Before it all began

by tkos on August 14, 2012

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It’s Thursday evening. About six pm. I’m in the City of London, just near Bank tube station and I am about to walk into a bar called Abacus for the first time. I am the General Manager but nobody knows it, just me. I start next week and I’ve flown over from Melbourne for this job. It is this job that is going to pay off my Australian mortgage in three years if the GBP stays strong.

The City of London. The financial capital of the world and Abacus ‘thrives’ in it’s heart. That’s what the boss I am yet to meet personally, has told me on our Skype interview. I didn’t really want to work at Abacus, it wasn’t my first choice. I wanted TigerTiger. That’s the flagship of the company. Love it or loathe it, it is the busiest bar in Europe. To me, it was the only bar bigger than my ego after I conquered Roadhouse in Covent Garden three years earlier. But TigerTiger wasn’t available and I had to take Abacus. The flagship of the City. The financial capital full of bankers, brokers, bitches and bastards.

I walk along Cornhill to the entrance of Abacus. It’s six pm and there is a doorman and ropes set up to control the queues. But there are no people outside.  Doorman are so important to a General Manager. They protect you, your staff, your clientele and most importantly, your licence. Managed properly, they are invaluable as a first friendly impression to the right customers and as a barrier to the wrong crowd. The relationship between the doorman and the General Manager can sometimes be the make or break of the business. The importance of this understanding cannot be underestimated. I am about to meet the doorman whom I will spent countless long nights in the cold with, taking abuse from customers with, separating fights with and running this business with. I walk up and smile. He doesn’t.

As he doesn’t know who I am, I don’t dare touch the rope that he has barricaded himself in with, that would be like touching his girlfriend. So I politely wait for him to remove it for me. I stand there waiting, smiling and then waiting some more. He looks at me, still smiling and ready for my first entrance in what will be my new home. He’s clocked my smile yet decided not to reciprocate. He stares at me blankly with his hard Eastern European face for a few seconds and then half points up the street. I notice another rope running along the wall about ten meters. He actually wants me to walk ten meters up the street, to turn around and walk ten meters back along the designated entrance area, even though there is nobody about. I stop smiling. I walk his line. He then opens the rope and let’s me in. He doesn’t know I am starting soon, nor has he any idea he is finishing soon.

I look around the ground floor. There are about 40 people. Hardly thriving yet still not a lot of space at the bar. I’m meeting my old Roadhouse boss and mentor, Graeme here, so I go downstairs to have a look. There’s another four people downstairs and he’s not one of them. So I decide to go to the bar and see what I am in for. I order a mojito from the bartender dressed in a suit. I assume he is one of my new managers and worry. He looks stressed. And he’s ginger.

Fifteen minutes later and I’m still at the bar without a drink. A bartender has appeared and he is telling the other two customers that one of the beers they want is not cold and the other one is out of stock. They look at me and roll their eyes, saying ‘who’s running this place!?’. The manager making my mojito is out the back looking for mint. Still. It’s not a good start. Graeme arrives and tells me a story about having to walk around some ridiculous ropes and I recommend a beer if he’s thirsty and a mojito if he’s not. We walk over to a corner and he puts his suit jacket down on a table as we stand back and watch the disaster in front of us. He has a wry smile and the only words he can muster, the only words he can find to lift me from these pits are….. “better you than me, fella!”, as he breaks into a chuckle. Not the inspirational words of a previous mentor that I was looking for. I loved seeing his cheeky grin disappear after he realised the table was filthy and his jacket now stained. I laughed. “you’re paying for that!” he said. I stopped laughing.

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