Worst Shift Ever: Jeff Faile, Bar Manager at Fiola

“One person and a sea of humanity demanding vodka sodas:” The bitters-loving barman recalls a nightmare shift on U Street.

Jeff Faile behind the bar at Fiola. Photograph by Erik Uecke

Jeff Faile, bar manager at Fabio Trabocchi’s buzzy Italian restaurant Fiola, has it pretty good: a gorgeous bar stacked with the bottles he loves (Faile is known for his bitter drinks—he’s even contemplating creating an entire Negroni page on his cocktail menu), a discerning clientele that appreciates the flavor variations between Campari and Gran Classico, and the staff support to ensure his fastidiously measured Americanos and Aperol spritzers achieve perfect consistency each time.

But Faile wasn’t always set up so well. Before making a name for himself behind the bar at Palena in Cleveland Park, he toiled at several high-volume spots where testosterone-fueled crowds call out for shots and vodka sodas and expect them to arrive immediately. At one such bar, Faile experienced his worst shift ever. Here, in his own words, is what happened:

“My worst shift ever was at a bar on U Street. We had just done a massive turnover in staff, so I had one employee who had been there for a week, and another employee that—it was her first night. It was January, so we thought it would be kind of slow, but it was still Saturday night on U Street. So one thing led to another, and we were five deep at the bar. Just one after another. It was a really small space with one computer behind the bar, and the high-speed Internet went down.

“That was the first thing.

“So everything was dial-up and nobody wanted to start a tab; it was: ‘vodka soda, close it up.’ Every transaction took about three minutes, which is not a long time, but in that time and setting, it seemed like an eternity. We had run out of limes earlier, so my most experienced bartender—the one who’d been there all of a week—was trying to slice some up quickly and accidentally cut her hand pretty badly. Blood everywhere.

“So then she was gone, getting bandaged up in the back. And then the new bartender was trying to grab a bottle from the rail, brought it up too quickly, and crashed it on the bar, and the entire bottle shattered into the ice bin. So she was out of commission, because she had to take all of the ice out and clear it all out. That left me with 75 to 100 people, all demanding drinks. No ice, no limes, and dial-up. And it just stayed like that: One person, and a sea of humanity demanding vodka sodas. It was horrible.”