The ruined table — the detritus of a good night



By Sam Bygrave

I recently rediscovered a Christopher Hitchens anecdote I love. Hitchens was a controversial and outspoken intellectual of the left but he’s also been described as a “highbrow barfly”. Cancer killed him in December of 2011. His friend and former flame, Anna Wintour — she of the Vogue magazine fame — gave this anecdote from his last months in the days afterwards. “As the night wore on, the scene wasn’t so very different from that of our 20s, eating and drinking and smoking in the San Frediano restaurant, finally reaching that moment that was Hitch’s ideal: the ‘ruined table.’ This meant one littered with the detritus of dirty plates and cigarette butts and stained wineglasses, but also one where the cacophony of chatting, laughing, and venting hung directly overhead, competing for airspace with a heavy, dense cloud of smoke and alcohol fumes.”

I like that idea. It’s certainly the kind of result — sans cigarette plume — I had at the House of Crabs recently. It was good friends and good booze (well, it was large booze in fishbowl form), and a table strewn with crab carapaces, spilled drinks and smeared sauce. There was plenty of good banter. That ruined table, to me, is the whole point of good hospitality.


There’s another controversial and opinionated guy in the May issue: Bobby Heugel. His passionate advocacy of smaller agave producers deserved its own page — you can read his story here. He’s talking about what could be a looming tequila crisis for bartenders, but also something far more personal and devastating for the farmers and producers who depend on the agave to feed their families. I’m reassured however because of bartenders like Cristiano Beretta, who on winning a trip to Mexico in a Mezcal Amores comp spoke passionately about the importance of the people who make the stuff.

There’s arguments that bigger producers can plough investment into these communities, and I don’t believe that a producer needs to live in near poverty just so I can sip an authentic mezcal in my neo-speakeasy bar in a $20 cocktail. But I do think that we ought to know where the stuff we drink comes from, like Heugel suggests.

But where to start? As Christopher Hitchens — noted atheist  — might have agreed with, you don’t need God or religion to know what the right thing to do is; that can all come from within. Just don’t drink shit tequila.

See you at the bar.

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