Brewing Up Cocktails San Francisco

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Brewing Up Cocktails is hitting the road! We’ll be in San Francisco on March 26th doing a beer cocktail event sponsored by Ninkasi Brewing. It’s from 5-9 pm at 111 Minna Gallery, with drinks featuring five different ales from Ninkasi. If you’re in the Bay Area, we hope to see you there.

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I should move to San Francisco

Portland has been named the nation’s most depressing city in the country and Oregon’s unemployment rate has hit 9.9%. But if I lived in SF I could work at Caffeinated Comics, a new comic book store featuring a La Marzocco espresso machine, Four Barrel Coffee, and free wi-fi. It’s hard to imagine a job for which I’m better qualified.

[Thanks to David for the link, even if he won’t let me move to the Mission and be his comic book reading roommate.]

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San Francisco wi-fi blues

I’m in San Francisco now, enjoying the city’s abundance of excellent coffee. Yet for such a tech-friendly town, I’m having a hard time pairing it with working wi-fi. The new Four Barrel, where I had a really nice cappuccino this morning, doesn’t offer it. Ritual does, but they’ve removed their electrical outlets. I’m here now and when my battery dies I’ll be unable to catch up on work or give them any more money. Blue Bottle in Hayes Valley serves my favorite espresso in the world, but they’re just a kiosk. Their new store doesn’t have wi-fi either. Is there any place in town that combines great coffee, internet access, and free electrons?

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Pharmacies, bars, what’s the difference?

Michael Siegel writes this week about San Francisco and Boston’s forthcoming regulations to ban the sale of cigarettes in pharmacies:

According to the Globe article, the reason for the ban on tobacco sales at pharmacies and on college campuses is that selling tobacco is inconsistent with the mission of these institutions: “the city decided to target sales at the 74 pharmacies in Boston … because stocking tobacco, the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, is incompatible with the mission of a drugstore. ‘Why, in a place where people go to get healthy and get information about staying healthy, would you want to sell something that has absolutely no redeeming value and ends up killing a lot of people?’ said Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission.” […]

[T]hese regulations are not going to advance any direct protection of the public’s health. They are not intended to directly improve the public’s health. Instead, the intention is to prevent certain retail establishments from taking an action that is viewed as being inconsistent with their mission. In other words, the regulation is intended not to regulate the public’s health, but to regulate the consistency of a mission of a store with its actions.

I just don’t see the role of government in regulating the consistency of stores’ mission and actions.

I agree. However the logic behind bans on smoking in restaurants and bars, measures that Siegel supports, isn’t very different. The laws assume that providing patrons with a place to smoke together is not essential to the mission of serving food and drink and can therefore be legislated away for the safety of the workers. If it was essential, then presumably employees would be allowed to assume the risks as they do in so many far more dangerous industries.

Allowing smoking is clearly part of the mission for many bars and restaurants. Some bans take this into account by allowing for exceptions, but these are usually far too strict. Some bans make no exceptions at all. This is coercive against smokers who can no longer find places to associate together, against business owners who can’t set their own policies, and against workers who may prefer that environment. If Siegel really values autonomy, this ought to be a concern for him.

(Note that opposing bans would still leave plenty of options on the table for reducing smoking in bars and restaurants, such as offering tax breaks to businesses that go smoke free. Opposing bans would not necessarily entail giving up on public health.)

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Bartenders for McCain?

San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer complains about Healthy San Francisco surcharges still appearing on restaurant checks:

I’m losing patience with the way restaurants are handling the “Healthy San Francisco” initiative.

I’ve been supportive of restaurants such as Delfina (which charges $1.25 a person) and Zuni (4 percent of the check) adding surcharges because these are well-established, moderately priced restaurants. This allowed those businesses to keep prices stable while educating customers about the added expenses. I figured it would last a few months, and once the public was familiar with what was going on, the surcharges would be removed and incorporated into the menu prices…

I’ve talked to some diners who are subtracting that percentage from the tip, kind of as a way to protest about being taxed and taxed again. Those same people wouldn’t mind if each dish cost a little more, negating the need for an additional charge, but they end up feeling cheated when the surcharge lands on the bill. Diners are becoming more vocal, too. Wednesday, in fact, Eater SF began to build a map that details restaurants implementing surcharges.

It’s gotten to the place that I can’t hold my tongue any longer. Enough with the surcharges. Here’s my proposal of how restaurants should handle the situation: Incorporate all these expenses into the menu prices. At the bottom of the menu, the restaurant could say something like: “Our prices include the cost of buying locally produced, sustainable ingredients and providing a living wage, sick leave and health insurance for all employees.”

While it may be unpleasant to be reminded that social policies really do cost money, transparency is a good thing. One of the reasons the scope of government has expanded so much in the past century is that it’s gotten very good at obscuring the tax burden (income tax withholding and the bogus “employer contribution” to Social Security being two of the most egregious examples). The Healthy San Francisco initiative, which requires many SF restaurants to provide health insurance for their staffs, dramatically increases labor costs. Diners should know that the extra dollars appearing on their bill are going towards paying politically mandated benefits, not sourcing better ingredients or taking extra care in the kitchen.

In addition to raising costs, the initiative prevents businesses from expanding because the amounts they must spend on health care are tied to their number of employees. The LA Times reports:

“We will always have 18 [employees] now,” vowed Anna Weinberg, a co-owner of South, a 50-seat restaurant featuring Australian cuisine that opened in October. Weinberg plans to open her next eatery on the Westside of Los Angeles.

