The Bar That Showed Me Who I Could Have Been

I lied to get the job, but bartending revealed unexpected truths about who I am — and who I’ll never be

Nicole Peeler
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readFeb 12, 2019


Illustration: DenPotisev/Getty Images

WWhen I was 22, I moved home to live with my parents. Needing money, I did what every red-blooded American girl does when she’s short on cash and large on desperation: I got a terrible job at a terrible bar, called Kickers.

Located out in the middle of nowhere, Kickers hunkered down on the land like an aged trailer park queen squatting to take a shit. It had a grotty parking lot and a crumbling patio housing a few dispirited tables. Inside was a huge bar and more seating, everything covered in dingy Formica or linoleum. There was a pool table, spattered with the sorts of stains found in either crime scenes or porn shoots, and along one wall were two slot machines, discreetly paid out by the bartender, sandwiching a broken jukebox.

My first morning’s customers were a baker’s dozen of construction workers rained out for the day. They proceeded to show me the ropes. Because it was 11 a.m., I served “breakfast drinks”: screwdrivers and Bloody Marys made with V8 and trench-shelf vodka. They explained how, at Kickers, one didn’t ask for another drink. One either placed one’s empty glass in the well, which indicated another beverage was required, or one placed one’s napkin atop one’s drink, to indicate no more. Money rarely changed hands, either. Instead, a large bill, usually a fifty or a hundred, would be placed on the bar, and I’d pull from that seed money as the day progressed.

And progress the day did. “Breakfast drinks” turned into beer for lunch, at which point I donned an apron to serve as Kickers’ short order cook. After lunch, the real drinking could commence, and my patrons gauged their limits by how much money they had in their ever-dwindling piles of bills and loose change.

At 8:00, when I was relieved, I waved my tutors goodbye. The same construction workers who had greeted me that morning gave me a heartfelt send-off. They hadn’t even started their night, bless their livers, while I was exhausted, reeking of smoke, and totally done with people.

AA week passed and I realized two things about my new job. The first was that most of Kickers’ regulars…