After the talk at Silvertone on Thursday, I made my way over to Storyville with bartender Ian Strickland who will soon be working at Pigalle. The title of the talk was supposed to be "Tales from Behind the Stick," but Gary Regan decided to do a talk about a period when he was not a bartender but a bar manager. During 1988-92, he was the manager at the North Star Pub frequented by the businessmen of Wall Street and the tourists of the South Street Seaport. The new title was, "Of Mushy Peas, Men as Tall as Trees, and Singing Spies in the South Street Seaport." As for Gaz's commentary on being a manager instead of a bartender, it was less money and more responsibility, so don't do it. The focus was not making drinks, but instead how to promote events and extend hospitality to bring in more business as well as to make the guests' experience more memorable.
Devon, the owner of this British pub, loved to hold outrageous events to get press. The first one in the talk's title was mushy peas. Stuffy, one of the bartenders, taunted the North Star Pub's chef that they could not be a true British pub if they did not have mushy peas on the menu. The chef agreed and decided to make them. Devon and Gary got into the act by making this into a major media production. In the guest list was every food and drink writer they could come up with to introduce them to this British comfort food. However, the production value was deceiving. Since the silver serving covered bowl did not reach the rental minimum, they also rented a pair of large silver candelabras to place on either side of it. When it came time to pass out samples after much Scotch and food, it was served in absurdly small demitasse cups with small spoons. Just as the media was figuring out that they might have just been tricked, Gary told them that the blandness was the mark of authenticity. I guess the above sentiment reminds me of the Sex Pistols' John Lydon quote, "Have you ever had the feeling that you've been had?" especially since Gaz played Sid Vicious' rendition of Sinatra's "My Way" as we had our cocktails before the talk began.
Speaking of cocktails, midway through the talk, Gary informed the room that he was in need of a Negroni. Luckily, Storyville bartender Ryan McGrale saved the day. As I later learned during Gaz's roast, this was nothing new.
There were plenty of other stories that Gaz spun about the years at the pub including the singing spy story about promoting a World War II-themed night to give the guests the feel of London during the bombing raids (replete with hiding underneath the tables with their drinks after the air raid siren went off). And the steak and kidney pie day is a good one that also appears in his The Bartender's Gin Compendium as well as on his website. But the one that touched me the most was about promoting a miniskirt competition of all things. Regan needed a host but had no budget. He had learned that one of his heroes was now living in New York City, and he decided to find him in the white pages and give him a call.
That person was Quentin Crisp. Quentin was a flamboyant gay man who in London during the 1920s used to dress up in women's clothing, go out, get beat up, return home to fix up his makeup, and hit the streets again since no one could tell him who he was. Quentin described his life during that time in his Naked Civil Servant mémoires. Gary got through on the phone to Quentin who was then in his eighties and eventually convinced him to do the gig for a car ride over to the pub, dinner, and drinks. Quentin lived next to the Hells Angels club on 12th Street and told Gary to tell the driver to look for guys as tall as trees and twice as shady.
A lot of Regan's stories factored into his mindful bartending philosophies even though he was not being a bartender during this period. However, making the customer, the press, or the flamboyantly gay man in your establishment feel special was all the same art. With a low budget, the promotion of the absurd made the event differ from the every day. I was reminded of the cocktail parties we used to throw and how the themes had to be unusual. A surrealist New Years replete with surrealist games, strange piles of objects, and the like, a Groundhog's Day cocktail party, a Johnny Appleseed's birthday punch event, and the infamous International Migratory Bird Day gala that ended up in DrinkBoston. None of these themes cost that much more to do over a regular party, but the guests felt like there was something extra in the experience when the theme was that unusual.