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The Bizarre(?) Bartender of Blind Tiger Ale House, Manhattan

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Late last week I made a quick trip to Manhattan. Given the schedule there was an opportunity for one meal with friends. As I was waiting for my friends and given the heat and humidity and the proximity to Blind Tiger Ale House, a quick trip to BTAH seemed like a good idea.

As I entered, there were 2 bartenders, and 3 when I left. 2 were females, 1 was male. I ordered 3 beers each served by a different bartender. There were about 4 customers when I entered and about 6-8 customers when I left. I had a great conversation with the male bartender who was quite engaging (I mentioned to him how BTAH was popular on the West coast and that I was surprised to see so little Allagash given its proximity. He said the listings were very dynamic, and I am sure they are!). All three bartenders offered samples and I had 4 samples and ordered 3 beers. My first exchange was with a female bartender and I asked her for the check as she had opened the tab for me. This is what followed:

Me: "Can I have the check please?"
BT: "Sure."
BT brings me the check.
Me: "How much are the BTAH t-shirts for?"
BT: "$22"
Me: "Ohhh..." (shrugged a little indicating it was a little expensive) "Hey, but you guys can get free publicity in Los Angeles (where I live)" (smiling as I said that).
That's when I noticed a discrepancy in the check. They had billed me for 2 beers instead of 3.
Me: "Hey, you haven't charged me for a beer. I had 3, there are only 2 on the check". Again smiling at her I said "So maybe you can give me a new check and a discount on the tshirt"
BT: "You know what, SHAME ON YOU!! WE DON'T NEED YOUR MONEY AND YOU DON'T NEED TO PAY FOR THAT BEER".
BT went over to the other side of the bar, as I was bewildered at what had just happened!

I paid for the two beers ($17 and left a $3 tip, lower by my standards, but reasonable given the exchange) and left after having waited to make sure she wasn't returning with a different check.

Funny way to do business?

Revenue so far: $17
Additional revenue: $8 - $30 (depending on the price of the tshirt). All you have to do is give me a new check and possibly smile and say "sorry, its $22".

I am sure $8-30 doesn't make a dent in BTAH's annual revenues, but what a bizarre way to respond to a paying customer, who has recognized an error that is to your advantage and is willing to pay for it (and possibly more!) Mind you there were operating at 10-20% of their capacity and there were 3 bartenders, so there really wasn't a lot of pressure on them.

As I thought about the situation later, I realized was haggling for the tshirt price was a bad idea?
A. I wasn't asking it for free
B. Poor form or not, I am a paying customer and I am being as nice and funny about it. Just say no, you don't have to SHOUT back at me!

Will I ever return to BTAH? In all honesty, its a great establishment serving hard to find beers and being a channel for smaller craft brewers. And I must say 2/3rd of the employees did a fine job! Though, I have decided to send an email to BTAH because maybe this is a repeat offender.

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  1. Super weird. You can only hope there is some backstory that would explain it. Still, I'd have a hard time going back after such an experience.

    1 Reply
    1. re: babette feasts

      As I said, there was a really nice guy, who was engaging and knowledgeable...I like to isolate and identify my problems with a particular place before I decide on return visits. Moreover, everyone deserves a second chance. :)

    2. You got a buyback. Asking for discounted clothing from a bar sounds weird to me, whether you do it with a smile or not.

      5 Replies
      1. re: LeoLioness

        I agree; it is doubtful an employee sets the price of the merch nor can he/she discount the prices for merch. Otherwise, the bartender was a bit harsh definitely.

        1. re: Dax

          I think the "sounds weird" argument is a judgment call; one can argue either way. The more important point here is the response to a weird request: politely declining it is a reasonable option that can and should be exercised. Rebuking a customer is

          BTW, I wrote to Blind Tiger, and they responded very quickly with an apology (accepted) and an offer for a free tshirt (declined). The only explanation for the the bartender's behavior was the she was certainly having a bad day.

          1. re: losfelizhound

            Of course it's a judgement, just as you are judging the bartender. Did you ask for opinions on this scenario or did you just want people to validate you?

            Yeah, asking for discounted clothes in a bar is weird.

          2. re: Dax

            I think the "sounds weird" argument is a judgment call. What's more important is the response to a weird request, and under ideal and almost every condition is to decline it politely. That was a clearly an option that was not exercised.

            I wrote to BTAH and they responded in a matter of hours and offered an apology (accepted) and wanted to send me a free tshirt (politely declined). The only explanation they could offer for the behavior was that she was having a bad day.

