is a two time winner of
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|One of the great bartender/chefs anywhere,Tony Soboti, is also a most proficient scuba diver. I don’t get it.
Oh, I understand the bartender/chef part. That indeed merits kudos and deep respect from all who enter his
Gaslight pub in South Orange, NJ. It’s the scuba part that baffles me. Tony touts it as being an eyewitness
to the ever changing panorama and adventure of underwater life not to mention the occasional exploration
of things that formerly floated on the water’s surface. Think Titanic but smaller. His pied piper song actually
got me to watch a documentary on the joys of diving. Well, watch might be a bit misleading. After three
minutes of reefs, fish, and bubbles my viewing ended. You didn’t have to be Einstein to conclude that if
you’ve seen one underwater location you’ve pretty much seen them all. And yes, I do realize that’s a totally
subjective opinion just like the opinion of some who say if you’ve been in one bar you’ve pretty much seen
them all. That’s not true of course but dare I admit that in a small way they are correct. All bars, from the
shot and beer join down the block to the high end rooftop extravaganza essentially exist for only two
reasons. First, and most importantly, to sell alcohol beverages. Second, to offer a place for some sort of
personal interaction. Ah, but after that the differences begin.
Some in the neo-prohibitionist crowd believe we bar patrons only go to a bar to drink. Wrong, Carrie
Nation fans. If that were the case then the logical move is to simply buy a six pack at a local store and
consume it at home. Which, by the way, is a huge money savinger. With some bars charging for a pint
what a retail six pack costs they would soon be extinct if it was only about consumption. No, going to a bar
is a distinct experience; each place different; from another. Each having their own DNA. Some are
understated and calm, others are bright and boisterous. Some scream total “dive”, others whisper “class”.
Some lend themselves to thoughtful discussions, others to noisy activity. Some put you in the game others
just put you in a seat. In some the band blasts on until everyone in a two mile radius suffers non-reversable
hearing impaired while in others Sinatra softly and gently croons in the background. Some are lavishly
appointed and others offer a mix of dust and peanut shells. It’s that identity that allows each bar to draw its
own unique population of characters, individuals who would be just as likely be there sipping a beer or
being enjoying life as a character created by Charles Dickens or Damon Runyon.
But this diversity doesn’t mean bars are satisfied with a limited clientele. Business is business and growth
is key. And that leads to incessant competition. One bar boasts they have more TVs per inch than Best
Buy has in their entire chain; some offer live music, hinting at a Beatles reunion. Some see music as a
menace to conversation and offer a quiet respite. Some give you trivia or video games, some have
shuffleboard, and others offer darts. Warning - avoid wagering against anyone who is willing to throw
sharpened hairpins or six-inch nails. It's the oldest hustle in the dart handbook. One bar brags about
Happy Hour prices others about special menus. None however express their innate competitive urge by
offering free beer. Pity, it might make for a bad business plan but it’s sure to draw a crowd.
One of the most contested area of competition lately has been in the number of beers on tap. Remember
when 5 was impressive? I don’t either. But I sure remember when 10 was significant. The ballyhoo of
some of the early multi-tap places was irresistible. After reading an ad for one such bar with “an incredible
21 taps” I drove over an hour in search of this alleged beer paradise. Well, they really did have 21 taps but
they never mentioned that all 21 taps were taken up by the various versions of Bud, Miller, and Coors.
When I complained to the bartender he said, “hey,they may all taste the same but at least they each have a
different name.” Can’t argue with that.
One of the newest battlegrounds for craft beer bars is how much time it takes them to kick a special keg.
Somehow bars and their fans see it as a badge of honor if your place sells out of the same beer faster than
a competing one. And that in turn has led to a few shenanigans. One local pub proclaimed they were able
to sell out their lone sixtel of the famed Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout (KBS) in 4 minutes. The
message was tweeted, posted, and published. The only communication forms they left out were carrier
pigeons and smoke signals.
Now think about that claim for a few seconds or even 4 minutes. A fully optimized conventional draft beer
dispensing system takes about 9 seconds to pour a 12 ounce glass. If a sixtel holds 5.16 gallons (661 US
ounces), then the fastest it can reach empty is about 8 or 9 minutes, filling 55 twelve ounce glasses. Now
that timetable means the tap is continually held open and nothing else happens. Forget about bringing the
beer to the customer, computing the bill, returning to the tap, getting a new glass, blowing your nose or
smiling at the brunette in the corner. Right, it's impossible, at least in this universe.
I have it on inside information from someone who knew someone whose best friend's neighbor was actually
there that impossible as physics mandates, it really did take only 4 minutes before cries of "the keg is
kicked" were shouted out from behind the bar with an accompanying cow bell ringing. Since the
impossible is impossible the obvious conclusion is that their sixtel wasn't actually full when it was tapped.
Now don't look that shocked, remember fixed quiz shows, Barry Bonds, Watergate, and when you figured
out Santa was Uncle Mike with pillows and a fake beard? Oh, that just might explain those filled growlers
hidden in the bar's back room too.
In setting this so call record, the bar had 5 bartenders working. Each only served KBS. If you wanted
anything else, including directions to the rest rooms, you waited. And to speed things along even more,
they asked you either pay in exact change ($10 per glass) or had given them a credit card earlier. Their
record was so phony the only Guinness that would probably accept it is the one at St. James Gate.
When it comes to a legitimate record for fastest kicking of a sixtel the undisputed champ in my book is the
fabled Nelson Benecourt from The Tap Room in Warren, NJ. In fact, his foray in history was chronicled here
at BeerNexus only days after his feat turned into the stuff of legend. (see "Nelson Time")
One way to experience the range of bar DNAs is to go on a "neon sign" trek. Think of it as a road rally for
beer. Pick a busy road that has a variety of mini-malls and businesses throughout its length. You've
probably driven on that stretch of pavement countless times but have never stopped at any of its beaconing
storefronts. Now you will stop, but only at an identifying sign that indicates beer or alcohol is served inside.
It might be a hotel, a restaurant, a lounge, club, or push cart vendor (you never know). Enter and have one
beer (except for your designated driver of course). Then it's on to the next sign, and the next, and the next,
and the ones after that. Of course you do run the risk that the bar's best beer just might be Bud Ultra or
Rolling Rock Light but that's part of the game and the fun. It's about the bar, not the drink. Check the place
out; revel in its distinct DNA. Maybe you'll wind up in an old alehouse that serves as a seminary for
drunkenness and debauchery or perhaps you'll be in a pub dedicated to the lofty ideals of craft brews,
conversation and fine service.
Your destination is pure serendipity and that's what makes it an adventure.
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