Life Advice from the Legendary Bartender at California's Best Biker Bar
For our new bartender advice column, we spoke to Bay Area legend Gina Parle ("Jeannie") of the Warehouse Cafe, who taught us why mojitos are pathetic and how to go down on yourself.
All photos by Rob Williamson
Welcome to Last Call, where we visit watering holes around the world to collect life advice from their trusty barkeepers, learning everything from how to get over a broken heart to what drink orders will get you laughed out of their bar.
For our first installment of Last Call, we spoke to a Northern California legend: Gina Parle ("Jeannie"), who has been behind the bar of Warehouse Cafe—the legendary Port Costa biker bar—for 15 years. Warehouse Cafe is basically the only bar in town, and is replete with decaying taxidermy (where did they get that seal cub?) and ghost stories from the creepy Burlington Hotel across the street. Jeannie is everything you'd want out of a seen-it-all bartender—foul-mouthed, wise, and moderately insane.
We sidled up to Jeannie's bar on a Saturday afternoon and asked her to help us be smarter people (and drinkers). In the process, we learned that mojitos are pathetic, that Yelp is a joke, and that some people are just nasty.
And that if you do enough yoga, you might be able to go down on yourself.
MUNCHIES: Working at a biker bar, you deal with a lot of intense characters. How do you keep your cool? Jeannie: I do my best to be hilarious. But there was an asshole in here the other day. He came in, got a drink, and then he wanted a drink for his wife. And he yelled at me—they always yell at me, the fuckers. He obviously came in because they were going to Mill Valley to have dinner but they wanted to get their drink on here, right? So he says, "Can you make a mojito?" And I said, "Well, I don't have everything to make a mojito" and he said, "JUST MAKE IT!" and I said, "I don't have it." So he says, "Gimme a glass of wine," and somebody else in the bar says. "Jeannie can we have a Long Island?" and I go, "LONG AS IT'S NOT A MOJITO!" So he Yelped me. What an asshole.
I've had worse ones than that! But one day I was walking my dogs over by my French girlfriend's house down the street, and there's a tree with all of these tags on it. The tags are little wishes, and I had never looked before, and I decided I'd look at one to see what the hell people wish for. The first one I saw was, "I WISH THE BARTENDER KNEW WHAT A MOJITO WAS." Fucker.
[Walks away and yells to someone outside smoking weed: "YOU BETTER SHARE, YA DIRTY BIRD!", the entire bar erupts into laughter.]
What has bartending taught you about yourself? Humility. I love people, and the crazier the better. But when they irritate me too much, I'll dismiss 'em. When I worked in Berkeley, I embraced the crazies, because they're the ones havin' fun. The wisdom and insight that comes out of 'em is just so natural. They just open themselves up. Your kundalini has just gone to the ceiling or something.
You've been doing this for a really long time. What kind of wisdom would you impart on someone who wanted to be a great bartender? You gotta be able to take it that they hate you, too. I mean I've got pretty thick skin, but when people take me in the total wrong way, it's just like, get to know me! I'm alright, you know, I'll bitch you out and fuss at you, but …
Some people are just nasty. And that's the other thing—and this is something I tell the girls—just 'cause you're old doesn't mean you're cool, and doesn't mean you deserve respect. Because old people can be evil, too. They've just taken a longer time to get evil.
Just don't take any bullshit and know the basics. And then just have a good time with it.
Obviously you have a lot of regulars. What do you think they love or hate about you? They love that I'm ornery and evil and give 'em shit back and they hate that I don't give a fuck. It depends on them. You know, I can't be any other way. I am what I am and I get irritated and I hate the public, but what I always say is that I LOVE everybody, because I'm trying to convince myself. I can't think of anything else I'd rather do, but at the same time I'm not going to put up with any bullshit. When I was younger I had these little guys—they'd come in and watch me. I was working in a blues club, and I'd throw my leg up on the bar and I'd say, "I don't need a man, I can eat myself. I do yoga." And these young men would just sit there and they'd just watch me. And one day, my fuckin' knee collapse on me, I just fell in a puddle. And you could see the lust leaving their faces, they were like, "Ah, she's old and crippled now, fuck her. She's washed up!"
How did you wind up in Port Costa and start working at Warehouse Cafe? I was born in Merced on Castle Airforce Base, and my name means "the queen." So I was born in a castle, baby. I've been here for about 15 years, but I've been in the Bay Area for 40 years. I was working at Spenger's in Berkeley, and these two guys came in and said, "We know a place that'll be a good place to be. We have nothing now, but we'll call you." They called me the next day and here I am, 14 years later.
Have you ever seen anyone get hit by a train or something? [There are train tracks running adjacent to the bar.] Um, mountain lion, a deer. And then one guy wanted the mountain lion's head, so he put the body with the head on the fuckin' tracks to see if the train would…you know. Genius.
What have bikers taught you? Any biker wisdom? They're all pussies. Their big bikes are their dicks. You know, whoop de fuckin' doo. I have been celibate for 15 fuckin' years, but I figure if I never fuck again, I've lived through the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and I've been a ho. [laughs] I mean, if I never fuck again, that's fine. But if somebody comes along and it works … but I don't do relationships very well. I'm the one jumping out of cars and doing dramatic shit.
What's up with that haunted hotel across the street? When I started working here, this couple staying there was supposed to return their room keys to me and didn't. So I called them, and I said, "Hey, you folks didn't return your keys," and the wife answered and said, "You should talk to my husband." So he got on the phone and said, "Well, we didn't even stay the night. You'll find the keys on the stairway. We went into the Ethel Room, and saw a woman's torso in the tub." He saw a ghost torso in the tub, and so they dropped the keys on the stairway and they ran down and that was it. I wrote a song about it: "Torso in the tub, doo doo doo doo, torso in the tub!" [snaps fingers]
I have a motto: "The good die young. So you gotta keep some evil."
Thanks for talking with us, Jeannie.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in January 2015.