          3. re: LeoLioness

            My BF when buying anything will ask for a discount - hey it never hurts to ask and a lot of the time he gets it. Does it embarrass me sometimes? yes, but like he always says $5 is better in my pocket than theirs.

          4. I think the bartender was trying to be funny and trying to find a way to diffuse your focus on getting a T-shirt cheap. Since you wouldn't let it go, she was trying to find a way to make that happen.

            5 Replies
            1. re: escondido123

              Haha...that's a funny argument. Having said that, I hope you are not into any business requiring interaction with customers :)

              1. re: losfelizhound

                It is hard to tell exactly what it was like when it happened since no one on this board was there. New Yorkers have strong senses of humor and that 's what it sounded like to me. By the way, I've worked in retail and did just fine with customers who often came back looking for me in particular to help them.;)

                1. re: escondido123

                  ROFL...since "no one on this board was there", lets assume (a) you were in retail and (b) they had high tolerance to pain...:)

                  1. re: losfelizhound

                    What exactly are you getting at? What are you trying to say? I don't understand.

                    1. re: losfelizhound

                      Way harsh, Tai.

              2. That's the difference between crazy girls in LA versus NY. In NY they tend to be more fractious.

                2 Replies
                1. re: GraydonCarter

                  Thank you for a new word--fractious.

                  1. re: GraydonCarter

                    I didn't want to get into any over generalizations. Though in that kind of heat and humidity, tempers can flare more quickly!

                  2. Pure speculation, but I would guess that the bartender was trying mightily to disengage, and doing everything they could think of to do so.

                    Could be wrong though,

                    Hunt

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                      I think this nails it.

                    2. Sounds like the bartender was simply tiring of your jokes and you got annoying. Even with that smile.

                      1. It's a bar, not a flea market. Yes, trying to finagle a discount was a bad idea. And claiming you'll give the bar "free publicity" by wearing the t-shirt is more or less equivalent to promising to shill the bar on your blog.

                        1. I sounds like you were acting annoying when the bartender was trying to be nice to you. And when she finally got annoyed and reacted to you, you thought she was acting bizarre.

                          She gives you free samples and a free beer but won't discount merchandise for you and the way you respond is to complain to her boss and complain about the business on the internet. That's some bizarre behaviour right there.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: mtoo

                            This.

                            1. re: mtoo

                              +1000. We have a winner...could not have said it any better.

                            2. I can see two possibilities here:

                              Either she was offering you a discount by not adding the beer to your bill so that you could get money off buying the shirt. But you wouldn't accept it, despite repeatedly asking for a discount on the shirt so she tried to make a joke of it but you still didn't get it.

                              OR

                              A genuine mistake was made on the bill. Or, who knows, maybe there was a 3 for 2 offer on the beer you chose. But either way she found your repeated requests for a discount on a shirt so annoying that she told you that you didn't need to pay - basically she just wanted you to leave.

                              Overall, the entire thing is pretty damn weird - your repeated requests for a discount AND her response. Maybe you should just not haggle at a bar....

                              36 Replies
                              1. re: Muchlove

                                A "buyback" for the 3rd drink is pretty standard in many NYC bars.

                                1. re: LeoLioness

                                  Well then that's probably it. The guy didn't need to pay anyway and the bartender was mighty sick of requests for money off a shirt.

                                  1. re: LeoLioness

                                    and the patron rejecting the hospitable gesture and acting like the staff is incompetent would be very weird, and insulting. and also would have pegged this person as a non newyawker, fwiw. i think the bt was trying to protect herself/her job-- presumably she would have been fired if she took it upon herself to discount merch or anything else. i find it hard to believe the bar did not stand by her since she was getting bullied for a discount *after* giving the patron the standard 3rd drink free.

                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                      If it's a standard 3rd drink free, why wouldn't she have said, 'oh that last one's on me' or something. Or is it a standard that is not supposed to be spoken about?

                                      1. re: babette feasts

                                        Perhaps the bartender would have explained if she wasn't at the end of her tether. Not very professional, maybe, but understandable.

                                        1. re: Muchlove

                                          Agreed. Sometimes we all think we are being funny and charming but the people we are trying to charm have seen/heard it all before and aren't amused. I think inquiring about the bill was the right thing to do, most of us in the rest of the country wouldn't assume that a drink was free unless it was explicitly mentioned, and many would keep silent about an error in their favor - I know I have once or twice. But pushing the t-shirt issue would have been irritating, no matter how cute the OP thought he was.

