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Q&A: New Year’s Eve, from the other side of the bar

Jeanne Hopkins has been tending bar for 47 years — 21 of them at Tacoma’s Hob Nob Restaurant & Lounge across Sixth Avenue from Wright Park.

In those 47 years, Hopkins guesses she’s worked 40 New Year’s Eves — enough to give her a good perspective on the rest of us as we ring out the old and ring in the new.

Q. For a bartender, how are New Year’s Eves different from regular nights?

A. I always call it “Amateur Night.” On New Year’s Eve, everybody comes out to party. It’s not just the regulars. It’s people who normally don’t drink a lot.

Q. What do amateurs do differently than regulars?

A. Well, for one thing, they order a lot more mixed drinks — all different kinds of drinks — you know, Cosmopolitans, margaritas, Singapore slings — fancy stuff. There’s a real “out with the old and in with the new” kind of attitude. They want to try new things. And of course they drink a lot of champagne.

And they’re probably sick the next day.

Q. What would you say are the five most popular New Year’s Eve drinks in Tacoma?

A. Well, champagne, of course. And then probably margaritas, Cosmopolitans. A lot of people order jägerbombs, which is a Jägermeister shot with Red Bull. And also fireballs — that’s cinnamon whiskey.

Q. Do people get drunker on New Year’s?

A. Oh, yes. I try to watch them and make sure they don’t drive, and make sure they get a cab.

Q. Are the crowds rowdier? Do you see fights very often?

A. Not on New Year’s Eve. On New Year’s, people are friendlier and happier. It always turns into one big party where everybody loves one another. I love New Year’s Eve.

Q. What trends have you noticed, over the years?

A. Over the past few years, I would say people aren’t drinking as much as they did. I think they’re more aware of the dangers of drinking and driving.

Otherwise, things have pretty much stayed the same. I used to always put “Auld Lang Syne” on at midnight. Now they’re more likely to want the Space Needle in Seattle on TV.

Whichever it is, there’s a good, happy feeling. Everybody hugs and kisses everybody else. It’s really cool.

New Year’s is more special to me than Christmas or any other holiday. Everything is in the past, and you’re bringing in everything new. It’s a holiday I really appreciate.

Q. Did you ever feel bad that you weren’t getting to go out and party yourself on New Year’s Eve, to spend the evening with your own friends?

A. Sometimes I would feel bad because I was working, and I would feel bad I couldn’t go out with them. Now that I’m older, I don’t go out that much, so it’s not an issue anymore.

Q. Do you ever toss back a couple yourself? Just to get in the swing of things?

A. That would be against the law. I have been known to — after the doors are locked and everybody’s gone — to pour myself a glass of champagne and sit quietly for a while. After they’re all gone.

Q. All by yourself?

A. Yeah.

Q. That sounds kind of sad.

A. No, no. It isn’t at all. It’s just a quiet time to reflect. I enjoy it. And then there’s picking up all the streamers and confetti all over the floor.

Q. How are the tips on New Years’ Eve?

A. The tips are great. I always made a ton of money on New Year’s. People get really generous. I had one man one night whose party had rung up about a $40 tab. He got out his credit card and said, “Well, how much do you think I should leave you for a tip?”

I was only kidding, but I said, “A hundred dollars.”

After he left, I looked on the credit slip and he really did leave me $100. I was just teasing. I think that was the biggest tip I ever got.

Q. What other cities have you bartended in on New Years’ Eves, besides Tacoma?

A. I started out in Kalispell, Montana. And then for many years I worked down in Palm Springs, in California. I worked in country clubs there and poured drinks for a lot of movie stars: Red Skelton, Robert Wagner, Ed McMahon, Ginger Rogers, Bob Hope ... .”

Q. So the New Year’s atmosphere there was different than Tacoma.

A. Yes. There they wore tuxedos and gowns. Here it’s more ... casual.

Q. Are you working this New Year’s Eve?

A. Nope. I’m the bar manager now. I worked my way up. I just work days now.

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