The night proceeded in a normal fashion with big band music and gourmet food for New York's upper crust and around ten PM we had our final seating. As promised I organized the busboys to begin stripping the dining room of tables and chairs as they were vacated so by 11:30 the room was pretty empty. It was about that time that, as I was cashing out the last of the waiters at the service bar, that Tito, the bar back, approached me.
"J.R.," he said, tooling up to me as I stuffed a fist full of green backs into the register, "you better take a look outside, bro."
I followed him to the service stairs just a few short steps from the bar where the staff congregated to smoke, and cracked the side door onto 47th street. There was a line snaking back towards Eighth Avenue as far as the eye could see of people waiting to get into the club. "Holy shit, we're going to be busy!" I said.
Tito gave me a funny look, "And?" he asked raising an eyebrow, "What else?"
I focused a minute longer on the crowd. It was composed of hip hop 'Gangstas'. I drew in a deep breath, we weren't ready for this and at that very moment a group in the crowd noticed us, noticing them, and all at once executed a mad rush at the big, metal service door. We only managed to get it slammed shut just in time and then the banging started as if all the demons in hell were crashing at the door.
"What are we gonna do, bro?" Tito demanded as a couple of waiters coming off duty strolled down from the upstairs kitchen, their bow ties loose, their white dinner jackets un-buttoned.
"What's all that banging?" one of them asked, reaching out to the crash bar to pop open the door.
I grabbed his hand just in time. "Do not do that!" I ordered through clenched teeth.
"Stay here," I ordered Tito, "and make sure no one opens that door!" Then I stepped back into the club where the staff scrambled madly to de-construct the posh venue down to its bones. Scanning above the heads of the crowd, I caught sight of Joe, our erstwhile floor manager. He was standing there in his wool suit and round glasses sucking up to some departing silver fox in a Brooks Brothers blazer.
I made a bee line towards him across the crowded floor, "Joe," I started.
But he whipped around and cut me off, "Not now." He hissed through clenched teeth, and then swung back to continue his chat, something about the history of the theater the club was in. I realized anything else would be pointless so I waited the full five minutes while he continued his desultory conversation. What made it worse was that I could see two out of my three bars from where I stood, the staff, in the absence of direction, getting nothing done while I knew we had to prepare for war.
Finally his conversation with the departing guest concluded, he turned to me, an irritated look on his face, "Couldn't you see I was talking to someone, J.R.?"
"Right. Sorry. Have you looked outside, Joe?"
"No." He replied and made to move off.
I put my hand on his arm, "I need your approval to pull the glassware off the bars….we need to use plastic tonight."
"No." He replied as he walked quickly away from me. "We're using glass, just like we do every night."
"Look outside and then tell me how you feel." I called to his retreating back.
I found Tito where I'd left him, guarding the side door. "Tito, take off the dinner jacket, we're working in T-shirts tonight. I'm going to start getting the glassware off the bar, why don't you go start bringing plastic cups to the bars. And if you see Big Mark (our head bouncer) ask him if we can have a radio on each bar in case there's trouble." Tito sped off and I called out to one of the other three bartenders working with me on the main bar. "Ronnie, lock all the bottled beer up into one of the coolers, we're not selling anything but tap in plastic cups tonight."
Suddenly Joe was there peering over the bar at me. "J.R.," he said, and he had a ring of keys in his hand, "Take this, you're in charge tonight."
I stared at him.
He stared back, and then he dropped the keys on the counter. "I have a family emergency," he reiterated, "I have to go." Then he turned on his heels and was gone.