                                          1. re: babette feasts

                                            I totally agree with Babette that this could simply be a case of we aren't always as funny/charming as we think. I used to tend bar and while I would have been gracious if someone caught an error I made, I would have been irritated if they then tried to suggest that I give them a discount on something else for their honesty. Doesn't seem very honest to me. I wouldn't have yelled at them, but I can see how it could happen, especially in a larger city where they probably take a lot of crap. Plus, that great, engaging conversation had with the male bartender might not have been so engaging from his point of view and comments about how it didn't seem to be very popular out east versus the west coast could have rubbed them the wrong way.

                                            Again, not a calm, professional response from the bartender, but as someone mentioned up-thread, without having been there we don't really know the whole story. I chalk it up to one of those situations where everything/one is misinterpreted.

                                        2. re: babette feasts

                                          eh. . . i think buybacks are probably generally not pointed out by either party in manhattan, it's just the custom in that area. i think this is pretty common knowledge(?)

                                          but getting a drink comped is not an unheard of occurrence outside of manhattan, either. whether you are from san francisco or montana or key west or des moines or wherever-- the customary response to getting a drink comped on your tab (in american bar culture) is to smile and add a little to the tip line on the ticket. more importantly, the patron should feel the glow of having received hospitality after getting a drink comped. s/he should feel special, and pampered-- that's the whole point. turning the hospitality gesture around (as if it was staff's mistake) is certainly a faux pas-- a bit like verbally berating a server who brings a glass of water, bread basket or amuse bouche ("we didn't order that, how dare you, get the eff away from me with that")-- it would be jarringly unexpected and insulting for the serving person, who after all was presenting a gift. to me the bt's response makes sense. raising one's voice, calling public attention to the situation, and retreating as far away from another person as possible-- basic, easy to read defensive responses, no? i think it's safe to say she was probably rattled.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            <eh. . . i think buybacks are probably generally not pointed out by either party in manhattan>

                                            Buybacks are usually pointed out. The bartender sets the drink down and says "This one's on me." If I saw a drink I'd ordered missing from a bill, I absolutely would think a mistake had been made. I don't think I've ever had a stealth buyback.

                                            1. re: small h

                                              Sounds like everyone has different experiences and thinks theirs is the "usual". The fact of the matter is that in NYC sometimes a barback is verbally acknowledged("cheers"), acknowledged with a gesture (knock on the bar), and sometimes handled more subtly by not being acknowledged at all.

                                              But this has little to do with asking for a discount on merch.

                                              1. re: tommy

                                                I live in Manhattan, and in almost three decades of drinking here, I don't recall any un-acknowledged buybacks.

                                                1. re: small h

                                                  Perhaps your sample size isn't very big.

                                                  1. re: tommy

                                                    Trust me, it's immense.

                                                    1. re: small h

                                                      Yet you've never heard of a knock, or just had a subtle wink? That's odd, and suggests that while you may go out to bars a lot (I think that's what you're suggesting), perhaps you go to the same types of bars, rather than a truly diverse sampling of bars.

                                                      1. re: tommy

                                                        I have certainly had a knock - that's also an acknowledgment. As to types of bars, Mars Bar to Death & Co. to the Plaza and everything in between.

                                                        1. re: small h

                                                          And all of those types of places, you usually hear "This one's on me"?

                                                          Ever saw a knock where someone wasn't paying attention or perhaps even gotten one yourself while you were engaged in a discussion with someone else at a loud pub?

                                                          1. re: tommy

                                                            My initial response was to soupkitten, who posited that it was "the custom" that buybacks are not pointed out in "that area," meaning Manhattan. It is not the custom. If you are suggesting that it is routine to give buybacks In Manhattan and not acknowledge them in some way, you are wrong.

                                                            1. re: small h

                                                              I agree with you in that I disagree with soupkitten's assertion. Just as much as I disagree with "The bartender sets the drink down and says "This one's on me.""

                                                              1. re: tommy

                                                                In my experience the bartender is more likely to acknowledge a buyback if you are paying for each round rather then running a tab and the acknowledgment comes in the form of the knock, saying "cheers" or the outright statement that, "this ones on me."

                                                                1. re: melo7

                                                                  Yet another data point! I agree with this.

                                                                2. re: tommy

                                                                  I didn't realize you would interpret my post to mean there was one and only one possible way to acknowledge a buyback. Perhaps you could mentally add the words "for example" between the first and second sentences. Would that work for you?

                                              2. re: soupkitten

                                                So you should assume that anything left off a bill was meant to be left off and not say anything? My experience with getting comped - though this is more for food - is to have it stated that this is something extra from the house, usually with it listed on the bill and the comp listed as well. It would be much more clear for everyone to do it that way. 3 beers at $5 each on one line, $5 discount/promo on the next. No secret wink or knock that those uninitiated would miss or misinterpret. And when the server desires a gratuity on the pre-discount total, that total is clearly stated and the discount is clearly stated. Is there a reason why that would work better for food than drinks?

