Horror Stories

Bartenders Spill on Their Nights from Hell

Cracked bottles and skulls aren’t the worst of it—bartenders share their most unbelievable nights on the job

bartender nights from hell
Illustration by Ryan Johnson.

Everyone has a bad night now and again, but the ones bartenders have may be even worse. No matter how fun, cool, or upscale the bar is, there’s always the potential for things to get out of handand sometimes in very unexpected ways. SevenFifty Daily spoke to bar owners, bartenders, and beverage managers throughout the U.S.and one in Irelandand gathered a collection of hell-night stories that chronicle the extremes of misbehavior. The stories range from humorous to horrifying—involving a shattered Methuselah, a cracked skull, firearms, bodily fluids, and a man with no pants—and not one of them has to do with broken toilets.

“During a busy night in August this year, a customer ordered a Methuselah [6-liter bottle] of Whispering Angel rosé, which is huge—22 inches tall—and hard to carry. It was practically the same size as the server, and she was trying to fill up the glasses around the table.

“Nine people were seated; one of the customers, who’d already had a few drinks, decided to get up and try to help her pour the wine, and then—boom!—it dropped. This monster bottle broke all over the table. It was a disaster—broken glass, broken plates, sushi all over the place. And then a fight broke out among the customers.

“The place was insanely busy. We had to get security to calm everyone down. The table with the broken bottle ended up buying some other groups’ dinners. In the end, they all became best friends and stayed the whole night, dancing together to tunes spun by the DJ.”

—Zach Erdem, owner, 75 Main, Southampton, New York

I was working a midweek shift at Suite 410, a 24-seat bar in downtown Seattle. It was just me and one other bartender. We opened at 4 pm, and the first guest to come through the door was a six-feet-eight, 130-pound pale, gaunt guy with straight black hair in a bowl cut, wearing a white t-shirt that was two sizes too large—a dead ringer for Joey Ramone. He sat in front of the well. He was pleasant, friendly, and kept the conversation interesting. More people started to arrive, and the energy started to pick up. Everything was going swimmingly. “Joey” got up to have a cigarette outside and wobbled toward the door. That’s when we realized that we weren’t his first stop of the day.

“About 10 minutes passed, then someone yelled, ‘Call an ambulance!’ Apparently, mid-conversation, Joey had fallen over like a number 2 pencil with an egg for an eraser. I ran outside. He was lying on the sidewalk. At his upper left hairline, you could see that his head was split open to the skull.

“He looked me in the eye, waved, and said, ‘Hi! How are you?’

“‘I can’t complain,’ I said.

“We did our best to stanch the bleeding until the ambulance arrived, which took about 30 minutes in downtown Seattle’s rush hour. The EMTs took care of Joey, and things started to calm down. The ambulance left, but Joey chose to stay on the sidewalk. We didn’t know what else we could do, so we went back to making drinks.

“Another 30 minutes passed. The other bartender stepped outside for a smoke. He instantly ran back inside and grabbed a pile of towels and a pair of rubber gloves. Joey had fallen over again. I ran outside. Joey had hit his head in nearly the same spot. It now looked like he was wearing a wig that was coming loose. The bar was on the incline of a hill, and there was a brook of blood pouring from this guy’s head down the sidewalk. All he said was ‘Ugh …’

“We called another ambulance. This time they took Joey away with them. As they lifted him into the vehicle, he raised his head, waved, and said, ‘Bye! Thanks for everything!’”

—Marco Haines, bartender, Herb & Bitter, Seattle

I was working down in The Hub, a nightclub that held student nights, back in 2011—not in my comfort zone at all, as I hate students. It was 2 am and the place was crammed; the bar was four deep. I was serving one idiot and screaming at another two when a shot glass bounced off the back side of my head. Understandably, I went purple and turned, only to see a wall of student faces eager to order drinks. I got back to what I was doing when another shot glass was hopped off my bonce. I turned again but still couldn’t identify the culprit. I was shaking with rage but got back to pouring pints. I happened to turn my head just in time to see a guy waiting at the corner of the bar launch a third shot glass at me. I dropped the pints, pointed at him, and roared, ‘Yooooooou bastard!

