Snooty Neighbors

I don’t think these people really meant to be rude, to intentionally look down their noses, but that’s the way it came off when first we met.  They were the new guys on the block, the next big thing in New York cuisine, who happened to open their doors right next to ours. Now contrary to popular belief, dear reader (and lest you think this story is born of jealousy), when someone new drops anchor nearby it’s in no way a source of competition, it’s instead a financial boon for both establishments. For it brings new people onto the street who, on their way to “fine dining”, will look in our windows and think, “Let’s have a drink there!” And we’re not losing our customers to them, they’ve been with us too many years, though they might jump ship for a visit or two just to see what the hell “Macadamia Crusted Sea Bass” even looks like! It’s win-win.

So this “fancy schmancy” parked its big ass right next door to ours… haute cuisine meets  New York speakeasy…. and the relationship at first was anything but easy. Here’s what I mean…

It was a relatively quiet Thursday when this happened (unusual for us on that night) and the woman who was playing the piano was doing Cole Porter. She only worked for us one night a week and this was her night to shine, until she received what I’m sure was a first time request. It was from the chef next door who entered the room in a panic. “Could you get her to stop her playing,” he said, bouncing up and down like he had to pee.

“Why?” I asked. “What’s the problem?”

“No problem, I just have a strange request, that’s all,” he said. He wore a sheepish grin.

“Well go over and ask her yourself,” I said, “she won’t bite.” I thought that maybe a birthday person was coming in behind him, and he wanted that person to be greeted with the birthday anthem. People do that.

“Ah… no, you don’t understand,” he went on, still giving off the ovine, “I actually want her to stop her playing completely.”

“Why? You don’t like Cole Porter?” I knew that wasn’t the reason of course but I wanted to lead with a jab.

Dripping with false modesty he said, “Well, ya’ see, about five minutes from now I’m going to be reviewed on New York One and… ah… since we don’t have TV next door (of course you don’t have TV, chef, how plebeian would that be?) we were wondering if you could put the review on here. With sound of course!”

Wow, that takes balls, I thought, shutting down our room for his own aggrandizement. But hey, if the piano player’s cool with it so am I.

So I went over to said musician, a lovely gal who is loaded with talent whom I knew would acquiesce, and I put the request to her squarely and hopefully with warmth. I said, “That guy at the bar who’s grinning like a nut is the chef from the place next door and he has a request. (Oh yeah? said her pearl white grin.) He’s about to get reviewed on New York One and he wants you to stop your playing so he can watch it. (Exit grin!) Now I know that’s not the usual request, like Fly Me To The Moon, but it’ll probably take about ten minutes tops and I’m sure he”ll do the right thing as far as your tip bowl goes. Whaddaya’ think?”

She looked at me kind of dead pan at first, shocked I guess is more like it, then she smiled and answered,”Fine, you can put it on.” But it wasn’t fine, I could see it in her eyes, musicians have egos too just like chefs. (Well, almost… chef’s are now the real divas of New York.) So she pushed away from the piano and joined me at the bar.

“Thank you, thank you,” said the chef when he heard, then he ran next door and returned with a gaggle of staff people. It was after eleven so their dinners were pretty much over.

Well at least I can sell some booze, I thought, as I watched them all roll in and eat up my bar space. But, alas, I was rendered useless just like the piano player. All they ordered were two damn glasses of tap water. Balls indeed!

Well apparently the review got a whole bunch of stars (I hadn’t been paying attention), because the gaggle of geese let out a “Hoo-rayyyyy!” then jumped up and down like children, reminiscent of a Yankees World Series or better a Miley concert. And then as an added bonus to the act, exactly on freaking cue, their manager came running in with a bottle of Dom. He must’ve heard the shout and that was his cue.

“We did it,” he screamed, “we did it!” holding the bottle aloft like a goddam Oscar. “And now let’s hear it for our chef who made it all possible.” Everyone of course applauded like mad, the females showered him with kisses, while I kept thinking that Johnny Carson line when someone like Don Rickles hijacked his talk show… “Does anyone know at what point I lost control here?” So I walked back up to the group to regain control.

