I was harassed out of a bar for taking this photo. [I know. It’s not even a good photo.]
Two weeks ago, I bought a last-minute bus ticket to visit from my friend Kovak in New York. The few times I’ve been to the city, it’s always been for work and I’ve always stayed in hotels. My one request for the trip was, “Show me your New York.”
Kovak was a brilliant tour guide. We covered sixteen miles in a forty-eight hour period scrambling across Manhattan. She marched me through every major tourist attraction, and when our feet were ready to cry, we took a break at a favorite wine bar, pub, or sushi restaurant.
I am a shameless tourist. I had my Cannon in tow Friday through Sunday, even making an emergency stop at Best Buy when my battery died. I took photos of alleyways and trashcans, buildings we couldn’t identify, and backs of complete strangers. I wanted the full documentation of my seventy-two hour stay.
On Saturday, we were tired, hungover, and in desperate need of a pick-me-up when Kovak yanked me into Terra, her favorite wine bar in the city.
The moment I walked in, I loved the place. I loved the décor. I loved the ambiance. I loved the big glass window to the right of the bar.
Those feelings did not last long.
Five seconds after ordering our first (and only) glass of wine, I took a photo of the glass window. I snapped two shots—one portrait, one landscape—then put the cap back on my lens and my camera back in my bag.
Five seconds after that, our server tapped me on the shoulder.
“Excuse me, what did you just take a picture of?”
“Oh! Just of that bar window.” I assumed taking a picture of the décor would be taken as a compliment.
WRONG. “You cannot do that here. We have a lot of important, famous people here. You cannot just take pictures of people.”
I understand this is so not the point, but there were no celebrities in that bar. If there were, I guarantee I wouldn’t be preoccupied taking photos of a freaking window.
“Again, I didn’t take pictures of people. And I’m not really sure what you want me to do—I already put my camera away.”
“This is a place where famous people come. We have an image to protect, and you can’t just take….”
And for the next five minutes, that server made it her life mission to let me know important people frequented that bar, and in no way was I included in that category. No matter how many times I tried to point out that my camera was IN my bag, did she back down from placing me in a lower social bracket than the rest of her customers. No sir, this captain was going down with her ship—a ship filled with valiant celebrities in need of her protection.
If you ever need someone to die for a cause (that cause involving the preservation of important people—not lowlifes like twenty-sever year old copywriters), I suggest you hire her. Consider this her letter of fucking recommendation.
I was upset; Kovak was livid. She did not care about the bad service. What she cared about was the fact that her friend was visiting her in a city she loved, and a representative of that city turned and completely shit on that friend.
This was the spot Kovak showed off to friends and family. It was the place she took people to welcome them to the city. Years of happy memories were erased with one hit and an average glass of wine.
I turned back to the server station. “Excuse me? When you bring our drinks, you can also bring the check.”
Kovak walked me to Chelsea Market, and I tried my best to laugh at the situation, saying, “It wouldn’t be a trip to NYC if someone wasn’t a complete asshole.” We sat down at Corkbuzz, and I excused myself to the restroom.
Back at our table, Kovak told our server the whole story. He told his manager, who came to our table and said something along the lines of, “Those assholes. Take as many photos as you like here.”
We had THE. BEST. TIME.
I can’t remember the last time I received so much personal attention at a bar. For as much energy as our previous server put into making us feel mortified, these two put into making us feel like important people. They brought samples of their favorite bottles. The manager brought free snacks. They kept us in a good mood, making fun of the last pricks that served us.
We left genuinely happy—and pretty buzzed.
As we were walking out of Chelsea Market, we decided a coffee was needed to get through the night.
“Dude I think I saw one back—“
“No that was an ice cream shop.”
“Well what about if we—“
“Ladies,” a security guard interrupted us. “Sarabeth’s, back on your left. Best coffee in the market.”
We blinked. “THANK YOU!!”
Remember when I said I am a shameless tourist? Well, I also understand tourists are exhausting. When I see a group of tourists huddled around a map of DC (chances are, one that isn’t drawn to scale) I walk by thinking, “Ugh. They’ll figure it out.”
We ordered three coffees in that shop. When we reached the exit a second time, we held up our tray to the security guard. “Black or with cream?” we asked.
“Cream.” We handed him his well-deserved coffee, and walked out.
Each day, you have two options: You can make someone’s day, or you can ruin it.
[A third option, clearly, is to do neither—you do have every right to simply go about your business.]
If you go with option C, fine. Go do you. If, on the other hand, you’re faced with A or B, go with A. It’s not hard. Give a stranger a compliment. Stop for two damn seconds and redirect someone who’s lost. Offer loose change to someone who realizes they’re a few cents short.
These things might not seem like a big deal to you, but it could be a big deal to them. If your timing is right, it will be something they really, really need.
To that random security guard and the people at Corkbuzz, thank you for making our day. And to the server at Terra who almost ruined it, I hope it was worth it.