Thursday, July 22, 2010

We are so busy being elitist pricks about food, beer and wine, that we forget what makes them good in the first place.

Perhaps the key to a successful restaurant is simply making good food and drink available to the people that want it. Gastropub is the result of smashing two very humble concepts together into one very pretentious, made-up word. In San Francisco, establishments like the Monk’s Kettle, that call themselves a gastropub, routinely charge patrons exorbitant fees for everyday fare, ala the $15 burger at lunch. Now, while people may be convinced that these are little more than the rantings of a cost-excluded diner, I challenge any pub in SF to answer these questions:

As a public house, what kind of community do you hope to create by asking your patrons to spend $45 at lunch? Are you really a public house, or are you just another enclave for the beer-drinking elite?

At The Porter in Atlanta this week, I was given an 8 ounce pour of cask-conditioned Allagash Curieux for $5.50. That’s about $15 for a 750 mL quantity for a super rare variant on a rare-enough beer that the bottle-conditioned standard fetches the typical SF restaurant price of $22-$25. Now, don’t get me wrong, I realize that rent is high in this city, but why is it that we need to make great beer so incredibly cost-prohibitive that it becomes unaffordable to the people that can appreciate it?

The value proposition with wine is fairly easy, “pay me X dollars and get 4 glasses of wine that you can't find easily enough to justify not paying me 3-400% markup.” And thats how wine has been. Beer on the other hand, is still early enough in its formative stages that people are okay with going out and paying 3 times the price that the Whole Foods down the block charges, for two glasses. Why, people? And why, restaurateurs? Why are we creating an environment that says to people, “Good beer is only for those that can afford the costs of luxury?” when all one needs to do to prove it otherwise is visit another city?

Beer is so often seen as the antithesis of urban elitism. It’s a damned shame that our city, so lately renown for its smug snobbishness, can’t just leave this one alone. Instead, we need cicerones and $15 grass fed burgers to compliment lists of overpriced beers and pubs without the public. Perhaps we as retailers need to step back and ask ourselves what we are doing by charging what we charge and excluding whom we exclude. Do we really want our pubs to turn into beer-substituting wine bars, empty of character and full of rich assholes with too much money and not enough sense? Because what we lose are the rich communities that define themselves through the diversity of their membership and the commonality of a common drink.

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