Stories From The Other Side Of The Bar: Surprise Shots

Stories From The Other Side Of The Bar: Surprise Shots

Working at a bar sucks, sometimes. The hours are long, they usually coincide with the times when I want to go out with my friends, and I often have to lift 160-lb kegs while shivering in a walk-in cooler.

But there are perks as well. There aren’t many other jobs where you’re not only allowed, but encouraged to drink at work. Getting free drinks at nine of the most popular bars in Chicago is also pretty sweet bonus. But most of all, the people watching is off the charts. As someone who is usually the drunkest guy at the party, being relatively sober and watching all the other drunken animals is a new experience for me. And since I pride myself on my storytelling abilities, it would be disrespectful of me not to share these experiences with you. Enjoy.

* * *

Last Friday started off slow. The combination of #SoberJanuary, people saving for the Superbowl next weekend, and it being a brisk 22-degrees out combined for a total of maybe 30 people in the bar. By 9 p.m., I had resigned myself to a night of drinking aggressively with my coworkers to ease the pain of how small our tips would be. Then suddenly, salvation arrived, in the form of 30 grade-school teachers. They rolled in from the charter school down the street, yelling with the excitement of a week of work finished, as well as (I presume) two days reprieve of not dealing with snot-nosed brats. They had worked hard, and they were here to celebrate.

Anyone that knows teachers knows that when they hit a bar, they’re looking to get fucked. Up. This crew was no different. I don’t know what this school was paying them, but if it’s similar to a teacher’s salary anywhere else, some of these fuckers were going to have to claim their credit card had been stolen when they checked their receipts the next morning. Within an hour, they had sung happy birthday to three separate people, taken four blowjob shots, and ordered 30 “ghetto bombs.” I call them ghetto bombs because I have no idea what they were; a man (who I’m hoping was the principal) ordered “Vodka, sour mix, and vermouth bombs. They were undoubtedly disgusting, but this raucous group could not be tamed. Or so they thought.

We were approaching midnight when I saw one of the birthday boys stumble up to the bartender next to me with two of his lackeys with him. Eye’s firmly planted on her cleavage (can’t even blame him, she was wearing literally just a push-up bra) he spewed random syllables that I believe were supposed to say, “Can I get three shots? It’s my motherfucking birthday.” Realizing that no one could understand their barely functioning friend, the douchier of his two sidekicks spoke up.

“Sorry about this pussy, he can’t hold his liquor. Can we get three shots?”

“Sure thing,” my coworker exclaimed, happy to serve alcohol to a guy that, by my estimation, was going to get kicked out in the next 20 minutes. “What kind of shots?”

The friend was stunned. Apparently, he had forgotten everything about how bars worked, and that there was more than one kind of alcohol in the world. Seeing this, the bartender tried to offer options.

“Jameson? Tequila? (The birthday boy viciously shook his head) Maybe some Vegas Bombs?”

“You know what, babe?” said Sir Douche-a-lot, “Why don’t you grab us whatever you want. I can drink anything. Surprise me.”

And with those two magic words, I knew this guy’s night was going to end badly. I’ll be honest; I love it when people ask to be surprised. They always do it to try and sound cool, and they always fail to realize how many combinations of liquors exist and how little I care about their well-being. This was my time to shine. I waved my coworker over and told her what the surprise should be.

“Two shots of Jameson for the birthday boy and his normal friend, and one shot of Malort for the douchebag.”

For those of you who haven’t heard of Malort, it’s a Chicago-specific liquor that’s known for it’s unpleasant and long-lasting taste. It tastes like it was distilled from roots, fermented in an old bath that your grandpa was bathing in, and strained through three layers of Civil War-era mud. It tastes like the feeling you get when you receive a “we need to talk” text from your girlfriend. If you bottled the memory of you getting pantsed in 6th grade while the girl you had a crush on laughed, it would taste like Malort. From the second it hits your tongue until the taste finally goes away three business days later, you regret every life choice you ever made that lead you to willingly ingest such a vile drink. It also looks exactly like a shot of whiskey in a dark bar.

With my trap set, all that remained now was to watch it be sprung.

“Jameson?” The fearless leader yelled. “I can drink this like water! Bottom’s up, bitches.”

I watched all three guys take their shots. I watched all three of them take the same deep breath and swallow that people do when they’re trying to act unfazed about the liquor coursing down their throat. And I watched two of them succeed. Not the douchebag. He gagged once, twice, backed away from the bar, looked to the heavens for an answer, and then, with tears in his eyes, looked at me.

“Malort?” He whispered, his once confident voice now trembling and hoarse. “Wh…why?”

I stared deep into his (now tormented) soul, and smiled wide.


Immediately, his friends descended on him like vultures, calling him a pussy, and ripping him for all the talk he hadn’t backed up. Last I saw of him, he had left the bar, alone, and was dejectedly getting into an Uber. I don’t know what became of him, but I bet that’s the last time he ordered a surprise shot.

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Nick Arcadia

The opposite of a life coach. Email or DM me if you want some bad advice:

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