In this installment of VinePair’s Shift Diaries series, we traveled to the Motor City — home to hard-working, hard-partying folks. During the summer months, Detroiters flock to outdoor bars to take advantage of the precious and rare sunshine. They also happily hang out at dive bars, craft cocktail joints, and breweries, no matter the season. We talked to four bartenders from different spots all over the city, from downtown’s hopping cocktail bars to the North End’s dives, about their Friday night gigs.
Location: Dive bar
Shift: I work Friday night from 4 p.m. to close, which is at 2 a.m. I’m by myself until 7 p.m., so I get decent tips from the regulars who all show up almost every day. There’s no “typical” night, but there is a pattern, I’d say. It’s usually a pretty solid happy-hour group from 5 to 7 p.m. and then it dips down for a little bit and starts picking back up at 8 or 9. It’s steady and pretty busy until 12 a.m. Around 12:30 or 1, we get another batch of restaurant staff coming in for last call. The drinks I make most are the usual dive bar stuff: vodka soda, Jack and Coke, beer, beer, beer. When people ask me if I can make them a Manhattan, I usually laugh at them. For shots, it’s usually white tea and green tea. The person at Jameson who invented that shot, I swear to God, should be a millionaire and probably is. Lots of folks come in for a shot of Dr. McGillicuddy Peppermint from the chilling machine. Tonight, I made $270. I’ve made as little as $150 and as much as $700, but I’d say around $250 to $300 is the norm. My customers are just regular working-class people, all ages, really. The only time it gets really crazy is on Paczki Day — that’s Fat Tuesday, but instead of king cake, people eat Polish paczki and drink a ton. We close at 10 p.m. that night every year because people start drinking at 7 a.m., and they’re zombies by the time they make it to us.
Location: Outdoor tropical cocktail bar
Shift: Most of what we make is your usual tropical drinks: Painkillers, Palomas, Aqua Velva, Margaritas (and Margaritas and Margaritas…). We do some beers, too, but almost no shots. Since it was hot this week, people are just mainlining the Painkillers.We’re the busiest on Saturday nights between 6 and 11 p.m., but Friday happy hour is hopping, too. Even for one bartender, 12 or 15 customers can be a lot to handle. We seat 60-plus, and we’re next to a small concert venue. So if there’s a show over there, before the show we can have close to 200 people out here. If that’s the case, we’ll add another bartender or two. Last Friday, I made a f*ck-ton of money. It was well over $200. It was just a steady stream of people, coming in pairs and groups. Never crazy busy, almost soothing: I was just making drinks like a machine, over and over. I love that kind of night. It’s not super high volume; I get a chance to talk to people and have a stable rail. There seems to be a quantifiable amount of money that’s involved doing this sort of thing. Just being able to be there, and not just be the drink slinger, means better tips. I’m able to talk to my customers, so they’re tipping well, but I can only make so many drinks in that time. I’m good with that.
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Shift: I work mostly weekends. We serve beer, cider, seltzer, and wine that we make. A lot of folks will ask for recommendations because it’s their first time here. I refuse to make assumptions about who’s going to drink what. I’ll ask what kind of food they like, whether they’re in the mood for something that packs a punch or more of a session drink. A lot depends on the weather; during the summer, we’re selling a lot of seltzer and gose, of course. The peanut butter porter and the hazy IPA are the most popular year-round. Most of my women drinkers are IPA drinkers, too. On a Friday, we get busy right at 5:30 and stay steady until we close at 11. Holiday weekends are rougher, though, because so many people go out of town up north. I only work a few shifts a month. This is my “Mad Money.” The rest of the time, I’m the procurement manager at a stamping plant. I order steel and make sure our plant actually makes auto parts. I picked this up because a couple of years ago, a friend who knew how much I love craft beer told me I should try it. I love matching people up with beer. Someday I want to make my own, but for now, I’m pretty happy with this.
Location: Gay bar/nightclub
Shift: We open at 8 p.m. and have a “fluff hour,” restocking and setting up to get everything prepared. We start to pick up around 10 on the weekends, typically. We also have drag entertainment that starts at 11:30. Four different performers come out and do two songs each to get the crowd lively. We have a very diverse clientele: younger, older. It runs the gamut of ages and different genders and races. The bar is one of the oldest gay bars in Detroit. It’s very welcoming. We’re working to make sure that it’s safe for everybody involved. Historically, it was known as a gay man’s bar. In recent years, we’ve opened that up so that everyone feels more comfortable in the space. On my first training shift four years ago, I went in to get the lay of the land. For my very first customer, I noticed that this man has no shirt. And I’m like, “OK, that’s fine.” He ordered a B&B — that’s a liquor that’s made of brandy and Benedictine. I didn’t have B&B, so I told him from across the bar, “I’m sorry, we don’t have B&B, but I do have Grand Marnier.” He said, “No problem.” So I set it on the bar. Then, I realized he has no pants on either. He has underwear. He has no shoes or socks on. Just underwear. My first drink at my first shift at a historically gay man’s bar was an eye-opener, but I knew from then on to expect anything.