Benny Raskin bartends at Keys on Main and writes about his experiences at BennyRaskin.com and via @BennyRaskin. In recent months, he’s also started reporting on prep sports for The Salt Lake Tribune and launched the SLC PubCast, which can be downloaded from the iTunes store. City Weekly stopped by the bar to get Raskin’s opinion on nightlife in Utah.
Why did you start your blog?
When I sold The Woodshed, I was incredibly depressed. I’d worked for my college newspaper, writing a human-interest column for four years at Nevada, and I’ve always fancied myself a writer—not a very good one. When I sold The Woodshed, I had all these stories, and I didn’t have therapy or anything, so I started writing them, and it became very cathartic. If you’re a bartender, you like writing, you might as well write about your bar—you can’t write about Syrian relations with Turkey, you don’t know jack shit about that.
How would you define Utah's nightlife?
For one, Utah has a nightlife. I think it’s really important that people know that. The Tavernacle and Keys on Main, we’re bumping nightclubs; we get a huge amount of people through the door. I’m really lucky to work here.
I think you have like B.C. and A.D.—before Port O’Call and after Port O’Call. When Port was in business, and people came in to here or The Woodshed and asked, “What’s a good place to meet people?” I’d direct them to Port, because in the basement you had the pool tables, you had the main floor, the dance club, two restaurants, video games … it was a really bumping place. Now that they’ve closed, the nightlife in Salt Lake has turned more to neighborhood bars. The model of Lucky 13 and Dick N’ Dixies and Bourbon House to a certain extent, they’re more of the model of finding your clientele and latching onto them like Velcro.
I work at a weird place. We don’t have regulars here, and I get more out-of-towners than anything. I spend every single shift having to explain the Utah liquor laws to folks—why you can’t have doubles, why you have to show your I.D. even though you’re 75, why you can’t take your beer out front of the bar and smoke with it even though I know you're not going to run away. And then I have to explain that the bottles behind the bar are not filled with water—we don’t dilute the liquor, we just serve smaller portions of it. And frankly, 3.2 beer can still get people drunk.
You’re pretty frank on Twitter and your blog about what you see at the bar—has it ever been an issue for your bosses?
I can’t stress this enough—my general manager is incredibly supportive, and my boss (the owner) is my champion. You gotta speak in generalities. If it’s the douchebag stuff, I always say I never don’t tell the truth when I write; I just might not have the right timelines. The pros for this bar is it’s a revolving door of new faces. For me, a regular is someone I see every three months. There was a period of time for most of last year where we would get this new breed of very aggressive, very masculine, very rude kind of customers that would come in here. People call them douchebags; it’s the guys wearing bedazzled camoflague pants with a dress shirt, guys with spray tans, tribal tattoos. I get “bro”d to death. “Bro, man, bro, man, bro, I need seven Washington Apples, bro, bro!”
When it comes to being frank with it, two things: One, you did it, own up to it. And two, if you want to complain, you know where I work. And in 103 blogposts, I’ve only had one complaint. So it’s either a testament to people agreeing with what I said, or low readership.
Any given night, you’re going to get a business guy who comes in here, and he’s going to be super nice initially, but after five Miller Lites and one shot of Jaeger, he’s changed. I’m not someone who says intoxication starts with the first sip. But booze alters folks. The reason the customer’s not always right is [as a bartender], you’re trying to keep this boat afloat through the course of an evening. Sometimes you get passengers on there who get unruly and put everybody else in jeopardy—I’m not talking physical harm, but people who get too drunk and ruin the evening for everybody else. Bartending is the only job where you can look at your customer and tell them to fuck off and not get fired. If I worked at the Gap and did that, I wouldn’t be folding another T-shirt at that place ever again.
Any liquor laws you would change to improve the nightlife here?
I would put a three-year moratorium on any liquor-law changes. We’ve never had an opportunity to get good empirical evidence on the laws, because they’re all in a constant state of flux. We need to figure out exactly what these changes do in the long term.
This takes [compromise from] the activists on the pro-liquor side—like the Utah Hospitality Association; I applaud them for what they’ve done, but they seem to want to move the meter to New Orleans on Mardi Gras and not toward more of the social norm. And the DABC committee, which seems to be pushing it to where it’s a dry state. You go to a DABC committee, they’re going to start the conversation, “I’m against underage drinking and DUIs.” Everybody’s against that.
One of the reasons I love Salt Lake is it’s quirky. There is no sister city to Salt Lake. When I came here, part of being in the minority of the religious population, I knew that you couldn’t get booze on Sundays—so you buy your bottles on Saturdays. Last call is at 1—I’m a fan of last call. One, it’s time to go home; two, she’s either going to go home with you or she’s not; and three, I don’t need a bunch of drunks hanging around after a certain point in time. It’s a good way of capping the night. It involves a lot more explanation. What makes Utah different is things we should embrace as opposed to things we should try to change. We don’t want Las Vegas-style liquor laws.
And one more thing I'd change: full-strength beer on tap—everything else, just deal with it. But I’d like Newcastle on tap. Newcastle in a bottle tastes like seaweed.