So You Want to Own a Bar

A lot of people dream of opening a bar, or restaurant. The idea of pouring drinks, feeding people, and being an integral part of the community evokes excitement and visions of grandeur. Before you start, however, you should ask yourself one simple question. Do you know how bars and restaurants found their start in the world? If you don’t know, that’s okay, I’ll tell you what you need to know and you’ll get a glimpse into my journey from dream to reality in hospitality.

In 1200 AD your only means of getting around were the rough and poorly maintained roads constructed by His Majesty, the King of England. Now, having been crowned king by either a mermaid, or by pulling a sword out of a rock, the King was not well versed in the art of traffic management.  Therefore, the Knights and peasants of the time needed a place to rest and tend to broken legs caused by the massive holes in the road which were routinely ignored by the road crews—who were paid in marijuana instead of money, to mitigate workplace complaints. Coincidentally, this is where the term “pot-hole” originated from. In any case, for Knights this meant tying their horses to the stables and splinting the leg in question. In the case of the peasant, it meant tying his wife and children to the stables and splinting the leg in question. Unfortunately, in both cases, there was a lot of whinnying, kicking, and screaming of profanities.

            After having wrangled with wives, husbandry, and “ ’alves,” the men were in dire need of food, cleavage, and mind-altering drink. But where was a man going to find all of these things? The Public House, of course! The Public House had everything a weary traveler needed; warm beds, cleavage, edible food, cleavage, and intoxicating drinks. Of course this meant that somebody owned the house, made the beer, hired the cleav—er bartenders, and supplied the food. In 99.9% of cases, the owner of the “Pub” was clearly insane. Nobody in their right minds invites random, young, virile young men to get drunk in their house.

            One would think that this kind of lifestyle—not to mention the mental illness—would deter people from procreating with (and sometimes marrying) these owners. However, you would be wrong. The women in the relationship would serve as the brains of the operation—many “owners” would simply open their home to strangers to have an excuse to drink—and the children would go on to become a reliable source of free labor for several years. These children would go on to have children of their own. Unfortunately, mental illness runs in the family, so 1 in 4 of these children would also own a Pub.

            It is estimated that 80% of the population carries the gene which predisposes them to “Toomuchtimeonmyhands-encephalopathy” the disease which compels a person to open a bar. In the majority of cases, the symptoms aren’t severe enough to result in actually opening a bar, however, in 20% of cases, the sufferer does open a bar.

            So there you have it. We bar owners are the descendants of medieval crazy people who were allowed to open their homes to other crazy people who would, on faith alone, eat and drink in a strange place—ideally for a fee.

How I wound up owning a bar

            Jokes aside, you are very, very likely to run across someone who wants to open a bar, or has thought about opening one. The fact that you’re reading this tells me that you are either a newly minted manager who wants a better grasp of what is going on with the industry, or you are serious about owning and operating a bar. In either case, I sincerely commend you. This industry is not for the faint of heart. You will either fall in love with it, or it will eat you up and spit you out like your worst ex.

            Which leads me to how I ended up owning a bar. I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about my ex (you haven’t bought me enough shots yet), but I will tell you that our break-up was the reason that I ended up owning a bar. When I was about 20 years old, my ex was going to Bartending School, as many young men and women do. She suggested that, with my love of music and her newly acquired bartending skills, we open a nightclub. I thought that was a pretty fantastic idea, so we started setting up loose plans to make that happen by the time we were 28 years old. We did all of the research that inexperienced, foolish 20 year olds could do, which largely consisted of looking at the price of equipment and trying various drinks.

            Three years later, we had done very little in the way of advancing this idea of owning a nightclub (although we did build a glow-in-the-dark beer pong table from an old door in our house) and the wedding had been called off…24 hours before it was supposed to happen. I’ve had several people tell me that they didn’t think that ever happened, that it was something that Hollywood made up. Let me tell you, it is worse than you imagine. Yes family was in town, yes everything was paid for, yes seriously 24 hours, no it wasn’t me, no she didn’t get cold feet, and yes I was a screw up. Long story short, she wasn’t in the picture anymore. My entire life was changed from top to bottom. Nothing that I envisioned for my life was going to happen anymore. That’s when my dad called me.

            My father was the district director for the United States Small Business Administration (man government jobs have long names), and he was dealing with—among other things—a VA hospital. Let me tell you about that VA hospital in Colorado. It ended up being one billion dollars over budget and five years late on delivery. It was a complete cluster fuck. My dad had dozens of companies calling his office, looking for help or for an extension on their loans because they primary contractor hadn’t paid them. These companies were hundreds of thousands—sometimes millions—of dollars in debt because of this project, and several had filed for bankruptcy protection.

            Being the upstanding man that he is, my dad wanted to get in front of the press and expose the incompetency of both the Veterans Administration and Kiewit Turner. However, when his bosses in Washington learned of the plan, they immediately called him to tell him that he would not be speaking to the press, because it would make the President look bad. Again, being the man my father is, his response was, essentially, to tell his bosses that the President could shove his ego where the sun doesn’t shine, and if Washington was more concerned about image than people, he would tender his resignation.

            I’m standing in the living room of my now empty house, swimming in all kinds of emotions, wondering what else was going to change when he called me. We had been talking about the hospital for several months, so when he went over it again and told me that he was leaving the SBA, it wasn’t a surprise. What was surprising, is that he asked me, “Do you still want to open a bar?” I was emotionally drained, and I couldn’t see how another change could possibly make things worse than they were, so I—with all of the eloquence of Shakespeare—said, “Yeah, fuck it.”         

  That was the beginning of my journey into the service industry. An industry that I have fallen in love with despite the long hours, hard days, and access to too much liquor. It is a journey that I hope you are still excited about and I hope that you will allow me to continue to teach you what I learned the hard way.