My bartending interview at The Anchor, a gay bar in my hometown, circa 2000, went like this:
“Jason, we`d totally love to have you bartend here......you already know half the clientele, it`s perfect. Plus, we don`t care how good you are at pouring drinks. You`ve got what a bartender really needs – likability.”
“This sounds awesome,” I said. “When the fuck do I start?”
“We’re gonna re-jig the schedule, but you’ll train with Brent on Thursday and Friday. You’ll work the main bar from 8-3, then we do cash out and you’re outta here by 4, unless you wanna hang and party. Thursday, Bera Breast is hosting the wet underwear contest. And Friday is underwear night – are you cool about working in your underwear?”
Back up. I had just returned from three glorious years living in Manhattan. My last year there had been one of sexual exploration, and then it all came to a crashing halt when my work visa finally expired. I had the choice of living in New York City under the table and forfeiting health care, or coming back to Canada. I couldn’t live life as an illegal alien, and, with very little money, I had to make the unsexy decision to bunk with my parents in my semi-small hometown. I thought this would be a pit stop on to a better Canadian city, but ended up there for ten years.
Happily, my parents lived right next door to The Anchor, one of two gay clubs in town. The other was The Savoy, where I had worked as the door guy/coat check guy back in ’97. I likely could’ve gotten a job at The Savoy again, but for the simple detail that The Anchor was right outside my parent’s door, I chose The Anchor.
My last year in New York City had opened up sexual vistas to me that enlarged my sense of my sexual self. So can you believe that I hesitated when the manager of The Anchor told me I’d have to work in my underwear on Friday nights? This is like a porn star balking at going to a nude beach. But I didn’t yet have a full comprehension of my exhibitionist side. Also, from my year working at The Savoy, I knew the gay population of my hometown well. Did I really want to open myself up to their scrutiny of my body? And psychologically, I knew my parents lived right around the corner. Their best little boy in the world would be mere steps away shaking his ass behind a bar, nearly naked. The mental dissonance had me reeling.
I made a deal with myself. I would give it a shot this coming Friday. If it reduced me to trembling tears and embarrassment, I would quit. I called the manager, Lloyd, and said I was in.
Thursday was a homecoming of sorts. People let me know that I’d been missed while in the Big Apple. They also wondered why the hell I was back in the sticks. I milked the truth that my visa had expired for all it was worth, and while a valid excuse, I still felt ashamed. Ashamed that I hadn’t found a way to stay in New York. They knew that I’d gone there to go to a performing arts school. Why did I need to bartend here half naked after all of that? I wondered the same thing.
The drag queens were the true players at The Anchor, and I loved them all. Crystal Meth bussed tables, and Charity Case, Dora Dumpster, and Iona Sextoy hosted shows, like the wet underwear contest that first Thursday that I worked. Brent, who trained me on the till that Thursday night was a hot, young guy with a son and a girlfriend and was bisexual (I think).
Friday’s were The Anchor’s big night, while Saturdays belonged to The Savoy. This was before the internet had emptied the bars, and The Anchor on a Friday night was wall to wall men. Good ol’ prairie boys. So cowboy hats, jeans, and flannel shirts. I got to the bar on Friday night, only my second night there, with my heart in my throat.
Brent and I set up the bar fully clothed, but at around 7:40, Brent said “Ready to get ready?” We headed to the kitchen (during the day, the bar served finger foods) where there was a staff bathroom. I was getting prepared to do a job that required me to get partially naked. Who the hell was I? I was raised to be Prime Minister of Canada. Or, better yet, a minister, in the religious sense.
Brent was a pro – he was wearing a cock ring. Therefore when he undressed down to his skivvies and his army boots, he was a beautiful sight to behold. I, on the other hand, had not had the foresight to wear a cock ring and would have a deflated-looking package next to Brent. I took that as a bad sign. There is an art to everything, evidently.
Then it was time to march back to the bar. Folks, this has to be done proudly, like you own the place. I knew that much. I could act, I’d spent 2 years at a NYC performing arts school honing the craft, so I went into automatic and followed Brent. We got to the bar and there were the requisite whistles from the already drunk patrons who lined the bar. It was 8 o’clock, and still pretty empty in there. I was sure my mother was going to walk in at any minute. Or that god was going to strike me with lightning. My life as the best little boy in the world flashed before my eyes. And then, fifteen minutes later...
