Maybe it says a lot about me that I was actually excited to try the hot new restaurant that just opened. 30 years in the restaurant business and I still enjoy going to restaurants. The culture of food and drink is fascinating. Eating and drinking are things that we all have to do. And aside from sleeping (and the end result of eating) it is the only function that is totally universal. We all eat and drink. Period. It’s how we eat and drink that separates us.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” wrote Virginia Woolf. It was in this spirit that I ventured out, looking to think better, sleep better, and if I was lucky, to love better, or at least a little more often.
“Hip space”,” craft cocktails”, “cutting edge food”, I had heard all the hype. All this in a small town that normally doesn’t provide any of that. It wasn’t long before I headed down to their “Happy Hour”.
I sat at the bar just as the only other customer rose a little unsteadily to his feet. I gathered from his conversation with the bartender that he was either a roommate or a very close friend. Coupled with the fact that no bill was presented, but cash was left on the bar-cash that went directly into the tip jar-I was pretty sure of it.
I looked around the room, hip and cool, for sure. No design detail had been over looked. The two bartenders stood behind the bar dressed the part. Pierced ears, chunky bracelets, tattoos, all black, it really doesn’t get any cooler. Behind them a veritable wall of esotericism in liquid towered. In front of them every conceivable bartender gadget was on full display.
After about five minutes of looking around, it dawned on me that neither bartender had even come close to me. Odd considering that not only was I the only customer at the bar, but the only one in the entire bar. Both appeared greatly concerned with the drink station that serviced the restaurant. So in the interest of facilitating things I got up and moved closer to them.
The thirty something bartender looked up briefly before going back to educating his young twenty something friend. Apparently an order for one of the new hip “craft cocktails” had come through from the dining room. I was on the edge of my seat-partly because that’s how you sit on a barstool-and partly out of prurient interest.
“Have you made one of these?” asked Mr. Twenty-something.
“Not yet,” said Mr. Thirty-something.
“We are out of the raspberries,” said Mr. 20’s.
“Use strawberries,” said Mr. 30’s.
“Aren’t you supposed to use [insert esoteric liquor name here]?”
Mr. 30’s just shrugged.
A few minutes later the cocktail returned from dining room. I believe I heard “undrinkable”.
Sometime later Mr. 30’s turned his attention to me. I ordered a salad and an entree.
“Have you worked here long?” I asked Mr. 30’s.
“Nope,” he said.
“Are you from around here?”
My food arrived stifling the stimulating conversation. Both items arrived at the same time. I looked around for silverware. There was none. I had to resort to waving Mr. 20’s down. Mr. 30’s was preoccupied telling the waitress about his membership in some bartender thing.
Mr. 20’s handed me some cutlery whilst Mr. 30’s regaled the waitress with more tales of his bartending ability and associations. No sharp knife. Another wave down and Mr. 20’s provided the necessary implement.
About twenty minutes later my Happy Hour concluded. I got up to leave just as Mr. 30’s told the waitress “I can’t wait to get out of here.”
Funny, because that’s exactly how I felt.
Four things occurred to me on my way out the door.
- I never cared for Virginia Woolf.
- A real “Happy Hour” takes more than writing something on a blackboard.
- You can have all the best intentions in the world, but if you don’t have the right people it is not going to matter.
- When a restaurant is very much impressed with itself the customer is often lost in the equation. Ironic, since without the customer a restaurant is really just a big empty building.