Los Angeles blog meetup

I’m taking a vacation to Los Angeles next week and my friend Ron Dollete (of Lush Angeles) and I thought it would be fun to organize a Booze Nerd Meetup while I’m in town. We’re going to meet at Bar and Kitchen in the O Hotel in downtown LA from 8-11 pm on Wednesday, July 13. Booze nerds and nerds of any type — I’m looking at you, libertarians! — are invited to join us. I’ve heard great things about the food and drink there, so I’m looking forward to it.

In an unexpected bit of synchronicity, Bar and Kitchen is also taking part in a Bols punch crawl that very night. Even when I go on vacation the genever seems to follow. Details for the punch crawl are available on Thrillist.

Here’s Ron’s Facebook description of the meet-up; hope to see you there!

Come join Jacob and Ron at Bar & Kitchen for a meetup of drunks, fools, liars and drunks.

This is just a meetup, so you’ll be covering your own tab. Unless you order a Harvey Wallbanger, in which case Ron will probably buy your drink.

Wednesday, 13th of July at 8pm at Bar | Kitchen.

Jacob Grier is a bartender and writer based in Portland, Oregon. You can check out his site at http://jacobgrier.com/ and on Twitter @JacobGrier

Ron Dollete is not to be trusted under any circumstances. You can check out his site at http://lushangeles.com/ and on Twitter @LushAngeles

Located inside the O Hotel in Downtown Los Angeles, Bar & Kitchen offers something for everyone, from addictive bar snacks to full sized entrees. And because it’s Ron and Jacob, there will of course be cocktails, beer, wine and plenty of amari.

Twitter hashtag #BoozeNerdTweetup


CA Starbucks extend smoking ban outdoors

A commenter notes that Starbucks stores in California are prohibiting smoking outside their stores:

Starting Monday, Starbucks customers are welcome to sit outside and sip a while — as long as they don’t light up. The international coffee giant is extending its ban on indoor smoking to outdoor patios and dining areas in California.

The change was prompted by an increasing number of communities that have enacted smoking prohibitions in outdoor dining areas.

This is their right obviously, though I would have preferred their hand not be forced by excessive regulations. Previous coverage of Starbucks and smoking policies here and here.


A good day in smoking bans?

It doesn’t happen often enough, so here are two pieces of good news related to smoking bans. First, Governor Schwarzenegger has vetoed a bill that would have prohibited smoking in all California parks and beaches:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday vetoed a measure that would have banned smoking at state parks and beaches, calling it “an improper intrusion of government into people’s lives.”

Schwarzenegger, whose cigar habit led him to build a smoking tent at the state Capitol, said in his veto message that the proposed regulation, which would have been the most far-reaching tobacco legislation in the nation, went too far. Such rules should be left up to cities, counties and local park officials, the governor said.

“There is something inherently uncomfortable about the idea of the state encroaching in such a broad manner on the people of California,” the veto message said. “This bill crosses an important threshold between state power … and local decision-making.”

Then just a few minutes from my hometown in Conroe, TX, the city council has reversed a ban on smoking in bars in record time:

Two months after enacting one of the most comprehensive smoking bans in the area, the Conroe City Council has removed bars from the new ordinance because of the economic impact it was having on business owners.

“I lost $15,000 in March,” said David Luttrell of Malone’s Pub. “It was like someone pulled a switch. I lost $15,000 in April. I had to lay off four employees and seven bands. It has also affected my suppliers and vendors too.”

After hearing similar stories from other bar owners, the council reversed its position Thursday to allow smoking in bar, which are defined as “pubs, ice houses, beer joints and saloons.”

[Hat tips to the Stogie Guys and my dad.]


Alcohol taxes and the Overton window

We boozehounds on Twitter were abuzz today about a proposed California ballot initiative that would drastically increase taxes on all forms of potable alcohol:

A new initiative that would increase the tax on alcohol was cleared for signature gathering today by the Secretary of State’s Office. And it’s not a modest tax increase, it’s huge. Tax on a six-pack of beer would increase from 6-cents to $6.08. And say goodbye to two-buck chuck–a tax on a 750 ml bottle of wine would go from 4-cents to $5.11. And the tax on a 750 ml bottle of distilled spirits would increase from from 65-cents to $17.57.

