Let’s face it, people come to Napa Valley to drink. Some do it in “moderation”, trying to experience new wines and wineries, some just do it.
Working for a couple of years at Domaine Chandon’s étoile Restaurant, I’ve had more than my share of power drinkers. Limos full of tiara-wearing bachelorettes were a common occurance at 6:00pm on weekends all summer. After a full day of wineries, a salad for lunch, and maybe a “what the hell” margarita, or a couple of shots in the car, they decide it might be a good idea to stop in and power down a bottle or two of Sparkling. They get the “drunken munchies”, see the restaurant is now open, and think that eating a five-course meal loaded with foie gras and pork belly sounds like a good way to top things off. The survivors of the group always seemed mystified as to why some of their party end up in the bathroom driving the porcelain bus. Chandon had the distinction of being open later than many tastng rooms, so we would end up with a lot of these “end ups”.
We ended up with a similar group at La Toque on Saturday night. A woman had called in to see if we could take a party of 10 at 8:30 that night. I am always wary of late Saturday night reservations made at the last minute, say around 5:30pm that day, called in from a winery. Most of the time, it goes like this:
1) Make reservation after a full day of visiting wineries.
2) Return to hotel room to change at 6:00pm.
3) Fall asleep for three hours.
4) Wake up with the “fuck-its”, and order a cheeseburger from room service.
5) No-show, no-call at the restaurant.
Or the alteranative scenario, where they go through Steps 1 and 2, but instead of proceeding to nap at Step 3, they try to power through and just keep drinking, resulting in them being a hot mess when they show for dinner. Even though I have always been a fan of the “Go Big or Go Home” philosophy, most first timers to Napa don’t have the stamina they think they do, and this second scenario always spells trouble.
So when I got a call for a last minute 10-top from the hotel next door at around 6:00pm I was, to say the least, skeptical they would actually make it. But having a late 10-top is like finding 50 bucks in your jeans when you are folding the laundry. So on the off-chance that they would show, I offered them the only option I could, which was to seat them on two separate tables of five. “Okay, we’ll be there…”
The night is going fine, busy yet smooth; and as 8:15 rolls around I actually have two adjacent tables available, so I tell the crew to put them together and we’ll give this late party a thrill by letting them all sit together, if they show at all. Then, as it always seems to when things are going well, that other shoe drops.
The advance guard of the 10-top has arrived and two of them can barely stand and are propping each other up; the other two are distancing themselves slightly, talking loudly on cell phones in the foyer. I approach, ask if the rest of the group is en route and am told they are now eight. Okay, only eight. Thanks for calling. Normally I would know better and not make a table adjustment until I have the entire group assembled, as drunk chicks are notoriously bad at math; but I look out the front door and see the other four ambling up the stairs, with no stragglers in tow. They are all pretty buzzed. So the table is adjusted and they are seated, the loud-talkers quieting down somewhat as they enter the dining room. Safe so far.
I tell the back waiters to get some bread to the table immediately as these chicks clearly need something in their stomachs. They get themselves situated, get the menus and start looking them over. As I do a walk-by, I see that one of them has folded her napkin into a little square pillow so she can comfortably lay her head down on the table for a little snooze. Another, a couple of seats over has put on her sunglasses and is trying to navigate the menu through her Chanels in our dimly lit dining room. The girl seated next to Shades is groping over at her face, trying to grab the glasses off of her head, “Ooh, those are CUTE, let me wear them.” One of them, who actually still has her wits about her, asks me for a Wine List. Uh, no. I proceed to explain we will not be serving their group any more alcohol for the obvious reasons. A tall blonde looks up at me and whispers loudly, “I’m not THAT drunk…” Yes, you are.
There are really only three of the eight that needed to be cut off, but in group situations you are asking for trouble if you attempt to serve only some, as those that are banned will attempt to drink covertly. Drunks are not good at being sneaky, so you will have to cut off the others anyway. Might as well deal with it right from the get go.
The two that were doing the three legged race trying to hold each other up earlier, offer to leave if I will agree to serve the rest. Before I can even get the word “No” formed on my lips, they are up, pinballing back out of the restaurant and down the hall. I follow them out to make sure the bartender at our other bar in the lobby is aware of their status. Their situation couldn’t be more clear if it was tatooed on their foreheads (“Ooh, cool! Lesh gedda taTOO!!”), but better safe than sorry.
So I get back to the table and the remaining six are debating whether to stay and not drink (“Where’s the fun in THAT?!”) and “threatening” to leave. Really? Promise? But most of the group seems okay to me now, so I acquiesce and they decide to stay. Four of the six order the Wine Pairings with their dinner, the other two are smart enough to stick with water, and lots of it.
This group is like one of those horror movies with the eight Summer Camp girls in cut-off jeans and bikini tops huddled together in the dark cabin, with a maniac on the loose in the woods. Two of them have already been picked off, but now another one goes off to try to find help, or get wood for the fire, whatever; and when she doesn’t return, another says, “I wonder what’s happened to her…” and one by one off they go, until all of them are in pieces in Hefty Bags. Halfway through her first course, one of our Survivors gets up and walks quickly out and towards the restroom. She reappeared briefly about 15 minutes later. She gets her check, pays quickly and leaves, obviously preferring to vomit in the privacy of her own hotel room. And then there were five…
The rest of the evening passed without incident, and several of the girls actually thanked me for letting them stay, and for helping get rid of their drunk friends which they had apparently been trying to do unsuccessfully for most of the day. Like a movie where the Mob Hitman has an attack of conscience but needs proof the job is done, they ended the night by having their waiter take a photo with the rest of them in “passed out” poses, with a couple of wine glasses knocked over for effect. Good thing they got the photographic evidence as actually remembering the events could prove problematic. We go a phone call from one of them ten minutes after they left saying she had lost a sweater. I didn’t even bother looking as I knew she was probably wearing it. Girls just wanna have fun…