This happened last week in a small bar/restaurant in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, called the Hollow Nickle. I was enjoying a glass of pinot grigio at a section of the bar that faced the main door. My bartender was white, middle-aged, and very friendly. He filled my wine glass to the brim. I liked watching him work and talk to regulars. And his voice had a pleasing boom that filled the wood-warm and darkish room (the time was just after 6 p.m.). At one point, an Arab man walked into the bar with a woman I believed to be his wife. The white bartender informed the two that they could sit wherever they liked, but they had to order from the bar. He also told them in that booming voice of his that the kitchen had run out of chicken wings and french fries. The Arab woman sat at a table by a window that viewed Atlantic Ave, and the Arab man stood at the bar, looking over the menu. He finally ordered a quesadilla for himself and, after an exchange with the seated Arab woman, a grilled cheese and salad for her.
As the order was being prepared, a white Englishman briskly walked into the Hollow Nickle and went straight to the bar to order food. He wanted something to eat and drink right away. But before he made his order, the bartender loudly told him that the kitchen had run out of wings and fries. The Englishman did not mind this state of things at all. He wanted a hot dog and a Bud and that's what he got.
As the white Englishman sat at a high table, drinking Bud and texting someone who was somewhere in his world, and the Arabs were served their food, a black American family (one youngish man, two youngish women, two kids—girl and boy—and one old woman) walked into the Hollow Nickle.
They had clearly come from some church event, because they were dressed in their Sunday best. My guess was they came to the Hollow Nickle to unwind. I recalled at that moment the well-dressed black families who, when the Central District was a black neighborhood, would visit the deli in the (now-closed) Promenade Red Apple Market after service. They were done praying. It was now time for some soul food.
As the black family passed the bar, the white and very friendly bartender did something that totally surprised me. He told them to sit where they liked and to order from the bar. The black family went to a cavernous section of the Nickle that had booths and settled there. I looked at the bartender and wondered why he didn't tell them of the absence of wings and fries. Did he just plumb forget?
But when the two youngish black women from the family came to the bar and ordered from the white bartender very expensive cocktails, he again failed to inform them that the kitchen had run out of wings and fries. At that point, I knew this was not going to end well. The women went back to their booth with their fancy drinks and a menu. But what was his game? Why couldn't he say, with that booming voice of his: "No wings; no fries"?
Finally, the black man in the group came to the bar and, yes, ordered wings. And not just one order, but four plates of wings. At that point, the bartender had to break the bad news: the kitchen had ran out of what he and his family came to the Hollow Nickle for. The black man looked at the white bartender with a vexed expression and said: "Why didn't you tell us that when we walked in the place?" The bartender apologized and apologized. It had somehow slipped his mind. He should have said it. He was wrong not to. The black man went back to the booth and delivered the bad news. The family all turned and looked at the bartender, wondered what his fucking problem was, and began gathering their things to leave the business.
As the black family passed the bar, one of the youngish woman stopped and asked, with a little anger in her voice, the white bartender why he didn't say anything about the wings when she bought the expensive drinks? It just didn't make sense. The white bartender again apologized and apologized: He had made the mistake.... It was his fault.... The drinks were on him.... So sorry, black family.... He just didn't know why he couldn't tell them that the kitchen had run out of wings.... It was mystery to him. But not, of course, to me. I ordered another glass of pinot grigio.