I find it hard to believe that this would pass in a state that has so much riding on its alcohol industry and I think that’s sort of the point. Consider the idea of the Overton window:

The Overton Window is a concept in political theory, named after its originator—Joe Overton—former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. It describes a “window” in the range of public reactions to ideas in public discourse, in a spectrum of all possible options on an issue. […]

Overton described a method for moving that window, thereby including previously excluded ideas, while excluding previously acceptable ideas. The technique relies on people promoting ideas even less acceptable than the previous “outer fringe” ideas. That makes those old fringe ideas look less extreme, and thereby acceptable. The idea is that priming the public with fringe ideas intended to be and remain unacceptable, will make the real target ideas seem more acceptable by comparison.

Now it’s possible that the sponsors of this initiative, Josephine and Kent Whitney, truly believe this is a reasonable tax increase. But I doubt that winning the vote is the only goal of this initiative. The aim is to get lots of news coverage for their far-out idea and thereby make smaller tax increases seem reasonable by comparison. So if you don’t want them to succeed, don’t take them too seriously.

Additional note: The Overton window is often described in a very cynical, manipulative context. In contrast, the late Joe Overton’s peers at the libertarian Mackinac Center use it to explain how think tanks can change public policy for the better. They see shifting the window as the noble aim of libertarians working in a world often hostile to free markets and individual liberty. As Nathan Russel wrote for the Center:

A long-term focus on shifting the Overton window allows a think tank to follow its ideals and perform a genuinely positive public service, instead of being constrained to merely advocating those policies that are currently possible. When the window of political possibilities is moved along the political spectrum, the impossible becomes desirable and the simply desirable becomes imperative. This is the true influence of a think tank — shaping the political climate of future legislative and legal debates by researching, educating, involving and inspiring.

[Hat tip to Rumdood, who tweets, “Look, I’m OK with a modest increase in taxes on booze, but from $.65 to $17.57 for a 750mL bottle of rum is insane.” Manipulation of the Overton window in action? See also Jeff Woodhead and Chad Wilcox on the Overton window and health care reform.]


California cracks down on craft cocktails

Eater San Francisco reports on how outdated California liquor laws are getting in the way of serving good cocktails:

Now, these spurts of [Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control] enforcement happen every once in a while and eventually things go back to normal after a quick flurry (i.e., bars make extra sure to have no drinks on the bar post 2AM, they watch out for stings with minors), but this time around, it was different. Maybe ABC workers are under pressure, maybe the state needs to generate cashflow, but whatever the conspiracy theory, it’s been more vicious than usual, especially among some of the city’s high-profile cocktail joints. […]

… the one garnering the most outcry from the cocktail bars is the crackdown on elixirs, bitters, and similar infusions. Technically, it’s illegal to modify liquors, per a Prohibition-era law that was put in place to ensure the public that bars wouldn’t tamper with the alcohol, unbeknownst to the customer. Obviously, nowadays, pretty much all of the well-known “artisanal” cocktail places make their own house syrups and whatnot, and it’s unlikely that a yuzu bitter (or whatever is in that 10-ingredient drink) is misleading the public. It’s one thing to crack down on underage drinking, but it’s another to take aim at the outdated laws, which one bar owner described as the equivalent of issuing multiple jaywalking tickets all of a sudden. It’s salutary neglect, you see.

Details are scarce, but this looks like another example of archaic post-Prohibition laws failing to keep up with modern drinking culture. The law was probably written to prevent fraudulent practices such as refilling expensive liquor bottles with cheap hooch to fool customers, but applied literally it apparently also forbids the creative use of spirits as raw ingredients in infusions and such. Uses like these do not mislead or harm consumers in any way; only the government benefits from suddenly enforcing these old regulations by collecting the associated fines.

The nanny state vs. egg drinks
Virginia’s Archaic Beverage Commission


CA bill bans sales of e-cigs to minors

A bill introduced in California would ban the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors. While it’s not clear that there are a significant number of minors buying the products anyway, nobody wants to get kids hooked on nicotine. This is a much more sensible approach than that pursued here in Oregon, where the AG is strong-arming stores to take them off shelves.

To put the issue in clearer perspective, be sure to read Jacob Sullum’s post (linked in the sidebar too) about a new study on the effects of smokeless tobacco (as in snuff and snus, not e-cigs). The conclusion:

This comparison highlights the absurdity of the main “public health” objection to promoting smokeless tobacco as a harm-reducing alternative to cigarettes. Opponents of this strategy claim to be worried that it could lead to more tobacco-related mortality in the long run if it attracts nonsmokers to smokeless tobacco. But Lee and Hamling’s numbers indicate that if a significant percentage of smokers switched to oral snuff, the tobacco-related death toll would be smaller than it is now even if every nonsmoker in America started using oral snuff too. By the professed standards of public health, which seeks to minimize morbidity and mortality, this is a no-brainer. As with the opposition to electronic cigarettes, something else is going on here: a moralistic crusade to conquer sin disguised as a scientific quest to conquer disease.

