Lots of people know The Dockside—the Torch Lake hot spot packed on any given summer night with boaters, bikers and beach-bums alike. They claim it as their bar, just like it’s the cottager family’s bar, the sports fans’ bar, the golfers’ bar, the locals’ bar, and the bar of anyone who happens upon it by car or boat just to soak up summer. The deck at the Dockside—usually the most coveted spot in summertime—is proof of their Dockside pride. Every inch of every board is carved with patrons names, or memories, or inside jokes (i.e. “The Big One?!”) I’ve walked those planks plenty, and last week I started my fourth summer as a server there. So, I know the Dockside too. But I know a little more, see a little more.
To create a place where everyone can come and chill, there’s a lot of hustle going on behind-the-scenes. Here’s what you might not realize: there are usually 12 people working out front a night. We all share tips and we all get an equal cut. So if you tip your server, you’re tipping your busser, your food runner, the other servers and your bartender. Some people don’t understand why we’re so willing to share, but the place is so fast paced, absolute mania sometimes, that everyone is pulling their weight, and because of this, we’re all friends. We’re kind of a Dockside family.
Last night I worked my first Thirsty Thursday of the summer; $1.85 burgers and $1.50 drafts bring in all the different frequenters of the Dockside. Even though it was a beautiful night and lots of people would want to eat outside, I knew the Wings game would be on later, so I staked claim for the inside left of the bar. I guess it’s kind of funny that we all want the busiest sections even though the tips all go into one pool—it keeps the night alive.
At 4:40 the flood of looong time customers roll up in their Buicks and Cadillac DeVilles. They seat themselves at their tables and are a bit taken a back when we start the special a few minutes early. “Don’t you have to wait until 5,” they ask creakily. “No, we’re starting early for you today,” I reply to escape a lengthy explanation.
The night picks up and a guy strolls in decked in his McCarty jersey an hour before the Red Wings start. “I’m going to save all these tables—I got a big party comin’ in for the game,” he says. “That’s fine, just push them together,” I say, smiling, but gearing up for a thousand separate checks and inebriation.
Just as eight o’clock hits we get slammed, everyone gets in their groove; their zone. Chatter between the staff slows. The trail of drink tickets almost touches the floor. The restaurant transforms into a bar, tonight, a sports fan’s bar.
The place erupts with cheering. The newbie servers jump, a little beer splashes out of their mugs. Guess we scored?!
The Red Wings lost game four, and my McCarty fan comes up to me. “I’m ready for my check,” he says. “Alright I’ll grab it here for ya,” nervous that his insistence to put everyone on his tab is going to turn on me. $277.00. Was this guy really expecting this kind of bill… eek. I hand it over, he takes it, gives me a stare down through glazed eyes, and says, a wee bit slurry, “You know, you were great tonight, I hope you didn’t think I was too demanding, we asked a lot of you and you were busy but you pulled through every time.”
“I’m gonna give you $100.00,” as he signs his credit card slip. My heart flutters. I smile and say thank you, have a great night. I grab the slip and peek at it, sure enough there it was plain as day. $100.00.
I pass it to my younger brother, who is a server too. He takes a look and as his jaw drops passes it to the bartender he looks down and gets bug eyed, “You guys can vacuum tonight,” I boast.
Another summer at the Dockside is off to a sweet start.
Maybe I’ll see you next Thursday.