On Golden Voice and Cuervo Gold

I have been bartending for a long time; longer than I ever expected, in fact. And  during that time, I’ve seen many things. Things both sublime and ridiculous, tragic and trivial, horrific and hilarious. And that was just on Saturday nights.

The unwritten code of the bartender calls for great discretion regarding what we see or hear, but there are a few stories that , however discreetly, must be shared. And so, while preserving the privacy of most depicted herein, I shall plumb the depths of my elephantine memory and  offer you, Dear Reader, a tale of Mexican beer, a shot of Tequila and a bizarre brush with genius.

It was probably my third bartending job at a nondescript but popular staple of the East Village, a 24 hr. continental restaurant. It was the sort of place that had a good burger and fries, but also a pretty decent shrimp scampi, and some surprisingly good vegetarian fare. Even though I had only been bartending about 3 years or so, I was sure I knew everything I needed to know about bartending. However, I also knew that there were all sorts of characters that made up this world that I moved through, and many of them I could never understand. So instead of trying, I resolved to sit back, serve them, and enjoy the ride. One of these characters was a night manager I worked with at said place. He was a fitness-obsessed Italian-American guy named Jerry who would typically ride one of his two motorcycles to and from work everyday, and who also had a tremendous Asian fetish.

Now, this didn’t mean he walked around quoting Lao Tzu or played Mah-Jongg on the weekends. Basically, it meant that he loved Asian food and he really loved Asian women. A lot of the staff used to rip him behind his back about his simple tastes, but since both agreed with him, I actually thought that, for him, it was a pretty good deal all around. Jerry was a fairly colorful, witty guy, and he often liked to go in the kitchen and cook the two of us fresh Asian stir-fry populated with various noodles and spices he would get from the Asian market next door. At the start of a typical shift, he’d walk in the door wearing his expensive motorcycle jacket and carrying his helmet and disappear into the office briefly, then emerge still carrying his helmet, and place it at home on top of the stereo behind the bar and ask, “You hungry?” I always said yes, because, you know what? He was a damn good cook.

He’d then disappear into the kitchen, proudly emerging 15 minutes later to hand me a hot, heaping plate of aromatic and exotic victuals and after the first bite or two, he’d invariably ask, “How is it?”

That night it was particularly delicious, and since it was quite slow at the bar, I sat down to talk to my then visiting girlfriend while I consumed the aforementioned tasty stir-fry. As will become apparent later, it is relevant to mention that my girlfriend was originally from Japan, but then living in London. While we talked, I had the plate on the bar top in front of me yet sort at of a right angle from where she was sitting.

Suddenly, the red phone rang at the service bar, which is where the drink orders are made for the tables. I ambled over, still munching on the last spicy bits of kimchee, and began pouring various tap beers, making vodka tonics, and blending strawberry margaritas (as I said, this was many years ago). After a few minutes of doing this, I turned to check on my girlfriend and noticed that someone else had taken up a seat at the bar right in front of my half-eaten plate of stir-fry. He was staring, not at me, as many customers have the irritating habit of doing, but straight ahead. As I looked at him, I though he looked a little familiar.

Thinking it inappropriate, even in a place as casual as this, for my food to be idling there in front of him, I stopped what I was  doing and retrieved the vittles, putting them somewhere more discreet, and then asked him what he’d like. He ordered a shot of Cuervo Especial and a Corona and during the transaction, I suddenly realized why he looked familiar. I recognized him as a famous singer-songwriter, critics darling, and current messiah of the downtown music scene.

Adhering to another tenet of the bartender’s code, I said nothing that would indicate that I recognized him and I left him to his drinking. Only the tiniest thought that it was pretty cool to have him at my humble bar while contemplating his next album, and the tremendous creative angst he was undoubtedly feeling ever crossed my mind.

Continuing with the slinging of drinks, I glanced over at my special lady friend again and she gave me a very long intense look of the, “my hair is on fire!” sort. It got my full attention because I had never seen that look on her face before. She signaled me over to her by mildly tilting her head to the side, widening her eyes and pursing her lips slightly. I was incredibly curious as I approached her, and when I got close enough she leaned toward me and softly breathed the words, “He ate some of the food off of your plate.”

I stiffened with disbelief and wondered if I had heard her right.

I blinked and looked at her again, my eyes saying, “Really?”

She nodded gravely, and I slowly turned my head toward young Dylan, the only other customer at the bar, nursing his Corona and shot of Cuervo. As our eyes met, I could see that he knew that I knew. And he knew, that I knew, that HE knew, that I knew. I narrowed my eyes at him and he quickly looked away. I looked back at her and she looked at me as if to say, “See?”


I then walked past the spot where he was sitting and continued making drinks for the waiters. I needed to think about this because it was very weird. I wasn’t sure what I should do.

Could it be that this handsome, young, angel-voiced rock star, who had a hit record at the time, and was touring all over the world, making television appearances etc. had come into my bar, sat down and surreptitiously eaten the food off of my plate? Strange things often happened at this particular restaurant, but this was bizarre even on this side of the looking glass. I regarded the cooling mess of my celebrity-defiled food, considered the whole situation, and decided I had to say something to him. I wasn’t sure what, but I had to speak out.

But before I could approach him, he sheepishly called me over. I took the two or three steps it took to get there as though it were a funhouse corridor stretched out before me.

“What’s up?” I said, trying to sound cavalier, even though I knew damn well what was up. He began haltingly, “Dude, I’m really sorry about eating your food, I mean-”

I couldn’t play dumb any longer and interrupted him, “Yeah, ummm…What’s up with that? Did you think it was, like, bar snacks or something? ” “No, he muttered.”

At this, I could barely hide my incredulity. “So, I mean, is that just something you do? Go into restaurants and eat off of other people’s plates?” Without a hint of irony or sarcasm, and not sounding like he was trying to be a wise-ass at all he says “Well… yeah.” Flabbergasted, but at the same time, kind of impressed by his honesty, I blurted out, “Well, didn’t anybody tell you that’s considered kind of rude?”

“I’m sorry” he said.

“Uh-huh. Ok.” and I walked away. He had already paid, so he took a last sip of his beer and shuffled, some might say, slunk off, pausing to say again how sorry he was. I simply nodded.

As he walked out, I went over to my girlfriend, who had no idea who he was, and we just looked at each other and shook our heads.  I said to her, “Do you know who that was?” Of course she said no, and since she was from Japan where something like that would probably get you thrown in jail for six months, no amount of celebrity or fame could make the incident seem any more strange and heinous to her than it already was.

I still didn’t totally believe it was him until a month or so later, when he came in again. Obviously recognizing me from the stir-fry incident, a faint and slightly mischievous smile crossed his lips.

“Hey man, I was in here last night and I left my credit card, I just came back to pick it up.”

I remembered seeing a credit card clipped to the register so I went and got it. I held it up to look at it and even though I knew the answer already, I facetiously asked him what his name was. As I read the name, he said the words embossed on the card,

“Jeff. Jeff Buckley.”

Cocktail Epilogue:

El Diablo Cocktail


  • ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1½ ounces tequila blanco
  • ½ ounce crème de cassis
  • Ginger beer


Combine all ingredients except the ginger beer in a shaker tin or mixing glass. Add ice, shake vigorously and strain over fresh ice. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lime wedge.


  1. What a great story…

  2. This is genuine, unadulterated Jeff Buckley! Love it! Love him!

  3. This is pure, unadulterated, Jeff Buckley. Love it! Love him!

  4. Hi, just wanted to mention, I loved this article.
    It was helpful. Keep on posting!

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