I'm feeling nostalgic today. There's some things happening in my personal life that are making me long for less complicated days, so I've decided to step back in time and take you all with me.
Several years ago, I worked in several pubs, 1 in England and 2 in Scotland. The Scots pubs were smaller, quaint, and privately owned so they run differently to chain anything.
My first visit to the Old Bridge Inn happened in April 2015. I stayed at a hostel next door to the pub. It was a difficult one to find, being across the railroad tracks and Maps not being the most accurate.
(I cannot, for the life of me, find a photo of the Bridge, so this will have to do. Enjoy! And yes, in the UK, they constantly put buildings next to water, even though the rivers often flood their banks.)
I ate in the pub and it was fine dining. Think quail's eggs and thinly sliced I can't remember what. All I know is the food was amazing, the service was great, and the staff were relaxed and enjoying themselves. Through the kitchen window, I saw the cooks taking five in a slow moment, eating ice cream bars, laughing and joking with each other.
That sealed it, I needed to work here.
On my last night, I had a couple drinks at the bar then asked the manager how I could apply? He said to send an email to the owner. On my way out the door, one of the servers, Scotty, winked at me and said, "I'll be seein' ye again, aye?"
One month later, almost to the day, I got off the train in Aviemore again, lugging everything I had.
As soon as I walked in the door, Scotty grinned. "Dinnae tell ye ye'd be back?"
Cut to 3 months later, it was Louisa's last night. We began by giving her a bottle of Jura, her favorite whisky, and she laughed, holding it up. "How am I supposed to drink this all? We're flying out Wednesday! I can't go through this in 2 days."
After that, we began opening sequences. Wiping down the bar and all the spouts, checking that every table was set. I didn't work lunch today because I was on closing. Louisa, worse luck, was also closing.
Monday could be tricky. Sometimes, the regulars cleared out fast and we closed early. Other days, they lingered and we threw them out at midnight, our normal closing time.
I worked the floor, in the restaurant. Lighting candles, refilling our random shaped water bottles (they were all empty and cleaned whisky and wine bottles) and chatting with guests.
Tonight, in honor of Louisa's last night, we played Dinnery. It's a betting game (this is the main thing I left Scotland with, the ability and desire to turn EVERYTHING into a betting game) where everyone who plays guesses how many people we'll have for dinner. It's a 1 pound entrance, the numbers were written next to the names, the money dropped in a cup, and the game began.
I didn't play, we needed 1 person to be impartial and I suck at guessing, which made it more fun for me. At the end of the bar, where we kept the reservations book, I took a table of 5.
"Yes!" said Don, one of our regulars.
"Noo!" moaned Craig, one of the cooks.
I laughed, showing the guests to their table. But, after a few minutes of perusing the menu, they flagged me down.
"Don't you have chips?" (Chips are thick cut french fries. The potato chips you're thinking of are crisps. This is your lesson in Scottish for today.)
"Nope," I said, grinning. I never apologize for not having chips. I enjoyed being able to tell them No too much. "I can give you directions to the chippy, if you'd like."
They decided against the local fish and chip shop, but they didn't want to stay at the Bridge, either. So, I waved them out the door, Don was sad and Craig was happy.
Until the 3 top came in and they ordered, anyway.
As tables left and weren't replaced, we cleaned them without resetting. Once the last guest left the restaurant side, we put the chairs up, ready for the floor to be washed in the morning.
I polished silverware, being careful to touch the cutlery as little as possible. Glancing out the window, it was full dark, the river invisible, but if it was quiet, you could hear it running, just fifty feet away.
The cooks finished, taking a seat at the bar for their staffy (their free staff drink), chatting. Callum and Emma finished next, then Ross. Soon, it was just Louisa and myself working.
It was easy work tonight, getting the occasional drink and chatting with the regulars. We cleaned what we could, but there were just enough types of drinkers left that we couldn't clear up everything. It was always easier when they just wanted beer or whisky. We could pack up the limes, lemons, and all the mixed drink ingredients, but not tonight.
The cooks left first, heading their different directions. By the time the other bartenders left, it was just before midnight.
Ross, Callum, and Emma were heading to MacKenzie's, a pub 10 minute's walk away. Their last call was at 1am, so we often went there after work for another drink. They waved as they left, shouting that they'd get us drinks.
At midnight, we rousted out the last few still drinking. A common practice at last call is to load up on drinks so everyone can have 2 more if they want it, and that's exactly what they'd all done tonight, nursing their drinks for the last hour.
I laughed, waving some guys out the door and locking it behind them. Louisa was already hard at work wiping tables, blowing out candles, and banking the fire. I hustled behind the bar, running the dishwasher, wiping and cleaning, restocking the refrigerators, and switching one of the metal kegs over.
By the time we finished, we knew we'd never make it to MacKenzie's before last call, but what the hell? Lousisa called a taxi while I locked the back door, then she cracked open her bottle of Jura's.
We passed it back and forth, waiting for the taxi. We'd made a decent dent in it by the time he arrived, 5-10 minutes later. The whisky started to hit us, we were laughing and giggling.
At MacKenzie's, she stowed the bottle in her backpack and in we went. That pub was still hopping, everyone finishing their drinks. Only Emma and Ross were still there, and our favorite drinks were on the table, too.
I had an amaretto and cranberry. If you like a sweet drink with a hint of sour, it's lovely. Louisa had an ale, but I don't remember which one. It wasn't one we stocked at the Bridge, I remember that.
Shortly after that, the bartender started kicking people out. Emma and Ross smuggled their glasses out and we headed down the sidewalk toward Louisa's house. Louisa and I kept passing the bottle, and once the others finished theirs, they had some, too.
We'd gotten it over halfway done by the time we made it to her house, and we did our best to sneak in. Louisa lived in a shared house that had 5 bedrooms, each one containing a single person or a couple. So, there could be up to 10 people in that house.
Her roommate, Mhairi, heard us, but she just came out and joined in the fun. I lounged on the armchair, stretching to pass the bottle without having to get up. Mhairi had the other armchair and the other three were on the couch.
I was half asleep by the time the bottle was finished, Louisa tipping her head back for the last few drops. Emma and Ross were at opposite ends of the couch, each with their own blanket.
"You need a blanket, too?" Louisa asked.
"Nah." I shook my head. "I live like, 6 minutes away. I'd rather sleep in my own bed."
And sober up on the walk, too.
I giggled, leaving the house, watching my feet weaving down the sidewalk as if they belonged to someone else. The cool air woke me up a bit. Didn't even need a flashlight. Early August in northern Scotland is far enough north to have much longer days than most of the mainland US.
Life was...so good.