For a variety of reasons, cigarettes are by far the most dangerous form of tobacco/nicotine. Occasional pipe and cigar use, snuff, and e-cigarettes are all safer by varying degrees, but the moral crusade of public health has placed discussion of these alternatives off limits.

[Thanks to Jan for the link!]


Cigar industry victim of the nanny state

USA Today has a depressing piece up on the state of the cigar industry. The short version is that the economic downturn, sudden tax hikes, and smoking bans are killing the industry. I worry about the long-term effects anti-smoking laws will have on premium tobacco. Making and smoking it could become a lost art, creating a cascade of job losses in the US and especially in growing countries. Cigar smoking will become exceedingly rare; furtive smoke breaks for mass-market cigarettes will continue just fine. [Via Stogie Guys.]

As an example of what we’re up against, here’s what the city council in Del Mar is up to:

Del Mar officials took a step this week toward banning smoking on city sidewalks and restaurant patios after diners complained about smoke ruining their meals at newly installed outdoor cafes.

The council will hold a public hearing before voting on the ban, but council members Monday bluntly expressed their distaste for smoking.

“You shouldn’t be exposed to a health hazard while walking down the streets of Del Mar,” said Councilman Don Mosier.

Mayor Crystal Crawford said she remains open to hearing from the public but noted, “This is a council of non-smokers.” […]

Staff members also will research the idea of creating a city licensing program to regulate tobacco retailers.

There was discussion about banning cigarette vending machines, but no one remembered seeing such machines in Del Mar.

What kind of person complains to the city council about a bad experience at a restaurant? If one’s Caesar salad isn’t up to par, the usual remedy isn’t asking the local rulers to step in and fix it. You talk to the manager, write a bad review on Yelp, or take your business elsewhere. Smoke exposure shouldn’t be any different. The fact that non-smokers are turning to the city council to get their way is just another example of how anti-smoking hysteria has poisoned civil society.


The road to café standards

This is California, of course:

The Assembly has passed a bill to set minimum standards for food in licensed child-care centers, requiring a vegetable to be part of lunch and supper and forbidding whole milk for children 2 or older.

The food children eat in kindergarten through 12th grade in public school is regulated for fat and salt content, among other things. But for many preschool children, there have been no such dietary rules.

“California enjoys a worldwide reputation for its sunny, healthy lifestyle,” said the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica). “Childhood obesity rates threaten to steal this enviable position.”

The bill, which passed the Assembly on Wednesday by a 48-27 vote, now heads to the Senate.

If it becomes law, AB 627 would require low-fat or skim milk to be served to children 2 years old and older. It would limit sugar in cereals and eliminate deep frying and sweetened drinks. It also would establish an 18-month pilot project to evaluate stronger nutrition and physical activities standards.

In Los Angeles County, 350,000 children 5 and younger spend at least a part of their day in child care. The county licenses 2,230 child-care centers and about 7,800 family child-care homes.

Food served at child-care centers based in homes, community centers, churches and other locations is one key to a lifetime of healthy eating, said Matthew Sharp, senior advocate with the California Food Policy Advocates, which sponsored the bill.

“We can’t possibly solve the healthcare crisis” without nutritional improvements, Sharp said. “We’re paying one way or another.”

And here’s the relevant text of the bill:

SEC. 3. Section 1596.804 is added to the Health and Safety Code, to read:
1596.804. As a condition of licensure, child day care facilities shall comply with all of the following health requirements:
(a) Only 2 percent milk shall be served to children over two years of age.
(b) Juice shall be limited to one serving per day, and only 100 percent juice shall be served.
(c) At least one vegetable shall be served at lunch and supper.
(d) Deep fat frying shall be prohibited onsite.
(e) Sugar shall be limited to 6 grams per serving for both hot and cold cereals.
(f) For children in full day care, screen time, including, but not limited to, television, video games, and computer usage, shall be limited to a maximum of one hour per day and shall be limited to educational programming or programs that encourage movement. For children in less than full day care, screen time shall be reduced proportionately.

Note that these aren’t public schools; in public schools it’s appropriate for the state to take an interest in the food being served. Nor would the rules apply only to providers receiving state subsidies for children’s meals. Unless I’m reading the law incorrectly, these are competitive, private day care centers, with no connection to the government beyond receiving the required business license.

