Diatribe with Dave: How To Throw a Drunk Out Of A Bar

Every second and fourth Wednesday night of the month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau hosts Dinner with Dave at Memphis at the Santora, where he treats drinkers to a free meal and live music as the evening progresses. To remind ustedes of this great night, Dave treats us every Wednesday morning that he’s on to a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!

I took just enough high school Latin to be really dangerous with it and I’m sure if Cicero could hear me butchering his version of the lingua Latina he’d rise from his tomb at Zacynthos and Et Tu Brute? my ass. I’d have it coming for sure. I still dabble a bit in it, throwing around improperly conjugated verbs at whim like irritating movie quotes and I’m glad Mr. Long, my instructor at Damien High, isn’t around to witness the debacle. There are a few phrases that still jump out at me and, of course, they are about boozing it up.


Those Romans really had the drinking thing figured out and they were just as good at writing about it. My favorite is Bibamus, moriendum est meaning “Death’s unavoidable; let’s have a drink”. Another favorite is Absentem laedit, cum ebrio qui litigat. The literal translation is “To argue with a drunk is to wrong an absent man”. The Romans knew it and I do too–there’s no sense in trying to talk sense into someone that has none.

The over used In vino veritas predates the Romans, being Greek in origin, but a few thousand years later it still holds true, especially in the bar biz. If someone is a barely-under-control jackass when sober, you can bet he is going to turn into a problem with one too many shots of Jagermeister in him. Any good bartender knows how to spot troublemakers and how to deal with them. There’s a fine art to throwing someone out of a bar and it doesn’t always involve dragging someone with a busted open lip out the front door by his ear. Escalating a situation by getting caught up in a drunk guest’s bullshit drama is about as effective as trying to put out a fire with gasoline.

The process of managing unruly patrons is definitely a “These are not the droids you are looking for” proposition. (I’d like to see THAT translated into Latin.) If you’re really good at it, they will almost throw themselves out. The key is getting the momentum of the situation working for you and against the person you are trying to throw out, much like a king fu master uses the momentum of an opponent against them. But you gotta be 73 percent Obi Wan Kenobi (the Alec Guiness one), 17 percent Chewbacca and 10 percent Han Solo. I hate to mix science fiction metaphors but a dash of Shatner-esque Captain Kirk doesn’t hurt either, just for the bullshit bravado factor. It’s a delicate balance for sure and if you have to put your hands on someone the situation is headed the wrong direction.

I’m not a Patrick Swayze fan and the movie Road House is over-the-top even by my standards, although I like it when he implausibly rips the bad guy’s throat out at the end. I won’t, however, forgive Mr Swayze for beating up John Doe. At any rate, the one thing I do like about the flick is his little speech to the bouncers at his new joint about the fine art of handling drunk idiots. A lot of it holds up: kill ’em with kindness, deescalate the situation, take it outside. Admittedly the guys in his joint were about as pugilistic as the knucklehead MMA guys that pollute downtown HB, but you can handle most anyone with a few well-put words. A 300-pound door guy in a black shirt holding a can of mace can be a great deterrent as well.

I’m pretty deadpan behind the bar, but for good reason. It’s better for people to think you’re a hardass and find out you’re actually a pushover than the other way around. But you gotta be a little nice so if someone starts acting like an idiot you can hold the moral high ground and know it wasn’t your fault.

Where people in the biz screw up is by letting the interaction turn into an open discussion about whether or not the customer is leaving. Make it clear from the start that it’s not gonna help their situation the more they talk–leave them nowhere to go. Sucking the air out of the room is the key factor: not letting the situation escalate and staying calm (unlike a not-to-be-named bar manager here in central OC who brained an unruly client with a brick awhile back). Phrases like “I know there’s a party going on, it’s just not here” go a long way. Remember, despite what you might think, handling a tanked-up problem guest is never, ever personal. It’s business, so treat it as such. Yelling is showing pure weakness.

Many years ago while tending at Linda’s Doll Hut I had a particularly bad situation and I let it get worse by not handling it right. I let it spin out of control by letting myself get worked up about something that didn’t need to be taken so heavily and I ended up coming over the top of the bar to take a swing at a drunk patron. Afterwards, the legendary Steve Soto came up to me and said “That was the scariest fucking thing I’ve ever seen”. It wasn’t because I’m some sort of badass (‘cuz I’m not!), it was because he saw me let someone really get under my skin. Don’t let that happen to you.

Fighting is a last, losing resort and, like I said, if it comes down to that you’ve failed. But here’s a tip if it does. Rule #1-Drunk people can’t fight. That’s because they are physically limited and their brains aren’t working right; hence, why you are throwing them out. I’ve done this a few times and it works – when someone takes a swing at you calmly step 16 inches to your left and watch that telegraphed big right whiz right past your nose. I bet they fall on their face too.

My favorite Latin phrase of all time is Sicut apes ad algebra translates to “Like bees to algebra.” Imagine bees trying to do algebra and you’ll get the point. This means some people just don’t get it and that’s the way of the world, from Roman times to ours. But just because a tipsy client is clueless doesn’t mean my fellow bartenders need to go there too.

Follow @ocweeklyfood on Instagram! And check out Dave’s podcasts: Memphis Mondays and Fat Drunk And Happy!


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