Josh Miller’s petition that everyone who cares about drinks in California should sign… today. California lawmakers think it is a good idea to force bartenders to wear food service gloves like they are school lunch ladies. In this (as with most things), California lawmakers are wrong and need help seeing the light. (Josh is @Inuakena)
For anyone in the bar and restaurant business, or just those of us with way too many friends working behind the bar, the subject of the big tip is a heartwarming one. I’m not talking your fairly run-of-the-mill 20%, rounded up. I’m talking the twenty for a cup of coffee tip, or the Benjamin on dinner for two at Bob Evans. I mean the kind of tip that has your friendly neighborhood bartender or server rushing to tell everybody about it.
Some group of good Christian gentlemen has really made this a “thing” of late, traveling the country and leaving random, four figure tips on small tabs. You’ve probably seen a story or two about it. If you work in the industry, you likely are hoping they’ll drop by to see you. Even better, with all the attention this is getting, we are starting to see copycats….
Well, mostly better.
In what may be an alarming sign that this wonderful little fad may be playing itself out, the people who are Unclear on the Concept™ now seem to be trying to get in on the act. Bless their hearts.
Today’s example of Unclear comes to us by way of Oregon. A couple who dined at the Twisted Fish Steakhouse (with a gift card) thought that they ought to go plus one on their tip and left an envelope with a big question mark written on it….
Ryan and Erica were unclear on the concept in several ways. First, when going for the grand gesture, you do not hang around while your server picks up the tip. No thanks should be needed. The gesture is its own reward, and all that. Second, and more importantly, crystal meth is not really going to fit the bill as a great tip.
This made the whole first “hang around and enjoy your coffee” part of the fail a particularly bad idea. The server did not appreciate her bounteous tip and ran to share the news, not with her co-workers and the press, but with the local constabulary. Said gendarmerie arrived swiftly and discovered that the couple could have tipped even more generously, to the tune of seventeen more ounces of meth tucked away in Erica’s purse.
It will shock you to discover that the couple are not exactly Brad and Angelina Pitt in the looks department either:
Three hot, dusty camels trudge across a nighttime desert waste. Their hotter, dustier riders slump tiredly in their seats. Each occasionally looks up at a particularly bright star in the sky ahead of them.
Melchior: <Straightens and begins to sing>We three kings of Orient are. Bearing gifts we….
Gaspar: Oh cripes! He’s in the mead again, Balthazar!
Balthazar: Melchior, will you please quit it with the
kings bit? No one believes you.
Gaspar: Seriously. If we are supposed to be kings, where are our entourages?
Melchior: Like I told that barmaid back in Jerusalem, Gaspar: “With the economic downturn, we’ve had to make cutbacks in the sycophant budget.”
Gaspar: And how’d that pickup line work out for you, your majesty?
Melchior: Shut up.
<They ride along through a brief silence>
Balthazar: And why do you need to pump yourself up, anyway? We’re astrologers—the best astrologers in the world. We can look into the sky and divine the purposes of God.
Melchior: <Yodels>We are the Kings of Astrology!
<Balthazar and Gaspar shake their heads>
Balthazar: Speaking of kings, I woke up this morning with the unmistakable impression that once we find this kid, we should go home some way other than back through Jerusalem.
Gaspar: Gee, you think? That Herod character seemed a bit too eager to hand over the keys to the palace to a replacement he never heard of. If I really were a king, my definition of “going and worshiping him too” would consist mostly of dropping the kid in a very deep well.
Melchior: I’m happy to go home another route. Herod smells worse than ol’ Camile here. <Slaps his camel’s flank affectionately>
Gaspar: That, and the fact that that barmaid’s father will have had all this intervening time to sharpen his scimitar….
<Balthazar coughs on some sand>
Balthazar: Well, whatever Melchior’s thinking about kingship and whatnot, he’s got the right idea about a drink. <Starts to rummage through his camel’s pack. Finds a present and pulls it out> Hey! My gift for the kid! Did you guys remember to bring yours?
