Behind the Bar


Allyssa Ertz, Arts & Life Editor

As you walk through the door, loud conversations intermix with loud music. Right now it’s twanging country, but the genre will change throughout the night. The pungent aromas of popcorn and alcohol fill the air.  The crowd is an interesting mix – young students from Buena Vista University, townspeople, and visitors passing through.  Through the buzz, Ciera Fergen, college student and bartender, rushes back and forth behind the bar to keep up with the never ending line demanding drinks.

Fergen, a first semester senior at BVU, has been employed at Puff’s, a local Storm Lake bar, since last May.  She majors in theatre performance with a focus on directing.  Fergen says she has been challenged and rewarded through bartending, which she believes has shaped her as a person.

“Interesting.”  That is the word Fergen uses to describe her bartending experience.  Whether she is dealing with blunt townspeople or fellow college students, she has learned to approach situations with strategy.

BVU senior Ciera Fergen, a theatre major, says working at a bar allows her observe people and apply that to her acting.

A typical night at Puff’s begins with opening duties, and regulars come in to chat and have their usual drinks.  Fergen finds this piece of her night boring, replenishing each drink every so often and not doing much else.  Around 8 p.m., a dead hour occurs.  Then as 9 p.m. approaches, the students from BVU’s campus and townspeople ready to socialize start drifting in.

Anyone who has bartended knows that customers can be crude and inappropriate. Fergen defines the regulars in the town as very straightforward individuals, and when she began at Puff’s, she was unsure of how to respond to some of the conversations she would hear.

“It was interesting how I tried to decide how to react to what they were talking about.  So, obviously, at first, I’m like, uh, do I say anything?  Do I smile?  Do I laugh?  Do I pipe in?  And then after awhile, you overhear conversations, and you’re just kind of like, uh, alright.  Bar talk,”  Fergen said.

While working, Fergen has experienced much of this “bar talk.”  One man recently asked her on a Saturday night why she was not married or procreating yet, which in Fergen’s opinion, was one of the funnier conversations she’s had.  There have been others which are not so amusing.

“We have racists in town, unfortunately, and it’s really hard to have any sort of respect for somebody who tells you to change the channel because there’s an African American in the movie that’s playing on it.  And he didn’t say African American, either, he said a word I am not going to repeat,” Fergen said.

Fergen says she has learned to brush this type of chatter off.  She knew to expect it when she applied for the job.  She jokes around as much as she can, because she wants to provide good service, but she says she will draw the line if it goes too far.

One night at work, as a co-worker hastily mixed drinks behind the counter, a drunken customer hollered a racial slur at her.  Appalled, she went to her boss about it, but nothing ever seemed to be done to solve this problem Fergen said.  Eventually, the co-worker quit, because she didn’t want to deal with the degrading language.

According to Fergen, the regulars, locals, and people who may be just passing through all will ask a lot of questions.  They might want to know her age, relationship status, then move on to asking the her out.  She points out that it is usually older men who try to hit on her, making comments about her ripped jeans or jeans with bling on her behind.  You can guess where these remarks will lead, with these men continuously growing more inappropriate as consumption of alcohol increases.

Fergen says she’s developed a tolerance for this type of situation.  She will try to joke around as much as possible, but also keeps in mind that derogatory is likely to happen with consumption of alcohol.  She handles these dilemmas with class and a matter-of-fact attitude.

Fergen also is not going to respond to the person who is snapping their fingers at her to get them a drink.  She’ll be more apt to head over to the person who is waiting nicely, and serve them first.

“If you’re going to respect me, I’m going to respect you.  If you’re going to stand there and be rude to me, there’s a good chance I might want to spit in your drink.  So, there’s that,” Fergen said, smirking.

Fergen has also dealt with more than words and finger snaps.  She once had to clean up blood after a fist fight.  She even chased someone down so that they were not handled by police after they vomited all over the place.

Fergen again uses the word “interesting” to describe what it is like to be a college student waiting on other college students.  She she sees different sides of her peers at the bar than she might in the classroom. When she’s behind the bar, she says she might suddenly be a classmate’s new best friend if they want a drink, but she’s also encountered BVU peers who are rude, trying to be the “big man on campus,” buying everyone drinks or shots.

“It’s just intriguing.  I like it, I definitely like it.  I’m an observer, especially with theater stuff.  I try to observe characteristics just because you never know when you might use them in a show,” Fergen said.

In spite of the difficulties involved in bartending, Fergen said there are plenty of rewards.  One of the biggest she noted:  people talk to you, and tell you their stories.  They will also confide in the bartender if they are feeling unlucky.  Fergen enjoys this piece of being a bartender.

“I can be there to talk to people, I can be there to joke with people, I can be there to just listen if that’s what you need, and I can just be there to serve you your drink, and get you drunk if that’s what you want,” Fergen said.

As an evening at Puff’s approaches 2 a.m., Fergen is still hard at work.  She maneuvers her way through bunches of people, picking up plastic cups and pitchers as she goes.

The crowd begs her to stay open for just a little longer, and Fergen rightly does not comply.  People finally start to trickle out the door.  As the night ends and she finishes closing duties, Fergen shuts and locks the door.  She smiles to herself, remembering all of the “interesting” events she has to encounter as a Puff’s bartender.

Photo courtesy Ciera Fergen