The bill’s goals may seem innocuous or even beneficial. But if politicians can intervene in the agreements between parents and private day care providers to tell them what kind of milk to buy, are there any limits to what comes next? Restaurants are licensed by the government and serve children too, and I’m sure many of their kids’ menus conflict with Julia Brownley’s idea of California’s “sunny, healthy lifestyle.” Why not dictate their menus? And after we’ve done that, why not go after adults’ food? Once state licensing standards cross the line from ensuring hygiene and safety to controlling consumers’ diets, there’s no limit to what options may be taken away.

[Via Virginia Postrel.]


Starbucks vindicated

Last year Starbucks took a lot of heat in the press for an $86 million ruling against them for taking tips from baristas and giving them to management. In reality the “managers” in question were shift supervisors doing essentially the same job as baristas and customers leaving tips reasonably expected them to get their share. I defended Starbucks at the time and I’m glad to see that a California appeals court has reached the same conclusion [full decision in .DOC format here):

Specifically, the undisputed facts show: (1) the vast majority of the time shift supervisors and baristas perform the same jobs; (2) these employees rotate jobs and work as a “team” throughout the day; (3) customers intend that their tips placed in the collective tip boxes collectively reward all of these service employees; and (4) Starbucks’s manner of dividing the collective tip boxes among the service employees (based on the time worked by each employee) is fair and equitable. […]

Because the trial court’s interpretation of section 351 was not supported by the statutory language and led to a result contrary to the fundamental purpose of the statutory scheme, it is one that the Legislature could not have intended. We reverse the judgment in its entirety.

Cue allegation from amazingly persistent commenter Gary that the appeals court must have been bribed by Starbucks in 3… 2…

[Via Starbucks Gossip.]


Way to go, Long Beach!

And now for some good news: The Long Beach, CA city council passed its proposal to loosen the local smoking ban, granting official approval to the city’s 13 cigar lounges. Even this is far too much diversity for anti-tobacco activists:

Lung association spokesman Steven Gallegos disagreed, telling the Los Angeles Times: “This is a giant step backwards for public and employee health. This product kills almost half a million people a year. If this ordinance passes other cities throughout Los Angeles County will look at Long Beach and say, ‘If they did it, we can too. Public health be damned.'”

Just this once I’m going to hope he’s right.


Smoke gets in your eyes

Los Angeles is one of the few cities in America where having to step outside to smoke can be pleasant year-round. This, obviously, must be stopped:

Lighting up on the outdoor patios of cafes and coffee shops may soon be a thing of the past in Los Angeles. The city’s arts and parks committee took a first step Wednesday toward a new ban on smoking on restaurant patios or within 10 feet of any outdoor establishment that serves food or beverages.

Bars with outdoor areas and other over-18 venues would be exempt…

Though questions remain about what the penalties would be and how the proposed law would be enforced, Councilman Tom LaBonge, chairman of the Arts, Parks, Health and Aging Committee, said it was getting easier to enforce the smoking bans because of cooperation by restaurant owners.

“The patrons are really demanding it,” LaBonge said after his committee directed city lawyers to draft the ordinance Wednesday. “One day we’ll be an absolutely smoke-free world as we move forward, but people still enjoy it, so we’re still allowing it.”

The measure’s sponsor, Councilman Greig Smith, said he wrote the legislation after noticing that California’s ban on smoking inside restaurants was driving smokers just outside the establishments’ doors, exposing children and other patrons to secondhand smoke as they entered the venue or waited for tables.

The nerve of those smokers! Couldn’t they just go somewhere else? Well, no:

Though Calabasas and some other cities have far more stringent anti-smoking laws, the refuges for smokers in Los Angeles have dwindled in recent years. In addition to the state ban on smoking in restaurants, bars and other workplaces, smoking is prohibited on city beaches, in farmers markets and within 25 feet of playgrounds, bleachers, sport courts, fields and picnic areas.

In L.A. city parks, smoking is banned except on city-run golf courses and in designated areas, and violators face fines of up to $250. City officials allow exceptions for filmmakers as long as they seek permits from the city.

In other news, brain scans show that quitting smoking is harder when a person sees other people smoking. Clearly, smokers should only be allowed to light up in designated smoking pits dug 10 feet into the ground where no passersby will have to gaze upon them. Science demands it.


Crackdowns on the white stuff

A raw milk arrest in CA:

A milk processing plant near Santa Paula was shut down last week after allegedly selling dairy products without a license or pasteurization, authorities said Friday.

Sharon Ann Palmer, 48, was arrested in connection with the plant called Healthy Family Farms at 6780 Wheeler Canyon Road, Ventura County Sheriff’s Department officials said in a prepared statement.

