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Behind Bars: The Straight-Up Tales of a Big-City Bartender Hardcover – August 4, 2003
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"A superb memoir of urban life...sharp-witted and complex....Behind Bars delivers a subtle and mature personal narrative."
- Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Wenzel's pulp-fiction prose can hold its own against Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. . . . Compulsively readable." (Elle)
"A superb memoir of urban life . . . sharp-witted and complex. . . . Behind Bars delivers a subtle and mature personal narrative." (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
From the Inside Flap
"There are eight million stories in the naked city and bartender Ty Wenzel has heard every one of them. She shares some of the best here in a wild, funny and sometimes horrifying account of life behind the bar. This a wicked shot of truth-served straight up." --Debra Ginsberg, author of Waiting: The True Confessions of a Waitress
"Having been employed at Marion's during Ty's reign, I can only say I wish I would have paid more attention during my tenure, so I could publish a snappy tell-all. All I'm left with after years of waiting on tables are corns on my feet and a tin full of change." --Amy Sedaris, actress and former Marion's waitress
"In Behind Bars Ty Wenzel tells her story with humor, honesty, and courage, exposing details about her life that many of us would shudder to expose to the cold light of the printed page. Bravo!" --Dale DeGroff, "King Cocktail," former Rainbow Room bartender, and author of The Craft of the Cocktail
"Ty pours out some great tips for bar patrons and great stories about them. I recommend this book to anyone who's ever sat on either side of the bar." --Ray Foley, publisher of Bartender magazine
"New York is changing. I know that's old man to say, but it is. Ty's stories capture a time that will be completely gone soon! Capture it beautifully and honestly. Enjoy them . . . cherish them." --Dito Montiel, author of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints
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Ty Wenzel's writing is funny, smarmy, and honest. Her years tending bar at Marion's Continental, a classic, kitschy New York City bar/restaurant/lounge that was quite popular with the drag queens and clubbers of the 1990s, obviously earned her a real insight into human behavior. Memorable passages include her size-ups of different types of drinkers (suits, "campers," and the types that sit and pick out of the garnish dispenser all night); her description of "Kahiki Lounge," a tiki-themed night Marion's would run in the summers (and the ensuing madness and hilarity); and permeating the book is her battle with her upbringing. She is a Muslim of Turkish descent, and to her parents, drinking alcohol is a sin. She managed to keep her ten-year bartending career secret from them. This and all its complications are an interesting part of the book, and keep it from being too light.
Wenzel occasionally gets a bit heavy-handed when ranting about the politics of choice (e.g. smoking), but all in all, this is a fun, enjoyable book that wraps up beautifully in the end. Recommended and fun.
Wenzel organizes her tales into a series of chapters that focus on the dating scene for bartenders, what tipping is like (and how it affects bartenders), the Cosmopolitan craze, her "regulars," the insufferable bar theme nights, restaurant hygeine, and practical tips for entering the bartending trade (Wenzel reports that bartending school diplomas are worthless).
Wenzel has a big chip on her shoulder about men who order frou-frou drinks. She also claims that the popularity of the Cosmopolitan and the "pink drinks" is the downfall of a liquor-appreciating society. And don't even get her started on those messy blended ice drinks!!
The prose is scattered with Wenzel's instructive pet peeves, which include: customers who beg after last call, customers who grab her for attention, foreigners who pretend they don't know American tipping customs, people who just graze on the garnishes, and more. Wenzel is also an outspoken critic of anti-smoking regulations, claiming that people come to bars to drink, smoke, let loose, and have fun, and bartenders know what kind of lifestyle they are signing up for when they accept the job.
Wenzel's narrative is free-flowing and loosely structured, and overall, the style works. As a reader, I was left wondering about the resolution of Wenzel's panic attacks and how exactly she met her husband, but even with these mysteries obscured, Wenzel's memoir makes for great reading. I wish this book had reached a wider audience, and I'm going to do everything I can to recommend it.
Her poignant and sometimes harrowing narrative was very intimate for me, and I wished I'd visited her on my last trip to New York (back when she was still tending bar on the Bowery). We could have commiserated together and laughed at it all. I await her next work eagerly, which I read about on her site.
Overall, not pretentious like some other "insider" books I've read, fun and very revealing.