“Hmmm, let me see,” said the chef, heading me off at the pass while counting heads. “Let us have… ah… yes, let  us have eight chilled champagne glasses if you would, Sir.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, near apoplectic. “You want eight of our glasses to drink your own champagne? Hey, man, it’s bad enough you…”

He headed me off again. “No, no, you’re right,” he said, “we’ll drink it next door.”

“No, Numbnuts,” I wanted to say, “put that bottle away and buy one from us! Don’t you get it? You took over our room, we let you do your thing, based on the review that just went down your rent is probably paid for the next full year, and no one has spent a dime since you walked in the door. And in spite of what you may think, Herr Chef, we also sell Dom Perignon right here!

But of course me being your friendly bartender, I obviously thought not said that, I just watched as this gaggle of geese flew right out the door. And not for nothin’, (and I really do mean nothing) not one of them dropped a sou in the piano player’s fish bowl.  Nada… zilch… not even a proper thank you.

Now cut to two days later when their sommelier jumped in the soup, when he happened to stop in our place for a late night wind down. He took a seat, ordered a Cab, and after taking his first dainty sip he laid out this gem. “Mmmmm, this is quite good, I’m surprised.”

I let it slide. It was late, I was tired, and I didn’t feel like pulling out my sword. I’d rather the man just sit there and sip his “surprise”. But then, as is their wont, he took it a step further. “You know I stopped in for lunch yesterday, I had the chicken pot pie and it was really good. I was surprised!” (All right, that does it… where the fuck’s my sword???)

“What’s with all these surprises, pal?” I blared, having had enough. “The wine’s a surprise, our food’s a surprise, what did you think we were a fucking diner? We’ve been here since the nineteen twenties, my friend, we must be doing something right all this time. Christ!”

His eyes got about as wide as the diameter of his wine glass. “I didn’t mean it like t-h-a-a-a-a-t,” he mugged, his face now turning the shade of a fine Cotes du Rhone.  “I meant it as a compliment.”

“Well think about how you worded it, man,” your un-friendly bartender said,” it sounded like you were surprised you weren’t  poisoned. You guys kill me!”

“Hey, I’m sorry, guy, honest!! It’s been a long day and I’m not really thinking all that clearly right now. You know how it is, you’re in the business. (No shit, Kowalski, but even though I’m in the business and get stressed from time to time, I wouldn’t bite into your Moose Almendine or whatever the hell you serve over there in Valhalla, and go into the kitchen and tell the chef how surprised I was. I’d eat it and know that I’ve found another good restaurant.)

When he finally finished his glass of wine it was time to give “last call”, so I decided to pass the peace pipe with a little humor. After all, we were neighbors. “Would you like another shock,” I said, “I mean another glass of  Cabernet before we close?” He smiled, the peace was made and the lesson learned.

Snobbery is served in all kinds of restaurants and so is the dish called Comeuppance, which I like to serve with vinegar then a little syrup! It’s the right thing to do.

Their restaurant went on to have a brilliant run and their customers often dropped by as well as their staff, but with a little more respect.  They got to see what we do and grew to appreciate it. They closed their doors about a year ago but only to move across town to a bigger location, because they’re still a big hit. And the chef (who turned out to be a pretty nice guy once he got used to his fame and all that went with it) went on to even greater glory with three or four places of his own scattered around the country. And he even shows up on television now with the big boys. As for the sommelier? Good question. He’s probably sitting in a diner right now getting yelled at by a Greek waiter, shocked that his “eggs over easy” didn’t come out “runny”!

Over and out from Bar-land… see ya’ next week-end!

PS: If you happened to enjoy this post, I hope you weren’t “surprised” let alone shocked!

20 Responses to “Snooty Neighbors”

  1. 1 Comrade PhysioProf September 11, 2010 at 7:08 pm

    Dude, you should have told those fucken assholes to go fuck themselves.

  2. 2 scribbler50 September 11, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    Comrade Physioprof: Then I wouldn’t be “your friendly bartender” now would I?

  3. 3 Ken September 11, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Not surprised. Not shocked. What a bunch of stupid dicks.

    Scrib, you are a classy guy in face of incredible, brain dead provocaton. I do hope to enjoy a Jack on the rocks in your establishment some day. I’m too young by decades to have had the chance to frequent a speakeasy, but I look forward to the chance to sit at the bar of the direct descendant of one.