Members of the department’s Agricultural Crimes Unit and other local health agencies began an investigation of Palmer in the first week of December and found she was operating the plant without a license and selling potentially unpasteurized milk products at farmers’ markets in Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles counties, according to the statement.

And in other California news, Organic Pastures Dairy, whose case I profiled for Reason, has had to accept a plea with the feds and cease selling unpasteurized milk across state lines. 2008’s final days continue to show that this is a terrible year for raw milk producers and consumers.


Brewers behaving badly

Jason Kuznicki catches this story about microbrewers in California lobbying against a bill that would raise the value limit on the swag given away by beer companies from 25 cents to 5 dollars. They’re afraid that allowing Budweiser to give away more valuable stuff will eat into their sales:

“We don’t think California should give big companies the ability to grab even more of the market share, (when) they have most of the market anyway,” said Kellie Jacobs, president of Stockton’s Valley Brew, saying most microbreweries can’t afford to give away 25-cent items, let alone $5 swag.

Wah wah, cry me a river of IPA. If brewer’s can’t make beer good enough to overcome the appeal of macrobrewed yellow fizzy water and five dollar trinkets I don’t have any sympathy for them.

This isn’t the first time microbrewers have gone whining to the statehouse to fight the liberalization of alcohol laws. This past spring in Pennsylvania, Troegs and others opposed a proposal to increase the number of beers consumers could buy at retail from 12 to 18. Troegs objected because microbrewers don’t have the equipment to make 18-packs. And in California last year, microbrewers also opposed a new law that gave breweries the right to offer free tastings in bars and restaurants. They lost, but they succeeded in limiting how much free beer consumers can enjoy:

The new law allows beer tastings at bars and restaurants. It limits the amount to no more than 8 ounces per person a day and requires the beer to be served in a glass. Tastings cannot last more than an hour and there are also annual limits on the number of tastings a single manufacturer, importer or wholesaler can offer at a particular establishment.

It’s rare that I side with the big players over the microbreweries, but in these cases I wish a pox of brettanomyces upon their houses.


The new bar ban

San Luis Obispo County is considering a new ordinance to ban the sale of tobacco products within bars. Combine this with the measures to ban sales in pharmacies and we’ve got a new trend toward making tobacco not just harder to enjoy, but harder to purchase in the first place:

Bars in the unincorporated areas of San Luis Obispo County would not be allowed to sell tobacco products if an ordinance revised by supervisors Tuesday wins final approval Sept. 16.

The provision banning tobacco sales in bars was not part of the original tobacco sales licensing ordinance scheduled for a public hearing Tuesday but was added on the motion of 4th District Supervisor Katcho Achadjian…

Achadjian asked to have the ban on bar sales added at the recommendation of Susan Hughes, program manager for the county’s Tobacco Control Program, and the request of 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson.

You didn’t really think they’d stop at “reasonable” bans on smoking in bars and restaurants, did you?

[Via The Rest of the Story.]


At least they didn’t shoot the dogs

The second time gun-toting, badge-flashing federal agents came to visit Amanda Hall, at least she had some idea of what it was about. A few weeks earlier, after she had gotten home from her job at the Organic Pastures dairy farm in Fresno, California, and was about to head off to school, a pair of men met her at the door and handed her a subpoena to testify before a grand jury of the United States District Court for reasons they chose not to divulge. (“Don’t talk about it to anybody,” she was told.) They had gotten her name, as well as that of one of her co-workers, who was similarly visited at home and subpoenaed, by calling the dairy and recording conversations in which they posed as potential customers. Now, with the subpoenas served and the court date coming up, they had a few preliminary questions to ask her.

Well, not exactly a few. Hall, a 23-year-old mother of one who manages Accounts Receivables and acts as a sales consultant for Organic Pastures, sat with the men—who identified themselves as special agents of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations—for 15 minutes as they repeated the same question about the legality of her employer’s interstate shipping procedures, “trying,” she says, “to have me change my answer.” They didn’t get what they wanted from the session, but as they were about to leave, one of the agents suggested Hall wear a wire to a meeting with her boss. “It’s funny,” she says. “I’d been sitting there telling them that these people were basically my family,” and now she was being asked to spy on them. “How much is it worth to you?” she asked, just to see what they would say. The answer came (“It wouldn’t be millions, but we could make it worth your while”), Hall politely refused, and the agents went off into the night. A few days later, just 24 hours before the grand jury was scheduled to convene, Hall was informed that her testimony would no longer be needed.

That’s from John Schwenkler’s excellent article about crackdowns on raw milk for Doublethink. Read the whole thing here.