I had a sip of the beer, and then another, before I set the glass back down on the bar. I took a moment to look around. Industrial-chic lighting, belt-driven ceiling fans, some leather-upholstered booths on the far wall, and above, a loft accessible by a spiral metal staircase. I couldn’t see the speakers, but the sound system was top-notch, and currently playing some frothy but comforting ‘seventies pop.
The barkeep watched me. “Good?” he asked. “Right temp?”
“Better than I remember. You haven’t over-chilled it.”
“That’s the way you serve good beer, but you already knew that. Thank you for coming in. Oh, wait, I think Boss wants to meet you.” He gestured at the floor.
I looked down. The first thing I noticed was a large pair of yellow-green eyes giving me a Look. Then the pointed ears and the lash of a tail. An orange tabby cat. I knew I liked this place.
“Pleased to meet you, Boss. It’s a fine place you have here.”
“Her name is Phosphor, but around here She’s Boss.” My eyebrows went up slightly. “And, yes,” he continued, “I am capitalizing Her name. She is The Boss. She seems to approve of you.” I felt a brush against my ankle.
“I am honored,” I told Boss as she – excuse me, She – continued to scrutinize me. “I’m Margaret. ‘Ret to my friends. But never ever Peg.” Now why did I say that? Especially to a cat?
Boss’ meow and the barkeep’s voice merged together. I looked at the barkeep.
“You can call me Ret. And you?”
A squeal came from the couple at the hightop and we both turned toward them. The tall one was doing some serious ass-grabbing as the short one was squirming away. I wasn’t entirely sure who had squealed.
“Everything okay?” asked the barkeep.
“Yes,” said the tall one.
“Wasn’t asking you.”
The short one smiled and seemed to relax. “Just a little too much enthusiasm for the moment. Yes, everything’s fine.”
The tall one turned toward the bar. “You sure you don’t have a back room yet?”
“No, not yet.” The barkeep looked casual but his voice made it clear the topic was closed.
The couple went back to their beers and flirtatious murmuring. I took another sip of my Oude Tart as I realized Slap & Tickle by Squeeze was playing on the sound system. My snort made the couple pause briefly before continuing their conversation.
I took another look at the bartender. He was a solid guy, broad shoulders under a blue work shirt rolled up to the elbows. His beard had some grey in it but I couldn’t place his age. He seemed to be waiting for an explanation.
“Oh don’t worry, the beer’s great, it’s just the music is so, um, timely.”
I felt a slight draft as the front door opened and a FedEx worker stepped in, carrying a box. The barkeep walked down to the far end of the bar to sign for the delivery. I noticed that Boss was still hanging out behind the bar, finishing off whatever was in Her bowl. She sat back and licked Her whiskers. She seemed to glare at the couple.
“This song is on the album Cool for Cats. But I’m sure You knew that,” I told Her. She gave me a glance and strolled off, turning down a hallway at the end of the bar.
The barkeep pulled out a small knife and cut the box open. Inside were four rows of cider glasses – flared at the top, thinner at the bottom. This guy knows what he’s doing. This place is going to spoil me for anywhere else.
He unpacked the glasses directly into the dishwasher. I reached for a nearby bowl of pretzels. “So does this place belong to you?”
“Boss would disagree with that,” he smiled. “But She lets me run it. I hope it becomes the kind of place that belongs to the people who use it.”
There is a back room, I thought suddenly. But you don’t get there just by asking about it.
As I enjoyed my beer, I realized that even if I didn’t already know the place was kink-friendly from the name, there were clues if you knew what to look for. The triskele motif in the woodwork of the bar. The window shade pulls with small leather tassels. And the chalkboard near the door labeled “Munch Schedule.”
I didn’t really feel like I’d found my niche in the local community. I’d been to a few munches, met a few people, and connected with some of them but not for very long. Just hadn’t really found my crowd yet. But this place felt like somewhere I wanted to be.
“This is your first day, right?” I asked the barkeep.
“Are you hiring?” I blurted. Why would he be? It isn’t like the place is hopping. At least not yet. I noticed that I was holding my breath.
“Eventually. You interested?”
Ohmygodyes. “Uh, yeah. I currently work at Bibi’s Pub. Bartending, some serving. It’s a different kind of place – lots of tiki drinks and lite beer.” I took another sip. Liquid courage never tasted so good. “But I’m ready for a change.”
He gave me a thoughtful look. “I’ll have to confer with Boss, and the accountant, but I think you’d fit right in. When do you want to start?”
By the time I’d finished the beer, we’d agreed that I’d start the next week, pending the usual paperwork and permissions. And I’d see him later this evening at the munch. I shook the barkeep’s hand on the deal. His hand was big and warm and felt like something worth grabbing on to.
“Oh, the beer is free, seeing as you might get hired. Tell your friends, okay?”
I left the bar feeling slightly light-headed, and not just because of the beer. I hadn’t realized until today that I really was looking for a change. Bibi’s was a steady job, but the coworkers and customers bored me. And this place – Floggin’ Brews – felt like home, even though the paint was hardly dry.
It hit me at the end of the next block that I never did get the barkeep’s name.