Sample column developed for possible, regular feature in paper to be entitled
Naked City, after the 1950s television show about New York City which began with the voiceover: “There are eight million stories in the Naked City, and this is one of them–”
The bar was empty, except for Laura and me. George Michael was oozing out of the burnished, antique-covered wall.
“I try to make myself available,” Laura said, as she leaned across the bar, an inch or two over the thin line demarking friendliness from intimacy. “But,” she added, looking her client and interlocutor dead in the eye, “I know where to draw the line.”
Laura’s hazel eyes softened, but the message had been received and noted: Drink, palaver if you must — but buyer beware.
Laura, for the record, is Laura Moss, an aspiring actress straight out of Charlotte, North Carolina, and a newcomer to Gotham — just got here in July, U-Haul and all, rarin’ to go — and the new Friday bartend at the Auction House, on 89th Street between First and Second Avenue.
By day, Laura puts her North Carolina College of the Arts performing arts training to use at auditions around New York City — just tried out for the new Robert de Niro film, but didn’t get the part: she was too young, too sweet, next call! (Plus, she already had an agent).
By night, the sulfurous Southener, who bears a strong resemblance to the great film noir actress Jane Grant, puts her relatively modest prior bartending experience to use at the Auction House, a faux English Lounge type bar catering to the over-25 crowd (read: no sneakers).
The Monday previous, Laura had answered an open call for bartenders at the trendy uptown bar. One of the 80 aspiring beer pullers who were interviewed, including 55 women, she had been one of four — three women, one man — who had ultimately been hired. And this particular Friday was her first night.
“I can understand why more and more women are going into bartending,” said Laura, who had worked her way through college toiling part-time at various bars and restaurants in the Winston-Salem, North Carolina area, before moving to New York to pursue her theatrical star. “It’s a part of the general trend towards female empowerment.”
It was 8:30 on a muddy, faintly dangerous August night. George Michael continued to seep out of the wall. There was a slow, Big Easy feeling about the place. “I’m not saying that women are better than men,” Laura continued in a barely audible, Carolinian drawl. “But in a bar like this, where the ability to talk to and listen to customers is the main thing and volume isn’t so important, I think that we have the edge.”
As if to confirm Ms. Moss’s thesis, the first male customer had sidled up to the bar, and was waiting intently for the new barkeep to serve him.
“Of course,” she said, while flashing the well-dressed, executive-looking man a quick be-there-in-a-moment smile, “sometimes it can get weird.” For example, Laura recalled, there was the time one fellow down South started talking to his deceased brother, quite loud, leading her to “break up” the fight between the customer and his invisible sibling. And then there was the deceptively pleasant art dealer from Soho who just happened to be in town from New York, and after being served by Laura merely once began calling her at the bar day after day for weeks on end until she finally had to tell him off.
Laura doesn’t expect those experiences to repeat themselves at the Auction House. But she is prepared, and so is Frank, the smiling giant of a doorman (and also, of course, an actor) who had just taken up position on the leafy side street on which the bar is located, winking to Laura.
In the meantime, Ms. Moss looks forward to doing dialogue, as she puts it, with the tired, thirsty denizens of the Auction House, as she looks for her break, and her niche, in the Naked City….
Postscript: Three months after this was writte,n Laura Moss did indeed get her theatrical break, an audition for a leading role in the soap opera series Another World. The audition was a success and Laura was signed to a three-year contract with the show. The Auction House is currently looking for a replacement bartender.