Getting Sober as a Bartender Means Quitting the Clown Act
I always knew that there was something different with me. At a very young age, I knew it wasn’t normal to be drinking and throwing up all the time. I think kids really get introduced to booze later on, maybe in high school—but I was drinking in junior high.
I had my first drink at a party with friends and family. Someone handed me a drink like, "Oh, try this," kind of laughing about it. So I remember drinking and I thought, "Hey, this ain’t so bad." You always hear that story of kids saying, "The first time I ever drank I thought it was disgusting." That wasn’t the scenario for me.
I always knew I was different. When I had just opened up Herbs & Rye, I was not doing well. I had a lot going on in my life at the time. My business was going down the drain, my older brother died of cancer, my grandmother passed. All of these are excuses for why I did what I did—I think that’s one thing that people don’t understand with sobriety, is that you can either get up and do it or you can shut the hell up about it. You either do it or you don’t. That’s not just sobriety; that’s everything in life. I wanted my bar to succeed. I put my heart and soul into it. You’re always going to succeed at what you put your heart into, but it was the heart of the recession and I was off the Las Vegas strip in an area that had buckled. It was the hardest-hit street in Las Vegas—I think number five in the country.
So I had negative money, I had wonderful family and friends I could talk to, but not in the way I needed. I shut down. A few weeks after my brother passed I had to sell everything I had. I lost my house. I went homeless—you know how the most expensive thing in a restaurant is an empty seat? I had a lot of empty seats and a lot of empty space in my mind. It started planting a seed. That seed needed to be watered. I watered it with booze. I watered it with drugs. I lashed out at the people who loved me the most.
But then it took a turn. Herbs & Rye started doing well. For every dark night, there’s a bright day, and all of a sudden we had weathered the storm. We ended up in a financially excellent position.
I saw success for the first time. Everything had been so rough and so bad and then it went well. The world saw me as being successful, but they didn’t know that at this point I had become a closet user, a closet drinker. I started hiding it from people—from my girl, from my kids—because I knew it was really, really bad.
You can’t take someone who is one hundred percent dead broke and throw them a bunch of cash. It’s dangerous. I weighed 500 pounds. I was snorting cocaine like it was going out of style. I was drinking every single day. I was doing mushrooms, pills, LSD—everything. I just wasn’t the person that the world thought I was and that’s horrible. That’s a horrible way to live. So I ended up going to New Orleans and it just came buckling down for me. I got the call that my grandma had passed and I went on a two-day bender. I was giving up hope. I just felt fake. I was tired. I had reached a point where I was done. But I made a call to my friend Giuseppe Gonzales, who had been sober for one year. And he said he had been waiting for this call a year to the day prior.
I look at life like we’re all artists, and there are two types of people. There’s the artist who performs in his natural state, and then you have the clown. I don’t mean a bozo or an idiot. I’m talking about the mask part, the makeup.
Both artists and clowns can jump on stage, but artists perform an amazing show. Say there are two thousand people in the crowd—this is what we do as bartenders. We do this act every day and the world loves us for who we are.
Now comes the clown. He comes onstage and he gets the same amount of laughs. He makes the same amount of money. The crowd loves him. But he gets offstage and has to wash off the mask. He takes off the costume. A clown cries because it washes off the makeup. I had chosen not to be the artist. I had chosen to be the clown, and I wasn’t happy with it. So I stopped.
I looked in the mirror, and I know people say that all the time, but I genuinely looked in the mirror and said, "What the fuck are you doing here?" So I ended up doing my ninety days with Giuseppe, and that ended up becoming a lifetime. I talk to him every day. And my life has just changed.
Life throws curveballs at you. We look for stability in an unstable world. It’s like you’re on a boat and you keep looking at the captain, saying, "Yo, man, when will this stop shaking?" And the captain, who’s very experienced, says to you, "You have to adjust. These waters may calm down and we may go overboard tomorrow, but you have to stay in control."
Nothing matters except your personal happiness. I don’t need to chase any award. What matters is the pride you have in what you do every day behind your bar. I still make mistakes. I still have issues. But I deal with them. The number one thing that I’ve learned is that to change the world, we have to change ourselves. Am I perfect? No, I have a lot of catching up to do. But I’m happy with the decisions that I’ve made. I’m happy with who I am now as a person, and it has nothing to do with being a bartender or being a bar owner. I’m more successful now than I ever thought I’d be. I’m financially stable. I’m mentally stable. I’ve lost 250 pounds. I’m healthier than I’ve ever been. I’m a real father now. I made a change in my life.
Now, I’m the artist, not the clown.
Nectaly Mendoza owns Herbs & Rye in Las Vegas.