I wanted to run around the bar to get to him but realized that by the time I got through the crowd, he’d be long gone. So I turned to face him and ran full tilt in his direction, then launched myself Superman-style through the air, aiming for his throat. I will never forget the look of pure horror on the poor sap’s face. We landed on a young couple who were necking on a couch below, then rolled across a table full of drinks and onto the floor. I picked him up by the back of his belt and his hair, carried him up the stairs to the street, and launched him out onto the cobblestones. How I didn’t actually punch him to death, I will never know. I don’t do students nights anymore.”

—Slim Denby, general manager, The Mezz, Dublin

One night during the holiday season about five years ago, a guest mistook the Christmas tree in our mezzanine for a urinal and peed all over it. The urine seeped through the floorboards onto me, the bar, and other customers. I had to shut the bar down, clean everything, and 86 him. A few months later, he didn’t remember the experience and tried to come back. It was fun telling him he peed on a tree and did structural damage to the establishment.”

—Bridget Maloney, bartender, Rhein Haus, Seattle

I was tending bar one night when a young woman, probably in her early 20s, was sitting with two male friends. It was close to last call and the barback was cleaning the end of the bar where they were sitting. For reasons unknown, she decided to pour her beer into the drink rail right after the barback finished wiping it clean. The barback stopped her and told her not to do that. I was alerted and kept my eye on her.

“But she did it again when she thought no one was looking. So I walked down to her, grabbed the beer out of her hand, and confronted her. We had a back and forth, and she started flipping me off and asking, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ So I leaned in over the bar and told her to get the fuck out. What does she do? She slaps me in the face and runs for the front door.

“I followed in hot pursuit. I have years of Muay Thai under my belt. Let’s just say I momentarily stopped her. Her friend waved the white flag and conceded, ‘We don’t want any problems.’ Then they left.”

—Jessica Maria, owner, Hotsy Totsy Club, Albany, California

One time I went to workat a place I don’t want to incriminateand there was this one customer who had terrorized everybody. I mean, literally, the waiters were hiding. The owner was in the office, wouldn’t come out, and the kitchen shut the door. They just didn’t want to deal with him.

“Then he comes to the bar and says something to the effect of, ‘Hey you, asshole, what kind of fucking shots you have in this bar?’ This was a long time ago, and we always had guns behind the bar. I showed him my .45 and my .357, and I asked him which shot he wanted.

“He left, which is what I wanted. If you let people be terrible customers, then you’re not standing up for yourself. And if you don’t stand up for yourself, you don’t need to be in this business. Because alcohol and people tend to get kind of weird.”

—Paul Gustings, bartender, Tujague’s, New Orleans

“There were only a few regulars hanging out late on a slow Sunday night back in 2007. The door opened and a tall, skinny kid wove in.

“‘Hey, hey, hey,’ he says. ‘Can my friend come in with no pants on?’

“‘Sorry, no,’ I say. ‘You gotta have pants on.’

“‘Oh, okay. Can I get a six-pack to go?’

“‘No, this is Texas. We can’t sell anything to go.’

“‘Can I just bring him a beer to the car? He’s out in the parking lot. He just don’t got any pants.’

“‘No, you can’t bring him a beer, and I can’t really serve you, either.’

“‘Why not?’

“‘Well, you seem kinda messed up, and you look like you don’t need a drink.’

“‘Okay. But will you tell my friend he can’t have a drink?’

“We all wanted to see the pants-less man, so we stepped out to the parking lot and, sure enough, there he wasanother skinny kid, leaning against his dually [a pickup truck with dual rear wheels], smoking a cigarette with no pants on. We told them they’d better find some pantsand that there was a 24-hour Walmart down the road.”

—Louise Owens, owner, The Windmill Lounge, Dallas


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James Oliver Cury has written about beer, wine, and spirits for Playboy, Details, Time Out New York, Epicurious, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and FoodandWine.com. He is the author of The Playboy Guide to Bachelor Parties (Simon & Schuster).

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