Depending on the mood, situation, and the quantity consumed, alcohol can hit people in different ways. As such, bars are center stage for suspect behavior ranging from overly ebullient and tipsy to downright slurry, sloppy, and surly. When the firm but delicate act of cutting off a customer for the night doesn’t work, or when a situation escalates to harassing, abusing, or threatening the staff or guests, some bars will lay down the law with a sentence of banned for life.

How these punishments are enforced varies from bar to bar, whether they’re noted privately among the staff or cataloged in a notebook behind the bar. That’s a more discreet approach compared to the Dolan family, owners of MSG Entertainment (which includes Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall), who have been called out for using Orwellian facial recognition computer software to identify and toss out ticket holders on their “exclusion list,” which mostly consists of professional adversaries (specifically lawyers working at firms with cases against them).

That’s among the more draconian examples, and you’ll likely encounter a more homegrown justice approach at your neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name. Your name, in fact, will not be forgotten when it’s tied to bad barroom behavior and once you’ve been 86’ed for life it’ll be memorialized in its own unique way. Barring customers is part of the shared identities of bars and each have their own quirky methods. At some spots the list is an oral tradition passed down from bartender to bartender and at others there may be a small notebook near the cash register to serve as a reference. And then there’s the community paper police blotter approach, where names are written and posted behind the bar for all to see, and the memories of their misdeeds are not only part of the decor but the fabric of the bar itself.

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Dive Bar Justice

At Rudy’s Bar & Grill in Hell’s Kitchen, longtime manager Danny DePamphilis doesn’t need to keep a physical list of banned customers behind the bar of the historic dive, relying instead on his own omniscience from working the room for decades. “It’s all up here,” he says, tapping his temple with his finger. “I know all their names and faces.” Rudy’s has been around since 1933 and though it’s now a popular stop for visiting tourists, it’s long served the working-class locals and graveyard shift workers who come through all day and night. Needless to say, the bar isn’t without the occasional disruptive patron.

DePamphilis is a tough but fair judge, delivering the extent of the troublemaker’s exile on the spot typically in increments of one week, one month, three months, six months or forever (reserved for repeat offenders). When sorrowful guests come in to see when they’ll be allowed back, DePamphilis might look up from his newspaper to hear their plea and answer back with, “Come back in three months.”

Being barred from Rudy’s is like joining a special club and carries its own badge of honor among those who’ve been excommunicated. That there’s a chance for redemption is what makes a bar part of the community. “There’s a feeling of home in these old neighborhood watering holes and once you make amends you can come back home,” says DePamphilis. “I actually had a once-banned customer tell me that being barred from Rudy’s was like the time he was sent to jail. When he got out he knew he would still be welcomed back to mom’s house.”

One of the more notable instituted banishments took place last October when restaurateur Keith McNally publicly forbade late-night talk show host James Corden from coming back to his Soho eatery Balthazar for the offense of being rude to the waitstaff over an improperly cooked all-egg-yolk omelet. The two went back and forth at each other in the press about what really happened and Corden’s banishment was soon reversed but after flip-flopped, half-hearted apologies and accusations from both sides, it was reinstated. But when it comes to stirring up trouble at a bar, you don’t have to be a well-known celebrity to be put on public blast.

‘Didn’t I See Your Name Behind the Bar at Brackins?’

In the small town of Maryville, Tenn., just south of Knoxville, there’s a joint called Brackins Blues Club that displays nearly 200 names (first and last) of barred customers written out on large whiteboards prominently displayed behind the bar.

Owner Christina Nore started the tradition when she began working there eight years ago. “I get frustrated when we have to bar somebody, but they make it easier for me when they’re being an asshole,” says Nore. The bar can typically go a few weeks without incident but then they’ll come upon a certain period with multiple offenses. ” We have a zero tolerance policy for stealing [tin tacker beer signs, bottles of liquor, pool balls], blatant drug use, fighting, being an overall kind of piece of crap to my staff, or being racist.”

That roster of ne’er-do-wells represents a cross-section of the Maryville community, from college students trying to slip in multiple times with fake IDs to local professionals and public figures (the demographics of offenders skew 55-percent female to 45-percent male). Brackins’ bartender and cook Katie Norton is bemused by the hypocrisy of public image and rude behavior, and says: “I was on Facebook one day and saw a former customer acting all Christian and I’m like, ‘Didn’t I see your name behind the bar at Brackins?’”

It’s rare for a name to come off the Brackins list once it’s up there, even after a barred patron dies. Nore has made a couple of exceptions for college kids who were busted with fake IDs but came back when they turned 21. “I told them, you had the balls to come and talk with me and apologize, so three weeks from this date you can come back.” Friends and regulars who act up usually receive a two-week probation, but when they joke about wanting to make the list just for fun Nore warns them that if that happens their names are going up in permanent Sharpie not a dry-erase marker.

