated. I had the unfortunate honor of standing next to the bagpipe player, who played every hour on the hour at the hostess station in a winceworthy salute to the day. I'll never forget the grandmother who was running around the bar with her dress over her head. How could I?
I made many friends at that place, kissed some frogs, and absolutely had one too many. Many times.
If you're familiar with the Happy Mondays, it was very much pills, thrills, and bellyaches, albeit with an Irish and Philly accent. I remember very clearly hanging out with one guy from work for a little pregame at his apartment, only to wonder why on Earth what looked like last night's dinner was sitting in his bathroom, fork still in the takeout container. Classy.
But I loved that a nice Jewish girl like me ended up working at an Irish bar amidst some real characters. The waitstaff and I would get out around midnight and go dancing until 4. And then I'd go to college in last night's makeup and eat an egg sandwich and try not to think about my hangover. Sure I had a few jobs before Downey's, but it was my first job where I got a taste of what it's like to work with a bunch of crazy people who are often far from appropriate, and it never really bothered me. I liked being part of that team- everyone had such an amazing sense of humor and we laughed constantly- at each other, at the customers, at ourselves. I loved the frenetic pace of a rush of customers, and enjoyed a sleepy Sunday seating the brunch crowd while admiring the jazz trio who were all pushing 75 but partied like there was no tomorrow. Oh, Danny boy...
I often wonder what happened to that whole crew. . I kept in touch with one girl friend who also ended up here in New York, but other than that, not at all. It was a moment in time and that's all it was really meant to be. I'm not saying all restaurants are as debauched as this one was, mind you. I have great respect for anyone crazy enough to open a restaurant and anyone tough enough to endure the stress and constant hazing of that line of work. It's also why I will never be rude to restaurant staff unless they are rude to me first. I appreciate how hard it all is, and I loathe people that treat resto people badly. It's so not cool.
I've read recently about my generation and how we were the last one who could exist in a non PC world. Restaurant life at that time was very much the antithesis of being politically correct, and I very much enjoyed pushing boundaries with everyone as it gave me a bit of a thick skin and the ability to always find humor in times of stress. If you could survive endless ribbing from a drunken Irishman, you could probably make it in New York. That's a job I had once. And I'll never forget it.
Cause that's what's up this working for a living kind ofTuesday in New York City. Yours, in smiling Irish eyes and taking reservations. XO