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Spirits of Serendipity

July 21, 2006
Since restaurants, bars, nightclubs are hospitality places where people of all ages, occupations and cultures converse, celebrate, commiserate, date, mate, eventually often procreate, legislate, facilitate, appropriate, (this is metropolitan Washington, DC) and frequently act in-appropriate, the occurrence of serendipity reigns supreme.  Serendipity is often incorrectly thought to be the equivalence of luck, serendipity instead is “the art of setting yourself up for luck to happen.” Such as, going for a quick bite, a drink and possibly a smoke in a friendly pub and running into just the person you’ve been meaning to call, meeting your life’s mate or making a new contact that lands you a new job or place to live. These wonderful coincidences are as esteemed sociologist, Thomas Merton states in The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity, “the unintended consequences of social action.” This book was recently reviewed in The Washington Post by Michael Dirda, who credits the coinage of the now heavily used word to Horace Walpole from the fairy tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip.”

Well, the anti-pleasure police are messin’ with our serendip. The Washington, DC/Maryland Beverage Journal is a beverage magazine with articles and information on hospitality, dining, spirits, wine, beer and their purveyors. This is not a magazine on smoking, however as Toby Keith’s great new song goes, “She Only Smokes When She Drinks” the two are intertwined.

The two activities are so enmeshed that out of desperation in the ordained smoke-free state of Florida, that The Nikotini was born, “as a cure for smokers’ rage over their recent exile from bars: a martini infused with nicotine-rich tobacco.” Featured in the New York Times Magazine new trends of 2004, December 14, 2003 issue, The Nikitini’s creator, Cathode Ray Club owner Larry Wald, says “I’ve combined the two greatest problems in our society. One leads to sex, and the other is used after.” And try as they might the anti-smoking brigade just can’t stop the smoking/drinking age old axis of compatibility, with civil disobedience on the rise in the supposed smoking banned states. Additionally, contrary to certain partisan studies, for many California restaurants and bars, sales are down even after 6 years of the ban.

Singer Joe Jackson even has a new song blasting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for his onerous smoking ban that even the Mayor’s cronies can’t handle in his presence. According to the New York Post, February 7TH article, “Bloomberg Allows Smoking At Private Event He Attends.” “It's hard to imagine -- butt-banning Mayor Bloomberg sitting passively at his table during a black-tie dinner while all around him smokers puff away on stogies. But that's exactly what happened one recent evening in Manhattan when Hizzoner attended the annual gathering of Wall Street's exclusive Kappa Beta Phi society at the St. Regis Hotel. The private event was held in the hotel's top-floor ballroom, which quickly became smoke-filled after cigars were passed out among the assembled titans of finance. The mayor's apparent indifference to the mass violation of the city's tough anti-smoking law -- which he considers one of his crowning accomplishments -- drew outrage around the city.” Talk about a posturing, puritanical, hypocritical, anti-smoking-for-the public but pro-smoking-for-his-friends politician.

Amazingly enough, one of Europe’s most swingin’ and smokin’ cities is actually considering a work-place smoking ban. According to the February issue of Travel and Leisure, “…the government passed legislation banning work-place smoking. Thanks to lobbying from the hospitality industry, which insisted that some 50,000 jobs would be lost, restaurants, bars and clubs have been granted a reprieve until 2006. A group of club promoters and artists have formed an unofficial advisory board called Nachtwacht (after Rembrandt’s painting) to preserve the city’s counter-cultural attractions.” Those anti-pleasure police are doing their anti-social work all over the world, just as all of us in the hospitality industry must strengthen our resolve to keep the world safe for pleasurable living.

After all on our side as one of our pre-eminent spokespersons, we have the redoubtable world leader, Winston Spencer Churchill, who is rarely pictured without his cigar and who is well known for his penchant for spirits. In a February 5th Washington Post article reviewing the inspiring new Library of Congress exhibit, Churchill and the Great Republic, states, “…the exhibit also portrays a man of passions - writing, fighting, eating, drinking, painting, smoking, politicking, fathering, taking a leading role in the country he loved through a half-century of war and inspiring others to live great lives.” Rather shocking to see the words: fathering, smoking and drinking in the same sentence in our absurdly hypocritical day and age. In fact his beautiful burled wood humidor is featured prominently next to his top hat in the Library of Congress. How did that get by the anti-pleasure police?

As stated in previous Beverage Journal articles, we are not pro-smoking but pro-option of smoking. The hospitality community must continue to fight the encroaching advances of those opposed to freedom of choice. We must honor the famed hospitalians and practitioners of our anti-pleasure police-deemed vices of the past, present and future. We must spread the word on all that is good and healthy in our industry for society. We must ensure the survival of places of hospitality and engender that wonderful art of increasing the incidences of serendipity for all our customers and friends.