In separate incidents, two different young women wound up on the barred list after calling the local police to complain that they were being cut off. Each time when the officers arrived, the drunk women flipped out, cussed out the cops, and wound up getting arrested. “It’s both very easy and hard all at once to wind up on our barred list,” says Nore. “As long as you act like a decent human being and not act like you were raised by wolves, we’ll get along just fine.”

‘You Can Send Me Dead Flowers…’

While Brackins Blues Club doesn’t share the reason why someone’s on the list, there’s a neighborhood bar in the West End neighborhood of Lancaster, Penn., that excels in painting a more detailed picture of those who have been permanently barred.

Valentino’s Cafe has been open and family-owned since 1937. The restaurant side of the business still serves red-sauce classics like spaghetti and meatballs and the adjoining bar brings in a daytime crowd of hard-working, blue-collar regulars — a mix of retirees, firemen, police officers, paramedics, mailmen, and contractors who come in to relax after work and have a few draft beers and don’t want to be bothered. At night, the bar’s neon sign draws in waves of post-shift servers, cooks, and bartenders.

There’s boozy gummy bears for sale and a chip rack where the Utz Cheese Curls are called Italian Shrimp (it’s a long story). The back bar is stocked with handles of popular spirits like Tito’s and Tanqueray (they honor the tradition of “the spider,” where the last pour from a bottle is on the house), and the mixed drinks are typically served in a pint glass. There are only 14 barstools at Val’s but their adjoining parking lot is as big as a football field and even has an Instagram account devoted to “Shitty Park Jobs at Valentino’s.”

Gene Helm (everyone calls him “Bean”) married into the Valentino’s family and has been the daytime bartender at Val’s for 35 years. His wife Deborah and daughter Lyndsay also work there. He’s responsible for adding many of the names to their well-known barred list, which he started compiling 25 years ago.

After 35 years behind the bar, Bean’s intuitive “Spidey-Sense” allows him to quickly identify a potentially problematic customer as soon as they walk through the door. “You have to put the fire out right away,” he says. “You can’t have it spread.”

The barred list is actually several lists stored in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. It’s a living document — an art installation, really — composed of torn sheets of yellow legal paper, Post-Its, and backs of receipts with the banned customer’s name and offense typed up or written. Some reasons are mysterious while others are self-evident. There are asterisks and addendums throughout and many names have been updated with “DEAD,” marking a more permanent banned status.

Among the dozens of names [names have been changed to protect the guilty] you’ll encounter:

  • Vito’s Girlfriend. Cut her hair in the sink
  • Linda (DEAD). Her chinchilla shit on the floor
  • Big Tall Guy 1 Leg From Home (fell out front)
  • Larry (Talks about the Devil)
  • Kaylene (pissed on floor)
  • Fat Huey (DEAD)
  • Benny (bitched about the popcorn!).

There’s a certain sadness studying these documents but there’s also an undeniable dark humor that Val’s leans into, occasionally posting the list on social media and producing a limited run of sold-out sweatshirts with a decal of the barred list on the front and on the back: “Valentino’s Cafe: No Pissing on the Floor. No Falling Out Front. No Bitching About the Popcorn.”

Chef Matt Russell, co-owner of the Horse Inn, lives within walking distance to Val’s and he and his wife Starla usually stop by at least five times a week after he closes down their restaurant. “It’s that classic place where everybody knows your name,” he says. “The daytime crowd, especially, is made up of electricians, plumbers, painters. I always know where I can find a contractor for a project.”

Russell feels like Val’s is pretty generous in their patience. “It takes a lot to get on that list,” he says. “Usually it’s someone on their twelfth strike.”

And if you have the misfortune to wind up on the list it’s permanent. “We have a front and a side door so some people try to sneak back in but it’s a life sentence,” Bean says. “We’ve had quite a few die on us and the staff will ask if we should send flowers and I ain’t sending shit. They were a pain in the ass.”

‘Those Are People Who Died, Died’

I also came across a different kind of barred list after-hours at a smoke-filled Lancaster Irish bar that’s also an alleged hangout for a notorious motorcycle club. Behind the bar are several bound albums that look like a collectible library of classic rare books. In the name of research I talked my way into seeing one but was instructed not to take any photos or write anything down.

This collection of the damned didn’t possess the same gallows humor as Val’s and a somber chill ran through my body flipping through page after page of Polaroids of people from all walks of life at their absolute worst. Details were written out in black Sharpie below each photo of people with hollow eyes staring back at the camera, and many of them had since departed. It made me think of the Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died.” This was less the dark comedy of being sloppy drunk, but the last stop in a lifetime of bad decisions.

There may be a sense of bravado to an outcast’s bad behavior that lingers like a weekend hangover, but when the headache and haze disperse they’re faced with a cold reality. Your favorite neighborhood joint is more than just a place to hang out and have a good time; it’s part of the community. Bars can feel like home for many people and no matter where you are or how dire the situation, you always want to hang on to the idea that no matter what you do, you’ll always be welcome back home.