Words by: Theodora Sutcliffe
That irritating waitress who wants to be a singer? That “resting” actor who does odd shifts behind the bar? Sometimes they do really make it. After all, these guys did.
According to Brucey, the secret of being a good bartender is simple - free drinks. A late bloomer, Mr Willis was 30 when he hit the big time with 80s TV series Moonlighting. Before then, he tended bar, using the name Bruno, at New York hotspots like Cafe Central, Kamikaze and Chelsea Central. Some folk valued his acerbic wit, and willingness to jump over the bar to "sort out" problems - others just found him rude. But his boss at Kamikaze was ready to make him manager when Hollywood called.
Canastel's, on Park Avenue, was a favourite of Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street, who racked up $10,000 bills, not to mention Prince, Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman. And none other than Sandra Bullock worked as a host in the late 80s, alongside comic Jennifer Coolidge, who was a waitress so slack that Bullock routinely took her shifts. Like Willis, Sandra Bullock knew how to pick her spots, and stayed in touch with bartending friends - she even has her own restaurant now, Bess Bistro.
On moving to New York in 1979, aspiring actor Alec Baldwin juggled university classes with bussing tables at disco icon Studio 54 - making most of his money running cigarettes to the darkened sex areas on the balcony. "By then, it was all over," he recalled. "None of the people who made it famous went there any more. But I was 21. It was beyond my wildest dreams."
Before the man who was then just Jorge Mario Bergoglio became a priest - let alone pope - he held a range of jobs in his native Buenos Aires. One of them was as a bouncer. Sadly, journalists have yet to track down anyone who worked with him, let alone was thrown out by him. Even now, though, you wouldn't want to diss his mother. "If [somebody] says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch, it's normal," he said.
During her years as a struggling dancer, Madonna worked in the cloakroom at Manhattan's iconic Russian Tea Room restaurant. She was desperately thin and so hungry that her boss thought the staff meal was her only food of the day (friends report her pointing out dumpsters that she dived). "I watch rich people eating and drinking so that when I can afford to, I do it right," she explained. Her look was too funky for the restaurant, though, and she was fired after two months.
During the last few months of his stint as America's first president, George Washington turned his mind to whiskey distillation - and released his first batch a month before he stepped down for good. Run with the help of his farm manager, James Anderson, a Scot who had worked in distillation back home, Washington's five-still operation was producing 11,000 gallons (over 400,000 litres) of spirits when he died, making it America's largest whiskey distillery in an era still dominated by rum.
Debbie Harry was 33 - or dog meat in female singer years - when she hit the big time with Blondie. Before that, like many a wannabe coming to New York, she opted for a job that could help her meet interesting, useful people, in this instance art-rock hangout Max's Kansas City. There she met Andy Warhol and his Factory crew, fucked a glam rocker in a phone booth, and served drinks to Janis Joplin, inter alia. And then she came back, to perform and party, once she'd made good.