Monday, January 08, 2007

Hard Words at Speakeasy

Local bartender comes unhinged at the mere sight of Columbia City Paper publisher, Paul Blake. Ensuing rampage leaves customers stunned.

The following is a first person account, written by a witness (and participant).

Columbia, Dec 21-- Blake, a Speakeasy regular, shuffled into the bar at approximately 10:30 p.m. to meet City Paper Managing Editor, Todd Morehead, and local freelance writer Harry Iarch. Mr. Iarch’s wife and brother-in-law—a marine who had lost a buddy in Iraq the day before—were also in attendance as well as others.

A live jazz trio in red Santa hats crooned out velvety Christmas classics in the background, while women in black dresses drank expensive looking Martinis and tried to look interested in the cigar smoking cubicle types. A hipster on one of the leather couches laughed loudly, apparently at his own joke. A student stood and made his way past a crackling fire to the men's room. All in all, a warm holiday cheer purveyed throughout the room.

After standing at the end of the bar for ten minutes without being served, Mr. Blake used his cell phone to call George, a bartender on staff that evening whom City Paper jokingly voted “Worst Bartender” in the Worst of Columbia issue. The newspaper staffers watched George pick up his phone at the far end of the bar.

Blake: “Yeah, I’d like a Beam and Ginger.”

George looked around, spotted Blake at the end of the bar, grinned at him and closed his phone. George is actually one of City Paper’s favorite bartenders due to his sense of dark humor and penchant for brutal one-liners. But before George could make it down to the end of the bar, he was intercepted by another bartender named Ryan, who brushed past him and made way for Blake, charging through a cloud of cigar smoke that swirled around in his wake.

“Get out!” he snapped.


Ryan rolled up the sleeves on his starched white shirt. “We’re not serving you.”

“Why not?”

Ryan jerked his thumb back towards George. “You wrote bad things about the bar! You voted him the worst bartender in Columbia!”

“Everyone knows that was a joke. Hell, George is proud of it!”

George shrugged and nodded.

Over by the fireplace, the jazz guitarist writhed in his Santa hat and plucked out a cheery solo. The holiday revelers at the end of the bar, however, began to sense impending trouble. Harry Iarch, a bearded hulk in a brown blazer, scowled and took a step closer to the bar. His wife stood from her chair to put a calming hand on his bicep.

“You mean to tell me you’re not going to serve him because of something he wrote?” Iarch was overheard asking Ryan. “You’ve got half a dozen customers here with him who are spending money.”

“He’s got to go,” Ryan said flatly.

Blake, no stranger to being kicked of bars, folded up his $20 and walked out.

“Close my tab,” Iarch said.

Iarch signed his receipt and slung it at Ryan before pouring his drink out on the bar. The bartender stared at the receipt for a long moment, his eyes bulging with rage and apparently repulsed by an extra message scribbled on the receipt.

“F--K YOU!” Ryan bellowed. “OUT!”

Other patrons began to grab their things and leave.

Iarch drew himself up with mock stateliness. “I’m the food editor for The State newspaper and just wait till I— ”


A few moments later, the City Paper staffers were on the sidewalk on Saluda Street. A couple of girls who had just left Speakeasy because of the scene inside approached. The brunette nodded toward the bar entrance.

“What was that bartender’s deal?”

“He didn’t like what we wrote,” Blake said and shrugged.

The girls grinned, shook their heads and walked off.

"I'd heard this town was screwed up," Iarch's brother-in-law stated in bewilderment, "but this is crazy."

"Welcome to South Carolina."

“Well,” Blake said, “let’s head down to Delaney’s. I need a drink.”

Moments later, two Delaney’s bouncers also denied Blake entry. Only one of them did the talking while the other one stood back with his arms folded (possible flexing his neck muscles).

“We heard about what just happened at Speakeasy. They called ahead about you.”

“Ryan asked me to leave and I left,” Blake said.

“Yeah? Then who poured the beer down the length of the bar?”

“It was a whiskey,” Iarch said. “And besides Paul was outside when that happened.”

“Guilt by association,” the bouncer said smugly.

“No,” Blake said, “it’s because of something we wrote. We just wanted to have a nightcap and spend money in your bars, but Ryan’s apparently pissed about us voting George worst bartender in Columbia.”

The bouncer smirked. “Yeah, I heard about that.”

“George thought the award was funny,” Morehead said. “He was gonna wear his ‘I Hate Columbia City Paper’ shirt, pose with the framed award, and send it into the paper.”

“I know,” the bouncer said. He seemed to regret was happening. “Look,” he said, “we were told not to serve you, so we can’t.”

“Let’s go,” Morehead said. “Why do we want to give these f--king people our money anyway? There are plenty of bars down here.”

The group headed to Tavern on the Greene and ordered a round of drinks. Moments later, Morehead clicked his frosty pint glass with Blake’s.

“Well,” he said, “looks like we’ve got the Worst Bartender award already sewn up for next year.”


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