By Elka Karl
Updated Dec 28, 2017 @ 3:30 pm
New Year's Eve Bartender
Credit: Getty Images

For six years, I tended bar at a popular, midsize music venue in San Francisco, and every year, I signed up for the New Year’s Eve shift. That's right—willingly. There was never anywhere else I’d rather be.

Bartending on Amateur Night—what restaurant and bar workers often call New Year’s Eve due to the number of once-a-year maladroit merrymakers flooding their establishments—was, surprisingly, the best. Almost any NYE rager will be attended not just by your average club kids but also by people who'd rather be at home watching a movie, eating fancy food, with their kids, in the woods, anywhere. Why people who haven’t gone out for months will take the plunge to socialize in an overcrowded club on the last night of the year is beyond me. But watching it happen from other other side of the bar is pretty fascinating.

For most of the time I bartended, I had the good fortune to work with my sister, my amicably-split-with ex-boyfriend, a childhood friend, my brother’s ex-girlfriend, and other assorted strangers who worked at the venue and quickly became close friends. Our particular establishment was a close-knit family of randoms, united in our mission to keep the drinks flowing and the customers happy, even on the most sloppy night of the year.

On that note, there are some memories that stand apart from the rest. Ask any New Year's Eve worker, and they'll likely have a similar trove:

  • I've stumbled upon a fellow bartender who was on coat check duty for the night sensually rolling around in a pile of jackets on the floor. Turns out he had decided that the seclusion of the coat room gave him the perfect cover to take a bunch of Molly and really get into the New Year's Eve spirit. He was definitely having the most fun at the party. Unfortunately, the revelers returning with their coat check numbers at the end of the night weren’t quite as happy.
  • One year, my sister (a fellow bartender) and I were asked to investigate why the line for the women’s bathroom was snaking so far out the door. Our findings: Both stalls were occupied, one by three women who were enthusiastically using the space as a makeout room and the other barricaded by four women who were doing coke off the toilet lid. Neither party had any intention of leaving, but the Frenching threesome left politely when we asked them to. The partyers next door, however, refused to exit, so we were forced to kick down the stall door. Confiscating and flushing their drugs might have been vindictive, but it was also extremely satisfying.
  • That same year, a sink broke off the wall, flooding the men’s bathroom right before the midnight countdown began. I'm pretty sure a makeout session was the cause of this bathroom fiasco as well.
  • As expected, vomit is a recurring theme on New Year's Eve. One partygoer threw up from the venue's second-floor balcony, narrowly missing one of the bouncers. Other places I've seen revelers throw up: under the stairs, onto the stage, next to the coat check, and in the bathroom (but, obviously, not in the toilet).
  • Less fun than all of these laughing matters: I all of a sudden become every man's “sweetie,” “hon,” or “baby” (sometimes accompanied by an arm or ass grab) when they want to get my attention to order a drink. Pro tip: I serve you last, if at all.

New Year's Eve is without a doubt bizarre, chaotic, and sloppy. But I always came back. In part it's just a well-paying gig (there’s nothing like making half of your month’s rent in one night). But I'm also guaranteed a great New Year's Eve myself.

I may not always have a date to kiss at midnight, and I have spent the first few moments of a new year cleaning up vomit (but who hasn't, am I right?). But I got to hang out with my fellow bartenders, bouncers, sound technicians, house managers, coat checkers, and club owners, all without the pressure of planning or the cost of buying a NYE-priced ticket. I always hear of New Year’s Eve stories characterized by loneliness or inevitable let-down, while my New Year’s Eve work parties always satisfied.