                                                I did have an odd experience a few months ago where a friend and I had dinner and a couple drinks at a restaurant bar, the bartender gave us the check, then announced he had only charged us for 2 rounds of drinks instead of 3, took the check back and added the extra drinks. Sure, we drank them expecting to pay for them, but it seemed really awkward and if he had laughed it off and said 'oops, I guess those last ones are on me' it would have been charming instead of awkward.

                                                1. re: babette feasts

                                                  i don't know what happened, i wasn't there, but i do know that buybacks are extremely common/standard in manhattan. maybe the op did miss a knock or other signal. the op was totally out of line to ask for discounted shirts at any rate. some folks on the thread seem to think that this woman (or all women) is a lunatic. others see the op's behavior as the source of the problem, and i'm in the latter camp. in the 10 years i tended bar i saw a lot of dudes who thought that they were witty and charming-- but who were actually creepy and scary-- so i tend to agree with another poster upthread-- who read from the bt's behavior that she was "trying mightily to disengage."

                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                    Is there a reason NOT to list all items then the comp on the bill? Manhattan does get a fair number of tourists, such as the OP.

                                                    1. re: babette feasts

                                                      i don't know what type of pos system blind tiger uses, or how they print their tabs. some bars have a separate comp tab that all the bts ring drinks on in common, then this total is cleared out by management at the end of the shift. if one of the other bts was in fact a manager and not just a regular shift employee, s/he may also have had a separate comp/promo tab. but this is academic, because we *do* know that the so-called "bizarre" bartender charged for the beer she served to the op. she would have had to have done, to initially start him his tab, as he states. the comp, as far as i can see-- or the mistake, from the op's camp's pov-- would have been made by one of the two other bts, each of whom separately served him a beer, and samples, which also don't appear on the tab. blaming the one employee whom we know for sure charged the op for a beer, for the omission or comp of another employee, doesn't make any sense to me. in any case, imo, it's perfectly fine for the bar to give away a beer to the op or any other customer they choose to. also imo, it is not okay for a customer to try to haggle a discount on a drink, a shirt, a plate of food or anything else with a set price in a bar. ergo, i don't see a problem with the bt's behavior, but i do see problems with the op's. any "bizarre" behavior on the part of the bt came after the op asked for further discounts after already receiving four free samples and one free beer. of course, up until she didn't give the op the discount he felt entitled to, she had been perfectly friendly and fine and normal! funny how that works! :)

                                                      1. re: soupkitten

                                                        'some bars have a separate comp tab that all the bts ring drinks on in common, then this total is cleared out by management at the end of the shift.'

                                                        This should make it very easy to make it very clear for all the non-manhattanites that the last drink was free. If the manager had to be called over to approve every comp all night, that could be a PIA.

                                                        I know that servers I work with have had issues with feeling shorted by people tipping on the billed amount and not on the total value of food eaten when it is not itemized and then listed as having been discounted, so a policy was established to go ahead and itemize everything and show the value of what was free. Went out to sushi recently and used a groupon, server circled the pre-discount total on the check to call attention to it so we would tip on the pre-discount price. I would have anyway, so I thought that was a little tacky, but it shows how concerned she was with us knowing the total market value of our dinner. If it pays off for the server to let the customers know that they have received something extra, I'm still not seeing how it pays off to NOT let the customer know. Because if they were in Manhattan were supposed to know already? Seriously, if the bartender winked at me I'd just think he was flirting or had something in his eye, and I'd think a knock on the bar was just some odd affectation. Clearly I'm not from Manhattan : ) Or maybe bars that are just bars are different than restaurant bars (where I am more likely to be drinking)?

                                                        1. re: babette feasts

                                                          If you want to understand how various bars in NYC handle comps, it would be helpful to speak with owners and managers directly. This isn't some big secret, and policies and POS systems surely vary from bar to bar. Perhaps their explanations would suffice?

                                                          1. re: tommy

                                                            I'm not really that interested in all that, I'm just not understanding what is to gain by the house not specifying in some way that a drink is on the house. In my experience, it would seem to work in the server or bartender's favor to be more clear about it. But apparently everyone in Manhattan is already crystal clear on what happens in Manhattan. I'll just stay here in Seattle where we like to give too much information and not rely on everyone knowing the code.

                                                            1. re: babette feasts

                                                              You're right, we're a different breed. And a great one, at that.

