Barkeep angel

As a veteran bartender, Rachel Christine knows all too well that “holidays are the [worst] time to work. You’re surrounded by merriment and families and rotten Red Bull and vodka.”

Still, the former exotic dancer-turned-bartender exudes a certain jaded passion for the service industry that only the best bartenders cultivate — which is why, a few years ago, she started a personal holiday tradition that found her walking into a VFW in northeast Minneapolis Thursday night, buying a round for the house, dropping a $25 tip on the bartender, and walking out before anyone could get her name or number.

“I haven’t done that before,” she says, of the round. But she has, for the last several years the week before Christmas, walked into a bar, ordered a drink, and tipped the bartender large. She calls it drive-by tipping.

“You never know who the bartender will be, what their circumstance is, what they will use it for, and if they will, in turn, try it on someone else,” says Christine, 34. “What if that person only needed $10 more to pay rent? Or, what if their heart’s desire was a few more dollars away, or what if they simply hate/love/don’t care about life and that was the straw that helped/broke/petted the camel’s back?

“A good drive-by means you will never know. That is the fun. It’s also helpful because there really is no way to be ‘paid back.’ It’s a cool feeling. A few people know I do this. I don’t tell people because it isn’t as fun. I’m sneaky.”

Call her the barkeep angel of Minneapolis. Call her a holiday charity story you can actually believe (in). Call her the anti-Tom Emmer, a service-industry punch line for the last half of 2010. Call her a South Minneapolis woman who credits her streak of generosity to growing up here.

“In no way, shape, or form would I be the person I am without the freedom that community allows; the diverse schools and the ability to do things that do not require money, like the lakes and the bus system,” she says. “Growing up a poor girl in a rich neighborhood, I never felt left out because let’s face it, no matter how much money you had, you were still the coolest diving off of the floating dock at Harriet.”

As for her holiday tradition, Christine says she tips as much as she can afford — all because of what happened one night seven years ago, when she was bartending at the now-defunct New Delhi on Eat Street.

“Middle-aged business man came straight up to the bar and ordered a Scotch, neat,” she says. “Glass, pour, serve. He gave me six bucks and said, ‘That’s for the booze; this is for putting up with all the [nonsense],’ and handed me a $20. Or rather, probably tossed it on the bar. I thought, ‘Huh … cool.’

“Later that evening, I kept wondering what his motives were. Maybe he was new to the neighborhood and wanted to make a good impression, or if he possibly grabbed the wrong bill and meant to give me a five or something. Then it progressed automatically to guilt, ‘How am I going to pay him back? Did I deserve that? It’s my job to put up with [nonsense].’ Finally, I decided that I was just going to be that guy.

“So, chalk it up to whatever you may. Maybe my years as a dancer taught me how good it feels to be given money. Maybe I was always envious of people who had enough to give it away. Maybe I know exactly how it feels to need two more dollars to avoid eviction/lights shut off/car towed, etc.

“I may not know a whole lot about things, but I do know this: life is nothing without joy. Try it sometime.”

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.