The Last Night
It was the last night of business for the restaurant, it was closing after a few years. A waitress had told a pair of lunch patrons the week before that the building needed a lot of expensive repairs, that the owners weren’t able to undertake them. A sign outside said, Thank you for dining with us, We will miss you.
Did the host have a new job yet? He did not. He’d been trying, but Thanksgiving was coming up, not the best time to be job seeking … Could he collect unemployment? He could not–he’d been working off the books, “mostly.” But the owners had told them a month in advance, the best you could get from a restaurant, he said. He’d shown up to locked doors before, and that’s how he found out he no longer had a job.
The evening’s abbreviated menu included four entrees, two beers, a few cocktails. I got the beet burger and a beer. There’s one thing, the waitress said, apologetically, it’s not on a roll tonight, it’s on Texas Toast— That’s fine. Fine, fine. Did she have a new job yet? She didn’t, but she has a second job, well now just a job. She will be okay. She has some time.
A large table in the back was filled with happy smiling people. The whole restaurant was filled with happy smiling people. At least one of the owners sat at the table, getting up every now and then to fetch more drinks, hug patrons hello and goodbye. No one looked sad, even the staff were in good spirits. And why not. All the regulars were there, the owners, everyone was making an appearance. Balloons dotted the ceiling, their curly strings mingling among the patrons. Other bartenders from the neighborhood circled through, a small group of them took shots of Fernet at the end of the bar.
A runner brought my food. Did he have a job yet? He shook his head, no. But I am hoping I will get one, he said, they have other restaurants, these owners. I hope that works out for you, I said.
The food was fine. I wondered about the people in the kitchen who made the food, what motivation to make it on this last night. They don’t work for tips, even. But maybe they were having their own party in the back. A group of people had jobs that they liked, for a time. Certainly something to celebrate.
I finished my food and moved to the bar to finish my beer. My waitress came over with the check—she was leaving, would I mind paying now? Of course not. It was $19. I left $30.
As I was leaving, the bartender announced to the bar, jubilantly, that they had 86’d whisky—everyone cheered.
I have a friend who has worked in a bar for ten years. The bar closed for a week last year, for ceiling repairs. A vacation! I said. How grand. He looked at me like I was crazy. This could be it, he said. Maybe they wouldn’t reopen. During the week off, my friend didn’t know what to do with himself. He willed himself out of bed. He went on walks. He thought about what he would do if the bar closed. At the end of the week he called his manager. Will we be open tomorrow, he asked? Yes, of course, the manager said. My friend nearly cried with relief, he says. But even when he tells the story, his eyes get wet, remembering.