                                                              1. re: babette feasts

                                                                +100. I would have no idea that the drink was meant to be "free"... I would assume they made a mistake on my bill. It is not common everywhere and it sounds weird that people in Manhattan think it is somehow *understood* by all. It is not.

                                                                That being said, the OP was out of line by continuing to mention discounted T shirts once told no. No means no...pretty much everywhere.

                                                                1. re: babette feasts

                                                                  sorry, i think i may have made the pos/comp tab explanation more confusing than i intended. for all i know this joint has an old plu system, or an antique push-button register with a side-pull total (i used to be wicked fast at running those), or a 1980's micros system, or the first aloha program, or written tickets with some old waitress from yonkers yelling "adam&eve on a raft!". . . nevermind. the pos system shouldn't even be something a customer should need to worry about, or notice. at any rate i think we have to assume that everything at blind tiger is on the up&up wrt buybacks, because the bar apologized to the op. if the other bts were sliding drinks, then the bar would have neatly thrown its only demonstrably honest employee under the bus! LMAO!

                                                                  i see the ticket issue and the t-shirt haggle as two separate things. 1) the bt probably does not screenprint the t-shirts or have anything to do with how they are priced. it does not make sense for the op to place blame on her bc he feels the t-shirts are overpriced, or to demand a discount she is not empowered to offer. imo the op is wrong on #1
                                                                  2) the bt presented the check as requested and charged for the drink she served. if the op received a comp from another bt, what is she supposed to do. . . figure out magically what the item was and charge for it anyway? decide to charge for something her manager may have put down on a promo tab? this btw would be double-billing, & therefore illegal, neither she nor the bar wants to go there, i think. imo the op is wrong on #2

                                                                  3) frankly, if a bar is giving me multiple freebies and generous samples, they don't have to, additionally, kiss my ass. heck, they can be downright brusque if they want to, while they are comping me that $9 microbrew ;) it sounds like everybody in this establishment was very nice to the op though, until he asked for discounts in addition to the samples and comps he'd already received. i don't think the bt's exclamation of "SHAME ON YOU" came out of the blue, and i don't think the bt is guilty of having tourette's syndrome or female neuroses or "having a bad day," i think she meant it and the op probably deserved it. then again i am not really one of those "customers are always right" folks. most customers are lovely, but a few will always try to take advantage of hospitality, or roll over folks who are in serving situations. again imo, i wonder what cause there is for vindictively writing letters trying to get this employee fired? why not let it go? "hey, did she just call me cheap? how dare she. . . well, i guess i *was* acting cheap." how hard is that? the whole initial exchange would have been perfectly pleasant for the op if he'd just enjoyed the hospitality, conversations, craft beers and free samples and complementary items. . . he could have quit while he was ahead-- was it worth it to spoil it over the price of a lousy t-shirt? purely my own opinion, but no, i don't think so!

                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                    Can or should one make a right on red in the big city?

                                                                    1. re: tommy

                                                                      no, right on red is not allowed anywhere in NYC proper.

                                                                      In some parts of Philly however you can make a left on red.

                                                              2. re: babette feasts

                                                                The system is fine. Sorry it's so confusing to you. It works just fine for most, um EVERY establishment, so I don't know why you are so dedicated to this issue.

                                                                Have a drink! On the house! Knock, Knock. Wink, Wink. Double guns!

                                                                1. re: thegforceny

                                                                  Make that every establishment in Manhattan that never gets any tourists. Obviously the OP was confused - so the system doesn't work just fine for a guy from L.A. - as were some other non-NYers upthread. I'm not the only one. If I ever get back to NY I'll have to make sure to have a 3rd drink everywhere I go, now that I know they are all free!

                                                        2. re: babette feasts

                                                          Babette,

                                                          Here, I thought that I had "been around the block" a few times, and never knew there was a "secret code." Guess that I did not get my decoder ring in the mail?

                                                          One also has to remember that "a nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse."

                                                          When I survey a bill, if I count up 5 glasses of wine consumed, but only 4 on the bill, I ask, and point out that the "count" is wrong. Most of these are "in my favor," and cannot recall an instance, where I had 4 and was charged for 5. I always want to pay my share, and never stiff the server, the sommelier, or whomever.

                                                          Usually, it is at THAT point, that I am informed that glass C was a comp, as we were all tasting and talking, and the establishment wanted my opinion, before they added it to the list - or similar.

                                                          Heck, if the bartender was knocking on the bar in front of me, I'd assume that they were killing bugs or something.

                                                          Learned something new here.

                                                          Thanks for helping me out with the "code." [Grin]

                                                          Now, if I could only find out where that decoder ring went!!!!

                                                          Hunt