San Francisco costs already are among the nation’s highest, experts say. “It costs me triple to hire a waiter than a New York City restaurant,” Scherotter said. Health insurance costs at his Palio D’Asti are doubling to $120,000 a year under the new program, he said…

Local establishments, they point out, already are paying a $9.36 hourly minimum wage, the nation’s second highest and 17% higher than in any other California city. They also are the only employers in the state required by law to grant paid sick days to all workers.

All of which raises the unasked question of why restaurants should be relied upon to cover their employees’ health insurance. Our current system arbitrarily allows employers to pay for health insurance tax-free, but if an individual buys his own insurance he gets no break. This has predictably led to a market dominated by employer-provided health insurance that often leaves restaurant workers out in the cold. Businesses can’t afford to provide coverage, or employees are only part-timers, or they change jobs frequently and go without between gigs. For all of these reasons, making it easier for individuals to buy their own insurance would be better for many service industry workers than tying them to employer-provided plans.

While I’m hesitant to enter the minefield of health care policy, and especially reluctant to be seen as endorsing John McCain (or any other candidate), one bright spot of a McCain presidency would be a more favorable tax policy for workers in the service industry. Fixing the disparity described above is a cornerstone of McCain’s health care plan. He advocates health insurance tax credits for individuals and families, allowing people to buy insurance across state lines to increase competition and decrease costs, and expanding the kinds of associations that can establish group plans. All of these ideas would bring concrete benefits to those of us in the service industry. (Details here. Note that this does leave problems for people with high premiums, a subject McCain will have to further address.)

Is that enough to make me excited about a McCain presidency? Hell no, and I’m not seriously advocating a “Bartenders for McCain” movement. But the change would be a significant consolation if he wins and gets it passed, and one that I doubt many of my friends in the industry are aware of. And if the plan works, San Francisco might finally be able to drop those pesky surcharges.

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San Francisco plays catch up

San Francisco felt like it was falling behind in the race to have the biggest nanny state (seriously, that was the motivation, read the article), so the city is considering two new anti-smoking ordinances, including one that would ban smoking even in tobacco shops:

Mayor Gavin Newsom has proposed prohibiting tobacco sales in pharmacies, including Walgreens and Rite Aid. The city’s public health chief said the proposal is modeled after rules in eight provinces in Canada but has not been tried anywhere in the United States.

Supervisor Chris Daly has proposed legislation that would vastly limit areas where people can smoke.

Gone would be smoking in all businesses and bars, which now make an exception for owner-operated ones.

Gone too would be lighting up in taxicabs and rental cars, city-owned vehicles, farmers’ markets, common areas of apartment buildings, tourist hotels, tobacco shops, charity bingo games, unenclosed dining areas, waiting areas such as lines at an ATM or movie theater, and anywhere within 20 feet of entrances to private, nonresidential buildings.

And you thought they’d stop at protecting bar and restaurant workers. No, this is about hatred of smokers and wanting to make life as miserable for them as possible, casting them out to the edges of society. And every time we reach a new normal, they’ll extend the bans even farther.

[Via Radley.]

Previously:
Banzhaf crosses the line

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Sweatiest cities

Old Spice has released a “scientific” ranking of the nation’s sweatiest cities, based on simulations of how much people would sweat walking around in the summer months. Phoenix tops the list. The good news for me is the bottom three: Portland at 98, Seattle at 99, and San Francisco at 100. The case for the Pacific NW looks better and better.

Houston ranks predictably high at number 7, while Washington comes in surprisingly low at 48. Having lived in both cities, I can say that Washington deserves a much higher score. The difference is in adaptation. In Houston you step out of your air conditioned home into your air conditioned car and park right next to your destination, which of course will also be air conditioned. Even in the denser parts of downtown parking isn’t better than in DC, and if you have to walk you can do so along the extensive underground tunnels.

In DC, in contrast, you have to walk more. If you do drive odds are you won’t be able to park very close to your destination. Taking the Metro involves significant waiting time in balmy tunnels. And our buildings, being older than Houston’s, often feature much less effective AC systems. People who tell me that since I grew up in Houston I must find DC’s humidity easy to deal with have no idea what they’re talking about. Aside from playing sports or doing yard work, it’s not something you have to deal with nearly as much there. In this aspect, at least, Houston has the advantage.

[Via the Capital Weather Gang.]

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Blue Bottle’s new machine

Looks like I need to go to San Francisco again. The New York Times reports that Blue Bottle — makers of the best espresso I’ve ever tasted — have a very cool new coffee brewer from Japan:

With its brass-trimmed halogen heating elements, glass globes and bamboo paddles, the new contraption that is to begin making coffee this week at the Blue Bottle Café here looks like a machine from a Jules Verne novel, a 19th-century vision of the future.

Called a siphon bar, it was imported from Japan at a total cost of more than $20,000. The cafe has the only halogen-powered model in the United States, and getting it here required years of elliptical discussions with its importer, Jay Egami of the Ueshima Coffee Company.

It’s an elaborate series of vacuum brewers, heated by halogen lamps. It looks fantastic.

The article also gives a lot of space to discussing the Clover, the high-end single cup brewer that’s proliferating across the country.

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