Business Weekly broke the News Wednesday night and the New York Times confirmed it on Friday morning that bartender Doug Quinn of P. J. Clarke's in Manhattan, who many considered to be the gold standard of the old guard of bartenders, had been fired. Mr. Quinn recounted the events to both publications. He said an intoxicated male customer was harassing female customers and Quinn called him over and asked him behave. The man then became "verbally abusive," at which point Quinn told him to leave. He then looked to his new GM to help with the removal, but instead the GM told Quinn that the man had just ordered a bunch of raw bar and brought the customer to the back and bought him dinner (he was also given a t-shirt). Later that evening Mr. Quinn was told by the managing partner that he had been fired. The manager, who Quinn said had wanted to remove him for some time, also said there had been some complaints about him from customers of which Quinn was completely unaware.
Ok, as a bartender I admit to being biased in this situation. I don't know any of the involved parties and we only have one side of the story. My only knowledge of Quinn comes from here-say, primarily the profile the New York Times did on him in 2010
declaring him to be the "bartender of your dreams." I personally remember reading it as a newly minted bartender. The description of his effortless skill and grace as he chatted with his guests while consistently putting out drinks with alacrity inspires me to this day to work at a comparable level.
Based on that article and the reverence, many top bartenders in the industry place on Quinn it's hard to imagine he was so out of line in attempting to impose some manners on an unruly customer as to warrant being fired. I'm sure management's side of the story would fill in some holes but the way I see it, no matter how you slice it, Quinn was trying to do his job, and when you're a bartender that can be messy.
A bartender is supposed make everyone who sits at their bar feel welcome, comfortable and above all, safe. For ninety-nine percent of customers this can be accomplished with a genial smile and pleasant small talk. But it's the circumstances that arise when dealing with the outlying one percent (isn't it always?) when a bartender really shows his or her mettle. Those situations -- from cutting someone off to talking down an aggressor -- are complex exercises in judgement, prudence and poise. While we strive at all costs to resolve problems without anyone getting upset, there are times when a bartender has to make the call and decide, "This person isn't behaving, and they have to go."
Is it possible that the GM had a good reason for disagreeing with Quinn's judgement? Sure. But speaking from experience, in that fast paced environment no one is one hundred percent perfect. So for those of us bartenders who take this seriously and are doing our best to make sure everyone goes home safe and happy, we sometimes need a little slack and a little support to make that happen. We, like Doug Quinn, are always on your side.
Word has it Quinn has already gotten a mountain of offers, not just to work but to open up his own place, which he says he intends to. So don't worry about him too much, he'll be just fine. Though I can't say the same for P. J. Clarke's and their many faithful patrons.