Empty Bottles… - The Saudi waiter was a post graduate engineering student at the University of Houston and after five years in Texas he was no longer a very devout Muslim. Because he drove a used car and had to work for a living, he obviously wasn’t related or connected to the family Saud, yet he eschewed his Arab heritage and presumptuously referred to himself as a Saudi. He also presumed the arrogant and entitled attitude that was typical of Saudi Gucci princelings; and like many of those Gucci princelings, he held Americans, particularly American women, in disdain. Despite his obnoxious amoral hypocrisy, I was hesitant to accuse him of outright theft until I had some solid evidence.
Since he was aware of my suspicions, he took care to complete his checks and clearly identify any complimentary drinks and wine. Working with Zeke and Kevin, I tracked the Saudi’s transactions down to the penny and after a few weeks I figured out how he was hammering his big dollar regular customers. Nearly every night he overcharged the wine and liquor tab on a large party where only one person was paying the check. If they drank four bottles of wine, he charged them for five and since plus or minus $30 was no big deal on a dinner for six that totaled over $400, no one noticed or complained. When I had several examples of these fraudulent checks, I sat down with Francois and gave him the bad news.
Much to my surprise, Francois said, “I don’t care. He sells more wine than any waiter who has ever worked here and if the customers don’t complain, I don’t care.”
There wasn’t much that I could say to that but out of a sense of fairness to the rest of the staff and the reputation of the restaurant I pressed the issue until Francois insisted, “Let it go, James. Just do your best with what you’ve got,” which was Francois’ fundamental motto with work and life. So I let it go but there was a note of incongruity in his voice that led me to believe that there was more to this situation than he was willing to divulge.
…Daiquiris… - In its purest form the Daiquiri is served in a tall glass packed with cracked ice. A teaspoon of sugar is poured over the ice and the juice of one or two limes is squeezed over the sugar. Two or three ounces of white rum completed the mixture. The glass was then frosted by stirring with a long-handled bar spoon. During the golden age of cocktails, the mixture was shaken and strained into a martini glass and in the 1940’s it became one of the favorite drinks of writer Ernest Hemingway and President John F. Kennedy.
While he lived in Cuba from the early 1930s until Castro took power in 1959, Hemingway frequented El Floridita Bar in Havana and it was there that he modified the formula for the Daiquiri to suit his personal tastes. From what I’ve read, Hemingway probably floated Maraschino on top and probably didn't use any sugar:
…Frozen Daiquiris… - By 1976-77 Houston was awash with frozen Margaritas of every variation but I didn’t particularly care for the Bubba and Bubbette clientele that were the early drinkers of tequila. Since I didn’t get my 10% cut on house white wine served by the glass, I sought out suppliers of fresh fruit and began to feature top quality frozen daiquiris for the ladies. Despite the fact that I was paying top dollar for out of season imported raspberries and the like from New Zealand and Chile, at $3.50 a pop, frozen daiquiris worked out to a 15% bar cost.
Less my 35 cents, Francois made $2.72 on every frozen daiquiri we sold and we sold a helluva a lot of daiquiris.
…Single Malts, Armagnac and Jamaican Blue Mountain… - Before yuppie X-Gens and the children of the Millennia came of age and started throwing their dot.com and Iphone app money around, decent single malt Scotch whiskeys, eighteen year old Irish whiskeys and twenty-five year old Armagnac could be had for reasonable prices. When I took over management of St. Michel’s, there were three brands of blended scotch, one brand of bourbon, Jack Daniels Black Label, Bacardi white rum, Bombay gin, Stolichnaya and Popov vodka, Courvoisier cognac and a half dozen other hard liquors behind the bar. I expanded that bar with eight premium single malt Scotch whiskeys, four premium American whiskeys, three premium dark rums and twenty more tequilas, gins, vodkas, cognacs and two excellent brands of Armagnac.
Despite the fact that it is the oldest brandy distilled in France, in 1976-77 Armagnac was the poor estranged cousin of the vaunted Martel, Hennessey and Courvoisier families of cognac. Little known outside of Europe, it was, by comparison to Cognac, relatively inexpensive. It had much more flavor and nose and that is why I chose to feature Armagnac behind the bar at St. Michel’s.
For $7.50 you could get a snifter of Martel or Courvoisier VS or for $10.00 you could get a snifter of warmed VSOP Armagnac and a demitasse of freshly ground and brewed Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee. Years before Starbucks escaped from Seattle to brew and sell overpriced coffee in paper cups; we were scoring big time with gourmet coffee in combination with the oldest and most superior of distilled French spirits.
…Doctors, Lawyers and Indian Chiefs – Beginning with some of the lawyers from the firm that survived the Christmas office party from hell, a dozen or so of Zeke’s happy hour regulars joined together to become the corps of upscale clientele at the bar at St. Michel’s. They quickly grew into a regular crew of doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs who typically numbered between fifteen and thirty alpha males that drank from four to eight pm every evening of the week. Alpha males attracted young women who attracted younger men and over those four hours the bar pulled in between $500 and $600 every weekday. With that crowd, and the three martini lunches, the after dinner drinks and the drinks served to club patrons, we brought in an average total of $1000 to $1200 on most weekdays and when we extended hours to 2:00am we made well over $1500 on Friday and Saturday nights. On Saturdays and some week days the bar and club made more money than the restaurant. Along with my $25,000 base salary, my ten percent of the bar was averaging between $400 and $500 a week which I shared with the staff. Every night, after we closed and cleaned up, I’d buy a round for the staff, run the numbers to determine the gross and distribute 5% of total sales in cash to everyone who worked that day.
I even figured out a way to make more money after brunch on Sundays. When things slowed down around two-thirty or three, we held wine and whiskey tastings for staff and select invited customers and just for fun we did a Sunday special on Pousse Café at one dollar a layer:
There was an extra concierge service that we provided for the doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs. It was the same service provided by bartenders and mangers from nearly every other club in Houston in that, upon request, we connected our clientele with certain people who, on a cash and carry basis, provided drugs and substances that were not available at the neighborhood pharmacy. My only rule was that all actual transactions be conducted off premises, so that while it might be said that we aided and abetted illegal drug sales, we did not actually sell illegal drugs. Invariably both parties to those transactions expressed their appreciation in the form of large cash tips on their large bar tabs. In the eight months I managed the bar at St. Michel I guesstimate that I probably accepted about $7,000 to $10,000 of expressed appreciation.
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