An anthropologist looking for a place to observe the peculiarities of Charleston culture could do worse than to post up at Moe's Crosstown Tavern, that venerable neighborhood haunt on Rutledge Avenue. Safe from the thundering tourist herd and grown-up carnival atmosphere of the city's gleaming new bar districts, it's a little quieter and feels a lot more like home.
Greer Farrell has been working at Moe's for 13 years now, and in that time she's collected enough stories for at least one book: Standing Up Together, a fictionalized account of the Charleston food and beverage industry experience.
"There's nothing untrue in there. Everything happened," Farrell says. Names have been changed, and Farrell tells a few other bartenders' stories in the first person, but she swears the anecdotes are all real. Her book captures the highs and lows of the business, from the comfort of camaraderie to the boredom of a slow night to the chaos of dealing with unruly tipplers. In a rambling collection of stories with a few recurring characters, she tells how young ladies angle for free drinks, how coke addicts blow into the bar spouting psychobabble, and even how a few Citadel cadets used to sneak off campus, change into plainclothes in the bar, and leave again as stealthily as they came. She writes:
Currently, the new cadets sit side-by-side talking about pretty girls and Constitutional amendments. Two of them are going to Iraq soon. They split wings and drink cold cheap beer. Later in the day the band cancels and a few Regulars sit calmly at the bar, smiling and pushing their drinks slightly forward when finished, awaiting another round. Backwoods Dave switches to water and plays pool, winning, and winning again. He says if he were an instrument he would be a guitar; delicate, careful, like classical music but also hard, aggressive, like heavy metal. A man put together like the tender body of a guitar but hard and strong like the strings. He would have master potential in any direction. He sat by himself at times and like the young assassins, I didn't see him leave.
Farrell, who originally came to the Holy City to study criminal justice at the College of Charleston, has been writing down work stories for years, and she finally started assembling them into a book during a hiatus from the bar in 2011. She says her biggest literary influence is D.H. Lawrence, but she sometimes reads like a Beat writer, particularly when describing the comings and goings of customers who've given themselves over to Bacchus and the times when, as she writes, the bar dating scene looks from the outside like "a vicious cycle of horny confusion."
A transformation has taken place in Charleston's F&B industry since Farrell started 13 years ago, and she recognizes it. Just as workers came to town to tear down the old Cooper River Bridge and put up a gleaming new modern one (and stopped by Moe's for burgers and beer), restaurant work became more serious and more dignified.
"The industry's changed. I think the professionalism has gone up. You're expected to be a professional," Farrell says. "Not that it wasn't so much before, but now I think people are taking more pride in working in food and beverage than they used to. That's maybe the biggest point of the book, that it's OK to take pride in what you do, period."
Farrell shows an obvious affection for her co-workers and regulars in the book, but some of the more affecting moments are sad little vignettes from the bar, like this one:
The night progressed, sloppy and loud. Eventually everyone trashed; trashed like a Dumpster, not a wastepaper basket. Amid the weaving and talking between those who knew one another, a woman with Long Black Hair walked into the bar. She drank two Bud Lights, laughed into the air at nothing, and talked on her cell phone. We wondered if anyone was on the other end; we didn't think so. She left quietly, unnoticed by everyone but us.
Standing Up Together is available for purchase at Moe's Crosstown, Blue Bicycle Books, Quik Mail Etc., Striped Pig Distillery, and Amazon.com. Farrell will do a book signing at Moe's on Wed. Aug. 13 from 8 to 10 p.m.