A License to Spill

I have been a bar tender on and off for about 7 years. The first bar I worked at was G#/$#@ Bar in Perth, which at the time appeared to me to be a haven for amphetamine taking 30 something’s. One time I jumped up onto the bar and pulled this guy’s ponytail when he took his drinks away without paying. One time a girl cut her wrists in the bathrooms. One time I caught a couple doing the naughty thing on a seat next to the dance floor. One time my manager tried to convince me to come home with him. I was 17. Weird right? And then I worked at The Bakery, also in Perth. Perth readers will know how much of a relief that place would have been for my young mind… I could meet loads of interesting people, have free entry to rad gigs, watch all the pretty boys and girls walk around, and I could watch burlesque shows from the bar. Amazing.

Then I moved to Melbourne and got myself a job at Bar Open in Fitzroy. On the weekends it is a grimy, loud, messy mix of crowds and vibe from my previous bar experiences, and on weeknights it’s dark and sometimes quiet, and slowly fills out with locals and travelers, and everything is pretty grimy, and I really, really like it because it is second home to some particularly interesting and lovely people, and the music played is never shitty, unless certain staff members get a bit drunken and there are more than 5 of us sitting around drinking, then this will be put on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8uvG97pStQ , very loudly I might add, and everyone sings along and if I’ve had more than four glasses of red wine, I get all nostalgic and smile sadly as everyone sings along and shakes their arms in time and slaps each other on the back. Convict punk. Only for drinking.

So I know a thing or two about drinking, is what I’m trying to say. A thing or two, or five, or ten, about people and drinking; why a certain kind of person is drinking at any given moment, what their drink of choice says about their attitude towards their night, what is says about the day they just had, how often they’re in the bar, who they come with, how they dress, all the things. I’m getting pretty fucking good at picking how long a group of guys from the suburbs are going to stay in the bar, for example, or what drinks this particular hens night group are going to order and how loud and annoying they’re going to get; if the guy sitting at the bar with the scruffy beard and tight jeans wants coke or ginger beer with his rum; what kind of local beer to offer the bogan traveler guy, and whether or not he will try to flirt with me once he’s had two of them.

I have seen enough people drinking in my life- and done enough of it myself- to know deep down that drinking culture would benefit greatly from a change in drinking laws. None of this classifying music venues as high risk when they don’t have “enough” bouncers bullshit, which creates huge problems for small business and the culture they cultivate (for an important example, have a look at this film). Putting thousands of bouncers in watering holes to discourage booze fuelled violence is not the right action, nor is saying any old 18 year can legally enter a pub. Fuck it. A drinking license should exist for every adult once they reach 18, but only if they can prove they can drink responsibly in public.

Imagine it: from the age of 17 or so, one or more licensed adults are responsible for training each youngling in the way of drinking, in much the same way we would all get our driving license. Training would involve teaching them how different drinks affect the body and the mind, the right speed at which to drink, how to deal with the idea of picking up at a bar, teaching them to respect bar tenders, how to avoid getting in a fight etc.

A set amount of tests/interviews with a qualified instructor brings the personal training back into a general, public context, where the laws about bars, clubs, restaurants, music venues, gambling venues and bottle shops are drummed into the drinking trainee, and the trainee will have to pass them all with flying colours before being given their P plates for drinking. If they fuck up in any way in public- start a fight, fall asleep at the bar, act inappropriately etc, then their drinking license is revoked for 3 months, and they’re not allowed to enter anywhere that sells booze. Keep that thing going up until age 21, and the amount of fuck ups they have in that time affects the kind of license they will have until age 25. From 25 on, a person with a near spotless record can apply to get a mentor license, and then they can then teach the younglings.

Something like that you know? There are obvious complications (family meals at restaurants etc, yes yes yes I know.), but with this idea at the base, we could potentially revolutionize the drinking culture of this country. Maybe even the world. The responsibility would be all on the individual to behave in a way whereby they truly earn the right to drink, and maintain that right as they keep drinking, especially in a public place. As a bartender, I would no longer have to be worried about brawls in my bar, or screaming, crying women, or assholes who get angry when I don’t want to have a conversation with them at 3am while I’m trying to clean up all the smashed glass they and their 18 year old friends are responsible for because they don’t know how to sit at a table properly. Bars could even avoid fines for serving intoxicated people, because no one would want to have their drinking license revoked for pushing it too hard at the bar.

It would make your life better too: you won’t have your ears raped by the squeals of childish women desperate for attention, you might start having more meaningful and interesting conversations with the people you meet, and the chances of having to protect your friends from predatory sleaze bags would greatly decrease. What a world huh?

Drinking is a wonderful and dangerous past-time, which should be treated as such. The difference in a person within an hour of the clock striking midnight on the day that makes them 18 is nothing, absolutely nothing, and yet they are given the right to get boozey within that hour. It makes little sense to me. Make them earn it. Make them care about the consequences. Make them consider all their actions, and within 10 years, I think most violence associated with drinking will be eliminated.