Clair McLafferty lives and writes in Birmingham, AL. Her work has also been published by Paste, Adweek.com, mental_floss, and The Bitter Southerner.
Don’t expect a wine list at a down-home dive.
Name: Berkley Seay
Occupation: Bartender at Marty’s PM, Iron City, and Buck Mulligan’s
City: Birmingham, AL
Berkley Seay has been bartending for half his life. Though he’s also worked as a freelance corporate graphic design and photographer, a zoo guide, and a record store manager, he always comes back to bartending. “You have to be so much more adaptable behind the bar than you do at any other job,” he says. “I get to deal with a lot of different people, and it’s a much more personal connection than you get with almost any other work.”
Right now, he spends three nights a week behind the bar at Marty’s PM, a beloved dive bar in Birmingham, AL. He serves off-duty service industry vets, music lovers, and night owls. The haunt also pulls in out-of-towners looking for local flavor. But don’t ask for a wine list, says Seay. “We’re open til 6 a.m. and we use plastic cups. Some people get it, some people don’t.”
How did you get started in the business?
The first place I worked is now closed and destroyed. In Tuscaloosa, AL, where I went to school, I had a friend who was a DJ who didn’t know how old I was. He DJed at a bar off of The Strip called Legends. It was a biker bar when I started as the door guy when I was 19.
I’d get behind the bar, make a few drinks here and there. Basically, I was breaking up fights and popping Coors Light bottles. I saw more fights between girls than between dudes. The bouncer caused more problems than the patrons. I worked there until I got married the first time when I was 20, then moved to Oklahoma City to be with her.
What’s challenging about it?
Finding that one thing to talk about with every single person who comes in. It’s like an adventure. I’m pretty well educated and experienced, but finding that one thing anybody can talk about—that’s a challenge.
That and working multiple jobs challenges my brain because it makes me remember what prices and what things I have at all the different places. It’s fun. It’s like a game.
What do you wish people knew and did differently?
Being at a bar should be a lot like being at a gambling table. You make one bet, then you have to wait for your turn again. This is a multipart rule. First, don’t come to the bar unless you’re ready to order. If you have questions, ask them quickly. But always have your backup order ready. Just because I open a beer after I acknowledge you doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention. I’m multitasking and can’t always look at you. I’m not ignoring you.
Don’t string orders—don’t tell me you need two Vegas Bombs and a PBR, and then when I serve you ask for another Vegas Bomb. Don’t expect me to serve you if you’re not looking at me. If your hand’s on the bar but you’re turned around talking to someone, I’m not going to wait on you.
The bar you’re in is the bar you chose to be in. There are a lot of other bars you could have chosen to be in, but you picked this one. Don’t be a dick.