John Daly: 'Judge made the most of his call to the bar'
It's not often I'd find myself in total agreement with a legal magistrate, but there's a first time for everything.
John Hedigan, former judge of the High Court, is chair of the recently formed Irish Banking Culture Board, the body tasked with regaining public trust in the banking system. A line of his introductory speech caught my eye: "I come from Ballymun where one of my earliest jobs was as a barman during school holidays. My late brother David, more academic than I, described bar work as the greatest learning experience of his life."
Bingo, I thought, a kindred spirit who has toiled the beer-stained floorboards, a fellow traveller of the perfectly pulled pint. While my career might not have been as socially dedicated as the judge's, it has tracked a path that crossed his in a youthful calling to that other bar where lessons of acumen, acuity and awareness are essential tools of the trade.
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Most of my bartending was done on summer J1 college visas around various Manhattan watering holes - The White Horse, JG Melon's and Fanelli's - each offering intense semesters in the school of life. Mixing drinks was a given; the real art was dealing with people.
Buddy McGirney, a no-nonsense Korean War veteran, was an early mentor: "The extended handshake is one of life's greatest gifts, make it firm, and with a genuine smile behind it," he advised. "Read what's in front of you - is she waiting or alone, does she want a conversation or a date? Golden rule - lips closed, ears open - you're a bartender psychologist and your reward is the tip."
And the other universal truth of the bartending code from Manhattan to Maam Cross? Never forget you represent the house, the first point of contact for anyone coming through the door.
After any good week for our tip jars, a bunch of us J1-ers would put on our preppiest threads and head for the holy of holies - the Star Bar at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Central Park South. The drinks were wicked good with a bill to match, but the wisdom of legendary mixologist Norman Bukofzer was priceless: "The customers are not here for your life story. They may be friendly, but they're not really your friends."
Telling a good yarn is another honours paper of the trade, like the time I stopped at a rural West Cork pub only to find myself sharing the counter with an elderly country gent. Supping our pints in companionable silence, he turned and uttered the only words of our encounter.
"Five farms," he croaked, miming tipping a glass down his gullet to indicate the acres lost to the mountain dew. 'Nuff said.
Jokes are always welcome, like the classic Rodney Dangerfield one-liner: "So I tell the bartender to make me a zombie, and he says, 'God beat me to it.' I don't get no respect." Boom boom.
All the pubs in Ireland and he picks just one?
When it comes to bucket lists, '150 Bars You Need To Visit Before You Die' by Belgian Jurgen Lijcops is the go-to tome nestling amongst the luggage of many a world traveller. And yet, Ireland - the hearthstone of public houses - merits only one entry, The Prince of Wales Bar at Ashford Castle.
What about the Ryan's of Parkgate Street, Morrissey's of Abbeyleix, Cork's Mutton Lane or Nancy's in Ardara?
You clearly need to get out more, Jurgen.
Barman bamboozled by the definitive panda
A panda lurches to the bar counter, gobbles a fistful of peanuts, pulls out a pistol and fires off a shot, before heading out the door.
"Are you crazy?" screams the barman.
"No, I'm a panda - Google me."
And there it was in black and white: Panda - a tree-climbing mammal with black-and-white colouring. Eats shoots and leaves.