CLINTON — When most people think about bartenders, they think they must have a job made in heaven. What could possibly be the downside to working at a bar, a place people go simply to have fun?

“It’s a toss up between breaking up a fight or cleaning up vomit, dealing with people who don’t know when to say when,” said bartender Jason Hess.

Hess works the night shift, from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., at Sabra’s on Fifth Avenue South. He’s been a bartender for 14 years and was a bar manager when his parents, Jeff and Joni Hess, owned the Penthouse Lounge.

“I’ve seen a couple of pretty bad fights in the past. One time I got slammed with a beer bottle,” Hess said. He knows the job can be dangerous at times, but said that most of the time he can see trouble coming.

“You can pretty much see when trouble is happening. I’ve gotten to the point where I can nip it in the bud and stop it before it happens,” said Hess. “So far, since I’ve worked at Sabra’s, I haven’t had to deal with that too often. They keep a pretty even-keeled bar here.”

Joyce Wheeler has been a bartender for more than 20 years. She works the day shift at Lassiter’s, from noon to 6 p.m., and said the day shift is much quieter.

“I haven’t had to call the police to escort a customer out very much. And I’m happy about that because I don’t like to see anyone get in trouble,” Wheeler said. “Most of them leave when they’re asked to. I think your night bartenders have to deal with that a lot more than the day bartenders do. That’s one reason I don’t like working at night.”

Wheeler agreed bartenders get to the point where they react instinctively when something happens. She has had to break up fights, but has never been injured while doing so, even though one time she had to disarm a large intoxicated man wielding a pool cue.

“You have to react to things and you have to do it quickly, you can’t stop and think about what the counter reaction might be,” Wheeler said. “I’ve been lucky enough that nothing bad has happened to me.”

Both Hess and Wheeler say those instances are few and far between. They say most of their customers are great people who just want to have a good time. Most of all, both say they like their jobs.

“As far as a bad part of the job, I really can’t think of one,” said Wheeler.

“It’s like you get paid to party. You’ve got a party every night and you get paid for it,” Hess said. “Although, sometimes you just have those nights when you wish you were on that side of the bar. You get those really wild parties and you wish you could join in.”

Both say most bartenders would agree that the atmosphere of the bar depends on the customers and to be good at their job, a bartender needs to be able to relate to all kinds of people.

“You’ve got to have a certain personality,” Hess said. “You’ve got to be a people person.”

“You have to be able to talk to anybody,” said Wheeler. “We get a wide variety of customers in here, from construction workers to sales people. It’s just a matter of talking to them and seeing what they want to talk about.”

Wheeler said waiting on customers takes up a lot of the shift, while other regular duties such as stocking coolers, making sure everything has ice on it and that the bar is clean keep bartenders hopping. She said most bartenders would rather be busy than bored.

“I’d rather have a bar full of people, that’s when it’s fun, ’cause you’re running around talking to people, getting drinks,” Wheeler said. “When there’s almost no one here, you need to find things to do and that’s when it’s hard. It’s like, ‘How many times can you clean the bar?’”

Hess said some days of the week are more fun to work, such as weekends, because more people go out. He said just when he thinks a night might be predictable, the volume and variety of customers will be a total surprise.

“It’s hit or miss, that’s the whole bar business. People want to go out when they want to go out,” Hess said. “You never know what might happen in a night.”

Despite the long hours and walking miles upon miles around the bar all night, both say that they can’t imagine doing something else.

“I enjoy it. It’s a good job,” Wheeler said. “It’s fun most of the time and it’s very flexible.”

“It helps that I love my job. I like what I do. I always have,” Hess said. “I’ve left bartending before and gone on to do different things, but there’s nothing that I’ve found that I love as much as bartending.”

No matter what the shift brings, their employers are glad to have such experienced and dedicated staff working in their establishments.

“Joyce has a unique knowledge of bartending because of the years she’s been doing it, and it takes a very good bartender to handle a bar this size with this volume,” said Lassiter’s owner Jonathan Van Roekel. “To have done it for 20 years and still have her sense of humor is amazing.”

“Jason is the best. We’re very lucky. This place has been packed and he’s handled it by himself,” said Sabra Petersen, owner of Sabra’s. “He’s a DJ, a bouncer and a bartender, and one of my best friends. He’s also my maintenance man. He does everything around here. And I trust him with not only my life, but my money.”

While Hess and Wheeler say the job has its good and bad nights, they enjoy their work because their customers make it interesting and say the most important part is to make sure people are getting what they want and everything they need.

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