  4. 4 Anonymoustache September 12, 2010 at 6:55 am

    You’re a better man than I, Scrib50. I would’ve told those guys, to their face when they were leaving with the Dom, that they were behaving like classless jerks. I’d probably have added something like, “The least you could do is tip the piano lady who was kind enough to step aside for what turns out to be your douchebaggery”.

    BTW, —“Snobbery is served in all kinds of restaurants and so is the dish called Comeuppance, which I like to serve with vinegar then a little syrup! It’s the right thing to do”— is just pure gold, man.

  5. 5 scribbler50 September 12, 2010 at 11:49 am

    Ken: If you do visit our joint you won’t be disappointed, as speakeasies go we’re definitely one of the best. Everything’ still in place from day one. (Except for the bartender!)

    Anonymoustache: Yeah, I know, they definitely needed to be told how out of line they were, but c’est la vie, eh? And as I said, they turned out to be pretty good guys and stopped in our place a lot over the years. And not just for water! They were just caught up in their bullshit back in the beginning.
    And thanks for your kind words at the end, bro, appreciate it!

  6. 6 chris September 12, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    This was some funny stuff. I can not stand snobby people. But when you’re in business you have to swallow a lot of BS. I’ve had many snobby people in my line of work, customers though not neighboring businesses. My shop is small, I like it that way because it keeps my over head low and I only have a couple other employees so theres no need for a huge big box type of place. That said I have my Master license and I’ve been doing my job since I was a kid and I know what the hell I’m doing. But every once in a while I will get someone come in and look at my place like its just not good enough for their little jewel of a dog, like the thing shits golden turds. But then when I bring them the finished product they have that look. That oh wow I didn’t expect my dog to come back with its head still attached look. And then they rave and rant and refer friends probably with an aside, “don’t mind the size of the place”. Pricks, but what can you do just grin and surprise them I guess. I think you were much nicer than I would have been with your neighbors though, especially concerning the piano player. Hope you had a good labor day man and have a great week.

  7. 7 Petro September 12, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Why, oh why… didja haveta add that P.S.? I was warming up with that very snark myself!

    Anyway, that slight was so epic that I think it tips over into a fun kind of angry, no? “Apoplectic” is just the right word. 🙂

  8. 8 jc September 12, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    LOL. I keep thinking “one of his finest” for each week! The fine wine is always fine.

  9. 9 scribbler50 September 12, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    chris: Same situation, different occupation. It’s all about the work which speaks louder than “fancy schmancy” any old day. Continued success. And thanks for the holiday wishes and a good week ahead to you too.

    Petro: Beat ya’ to it again, man, but think of it this way… great mind’s think alike. 🙂

    jc: Thank you very much, friend, I really do appreciate that. (Now if I could only age like a fine wine!)

  10. 11 scribbler50 September 13, 2010 at 9:57 pm

    Jennifer: Well I wasn’t exactly “saintly” with the sommelier!

  11. 12 physiobabe September 14, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Ah, you’re a gem, my Scrib! Welcome back (to both of us).

  12. 13 scribbler50 September 15, 2010 at 12:40 am

    physiobabe: Thanks, and it’s good to be back!

  13. 14 HyeFye September 16, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Hey bartender,

    Great story, as always. I feel like a kid calling a radio jock with a request, but … Last night I observed (and was a minor character in) one of those bar occurrences that got me wondering what you would think. Specifically, running out on the check.

    I could give you the long anecdote, but essentially we had a young woman (alone, casually dressed, early 20s), nursing a few scotches for about two hours, then running for it. I’ve seen it before, but for some reason this girl surprised me. In retrospect it shouldn’t have. The signs were there, but I didn’t add them up at the time.

    But perhaps the bartender should have? Do you have signs you notice that tell you something is … not quite right?

    Just curious.

  14. 15 scribbler50 September 16, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    HyeFye: Can’t really say there are obvious signs that I see because it rarely if ever happens where I work. Unless it would just be overt nervousness and edginess. But I will tell you about the time I got taken and brilliantly. In fact if I hadn’t been so pissed at the time Id’ve applauded this little bastard for his sheer moxie. Talk about elaborate!