Gaspar: Don’t you think you might have asked that question earlier, when we were still able to turn around?
Balthazar: I got him a batch of Frankincense.
Melchior: Still on with the incense? It’s a baby. You’ll give it colic.
Balthazar: Look, my reading still says the kid’s gonna be a god. He better get used to people waving incense around his face. What’d you get him, Gaspar?
Melchior: Cash? You got him cash? You might as well have gotten him a Target gift card!
Gaspar: Look, my reading is that the child will be a king, not a god…
Balthazar: Something you might have kept to yourself around Herod…
Gaspar: <Overrides Balthazar’s interjection>… and nothing says
you’re the king quite like gold.
Melchior: Gold says,
Here’s some cash, I couldn’t be bothered to think of anything appropriate to get you.
Gaspar: <Makes a rude gesture a Melchior>OK, Miss Manners, what did you get the child?
Melchior: <Mumbles something>
Gaspar: What’s that? You didn’t really forget your gift, did you? You’re not adding your name onto my tag, like you did for Balthazar’s last birthday.
Balthazar: I remember that. You still owe me a gift.
Melchior: I didn’t forget my gift. It’s secure in my pack.
Balthazar: Then what is it?
Melchior: Look, my reading just doesn’t end well for this poor kid. Doom, Gathering Gloom, Death, and all that.
<Gaspar and Balthazar stare at Melchior aghast.>
Gaspar: Melchior, you cannot give a shroud for a baby shower gift.
Melchior: No! No. I just got to thinking and Myrrh popped into my head.
Gaspar: Perfume? You bought a baby perfume?
Balthazar: Maybe the mom will like it.
Melchior: I didn’t actually get pure Myrrh…. That’s kind of expensive, and I’m a little short this month.
Balthazar: Then what are you… Wait! You didn’t, Melchior.
Melchior: <Defiantly>Yes I did. What of it?
Balthazar: You brought a bottle of Fernet Branca?!?
Gaspar: I’d have gone with the perfume.
Melchior: Come on, it’s got Myrrh in it! And we love it.
Gaspar: We are bartenders.
Balthazar: We are astrologers.
Gaspar: We are astrologers who tend bar to make ends meet. Together, that makes us the wisest men on Earth.
But after a long shift kissing the backsides of arrogant camel brokers in their red power keffiyehs, we need something exotic to cleanse the pallet. Fernet Branca gets rid of every bad taste you got in one shot.
Balthazar: Leaves it’s own rather… imposing set of aftertastes. Like the Myrrh, for instance.
Melchior: I brought a case of Canada Dry Ginger Ale too.
Gaspar: Oh… well… that’s fine then.
<Melchior starts to relax.>
Gaspar: Except, have you forgotten it’s a gift for a freaking baby?
Melchior: Look guys, like I said: My reading says this kid has got a rough road ahead. I figure he’s going to need to fight off a lot of bad tastes in his mouth. I’m just trying to equip him properly.
<Tired, companionable silence>
Gaspar: <Spits>Ugh, all this sand… Look, Melchior, I’ve got a lot of gold here. It was a good month for tips for me. Let’s stop off at the next town, and we’ll buy some real Myrrh for your gift.
Balthazar: Perfume would be more appropriate for a god than booze….
Melchior: <Suspiciously>And why, pray tell, are you suddenly feeling so much like sharing, Gaspar?
Gaspar: Well…. <rubs his throat> If you are going to give real Myrrh when we find the kid, then we can crack open your bottle of Fernet Branca right now….
<Fade to black>
Balthazar: Um, Melchior, I don’t suppose you brought any Moxie, did you?
And that, children, is the real story of Epiphany!
