Serious Eats: Drinks

From Behind the Bar: The Happy Bar Widow

Editor's Note: In honor of Valentine's Day, we're hearing from the better halves of a few of our favorite columnists today. Here's a bit of the Behind the Bar story, from Michael Neff's wife, S. Octavia Adams.

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When you are young and you work in hospitality, you often date in hospitality. Perhaps it is because of the strange hours of your job (you go to work when the rest of the world heads home), or maybe it's because of the types of people attracted to the industry. Actors, writers, musicians, and students of life, we are pretty interesting people, after all.

I dated within my profession for both the convenience and for the personalities I met. Cooks were fun for nights of video games and standing in the back of smoky bars drinking Budweiser while listening to them perform with a band, waiters for their tortured monologues of how they would one day be famous actors who would never order ice tea in a restaurant, because we all know ice tea drinkers are evil. I steered clear of managers since most I knew where married or gay (I don't enjoy that kind of challenge.) But my favorites were always bartenders.

Most of you who know me well would joke about my supernatural liver at this point in the story, but there was more to this preference than just a few free drinks. Bartenders are like the ringleaders of the circus. Most are interesting or smart, and nearly all are charismatic. Like the lead singer of the band, a bartender commands the stage in a way no one else in a restaurant or bar gets to. They have nightlife connections that put you on the front of the velvet rope or at a seat at the best table in the room. They know all the right things to say to woo you and are generally attractive enough to make you want to be wooed. That said, they are also often conceited, self-important jerks, but I do enjoy that kind of challenge.

I originally met my husband when he was a bartender. We were co-workers and friends and as time rolled on we lost contact as we moved to other cities and restaurants. Years later, we met by chance on the street. He had become an electrician, I was a restaurant manager waiting for someone who didn't know the term "two-top" with whom to run away.

Since he lived in another state at the time, we had a casual correspondence that very quickly became more flirtatious. He would fly up to visit me, arriving with a dash of Hendrick's gin behind each ear thinking that it was the best tactic to land me. It was.

After three months, I gave notice at my job, packed up my apartment and headed to his town with the fantasies of how the rest of my life would look married to a tradesman in a small Southern California town.

When I arrived, I took a day job as a grocery store manager. We filled our little house with fish tanks and house plants and talked of having a family. We went to work early in the morning and had dinner on our patio at night. Life seemed pretty ok. Then I received a promotion with relocation in New York. The adventure was too much to ignore so we sold our stuff, gave away our fish and plants and moved east.

While I had my job, my husband did not. It seems that for a non-union electrician, work can be scarce in the city. Fortunately he had lived in NY some years before and was able to get his old job back...as a bartender.

Suddenly our lives became that of passing ships. I went to work in the morning while he slept, and he left before I got home. We saw each other on Tuesdays (our one mutual day off) or if I managed to have enough energy after a ten hour day on my feet to drag myself to his bar.

We had decided to be childless city-slickers in a village apartment and vowed to travel around the world every chance we had. I entertained the idea of going back into managing restaurants. My husband talked about owning his own bar. And as things fell into place for him to be able to pursue his dream of entrepreneurship, I realized that we were pregnant.

We were elated and we made a plan. I would carry the baby on my back while working in the bar's kitchen several days a week and she would play quietly on the floor of the office as I did a good portion of the administrative tasks. Once we could get past the panic of the potential financial ruin associated with opening a bar, everything looked rosy.

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Unfortunately, no one bothered to ask our daughter how she felt about it. As I quickly learned, babies eat a lot, they need to nap a lot, they don't like to sleep at night and they especially don't like you to focus on things other than their needs.

We opened our place when our daughter was five months old. She got too hot in the kitchen and refused to stay out of the waste paper basket while in the office. We experimented with an old fashioned play pen, but felt the very audible wailing she put out each time she was placed anywhere near it, let alone in it, was probably not giving our guests a fun atmosphere in which to drink.

I slowly started giving up my work assignments to others and started staying home more and more. Now, I only saw the husband when he arrived home at 6:00 a.m. and when he left again for work at 3:00 p.m. Once every few weeks he would get a day off and we would have a family dinner.

But slowly things began to mellow out and my husband was able to be home a bit more often. He began to feel he had a handle on things enough that he and his business partners were looking at a new project in midtown. I suppose it was only natural that I would realize at that point that I was pregnant a second time. We had talked about what it would be like for our first daughter to grow up as an only child, an experience neither one of us had had, and evidently my body felt it needed to put in its two cents.

A second bar and a second child can probably be best compared to a solar eclipse. A pretty bright ring where all things seem possible surrounding a big dark center. The bar turned out beautifully, our second daughter was born as lovely and healthy as our first, but our marriage became one of Facebook messages and post-it notes on the refrigerator.

As I sat at home with two tiny kids, it was hard not to resent my husband's comparatively glamorous life. I romanticized my time in restaurants, being able to dine out with cocktails, speaking to adults on any number of subjects while working, and most importantly, being able to use the bathroom without a small child staring at me or banging on the door.

The truth is, each of us have made great sacrifices over the last couple years to make something wonderful happen. My husband has given up time with his family that I know pains him in order to create two great bars and a solid reputation for his businesses. I have raised two babies into a toddler and preschooler. I still only see my husband on his way to bed in the morning and on his way to work in the afternoon, but date nights are becoming a little more frequent now that we no longer sit around stressing about going out of business. Sometimes, when he is feeling especially romantic, he still dabs a little Hendrick's behind his ears.

I get to be married to someone who loves what he does, and who has a great talent for it. I may not have ever wanted to marry a bartender, but I'm certainly glad I did. And if you are reading this, honey, please note that you are not allowed to open another bar anytime soon.

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