Of Bars, Booze, and Bartending - Proving "Coughlin's Law" Invalid Since Feb '05

Sunday, June 26, 2005

I blame that stupid, stupid movie, "Sideways"

Actually, I enjoyed that movie. Very, very much. To me, it was a dark comedy about a quickly aging, miserable, socially inept wine snob who steals from his mother yet remains endearing, and his sidekick, a failing actor along for the ride, just to get laid, one more time, in advance of his wedding. A cynical buddy movie, and a great one, especially since it was about wine, and pour girls, and contemplative servers, and bad actors, and failed, verbose writers, and assholes golfers. It had Paul Giamatti, and Sandra Oh. And the amazing scenery of the wine country around Santa Barbara. It made me laugh. I loved it.

Unfortunately, the modern bar consumer didn't love it the same way I did. They decided to embrace wine snobbery, rather than see the way the film portrayed it... the last gasp of pleasure for a disillusioned writer and a part-time server who will likely move on. Maybe it's just me?

We're slammed Saturday night, getting deep at the bar, and the service printer is going off. The wait is long, but we're turning the hightops like crazy. It's a smooth, but insanely busy, evening.

The hostess approaches my bartending partner with a complaint from a newly-seated hightop couple. "They want to know if anyone is going to wait on them," she tells her. In the weeds, the bartender heads out to the unreasonably impatient hightop.

We're so busy that I don't notice her until she presents me with two balloon glasses, containing our finest and most expensive Chianti, as well as the remains of the bottle.

"What....?" I say, while pouring drinks madly.

"They want to see the manager, they're not happy with the vintage."

I sniff and examine the cork, smell the bottle, pour a tiny sip, swirl and taste. It could stand to breath a bit longer, but it's divine.

"You presented the wine, right? The glasses have been poured, he approved it, right?"

"Of course," she replies. She's all-pro and I'm going to back her up. We switch positions and I head to the hightop.

"Sir, a problem with the wine you selected?" I say. It's hard to hide that I'm weeded and pissed off, but I'm doing my best not to clench my teeth.

"It's a 2000, the list states this wine is a 1999."

"The list states that in rare occurrences, the vintages may vary, and that you should enquire with your server, also," I reply. I don't think it came off as snarky then as it does after writing it down, but maybe it did.

"A 2000 is unacceptable."

"Sir, the server presented the wine, you read the label, approved the opening, approved the cork, approved the pour, and your companion also received a pour," I state. He's sticking us with an opened bottle of our most expensive Chianti on a technicality, and I just think he's out of line.

Dammit, sometimes the customer is wrong. Flat-out dead wrong. I honestly didn't realize that the few bottles of this wine we had left were 2000, but he had his chance to object when he read the label. He appeared terribly concerned about the vintage, but when he went through all the motions, did he really grasp the purpose of them? Is it really our fault, at this point?

There's a pause, and I try my best to smile while waiting. His wife rolls her eyes, and he's clearly upset with me. "Bring us a 1999 Chianti," he commands. He's snippy as hell.

Because the bar is getting busier, and he's wearing shorts on a Saturday night, and seems like an amateur, and I'm about to explode, I say, "Immediately, sir," and make a hasty decision to fetch him a bottle of 1999 Chianti, which I now realize is easily subpar to the wine that he selected and approved. If it makes you happy...

When I return with the relatively crappy 1999 Chianti, they're gone. Vanished. Poof. After our shift was over and we were talking about work, one of the servers pointed out that the couple bailed, thirsty and hungry, at the height of the Saturday night dining hour. We agreed to pity their next server.

Happy ending: There's a delightful couple at the bar eating, drinking the $5.00 house pour Chianti, and when they order refills, I pour from the abandoned bottle of our finest.

Spill the wine
Take that pearl...
- Eric Burdon, "Spill The Wine"