Repeal Day is a growing cultural phenomenon in America, a day filled with a variety of meanings and lessons, both political and sociological. Most of the issues of Prohibition are well-known to educated Americans, especially those in the bar trade, or those who like Ken Burns. But even for a history geek like myself, there is always a new, and sometimes important, angle to learn about anything.
Repeal Day is December 5th, the anniversary of the date when Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah all ratified the 21st Amendment, ending Prohibition and restoring to legality America’s most hallowed pastime, recreational alcohol consumption. At the time, American’s celebrated by remaining on the barstools they had occupied throughout Prohibition anyway, and ordering another round. They might have gone outside to moon a cop or something, in a gesture of victorious contempt, but the cops were likely all inside the bar, having another round as well.
These days, the greater knowledge of history in the resurgent cocktail world has led bar professionals to treat Repeal Day as the national holiday of the trade. This always feels a little odd to me. I grew up in Georgia, raised in the metaphorical shadow of Jacksonville, Florida. It doesn’t take much experience with the Georgia-Florida Game to understand why it has been called The Annual Celebration of the Repeal of Prohibition for longer than most of today’s Repeal Day celebrants have been alive.
But as a bar lover, I embrace the trade’s desire to make this a day of reflection on the mistakes of the past, and their consequences, good and bad. It’s a proud day for America, in that it showed we can actually own up to a mistake, and correct it. We learned that just because you have someone else’s very best interests at heart, it is probably not the best idea to always use the government to force everyone to comply with your agenda. The collateral damage of Prohibition was dire, while the promised benefits were difficult to find once put into practice.
But while the end of domestic abuse and personal bankruptcy, skyrocketing productivity, and a general end to poverty all failed to manifest themselves during Prohibition, there were a number of positive social changes that did arise from the Noble Experiment, not all of which were likely viewed as victories by those responsible for foisting Prohibition upon the general populace in the first place. Chief among these is the simple fact that there are women in that photo atop this post.
Before Prohibition, women did not go to bars. Full stop.
You know… unless they were literally prostitutes, and then only at very specific kinds of bars. But the saloon was outlawed, and was replaced by the illegal (though just as busy) speakeasy. This was a new cultural space, and newly enfranchised women took this opportunity to make sure they had a place in it. Sure, it was still considered a bit naughty for women, well-bred or respectable working class alike, to be in a place that served alcohol, but since everybody, men and women alike, within were being deliciously criminal, the shared rebelliousness neatly occluded a change that otherwise would likely have induced decades of sturm and drang.
Last night, I went to the first Repeal Day bartender’s celebration that I know of in Ohio. Both the northern and southern chapters of Ohio’s USBG got together at the always excellent Mouton here in Columbus, for a midnight toast to the arrival of Repeal Day. The Cleveland gang actually chartered a
bus luxury motorcoach to get them down and back safely! It was a great time to hang out with the pros who are really beginning to make some progress on bringing the kind of craft that has been nurtured in the larger markets for a while now into bars in Ohio, as well as making some real, original contributions of their own.
There were toasts at midnight, and that’s when I learned a new angle on Prohibition and the effects I just discussed. In vino veritas….
The event was sponsored by Pama, and their national brand ambassador Lynn House was there. Just before midnight, she raised a glass and noted that she felt especially thankful for Prohibition and its repeal, “because I have boobs.” It got the laugh she expected, but she went on. “Everyone talks about how Prohibition let women into bars to drink, but for those of us women working in the industry today, it is very important that Prohibition let women into bars to work as well.” (I listened to this at midnight at a bartender party. The chances that this is an exact word for word transcription are slim…)
Remember before, when I noted that only women in saloons were working there, but not behind the bar? Without the social upheaval and general image reset that came from Prohibition, it would have been far longer before women would have been let anywhere near a respectable bar’s staff. And even today, there would probably still be some nasty social undertone associated with women bartenders.
Instead, we have a world with people like Audrey Saunders. And Lynn House. And some of the best bartenders I know in Ohio: Cris, and Pilar, and Lindsay, and Emily.