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Bartenders on the Annual Thanksgiving Eve Shitshow

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Welcome to Four Sheets, a column in which Leslie Pariseau drinks her way across the country creating trouble in boozy paradise.

Turkey's Nest Tavern, Brooklyn. [Photo: Lost City]

The night before Thanksgiving — sometimes called Thanksgiving Eve, or better yet Black Wednesday in the industry — is one of the busiest bar nights of the year. A night that rivals and often exceeds the most dreaded of all bar nights, New Year's Eve. It is an inevitable grade-A shitshow: people have the next day off, out-of-towners are back home, and amateurs feel the need to celebrate. (And also tip like shit.) It seems everyone — from sweatered dads and manicured moms to college kids — piles in for a marathon of messy boozing.

To avoid the rabid reunions, the general consensus is stay home. If you do plan to make a night of it, see what these bartenders — Chad Michael George (Demun Oyster Bar, St. Louis), Joe Brooke (Next Door Lounge, LA), and Steve Schneider (Employees Only, NYC) — have to say about being part of the mischief.

Chad Michael George, Demun Oyster Bar. [Photo: Demun Oyster Bar / Facebook]

Chad Michael George, Bar Manager Demun Oyster Bar, St. Louis

Any thoughts on night before Thanksgiving?
Ahhh pre-Thanksgiving. I've had some good nights with old friends returning for the holidays, but now, as a bartender, two words come to mind: Amateur Night. It's one in only a handful of nights throughout the year where even the most civilized of bars has to deal with people working toward one goal: to lose control of all bodily functions in MY RESTAURANT!

Do you take any preventative measures for shitshow control?
I'm lucky to work in a neighborhood and run a bar that doesn't cater to inexpensive, heavy partying. As a customer, my best preventative measure is to avoid places that at least ten of your friends know exist.

Are you working this year?
I've worked my share of these days, but not this year. I have friends in town, so it is time to venture out from my safe haven and into the wild again. We'll probably have dinner somewhere off the beaten path.

Any crazy stories for the annals of shitshow?
I really don't have any crazy stories. Well that's a lie, but I don't know if you can print my story about asking a former restaurant investor to stop having sex on the bathroom counter, as other people needed to use the facilities.

Where does one go in St. Louis to avoid the nutters?
The craziness is easy to avoid in this city. Our neighborhoods are so segmented and they all have their hidden spots. I'd head to some of my favorite, calmer places, like 33 Wine Shop or Sasha's on Shaw. Neither are in the party areas and should be safe for a good crowd, but not too crazy.

Where's the shitshow?
The craziness will be at fever pitch on Washington Avenue in downtown Clayton, and on Laclede's Landing which is the tourist trap of town. The amateurs who don't take the time to explore the rest of St. Louis will head straight to the heart of the Landing on a night like this.

Next Door Lounge, Los Angeles. [Photo: Next Door Lounge / Facebook]

Joe Brooke, Head Barman at Next Door Lounge, Los Angeles

Any thoughts on the night before Thanksgiving?
It depends on the bartender, honestly. If he or she can handle the insane rush, then the scene is everything Thanksgiving should be about: friends and family who are happy to see each other and just revel in the moment. If the bartender sucks or is in a shitty mood because he or she can't handle the rush, and the attitude gets passed on to guests, the buzz kill is roughly equivalent to finding a turd in the punchbowl.

Any suggestions for dealing with the crowds and craziness as a guest?
Stick to your local spot. Pick a place where you're friends with the bartenders because they’ll get you your drinks quicker. Make sure someone guards the table. Stake that claim! 

Do you work or go out that night (or neither)?
I usually work. Tips suuuuuuck, but I've never worked at a cozy Thanksgiving-pertinent venue. 

Any crazy stories about pre-Thanksgiving evening?
I’m sure I have some, but I almost always drink excessively on those days. Not even kidding.

Where should one go to be in the middle of Wednesday eve craziness in LA?
Melrose Avenue between La Brea and Fairfax. The Sunset Strip for Viper Room, Saddle Ranch, and the Standard Hollywood. Also hit Sunset Junction and do a Downtown LA bar crawl. I could go on, and on, and on. Crazy is what you make of it. Just don't drive drunk.

Employees Only, New York. [Photo: Employees Only]

Steve Schneider, Principal Bartender at Employees Only, New York City

Pre-Thanksgiving evening thoughts?
Thanksgiving Eve is usually a very busy night filled with friends and families reuniting in the city, and the bars have a totally different vibe than usual . Most people have just taken off from work for a long weekend so it's almost like a winter break for elementary school students. A lot of the time guests’ behavior reflects the ‘school’s-out’ ethos. Sure it can be stressful, but we're in a stressful business. As a bartender and businessman, I would be a fool to complain about how crowded my bar is on a Wednesday night. Open the doors, come on in, and I'll do my best to show you a good time. With the proper mindset and precautions, the so called "amateur" night doesn't have to be amateur.

Any preventative measures one can take to deal with the craziness?
From the bar side, it's pretty easy. Make sure your staff stays in communication and your doorman or bouncer takes extra care in the pacing of the crowd. No one likes to be squished together at a bar like on the subway during rush hour. A steady pace will win the race. Like every other night, teamwork is paramount.

No one loves controlled chaos more than myself, but on this night we need things to run more like jazz, and less like heavy metal.  If you have to have a line at the door, so be it. It's better to keep the line outside as opposed to opening the flood gates. People might wait at the bar for 20 minute without a drink and that’s the last thing we want—an unhappy guest leaving without having had a drink

The patrons are the most important thing to us! A bit of advice to guests: It's difficult for everyone in a crowded bar to be served properly if no one opens a tab. The old, "one drink and close out" round after round with a credit card is a log in the stream and takes up a bartender’s valuable time. I know, I know, I get it. Some people get drunk and have a tendency to leave credit cards behind or maybe "friends" put drinks on the tab without approval. However, I’d just carry cash, or be a responsible adult and remember the credit card when leaving.

Do you usually work or go out?
Sometimes I work, and when I do, the money is great, but if I don't work, I stay home. Like many New Yorkers, I don't like crowds. Kind of ironic, yes?

Any good Wednesday eve stories?
None too memorable. When I'm busy, I'm busy.  It's not like New Year’s Eve or St. Patrick's Day. Thanksgiving has always had a calming effect on me. I see weird shit all the time.

Where should one go for an escape that night?
If I were to get away from the crowds, I'd try to get a spot at some of the lovely cocktail bars that don't allow standing room like Death and Co, Raines Law Room, Mayahuel, Angel's Share, PDT, and Little Branch, among others.  These places are nice and intimate—perfect to meet an old friend or lover, and catch up with excellent cocktails made by excellent bartenders.  I personally plan to have a nice dinner at Lighthouse in Brooklyn and then probably heading home early. I know that may seem boring, but for some it's the beginning of a holiday weekend. For me, it's Wednesday.

Where should one go to find the craziness?
I'd be a fool if I didn’t recommend going to see my brothers at Employees Only and Macao Trading Company! We get a great blend of people, and not many, if any, do a better job of providing great service and drinks at high volume than my fellow EO and Macao bartenders and bar backs. Also, we're open late.

Wherever you go Thanksgiving eve, whether a local dive, cafe, club or cocktail bar, remember, we're all in this together.

Leslie Pariseau is a writer in New York City. This Thanksgiving, she will be creating a shitshow in London and showing the English what's up with some rad apple pie.

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