Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front- and back-of-house about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favourite establishments. For this installment, we hear from a Manchester bartender who found himself hiding for safety during a New Year's Eve shift.
Being employed in a high-end bar comes with certain perks—great tips being the main one. But like any seemingly easy job that pays good money, there are hidden risks no one warns you about. While making cocktails on New Year's Eve, I realised just how dangerous things can get by finding myself caught up in a huge bar brawl.
The security that night had only been there for a week and didn't know what kind of clientele we sometimes got. There would always be drug dealers and gang members of course, but I guess because of the occasion, maybe there were others we weren't familiar with. Whatever the reason, the fight broke out and the doormen were underprepared.
The bar is split across two floors and upstairs, it's bottle service, so that's where the wealthier customers would go to try and outdo each other spending thousands of pounds. It should have been a celebratory night, but it wasn't like that—you could feel the tension. There had already been two fights by midnight.
It should have been a celebratory night, but it wasn't like that—you could feel the tension.
The guys that were fighting got broken up by the bouncers a couple of times but they were allowed to stay in the bar. I said to the owner, "These guys are here still even though they've had two fights already," but because it's such a loose place, he didn't give a shit. He was just like, "More money, whatever."
The big fight happened around 2 AM. I'd just been outside for a break and as I was coming back in, I recognised the guys who'd been fighting before. I was with two new barbacks who didn't really sense the hostile environment they were in, so I pushed them away as I knew it was going to kick off any minute. It did kick off. As the fight started escalating, I kept waiting for the bouncers to come up but they just didn't.
More people got involved, smashing bottles against the walls to make shanks to stab each other. Next thing, people were getting dragged into the booths and battered and then more people were coming up the stairs. Girls were running away but even they were getting caught up in it and getting punched. So in the end, it was like 40 people fighting and all the staff could do was duck for cover. It spread across the entire club—people were getting dragged into the kitchens even. Anything that anyone could get their hands on, they were grabbing it. I saw one guy get hit by a table and he just bounced back and punched the other guy.
Believe it or not, the bouncers left the club—they just up and went. Finally, someone must have got in touch with the police and the owners locked all the doors so no one could get out and no one could get in. It was like an oven of fighting for about 20 minutes to half an hour—a complete free for all. I just thought, "I'm not going to get involved or try to break anything up, I'm not risking my life for someone I've never met in my life, fuck that."
Miraculously, no one really got hurt. A couple of the owners got hit with bottles, but that's it, which is mental seeing as chairs and tables were getting thrown. Then eventually, when the police came, they CS gassed the area outside but I didn't see that. Afterwards the whole club was like a bloodbath.
People were getting dragged into the booths and battered and then more people were coming up the stairs. Girls were running away but even they were getting caught up in it.
The police said to us after that no one made a statement. I wasn't surprised—if it's gang-related, people are afraid to come forward. But what did surprise me was that people who had nothing to do with it got involved, that the whole club was fighting. Maybe it's because they were trying to be good Samaritans, but they were just getting beat up too.
The police asked us to do statements but we didn't bother. It did kill the club for months though—it went from making 50 grand a night to lucky if they made ten. It only runs now because they have other businesses they can channel money into it from. Any other bar in the city and it would have shut.
The day after the brawl, I woke up and just felt like I needed to get away. I switched my laptop on and booked the first flight to Amsterdam, then spent two days doing mushrooms. I guess I needed to process what had happened. But when I got back, I went straight to work. No one else quit either. I guess we stay there as we can make 400 quid a night, which means we only need to work two nights a week. For the freedom that kind of job gives you, it's worth the risk.