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A Bartender’s Guide to Getting Cut Off at the Bar — With Grace

Spark Public

A Bartender’s Guide to Getting Cut Off at the Bar — With Grace

If you plan to drink heavily, be a good friend — and patron— with these tips.

November 10, 2016

The other night, a man threatened to return to my bar with a gun after I refused to serve him a shot (no pun intended). Mind you, I knew it was just a drunken rant — especially after he claimed to have mafia ties.

Nonetheless, I still had to call the cops (I used to play gigs with a musician who was gunned down at Café Racer a few years back) and felt this was a pretty extreme response to being refused alcohol.

Unfortunately, for most of us bartenders, having your life threatened by a patron seems to be a reluctant milestone. It’s become a living cliché. Aside from a deep love for Fernet, we also share a deep displeasure at having to cut off a guest. Despite what you may think, it’s no power trip. In fact, I’d personally much prefer you continue happily drinking in my establishment. It’s better for you, it’s better for business and it’s better for my rent payment. Up to a certain point, that is, and that point obviously varies from person to person.

I have a regular who can drink half a bottle of Jager without so much as blinking, but I’ve seen others fall out of their seats before finishing their first white wine spritzer.

As bartenders, we all have our tricks to lessen the blow when you’ve had too much: offering a free starter, serving a discreet mocktail, approaching the most sensible-looking friend in the group to convince you to drink water. I’ve even invited guests to come back at a future date for a free drink on me: AKA when they’re sober and don’t reek of Rumple Mintz.

A strong sense of responsibility remains on bartenders to keep the safety of all of their guests in mind when serving alcoholic beverages. It’s also a legal responsibility on behalf of the venues we work for.  Placing equal responsibility on (some) citizens to consider their own limits and behavior while drinking seems akin to asking them not to text and drive. Of course, there are just as many guests who simply give hugs or ask me to marry them when they’ve had too much. I’ll still cut them off too, but they’ll never be banned from my rail.


Bar etiquette 101

So here’s some advice for anyone who (a) enjoys drinking (b) visits bars, and (c) can be counted on to cause a ruckus after a few too many.

When a professional makes the call that you’ve had enough, consider them to be the John Cusack character in Say Anything who hides your keys after the party. It’s for the sake of your safety and everyone else's. It can be kind of funny as well. It’s a sort of proverbial tip of the hat to how well you showed up to the big game.

It’s NOT an opportunity to flex your favorite insults or have your friends sneak you drinks in the bathroom. It’s NOT an excuse to stiff your server out of a tip or vandalize the bar and its amenities. You’ll only make it much harder to get a drink in the future should you decide to come back — and probably  also have a hard time entering neighboring establishments. (We all know each other, and we talk often; we’re like teenage girls at a sleepover.)

Still unconvinced? Well, in addition to its vibrant cocktail culture, Seattle has a great coffee scene. Maybe a little decaf might help you wind down a bit. Or I suppose you could join my ejected friend at his mafia pals’ latest speakeasy, who luckily never came back to keep good on his promise.


James Germain

James Germain is a graduate from the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs with a degree in English literature. He’s written for CultureMob and Vinyl District in Seattle and has been bartending and playing music for over 10 years. He’s currently the bar manager at Bitterroot in Ballard and enjoys listening to old jazz tunes at home and behind the bar.

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