The lovely and inimitable Tanya Dias, a 33-year-old bartender at neighborhood spot Reif’s Tavern, talks with us about the “bitter little man” that is Danzig, customers who are family, and one of the best Christmas gifts she ever received—her sock puppet.
So you’re from Boston? Yeah, back and forth for 18 years. I used to sleep in that park [gesturing to Tompkins Square] when I was a teenager. I never ran away, [just went to New York for a while]. There used to be a bar on the corner, Alcatraz. That was still Tent City, before they closed off the park to the homeless . . . The F train was a pretty long train to sleep on, just pass out in the first car.
I had a friend who was with me for a little while, April. We used to sleep on a roof of these guys we knew, like seven of them to a tiny apartment on Mott Street. We had great tans. We’d go to these parties, and then jump in the shower real quick. I used to steal toothpaste.
As a teenager, I used to spend a lot of time in bars. I knew a lot about my music history, so I was telling a guy, “Yeah, I remember when Hendrix died.” I wasn’t even born then. That’s how I used to get into the Scrap Bar, on MacDougal Street.
What was Scrap Bar like? It was a heavy metal paradise. I could get as fucked up as I wanted, it was great. A lot of metal bands would hang out there. I met Metallica in there, Danzig, Joey Ramone.
My roommate’s a big fan of Danzig. He’s a dick.
What is Reif’s like? Most of our business comes from our regulars. One guy’s been a regular since the ’50s. Bobby. We have one guy, he’s does a lot of Shakespearean plays; we call him “Shakey.” Almost all of our regulars were at the [owner’s] wedding: Shakey, Too Tall— who I realized, I don’t even know his real name. I fought really hard to try to figure out what kind of music Too Tall likes so I can play it.
So you tailor what you play to the customers?
Yeah. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of telling some woman I had Willie Nelson in my iPod. She made me play “You are Always on My Mind.” I downloaded it in case someone wanted to hear it, and then when the day came I wanted to kill myself.
I had one guy who jumped on the bar the other day because I was playing “Ride Like the Wind” by Kristopher Kross.
Such a corny song. It’s not a corny song! C’mon, Michael McDonald does backup.
Who’s your favorite customer? That’s like choosing a favorite tattoo.
When did you get your first tattoo? I was 17. Got it around the corner in some guy’s living room. He had to keep stop tattooing me to throw up.
Did you have anything to numb it when you got it? Life. Ha.
Is it hard being around so much alcohol now when you don’t drink yourself? In my first year [after I stopped drinking] it was uncomfortable because I knew I had to be sober, so I was a secretary at an art-handling company. But secretarial work is the most soul-sucking profession.
No, for me, liquor doesn’t equal a good time. [When I was drinking] I worked in extremes. It was either the best night, or the worst and I wanted to kill something.
What certain behavior do bartenders hate? When people shout out your name. The bar I work at is not a long bar. No matter where I’m standing, I’m NEAR you.
Flicking money at the bartenders just shows how much you look down on them. Or being called “Yo.” Oh, and don’t ever touch the bartender. This guy on St. Patrick’s Day, nice guy but too drunk . . . He kept grabbing my arm to kiss my hand, and tried to grab my hat, but just pulled my head forward instead . . . I told him, “Don’t EVER put a finger on me AGAIN. I’m not hear for your fuckin’ amusement.”
Do people ever say rude stuff? This guy, he figured I guess cause I don’t drink, I don’t get high, and I’m vegan, his response was, “Well, do ya fuck?”
Have you ever told someone off? Look at me. Do you think I’ve ever told anyone off?
How do you get rid of customers diplomatically? Instead of letting people scream and bark at me, I’ll just turn the music up. Of course, I’ll apologize ahead of time [to the others].
What’s the best gift you’ve ever gotten for Christmas? The thing I’ve used the most is a pink Paul Frank sock monkey. I sleep with a blue one and the pink one.
I fell asleep last night with my slippers on, bunny slippers that say “Everybody’s a dick.” At some point, I lost the monkey, and I woke up this morning curled up with a fucking bunny slipper.
Do you decorate for the holidays? Like crazy. I downloaded the Chipmunks’ Christmas, when my friend was elfing. I made this list of requirements to be my elf: You can’t be allergic to cats or turtles, cause I have a cat and turtle. Well, obviously, no one’s allergic to turtles. You aren’t allowed to say “fine” or “whatever.” You had to wear whatever I wanted you to wear. And be nimble and spry.
What was one of your best Christmases? My boyfriend’s parents have really brought back Christmas the way I knew it as a child.
His parents really threw me off, because they’re all about Christmas. They showered me with gifts. I kept having to take bathroom breaks to cry. Because of my heavily tattooed and pierced appearance, I don’t expect parents or even some adults to really look past that.