“The devil will drag you under by the sharp lapels of your checkered coat.”
— Guys & Dolls
Working in gay bars can be like trying to swim in quicksand. Unless you have an incredibly strong constitution, a highly developed strong moral fiber, or both, there is always something or someone attempting at every turn to drown your ass. Too often, thinking it’s just a good time and harmless fun, you may find yourself in any number of harrowing scenarios.
Not surprisingly, in the bars, it’s the demon liquor. Enticing and available, it is the social norms that almost everyone in the environment of painstakingly well-selected outfits and manicured hairstyles at one point or another abuse it or is abused by it. From behind the bar, I saw it provide countless hours of entertainment and periodically wreak its havoc. It was a constant parade of happy drunks, sad drunks, angry drunks, and the evitable falling-down drunk. Not that there weren’t those queens who drank responsibility, but like the wearers of the true crown, they were few and far between.
One all-too-frequent guzzler at my bar was the happiest of happy drunks, a legit singer, who would suddenly burst into operatic song, startling some unsuspecting victim he was attracted to. It generally began well, but as the evening and the imbibing progressed, it became a garbled, unintelligible mess. The responses ranged from polite bemusement to “Get the fuck away from me.”
The sad drunks are, well, sad. They have not realized the stimulant they believe makes everything peachy can be the very downer that creates unhappiness with their lives. One forlorn soul lusted after the bartender working next to me and would sit for hours, gazing longingly at the object of his affection with a hangdog somewhere between “Gimme a treat” and “Gotta keep!” He would awkwardly attempt clever conversation until the last call and lights up when he was forced to give up until another night. I watched for tears and he never gave me the courage to ask for a proper date outside the comfortable confines of the bar. To the bartender’s credit, he humored the love-struck puppy as he tossed multiple tips into his jar, remembering the annual birthday and Christmas cards that always contained a healthy amount of his suitor’s hard-earned cash.
Angry drunks were by far the worst, partly because they generally started out congenial enough and seemingly sane. But like the clock striking midnight, they would lose all trappings of a princess and turn into something out of a horror film. They lived to pick fights and throw punches or beer mugs or barstools. Cross an angry drunk with ex-lover drama, then get ready for the worst possible outcome. Sometimes the chaos was confined to a drink in the face or a good old-fashioned “bitch slap.” Other times it was incredibly violent. I once saw a beer mug from a jealous ex take out an eye.
When fists or mugs flew, bartenders, barbacks, and bouncers would jump into the fray. Occasionally, when employees were the targets of an angry drunk’s rage, it never ended well for the culprit. He was either smacked down or tossed out and usually banned for 30 days or for life. Then he’d make his way to a neighboring bar and repeat the process. There were a few perpetrators who had such bad reputations that they were forced to seek out a straight hangout. Hopefully, when they started shit there, they got their asses totally kicked.
Although guys were often the fighters, there were some girls who embodied the knockdown, drag-out, bitter, vicious drunk. They were fond of the hair-pulling, punching, kicking, and spitting technique, and separating them was like pulling a cat from the mouth of a determined pit bull.
The falling-down drunks were the most harmless and the most comical because, before the falling on the floor, there was falling off a bar stool, peeing in a corner or the sudden urge to get naked.
There is a Texas law that makes it illegal to serve drinks to “a known alcoholic or the criminally insane.” If those rules were followed, it would close down the bars faster than a pandemic.