I used to bartend in this dirty little restaurant named Loca Luna that served burgers, pizzas, overcooked pasta, and a few meat dishes. In Little Rock, people think Loca Luna is nice because of the soft lighting, bad art, and how it is the only place that offers Osso Bucco.
The truth? That meat is kept in the deep freezer until someone orders it. A cook goes and grabs one then just tosses it into the deep fryer for a few minutes. Next, it is microwaved and dousing it the renowned “sun-dried cranberry and portobello mushroom pinot noir demi-glace.” which is made with Franzia boxed wine and craisins.
The Thai dressing? Bulk from Ben E Keith. Same with the French Country Vinaigrette (the jug is labeled classic Italian,) Tomato-Basil, Raspberry Mustard Vinaigrette, as well as the Creamy Tomato Herb.
Not to disparage those dressings too harshly. At least the Ranch and Caesar are made in house. Oh! So is the Chunky Bleu Cheese! The server will scoop Ranch into a ramekin and then toss cheese crumbs angrily on top, made to order!
We used to name the rats that lived on the patio, the one that died on the ledge above the bathrooms did not get his own name, but the busboy was a sport about pulling it down… until the tail detached.
Anyway, I bartended there while I was in college. I put up with the sleazy owner grabbing my waist and telling me he wanted to have fun with a girl like me. I avoided his wife and remade her drinks over and over because her jealousy made them always taste wrong. I kissed the cute server in dry storage every chance I got, did shots with the burned-out manager, and smoked a lot of cigarettes.
And I put up with the regular everyone wished would just go away. He was loud, aggressively overconfident like only a raging alcoholic with a Napoleon complex can be. He would brag about his mistress – April, or Amber, or Autumn, yeah, Autumn (She was 26, but he swore she never asked for a dime from his bloated wrinkly wallet) – and then the next day bring in his wife and daughter for lunch. He owns a construction company and gets so drunk he falls asleep in his Jeep outside.
He liked to come in alone and sit at my bar on Mondays. The weekly conversation went like this,
“What? I’m only having a glass of wine.”
“Aw, stop. Don’t I tip you well?”
“No, you don’t. Not for the headache you cause.”
He has already sat down and placed his phone on the bar, settling in.
“One glass of pinot noir, please. your choice, you hellcat.”
As I contemplate breaking the glass and stabbing it through my eye, I pour it full of booze and say, “If you get drunk and ask me to be your mistress, I’ll hang myself from the rafters.”
His wine holds out for 45 minutes and then he switches to Jack Daniels. He gets loud and starts speaking in fake Italian. He tells me he has bought some land on Corsica and if I’m sweet he’ll take me away to a life of luxury. I tab him out, I tell him to call an Uber. He shouts he’s calling his driver and tips $10 on $76.
The weeks blur together with little spots of excitement peppered throughout. In the industry, you would forget time was even passing if your work shoes didn’t disintegrate on your feet. Those moments of excitement… like when the GM hired a 19-year-old stripper from New Orleans to wait tables and she got let go for having sex with a regular in the parking lot for $50. Or when a leak in the walk-in cause six inches of water to fall on a bucket of cheese dip – I saw the cook pour the water off and portion it out. I didn’t offer my tables the cheese dip for weeks. Maybe when the cute server and I caught the new dad Matt crushing up and snorting oxycodone in the beer cooler.
We can’t forget the time Charles came in and went right for the Jack Daniels while yelling into his old iPhone. My interest piqued. I cooed, “Big bad wolf blow your house down, Charles?”
A laugh and a terse, “My daughter! I should sue South on Main! Let her get so drunk she FELL ASLEEP ON THE BATHROOM FLOOR! No one noticed her just left her there! This morning, distraught, she drives home and drives RIGHT INTO the Governor’s Mansion Gate!”
The last time I had felt this gleeful was when I got the Nintendo64 Christmas of 1996.
“Surely, her little car couldn’t have damaged those big gates.”
“Except the DUMB B*TCH hit the gas again and went through them! She didn’t stop till she was by the fountain in the driveway! Then we when cops came, she just drove circles in his driveway! It’s going to cost me $40,000 to fix it so she doesn’t go to jail!”
At this point, I’m sure anything else that was even mildly interesting took my attention away from this conversation because besides filling his glass over and over, I remember nothing else on the matter.
Years later with my degree completed I was working at South on Main. The food was fresh and there was no microwave in the building. Rabbit Ragu featured pasta made in house, Cabbage Wrapped Duck Breast was cooked to medium rare in the sous vide, and every sauce, dip, and dressing was made in house by the chefs.
Instead of lobster and blue crab cakes that could safely be eaten by someone with a shellfish allergy like at Loca Luna; South on Main made their Crab Brandade to order with actual meat. And once you got past the head chef dating a 21-year-old waitresses in his thirties and the GM (his ex) snorting coke every shift, while screwing the oblivious waitress’s line cook boyfriend – it was a chill place to work. Yes, Loca Luna faded away.
But never let anyone outside of the industry tell you that service industry people don’t suffer from PTSD. My proof, you ask? Just check the cameras for the day I saw a very familiar Jeep park across the street and stumpy little man waddle to the front door.
“May I get you something to drink, Charles?”
Emalee Long is a linguistic anthropologist, part-time bartender, and writer living and flailing in Little Rock, Arkansas. Bartending in the downtown area you can find her selectively at South On Main.