Calling the shots

Dave Membrila

photo by Larry Dalton

If you have ever visited the Zebra Club, then you definitely know of Dave. Dave Membrila, bartender, is the life and soul of the party at the Zebra Club, the corner bar that used to have women’s bras adorning the walls. The bar—coined by many as a “cool dive”—is located in the heart of Midtown, at P and 19th streets. Infamously known as a “practical jokester and prankster,” Dave has poured drinks and entertained patrons at the Zebra Club for 11 years. Dave, a short man in his early 40s, keeps the energy alive in the bar known for being a locals hangout in the twilight hours and a wild nightspot on late weekend nights. Between the hours of 6 p.m. and 2 a.m., Tuesday through Saturday, Dave can be seen cutting raunchy comments at regular patrons, pouring shots down the throats of birthday folks, and basically maintaining the Zebra Club’s reputation—a zoo.

What is the best part of bartending?

I like interacting with a lot of people that like to joke between here and there. I like serving. The bar scene itself is a lot of fun.

And the worst?

I think the worst part is that you never know when someone walks in the door and they have too much to drink. Or when they become violent and stupid. I have a background in law enforcement before I started this stuff. It’s pretty easy for me to figure out who’s going to be stupid and who’s not.

What type of crowd do you typically serve?

The crowd is a younger crowd. A lot of them like to kid and joke around with me because they know I’m kind of a jokester and a prankster. I’ve been known to turn the music down and give someone a little static; a little static electricity is what I like to see. I hope that these people, that I have a good laugh with and I joke with, know that they are just words and really don’t mean anything.

What are birthdays like?

People come here on their birthdays, and yeah, I’ll pour a shot down their throats. It is sort of a big thing for somebody, especially when they turn 21.

Where did the bras go?

We decided we were going to do a lot of work on the bar—painting and recarpeting. We figured that it [the bra decoration] had its time. It kinda got a little old. We decided it was time to move on. We took them down and donated them to charity. Trust me, every one of them was taken!

How would you get the bras?

The first time a girl ever asked me if I would like to take her bra, I thought about it for a few minutes. She said, “Well, it’s my birthday. If I gave you my bra, would you stick it up there on the rafters?” I thought, “Why not?” And thus was born the bra phenomenon.

Do people come to you with their problems?

I listen to very few problems. I figure, if you come to me in a sober manner and you have a problem, we’ll talk. But if you come here and you soak your head in booze thinking that your problems are going to get solved, then you’re talkin’ to the wrong man. I’ve never been that way. I believe that if a person wants to solve their problems or talk about them with me, then they should come to me sober. You’re not going to get me to sit there and feel sorry for you when you’re drinking. In my entire life, I have never seen a person solve a problem with drinking.

Any fights?

There have been a couple of catfights in here during my time. Most of my bartenders are trained to always look at the crowd. If there’s something wrong with the crowd, we try to stop the problem before it really gets started. Most of the fights that do happen stop before someone gets hurt.

Do you worry about DUIs?

I’ve taken many a person home who have been drunk. I have subsequently talked a lot of people out of drinking. I check people at closing time when they leave to see if they’ve had too much to drive. That is one thing that anyone will tell you. If you stand by that door at 2 o’clock in the morning on the weekends, if I think that you have had too much to drink, then you’re not driving. We’ll have a talk about it. We’ll even pay for a cab drive if necessary. We’ll even take them home ourselves.

Any pet peeves with the female patrons?

Well, they know how to tear up a bathroom! That’s all I can say. I thought the men were horrible. When we close up at night and we look in the men’s bathroom and then the women’s restroom it’s like, “Oh my God!” It’s like, if they don’t get a guy to look at them or something, it’s like they have to go take it out in the bathroom! [Laughs.]

Do you get along with your co-workers?

Pretty much. They don’t really have a choice in the matter [laughs] ‘cause I’m the boss.

What are your most popular drinks?

For the longest time the house drink here was the Dr. Pepper. I’d say the Orange Crush, Purple Hooter. … Nowadays, they like to get all amped up and wired up. They like Red Bull and Jager, called the Blaster. They’ve been liking that. I don’t like caffeine. If I even had a half a drink of that, I’d be up for like two days. I’m a naturally aggressive person. I don’t need that stuff.