Bob the Bar Guy

Bob Johnson's School of Bar Management

My most extraordinary, outrageous moments as a nightclub / bar manager!©

Every month, we will feature stories about actual incidents and occurrences that are true “outrageous moments”. The names of the people, the names of the clubs, and the locations of the clubs have been changed for obvious reasons, but the incidents themselves have not been embellished!
I believe owners and managers of nightclubs/bars will find considerable educational value in these “outrageous experiences”.

This month: In the very, very beginning...

I was 17 when my Father hauled his family to New Delhi, India.  He was a very accomplished and educated man and accepted a 2 year assignment as an Industrial Advisor with the US Government.

There was no school for me. So I spent my days mostly sitting cross-legged in front of an Indian musician learning how to play the Sitar. He spoke no English, but I learned by “watching and duplicating”.  When I returned to the United States with my Sitar, I enrolled at Rollins College, joined a fraternity and was told by my Frat brothers to “enter the Freshman Talent Contest with my Sitar”. I did. Of course, no one had seen or heard an instrument like this, and it wasn’t received that well (this was years before the Beatles made the instrument popular).

A middle aged man and his two sons approached me after the show and asked if I would be interested in joining their band, The Swinging Temptations, as a bass player.  The 8 players in the band were High School age and had been together a couple of years.  The man, Mr. Ben Griffin, was the manager of the band and thought it would be advantageous to have an older person in the group, since they were getting offers to play fraternity parties at the University of Florida, and some “back-up” concert work.

“But I don’t know how to play the bass guitar”, was my response. “No problem, Mr. Griffin said. We’ll teach you.”  So I spent 3 months of my life at the Griffins house taking bass guitar lessons.

My first job with the band was backing up Chubby Checker at the Jacksonville Coliseum in front of 10,000 + yelling, screaming fans. The “Twist” was here to stay. I was so nervous I didn’t think I could play. My hands were really shaking. Benjy, the leader, told me to just “act like I was playing. One of the guitar players would play my bass lines and they would turn off my amplifier volume”.

I went on to have a 17-year run in the nightclub/bar business as an entertainer – performing with top notch, very popular show bands that stayed booked “by demand” throughout the United States and Europe. While performing, I discovered there was another profession I became very interested in–the nightclub/bar business!

My very first night performing in a nightclub had me standing on the far right hand side of the stage, right next to the bartender’s drink making station. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see everything he was doing. I was mesmerized by his motion, his appearance, his demeanor, politeness, friendliness.

I wanted to be a bartender from that very first day. 

Most of my break time off stage was spent “bugging” my new found bartender buddy, asking questions like, “Why did you do that?, Why did you have to shake that drink?,  What does “on the rocks” mean?”, and on and on. With a little practice I became proficient enough to qualify as a bar back. I helped out on my days off from the band. I wanted to learn as much as I could about the bar business.

Soon the band started to travel. I got to experience and work in nightclub and bars across the country. I did this for about 17 years, always hanging around and pestering the bartenders, bar managers and Food and Beverage Directors for information about running a bar. Our band was very good and we worked only the nice places – resorts, Hyatt/Sheraton type hotels, big showrooms, even a couple trips to Europe. We usually had a line outside the door waiting to get in for one of our shows. The bartenders, servers, managers and the band became like a team/family at every club we worked. Our band, The Fantastic Puzzle, from Orlando, Florida, attracted people. More people showing up at a club meant more money for everyone! Being a very good show band that drew large crowds made us appreciated, particularly by the bartenders and servers who usually made big tip money when we were there!

Alcoholic Beverages Bar Beer

So I figured, “Wow!  What a great business to be a part of!  When I quit playing music I want to be a part of the nightclub industry! Have I found my “niche? This is the kind of work and the kind of people I want to be around the rest of my working life!” And I meant it!

The band eventually broke up (the girlfriends and the wives couldn’t get along – the cause of most bands breaking up!) and I returned to school to further my education about running a nightclub/bar. But guess what?  There was no school anywhere that offered courses in “Bar Management 101”. The closest I came was a Hospitality Management program at Florida International University in Miami. They didn’t teach anything about running a bar, but they did teach a lot about the “back of the house” functions – cost controls, human resources, inventory management, food safety, laws related to the industry, accounting, etc. So for 4 years I took courses that did not directly relate to “making a drink” or running a bar, but these courses helped out tremendously years later in the business.

All my extra-curricular assignments were always written about some part of the bar business. I spent hundreds of hours in libraries just researching the business. This kept me reading magazine articles and books from years back and it kept me focused on my goal of, one day, running a nightclub/bar – maybe even owning one!