Nothing. Fifteen minutes is all it takes to forget that you are working in your underwear. You banter with the customers, you get slapped with a rag on the ass by Brent, you starting serving drinks, and it’s like being in a bathing suit at the beach. By time eleven o’clock hit, when the men really started to pour in, I was an old pro. And then when the customers see a new guy working the bar (or in my case, the dimly remembered guy who worked the door at The Savoy three years ago), the curiosity is piqued for them, and the compliments come. And my ego grows. And though legally Brent and I aren’t supposed to drink while working, we do. And I think “I’m gonna like this”. I liked it for 3 years. And the truth? I was bored the nights I had to work fully clothed. All week in the gym was for Friday nights.
I also never worked a Friday night without a cock ring again. And I often worked shirtless, even on the other nights of the week, simply because it felt good (and prompted better tips and shooters bought for me by the customers). Did I mention that underwear night also applied to the clientele? Anyone in their underwear got a discount. Truthfully, not many guys took advantage of it, and I understood why. Everyone in that town knew everyone else, and it felt vulnerable to really go for it, let loose and drop your pants. It was the reason I had hesitated in taking the job. But being behind the bar gave me a certain license that I don’t think our customers felt. However, I found ways to give discounts on drinks.
One cute guy whom I’d never seen before came to the bar and said right out “If I show you my cock, can I get a free drink?” I’m all about supporting others people’s exhibitionism, and I also just plainly wanted to see cock. He showed me. He got a free drink. He showed me his cock numerous times. I used change from my tip jar to keep drinks in his hand. It’s called reciprocity. This is the homofuckinsexual equivalent to “show me your tits!”
On a leather themed night, a good friend loaned me the leather I didn’t yet own myself: A harness that connected to a cock ring under my jeans. I remember feeling particularly sexual and left a few buttons of my fly undone. The cowboy sitting at the bar that night was fucking cute. I’d gotten his name, so I naturally felt that I knew him well enough to let him slide a hand down my jeans. Which lead to a short-lived affair.
And then there were the shows. Whenever a drag queen needed a guy to dance in a cage wearing just a g-string, I volunteered. No, this was not Broadway. And inwardly, I shook my head at how far backwards I had reeled from the theatre aspirations that had guided me to New York. But something else was happening, and it wasn’t ominous in the least. I was getting to exhibit my inner exhibitionist. And while you may think that my ego was likely growing at too fast a rate, believe you me, there are always a few drunk patrons who stagger up to you to remind you that you’re not all that. Egos actually are kept in check and a sense of humour about the whole blasted thing is necessary.
But after three years, I began to feel that I had stayed too long at the fair. It got harder to muster up the sincerity, and I wasn’t as great any longer at entertaining the customers. The internet was truly drawing the crowds away – and my tips reflected that. But in the good times, it was heady fun to be the centre of a party, at the main bar, around which the fun circled.
At the time of this writing, I am back in my hometown after a few years of living in a much larger city out East. Three nights ago, I went from my parent’s place to The Anchor to see the old gang. Lo and behold, the door to the main club downstairs was locked. Only the pub above was open. I learned that The Anchor was now closed on Sundays and Mondays due to lack of business. Upstairs, in The Anchor’s adjacent pub, I stepped into a time capsule. I saw some dimly remembered faces, but the place was quiet, with one patron sleeping at the bar’s counter. And as much affection as I have for the faces that I remembered, they too seemed to have stayed too long at the fair. There was the undeniable air of hopelessness – and loneliness – enveloping the air. The few patrons left seemed out of a movie called “The Last Chance Blues”. Where were all the gays? At private dinner parties? In the closet? If I had stayed in my hometown even a year longer than the ten that I did stay, I believe a cancer would have begun to grow. A cancer created by loneliness. I needed a bigger centre, with a gay Village, to feed my need for life and adventure. And so, leaving after one beer, I thanked the gay gods for my years at The Anchor when it was hopping, and thanked the gay gods for also bearing me to the big city I now live in before the quiet of my hometown caused me to implode.