There’s nothing like starting a new column with a little controversy. Though I’d planned on debuting The Bar Code, Seattle Weekly’s new destination for all things beer, wine and spirits-related with a proper introduction and some discourse about America’s first cocktail, The Old Fashioned, that seemed, well, kind of old-fashioned. Instead, I’m coming to you with a recent “debate” I got into with Andrew Friedman, owner of Liberty on Capitol Hill, about what I wrote in my pick for Best Neighborhood Bar in our Best of Seattle® issue (the award went to Solo).
Here’s what happened more or less: I advanced the idea that a good neighborhood bar by its very nature treats its regulars differently than a random stranger who walks through the door. It’s not that the stranger doesn’t get good service, but they get a different experience. They’re an unknown quantity, and while any decent bartender is going to pay attention to them and give them prompt and courteous service, they’re not going to treat them the very same way as the person who is at the bar three times a week.
Friedman disagreed. To quote him from the comments: “ABSOLUTELY there should be no discernible difference in treatment between a customer that is a regular and one that needs a beer.” While I think there’s a certain charm to his request for total equality in bars, I also think he’s flat-out wrong.
Regulars are often the lifeblood of an establishment, and as such they’re indulged in a way that a first-time or infrequent visitor isn’t. They’re allowed to carry a tab over from the previous night. They get a more generous pour, a better price, or a drink or two comped. Their drunken shenanigans are tolerated, their proclamations of love for the bartender are graciously ignored, and no one minds too much when they get loud.
In return, they’re, well, regulars. They come in often. They spend money. Sometimes they tip well (though not as often as you’d assume), but they’re generally easy to serve. Most of all, they genuinely care about the establishment and the staff. They’ll go to the store to buy the bartender cigarettes, or bring them food, or even help them bus tables on a really crazy night. They’ll hop behind the bar to fix the carbon dioxide tank when it starts malfunctioning, and they’ll act as impromptu bouncers when someone gets belligerent.
In my own experience as a drinker (rather than a bartender), sometimes I just want a quiet drink. I have my favorite bars, the ones where I’m well-known and hopefully well-liked, but that doesn’t mean those are the only bars I want to frequent. Sometimes I want a fancy cocktail at Tavern Law, or a rum concoction at Rumba, or to cozy up to a pint at Uber, and in return I understand that the staff isn’t going to be as familiar with me as they are with their regulars. But that’s perfectly OK. I’m getting my needs met just fine.
Have an opinion on this topic? Questions, comments, arguments? Suggestions for columns? Marriage proposals? Email me at email@example.com.
And, by the way, I’m Zach Geballe and I’ve worked in the Seattle restaurant industry in a variety of capacities (busser, server, bartender) since 2006. Prior to that, I was a journalism major at New York University, and before that I was a teenager. The less said about that, the better. In my time in the restaurant industry I’ve had the great fortune to work with some extremely talented, knowledgeable, and instructive bartenders, sommeliers, managers, servers, and others who fostered in me a deep passion for learning about wine, spirits, and beer. To further that growth, I’m in the process of completing my second-level sommelier certification (there are four levels total) through the Court of Master Sommeliers. You might hear more about that at a later date...
So, anyway, Welcome to The Bar Code! Besides ranting, I’ll also be investigating trends here, and writing about events, ingredients, innovations, and oddities, as well as the various people and places that make the Seattle drinking scene so exciting. I’ll be in the same place, same time next week as I kick off Part 1 of my “Home Bar” series. Cheers!