    The guy’s about thirty, he says he’s a first time visitor and after ordering a vodka and tonic he hands me his credit card. He then begins to inquire about all the pictures we have on the wall, asks me about the history, then actually calls a friend to rave about his find. Real loud so I can hear. “Hey, dude, I found this great old speakeasy…” etc. “You really gotta come down here, man, and see this. I’ll be here for another hour.”

    Well, after two more drinks and an order of fries from the kitchen, he excuses himself to go outside and have a cigarette. After a good twenty minutes go by when I realize the prick is gone (I hadn’t been paying attention), I run his credit card through and of course it’s no good. Bingo, he got me. I’m actually getting pissed again as I type this.

    But let me ask you this… you said in your case “the signs were there”, what signs were they?

  15. 16 HyeFye September 17, 2010 at 10:32 am

    That’s one elaborate act for three drinks and some fries … Points for creativity.

    The more I think about the episode the other night (because it was so odd), the more sympathetic I am to the girl. She might have been a stone-cold grifter, but I’ve come to think she was really a scared young, broke girl in the big city who, in the end, couldn’t do something she thought she was going to do (at least that’s the story I’m going with … who knows?).

    Scene: About 10 p.m, bar area of Midtown steakhouse. Expensive joint, but I was hungry and the bar is small and relatively quiet and one can get a drink and a good meal in peace.

    Two open at the bar. I take the end, empty stool between me and woman alone. She’s in her early 20s, cute but not beautiful, dressed in jeans and T-shirt, looking like she just got off work at Starbucks. Nursing scotch on the rocks. What struck me when I sat down was the look on her face—-grief? fear? pain? She’s motionless and silent.

    I’m eating. She orders another (Glenlivet?). A Suit comes in and hits stool between us. Elegant fellow, gray beard, 60s, prosperous type. He tries some line. Surprisingly, scared girl brightens and chats him up. It’s an almost painful cliche: He’s a lawyer in town on business from SF, comes here a few times a month. They’re having a good talk. I’m thinking, really? I didn’t see her as the type.

    Sign #1: At a few points she tells the suit that she’s meeting friends soon. Occasionally pulls device from her pocket, holds it in her lap to check for messages. It’s an iPod mini. A music player, nothing else.

    Sign #2: Girl keeps staring at my food. Really staring. She’s clearly hungry. I’m starting to feel like Mr. Bumble in front of Oliver Twist.

    Suit makes his move. Says he’s decided to get a table and have dinner, would she like to join him?

    Surprise: She says no.

    Suit takes it well and moves on to table. Girl reverts to silence, orders another, and later a glass of water. Stares and stares at remains of my food. Checks her music player for messages.

    I ask for check. With bartender turned to register, she takes off. Bartender thinks she decided to sit with Suit, but she was out the door. Bar on hook for four drinks. Bartender was remarkably even-tempered about it.

    Questions: Suit would have bought her drinks, but she never asked. If she were that hungry, why not take Suit up on dinner offer?

    My conclusion: She set out to cadge at least a meal from a guy couldn’t go through with it, and ran.

    Or I just have a hopeless need to create comforting tales.

  16. 17 d-a-p September 17, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    boy oh boy…those chef’s…
    you can’t live with em…and you can’t live without em….
    who’s next door now…???

  17. 18 scribbler50 September 17, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    d-a-p: Space is still empty. Rents in New York are nuts, opening a restaurant is a big risk, and so far no one has taken on the lease.

  18. 19 serendipity37 September 17, 2010 at 8:20 pm

    One of the loves of my life is a young chef in Saratoga and I hope some day he will have a restaurant in NYC, a TV show and several cookbooks that are NO.1 best sellers–the other wish of my life would be to come to your ‘speakeasy and meet you Scrib. You have become one of the favorite wri ters. Your wit and the way you have of telling it like it really is, I love. Can’t wait to read you every week, even if I don’t leave a comment doesn’t mean I am not out here. Love what you do.

  19. 20 scribbler50 September 18, 2010 at 1:47 am

    serendipity37: Can’t tell you how much your kind words are appreciated, I really mean that, and I hope you make it to our bar some day as well. And the very best of luck to your young chef!

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