Until then, as the title to the last post implied, I wanted to talk about Josef. Well, not Josef specifically, the idea of Josef. Or, to be less obscure about it, about why we pay premiums for good beer and wine at the bars and restaurants around town.
We can sympathize as much as anyone about having to pay $5 for an Autumnal Fire at some fancy-schmancy bar. I can go out, pay $5, not including tip, for an Autumnal Fire. Or, I can buy a whole six-pack of the stuff for $9 (some other day, we'll talk about why Capital should be packaging that stuff in 4-packs, but for now, the 6-pack will do). But the fact is, even if we invite our friends who we were going to meet at that bar over to our house, there's plenty of reason to get out and mingle.
For one, the social aspect of your neighborhood bar. We all have them. Some are fancier than others. Some are more active than others. Some have TVs. Some have cigars. Brasserie V is a neighborhood bar. Wonders is a neighborhood bar. Maduro is a neighboorhood bar. JT Whitneys is a neighboorhood bar. Jade Monkey is a neighboorhood bar. These bars, and all the others around town, are a microcosm of the neighborhood, and a refuge for it. You can walk into the bar and it can instantly tell you about the neighboorhood you are in. Wonders, in its quirky layout, somewhat unique tap-list, modest prices, and laid back attitude is typical of its near-east-side sensibilities. Brasserie V exudes the yuppie-dom of the near-west-side Monroe Street corridor. And so on.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg. Which came first, the bar that looks like the neighboorhood or the neighborhood to the bar. Well, in all likelihood it's a little of both. As the bar settles in to the neighborhood and the locals frequent there, it begins to take on the requests of its patrons. Really, it's darwinian-ism at its best; we want to go places that we are comfortable. The bar will not survive if we are not comfortable there. Thus, Wonders takes on the sensibilities of the non-tenured UW Professors that live in the area, and Brasserie V looks like a tenured UW professor and Maduro has the feel of an urban hipster and so on.
So, to plagiarize Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey, an enjoyable trip is all about set and setting. If we want to be loud and obnoxious and still have a grand ol' time - perhaps start the evening with a Delerium Tremens even knowing we will end it on PBR - we go to Paul's Club. It gets us in the mood. If we want to play pool, drink some fine local beer, and catch the college football game, we go to The Great Dane. If we want to relax and get to know our neighbors and shoot the breeze we go to the neighborhood bar.
Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.Because all of our problems are at home. Bills are in the mail. Kids are screaming. The spouse is there. The dogs and cats are there. The eight projects that have been on the to-do list for five months are there. But, we can go to our neighborhood bar, be in a comfortable, familiar place, kick back, have a drink and unwind. But, if the environment is unfamiliar, we are not comfortable there and cannot unwind. Set and Setting.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they're always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see,
our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows
(c) 1983. Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart Angelo. Theme From Cheers.*
So, what does this have to do with beer and paying $5 for a beer that I can buy for $1.50 at the local market? Well. As mentioned, the neighborhood bar is not home. It takes a lot of man-power and effort to make a place that you can enjoy. It takes fixtures. It takes servers who can tend to your every need but not hover over you. It takes cooks who prepare food that is in line with expectations. It takes bartenders who know what you like and what you are going to order when you walk in. It takes someone knowing who can circulate in the bar and talk to folks and find out what their tastes are and what they like, what drinks are working, what drinks aren't.
Unfortunately none of these people work for free. So, part of that addition $3.50 (without tip) that you are spending on your $5 Autumnal Fire is going to pay their wages. But, for the most part, these people are working for little more than free. In fact, often the owner is not being paid for his time to walk around and talk to people, stand-in when the bar gets crowded, deliver food to tables, get bottles and kegs from the basement, and all of the other little things that need to be done every single night. Of course, he gets a share of the profits of the place - but only if the place has profits. The bartenders and servers are being paid wages that while, technically, are higher than those in third-world countries, barely cover necessities. The cooks are rarely seen and recognized for any of the work that they do. The servers by knowing the food and the cooks, can inject life into the dead cow on our plates. The bartenders, in adition to getting us drinks, also know the product and can help us make informed decisions - because they know us and what we drink and what we like, they can make suggestions that might just open our eyes. Because it is our neighborhood, it is their neighborhood. The people who work in these neighborhood bars know the gossip, they know the people. They know what makes us smile, and they know what is important to us. They make it a relaxing, informative environment. It's why the neighborhood bar is a fixture of American life.
So, in other words, we get quite a lot for that $3.50 premium. Not to mention the fact that some of these places have food and drinks that we simply can't get at home (do you have a fryer of beef fat to deep fry your belgian frites in? how extensive, really, is your scotch selection?). And, those that live on what little extra we are willing to throw their way, can afford to relax occassionally on the tips we give them. It seems cliche, but it seems necessary to end on what might be the most over-used phrase in show business:
"Thank you for your time ladies and gentlemen. We hope you had a great time. We did. Tip your waitresses and bartenders. We'll be here all week."
* Note: Gary Portnoy also wrote the Theme to Mr. Belvidere.