How do you walk away from the one thing you’re known for doing?

My advice is to walk quickly, without looking back—or risk turning into a pillar of salt.

I’m not a bartender anymore. I haven’t been a bartender for months. Yet … I’m still a bartender, even though I’m not, if that makes any sense. I still get text messages asking what the hours of my former employer “X” is, or how late the kitchen is open at my former employer “Y,” or what’s happening at my former hangout “Z.” I get that; it’s hard to imagine someone walking away so fully that he doesn’t even visit the places that he used to work at or haunt. Yet that’s exactly what I have done.

If you have seen me out lately or posting online from somewhere, let’s say my motivation to be out and about has been restored somewhat. My love of a good drink and good food is coming back to me—and I appreciate more than ever the effort that goes into letting me have a nice night out.

Before all “this” happened (I’m not going to use the “C-word” or the “P-word”), I was feeling more than a little burned out and pigeon-holed. I only occasionally felt gratitude for how good I had it, and I felt jealous while watching people eclipse me—not putting the blame on myself enough for my own mistakes. I was blaming the industry for a lot of things at the time. I needed a drink to sleep, and sometimes one to wake up … whatever hour that was. I was moody and occasionally mean, yet somehow, people still came to see me and give me their hard-earned money. I guess they saw something in me.

When the shutdowns happened, I went hard for a bit—and then some terrifying mystery acute heart condition put me in the hospital. One minute, I was happily shopping in the supermarket; the next, I was surrounded by doctors. The tests came back negative, and I was released. Maybe it was the virus, or maybe it was my lifestyle catching up to me.

I slowed down my drinking, lost weight and learned some new skills. I tried to make the most of my downtime, assuming I would never again get a chunk of time off like that. I completed my first full consulting gig; I started a silly YouTube channel with my roommate; I read a ton of books.

After the consulting job ran its course, I went back to Seymour’s, where my Palm Springs adventure began. It didn’t take long before I was feeling … a certain way. Maybe you can’t go home again. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it’s Maybelline. Still, it was nice to be back at a bar I loved—and still consider special.

On one of our lovely, blinding, 117-degree summer days, I was going to work on my silly electric scooter. I was probably running late; I was definitely going fast. My phone made a weird noise. I reached down to click it off, and when I looked back a half-second later, I realized a car was turning in front of me. The driver didn’t see me, apparently. Let’s just say that when a 200-pound man going almost 20 mph stops suddenly, that equals a fair amount of force.

There has to be a moral to the story, right? I guess one is: Listen to the world around you, your passion, your heart. Don’t keep doing something just because that’s how people “process” you. Also, don’t neglect your “throw-away” skills.

I hit the concrete on my side, having the sense from years of contact sports to not use my arms and hands to break the fall. When I came to, I was in shock and completely dazed. I tried to wave down motorists for help, to no avail. As I came to a little more, I made a couple of calls to work and friends, stumbling over words because I had hit my head. I ended up walking back home with the scooter—and while doing so, I realized some bones weren’t supposed to do what they were doing. I called a rideshare to take me to the hospital.

I eventually underwent surgery and was out for four months. This time was less productive. I only had one working arm, was sleeping terribly, and feeling like an idiot. I even went home to Massachusetts for a few weeks. Luckily, I might be the only guy from my hometown who can take painkillers without destroying his life. Even so, when I ran out, it wasn’t fun for a few days.

By the time I recovered, I was feeling pretty good about life. I was making silly inspirational videos, eating well, going for walks with my camera, and barely drinking.

Then I took one of several bartending jobs I had been offered, but for the wrong reasons. I wasn’t a good fit, and I immediately felt pressure to shoulder a bar program I can best describe as a “Dumpster fire.” I put my notice in after two weeks. I had gone from nearly total sobriety and contentment to panic attacks and four shots of whiskey to fall asleep—all in record time.

So, what do I do now? The short answer is that I do oysters, caviar and related food with my friend and business partner. We like to tell people it’s an overnight success five years in the making. My typical day involves things like planning a menu, ordering shellfish overnight from Massachusetts, washing each little creature by hand, and sticking my face in the muddy sink to smell the seaside of my hometown. I make sauces and prep garnishes—it’s a little one-person kitchen and my tiny kingdom. I like to go to tables, tell people what they’re about to eat, and see their faces when they enjoy what I prepared. There is a personal story and connection to everything I make. This is the same thing I loved about bartending: telling a story, getting someone excited about a cocktail, then seeing them light up on the first sip. So maybe that’s why I say I’m still a bartender. Maybe you’re just never truly out.

There has to be a moral to the story, right? I guess one is: Listen to the world around you, your passion, your heart. Don’t keep doing something just because that’s how people “process” you. Also, don’t neglect your “throw-away” skills. My friends from the oyster bar in Boston, still some of my favorite people, and I used to talk about opening our own little oyster bar. But then life happened, and that became just a pipe dream. I never thought that shucking an oyster was something I would do very often again. Now it’s a skill that’s giving me an avenue to something new about which I’m excited.

As for cocktails and bartending, don’t worry; I’ll still have you covered here with stories, recipes and opinions. I’m even talking with some local bars about doing events with historical drinks and other fun things. But I can’t see myself ever returning to working until 3 a.m., doing shots and sleeping in until the afternoon. I’m grateful for the people who still do—and I hope they enjoy it as much as I did … until I just didn’t.

Oh, one more thing: Stay off of electric scooters if you’re 25 or older—or at least make up a cooler story than mine when you get hurt.

Kevin Carlow

Kevin Carlow has been a bartender and writer for most of his adult life. Having worked in nearly every position in the service industry at some point, he is currently a cocktail consultant and the co-owner...