Friday, November 18, 2005

At Home With Booze And Tobacco: A Reflection From Madison

(This was originally a response to an email from Matt Jenks regarding the move in Chicago to ban forties. It is reproduced here with links inserted for several of the stories and facts mentioned therein).

Perhaps it is for the best that I moved to Wisconsin when I did. I am quite a fan of the fo'ty. I like to keep a few in the back of the fridge either to prime the pump at the start of the evening or as a nightcap. Nothing says "sweet dreams" like forty icy cold ounces of Camo, Big Bear, OE HG800 and the like.

Madison is a city with real identity problem when it comes to drinking. It is, undoubtedly, awash with booze every day of the week. There is, however, a constant battle between Mayor Dave (the closest thing to a socialist without waving a red book above your head) and the bar owners over power and control. First, about two years ago, the mayor forced campus-area bars to get rid of their drink specials. I hear from my compatriots who have lived here for a while that they were truly monumental (like buy one beer, get five free, 50 cent pitchers). Since that, there has been a scandal involving bars and price fixing of drinks to bilk students out of money. I think that these are just the stupid students who fail to realize that cases of Blatz can be had at area grocery stores for $6.99.

For my part, I don't do much of my drinking at bars. I have a corner tavern that I have started to haunt somewhat regularly, but this is usually at the beginning of the night to eat or to watch the Badger games on Saturdays. I like the fact that, at home, the booze is bought and paid for, I am in control of who is there, what is on the TV, what music is playing and what the temperature. Then there is the issue of smoking.

I am a fairly regular cigar and pipe smoker. Nothing spells relax-o-tation than a glass of bourbon and a cigar the size of a Pringles can. I must stay home to do these things in tandem because of the aforementioned mayor who would make a better prime minister of Sweden than mayor of a mid-sized American city.

For as of July 1, 2005, there is no smoking inside of bars and restaurants in the City of Madison. This, coupled with the pressure on drinks prices, has caused the bar owners around campus, and the Dane County Chapter of the Tavern League of Wisconsin to spearhead an effort to recall the mayor for being decidedly anti-business. I am proud to say that this, among other things, motivated me to register to vote here (I was going to anyway) so that I could sign the petition.
This new law, apart from depriving an already put-upon citizenry of what little joy remains in modern life, has basically signed the death warrant for several local establishements. The most profoundly effected by this have been the bars and restaurants that border on other municipalities in the Madison (except Shorewood Hills which has more stringent smoking regulations than even Madison does).

Also, and most ludicrously, is the fact that no exception was made for cigar bars. That's right, you cannot smoke in a cigar bar, nor can you enjoy a hookah of flavorful tobacco in a Middle Eastern restaurant (a most enjoyable experience, I must say). The city, in doing this, has basically handed these business their "Going-Out-Of-Business" papers. If there was ever any doubt that the mayor and his cadre on the city council and the county board are attempting behavior control and social engineering by legislation, this fact should make it clear.

Now, I understand the notion that the heatlh of employees is an issue in all of this. This issue must be looked at on a local level. There seems to be a plethora of employment opportunities at the same level of experience and pay as restaurant and bar workers in the Madison area. Even a cursory look at the UW jobs site and the local papers lists many jobs in environments that are smoke-free. I hate to use a trite trope, but nobody has a gun to your head, forcing you to work in a bar.

So, where does this leave us all? I think that we all need to take appropriate political action against people like Mayor Dave and declare our independence from laws that deprive us of freedom to act as we choose. In the meantime, however, perhaps speakeasies need to have a resurgance or people will have to follow my lead and say...

"When It Comes To Smokes and Liquor, There's No Place Like Home."


Matthew Jenks said...

From other reports I've heard, Wisconsin's problems don't stop at Madison. Apparently the National Beer Wholesaler's Association (NBWA)is, most likely at the behest of Miller Brewing Company, trying to stifle and/or outright smother the smaller microbreweries and brewpubs in Wisconsin. If I remember reading the story correctly, they are appealing to the state legislature to limit the amount of beer they can sell and to make sure all that beer goes through the three-tier system, in essence stopping all point of brewing sales. So, if you wanted a six-pack of delicious New Glarus Uff-Da, you have to go to a store to get it, and only if that store has a good relationship with the distributor who sells New Glarus' stuff. No more walking into the brewery and getting it yourself, you bad capitalist.

This is disturbing because it a) essentially places into the hands of the distributors when and where you can get New Glarus' stuff (and I'm just using New Glarus here since they are one of the better-known small brewing establishments in Wisconsin...and they're stuff is damned good), b) it will raise the prices, because the middle man (of course) needs to have his slice of the pie (despite the fact that he does nothing but buys cheap beer, marks it up, and sets it on store shelves) and c) this is only in Wisconsin, where Miller, the second largest operation in the country, runs. Imagine what will happen if this goes through. Adolphus Busch is sitting there in St. Louis watching Wisconsin with his finger on the button ready to sue EVERY state that has an A-B brewing station in it to make sure that THAT state stops its unhealthy competition with Anheuser-Busch's lackluster product.

I can say that with 100% assurance that it will happen because A-B has tried this shit before. Apparently, Adolphus (or one of them) visited a distribution center in Hawaii (gee, what a harsh trip THAT must have been) and saw that the distributor not only had A-B products on the shelves but also DARED to have microbrew six-packs in the same cooler. Apparently, Adolphus had a coniption right there, threatened to fire everyone in the organization if they didn't stop selling other people's beers this instant (because, apparently, the 50% market share that they command annually isn't enough...they have to go after that 7% microbrew share, too). Fortunately, the good people of Hawai'i saw what was going on and sided with the distributor and the microbrewers on this one, and so the big three couldn't strangle the little brewers out of business.

As an interesting aside, if Schlitz hadn't effed up its brewing formula in the late 70s/early 80s by trying to shorten fermenting times with very, VERY disastorous results, we'd be talking about how Joseph Schlitz is the man trying to keep us down and A-B would be a minor player, probably owned by Schlitz brewing company.

Anyway, I digress. You're right, the best place to drink is at home, but if the big brewers have their way with it, it's going to be a lot more expensive place to drink, too.

Cackalacky M Jenks said...

Here's a link for my longwinded attack on big beer: