The Bartender Knows All

By Jess McGlothlin

They’re the therapists of any hunting or fishing lodge; the listening ear ready to be bent by stories of the day’s victories or challenges. They’re the calm voice soothing frustrated tempers with a kind word and the practiced slide of a drink down the pitted, polished bar. They know just the right words to salve upset sports, delivered while their focus is unerringly maintained on crafting a magical creation that will ease away the day’s failure or success with equal ease.

They are the keepers of lodge drama; the omniscient character who is somehow always there when needed, ready to offer wisdom, consolation, or simply a double shot of whatever local alcohol is the most potent.

They know who is fighting and who is forming fast friendships, which guest complains about his guide (but never to the guide’s face), and who is celebrating being away from home regardless of how good the fishing or hunting is—running away from “real life” for a week away at what is, functionally, adult camp. They can spot the “easy” guests—the ones who are unfailingly polite and sometimes even fun—just as quickly as they can spot the high-rolling troublemakers, and have the equanimity to treat the two just the same.

At least to their faces.

They know drinking preferences and restrictions, who has a hankering for cocktails sugary enough to put a three-year-old in a coma, and who is a strict spirit connoisseur. They foresee who will be looking for the cigar cutter after his first whiskey and who should be cut off after not drinking enough water on the boat and then making the bad decision to head straight to multiple cocktails. Probably poolside.

The domain of the bartender is the bar itself. Be it a simple affair in a corner of a tent camp or a more permanent, lavish, structure lined with shelves of half-empty bottles and wooden stools worn with stories, the bar belongs to the barkeep and to no one else. This is his realm; a place for everything and everything in its place. He knows the ins and outs of the glassware, the mixers, the backstock of alcohol crated tidily away in the closet.

He's the master of the pool table, indulging in friendly games with the guides when the bar is slow and competitive games with guests when they want to show off, only to be shut down when they realize he came to play. He controls the entertainment; if there’s a television or a sound system within the confines of his kingdom, he’s in charge of setting the day’s soundtrack and therefore to a large extent, the bar’s mood.

Most days, the bar is a safe harbor; a place to enjoy a cold drink and a snack while spilling stories of the day’s adventures to an indulgent audience. The barkeep is a master of the “smile and nod,” listening to guests’ tales while his hands remain busy, whipping up the next drink order, slicing limes for the basket that never seems to get quite full, or restocking empty bottles in the quiet moments. He knows soon enough the sport will draw the attention of another sport—it’s simple herd dynamics—and they’ll spirit off to their own conversation, trading fishing stories and travel tales and all the rest. Only then will he get a moment of silence before the next guest comes along.

It's on foul-weather days that the bartender truly shines, however. When storms or wind or other machinations of nature keep the guests at the lodge, the bar becomes a different kind of social hub. People are restless, wishing they were on the water, knowing they’re spending a day of their vacation stuck inside instead of doing what they came here to do. It’s then that the bar becomes an entertainment hub. The barkeep must ride that fine line of keeping the guests relaxed and entertained without letting them get well and truly sauced. It’s a dance of drinks and snacks—Would you like some ceviche with that painkiller, Bob?—coupled with the entertainment factor. Card games. A pool table. The inevitable trade of stories from sportsmen around the globe. Have you fished here? What about hunting kudu? They’re next on my list. What do you think about the striper migration this year?

It’s a specific kind of chatter for a specific kind of people, and the bar is the hub where it all takes place. The conversation is the same; the tone differs only slightly each day. Some days it’s in a celebratory, “We crushed it on the flats” vibe, other days it’s a morose, “Today sucked, what am I doing with my life?” tone. Many life decisions have been made, celebrated, or regretted in lodge bars. And it’s the barkeep’s job to subtly navigate them all.

And at the end of the long day, it’s the bartender who shepherds everyone to bed. Like lost little lambs being led safely to their stable at the close of day, the bartender gently slips glasses from unresisting hands and points numbed minds to their bedrooms. It’s time for him to close up shop; to restock, clean, and get ready for tomorrow’s round of fishing, which will—inevitably—end back at the bar.

About the Author

Jess McGlothlin sees her mission as a simple one: tell stories. Working as a freelance photographer and writer in the outdoor industry, while on assignment in the past few years she’s learned how to throw spears at coconuts in French Polynesia, dodge saltwater crocodiles in Cuba, stand-up paddleboard down Peruvian Amazon tributaries and eat all manner of unidentifiable food.

She is a passionate writer and photographer who brings a unique, energetic perspective and approach to her work. Her written word is bright, bold, and honest. She’s worked with some of the largest brands in the outdoor sector, in roles ranging from staff copywriter to annual campaign photographer to marketing consultant.

Subject coverage ranges from Western rodeos to fly fishing far above the Arctic Circle in Russia. She has proven competence covering everything from international advertising campaigns to multi-day survival training sessions in remote, challenging environments to exploratory fishing trips. Her work has been featured in gallery shows from Germany to Israel, and she has received international awards / recognition for both her writing and photography.