Funny Friday – Vinny the Bartender

by Brian on May 21, 2010

I was thinking back to when I first got out of the Marines. I knew without a doubt I wanted to be a bartender. So I found the best bar tending school I could, which was in San Francisco (I was in Monterey).

I went to bar tending school and got hired to work at a very nice restaurant on the wharf in Monterey.

Vinny (that’s his real name) was the head bartender there. He’s the one who really taught me how to tend bar.

Vinny was from New York and had been bar tending for over 30 years. He was in the middle of his fight with cancer when I first met him. He was doing chemo a couple days a week.

Other than Vinny being bald, you could never tell that he was in Chemo. And Vinny was and still to this day is one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met.

The restaurant we worked at was black tie (it’s since changed)… But there was a certain feel about when you walked in the restaurant… The bar and oyster bar are to the left and right respectively when you walk in, with the white table cloth dining room in the back.

The one thing Vinny hated more than anything was the fact that for our happy hour we had $2 margaritas that were premixed and came from a half gallon jug. Our regular margaritas were upwards of $12 (this was about 11-12 years ago).

When someone ordered a margarita, it was normal for them to pay with a $20 and only keep the $5 for change. Our happy hour crowd would get hammered for $12 and tip $1 if we were lucky… What made it worse, was management required that we served anyone who came to our bar (as long as they were over 21 and had $).

The ones we (Vinny and I) couldn’t stand were the beggars who would sit down at the entrance of the wharf and beg for money all day waiting for our $2 margarita specials.

(Some of these guys would clear $100+ a day begging during tourist season.)

Vinny worked all the way up until about a month and a half before he died… Right before he left the bar for the final time, he did one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen anyone do.

The Setup

I worked the day shift, Vinny worked the night shift and we both had to deal with happy hour… The days I had off, I would come in and have a few drinks with Vinny.

We had a regular customer named Nash who would come in and get a soda water and lime… We never charged him, but he would tip a dollar every time. Nash was somewhere in his mid 80s and he only spoke Italian…

Nash would usually come in the mornings, sometimes it was in the early afternoon, but he was there every day. And he always sat in the same chair, unless it was occupied.

Nash was sitting at the bar when one of the beggars came in to get a few margaritas. It was a small bar, but the guy sat next to Nash. I was on the other side of Nash and a chair away.

We did “pay-as-you-go” at the bar unless someone gave a credit card and ID.

Nash finished up his soda and left while the beggar sucked down a couple of margaritas.

Nash left and the beggar started asking why “the old guy” didn’t have to pay…

Vinny tried to explain to him that it was soda water and lime. The guy started getting louder at Vinny and demanded a free drink.

Vinny told the guy he wasn’t getting a free drink. You could see Vinny was getting mad… and he wasn’t feeling good from chemo either.

Nash would ALWAYS leave a $1 tip… It wasn’t the amount, it was the gesture. Nash’s $1 was still setting on the bar, during the commotion Vinny didn’t pick it up and throw it in the tip jar…

The beggar argued with Vinny for a minute then said he was leaving and went to grab the $1 that Nash had just left as a tip.

Faster than I think I’ve ever seen anyone move, Vinny grabbed the bar spoon and wrapped the guy on the back of his knuckles with it just as his hand touched the bill.

The beggar yelled out in pain and started cussing a Vinny and started to make a big commotion. This was around 2-3 in the afternoon, so the restaurant was pretty dead… but the best thing happened.

Just as the beggar started getting really loud the police happened to be walking by our restaurant and heard the commotion and came in.

They ended up taking him out of the restaurant and within 5 minutes hand cuffed the guy and was walking away with him.

I don’t know why he was arrested, but he could have avoided it if he didn’t try to take that $1.

We laughed so hard there were tears in both of our eyes…

In the 6 months I got to know Vinny, he taught me a lot about life… and how to properly use a bar spoon, may he RIP.

(The reason I call the guy a beggar is because that’s what he is. Not a bum or a homeless person. Beggars always have a story of how their car broke down or they just need a couple bucks for gas… regardless, there’s typically a pity story that goes along with why they need help.)

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