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Former barback recalls good 'ol days

By JULIE ZAVALA
Nov. 3, 2010 at 6:03 a.m.


Back in the 80s, one of the biggest nightclubs in Beaumont was called the Palace. With a steakhouse on one side and a country-western bar on the other, it drew crowds from all over Jefferson County and beyond. I was hired as a barback about six months after the Palace was completely remodeled. I guess half a year is a long time in the nightclub business because when I started, only one of the three upstairs bars was being used. My co-workers told me business had gone down a bit and I had missed the real action. Still, the Palace was crazy busy on Friday and Saturday nights.

I didn't know anything about being a barback when I was hired, but I learned fast. I was about 30 years old with three children. My husband worked during the day, and I worked from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., mostly on weekends and occasionally on a weekday. This schedule worked well for us because I didn't have to pay a baby sitter because my husband watched the kids.

I was one of four barbacks. Our job was to keep the bartender's sinks filled with ice, make the drink mixes, cut up fruit for garnishes, wash glasses and hang them on racks over the bar and fill the refrigerators with all the different brands of canned and bottled beer. Then there was the cleanup after we closed. It was hard work, the pay was fairly low and the tips were small. I loved it.

I would look out over the western-style swinging doors that separated the bar from the seating and dancing area and see all sorts of dramas being played out, accompanied by some great music. The jealous girlfriend arguing with her man and the guys and girls trolling around the bar, in search of a dance partner. One regular customer would pull his collar up like Elvis Presley in an attempt to charm the ladies. There were the men in cowboy hats, carefully creased Wranglers and pointy-toed boots. They stared down at their feet with what can only be described as pained expressions as they shuffled to rock songs. Some couples were very good dancers, whirling and twirling around the dance floor in perfect unison.

The slow week nights that proved to be the most interesting. Once I saw a guy walking from one side of the bar to the other when magically, he disappeared. Suddenly, at the end of the bar he popped up, as if on springs, and then kept walking. I guess he slipped and fell and was so embarrassed, he got up as fast as he could. We laughed about it for the rest of the evening. On other slow nights, you could always count on some woman who, after drinking too much, would attempt to perform an impromptu strip show. But the bouncers were quick to nip that in the bud, much to the disappointment of the men.

My bar-backing days came to an end after I found out I was pregnant with our fourth child. I was afraid the heavy lifting involved would hurt the baby, so I quit. I've worked at many different jobs since then but I will always have a special place in my heart for those Palace nights.

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