Bourbon, Bosnia and Balliceaux
Last month Gov. Tim Kaine appointed former Richmond City Council member and recent mayoral candidate Bill Pantele to the position of commissioner for the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control's three-man board. The ABC board is a monopoly when it comes to liquor sales in Virginia, the be-all, end-all of the sale of spirits. While it is an arcane system full of absurd checks on what restaurants, distributors and consumers can and cannot do, it makes Virginia a pretty penny annually — in the neighborhood of $641 million in gross sales during fiscal '08.
Virginia's mafialike hold over the hooch is one thing, but the appointment of Bosnia Bill to its top spot is another. This is a man whose drinking prowess I once aided with five “double bourbon- rocks” at Havana '59. I subsequently got fired for blogging about it. In a City Council speech he once famously likened downtown Richmond to a war-torn, ethically diverse battleground, hence the “Bosnia” handle.
I'm certainly not saying that the guy isn't qualified for the job. He is. It's just that I, among others, think the ABC is unscrupulous with its syndicated control over the hard booze industry in the commonwealth and I wonder if a lawyer and politician is really who we need running it. That being said, I've made a short list of things for Wild Bill to consider as he begins his first term as Virginia's Patron Pundit:
1. Consider updating some of our antiquated liquor laws and gradually bringing Virginia into the 21st century and out of the temperance movement.
2. Rein in some of your more ambitious field agents. The ones whose relentless condemnation and bullying make dealing with the Gestapo seem like a sunny alternative. We understand that serving minors is illegal, but fining a bar for putting nightly liquor specials on a stupid flyer? C'mon!
3. Allow distributors and suppliers to come in and work openly with bars on promotions. Competition works and after all, we are not Communists.
4. You have the master key to the main ABC warehouse now. Remember that the Maker's Mark is on aisle 14. You can pick up a bag of ice from the 7-Eleven on Patterson — you know, the one next to Bandito's.
Jack's Picks: A recent Thursday-night drinking expedition had me set foot in two new bars and one revamped Fan neighborhood standard.
If you haven't tried Balliceaux yet, do so, now. A beautiful interior and a drink menu that focuses on classic cocktails (Try Hemingway's revenge: Goslings Black Seal rum, fresh lime juice, ruby red grapefruit and Tahitian vanilla syrup.) make it well worth a visit.
As for the new sports bar at the downtown Marriott, T-Miller's, it‘s no rush. While it’s a nice space and probably will be a solid place to catch a game, the corporate atmosphere and steep drink prices make it exactly what it is — an out-of-towners' bar.
Last, and you may already know this, but Easy Street is back. The old haunt is still a great bar to get your drink on and to get a good, cheap meal.
Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback consumes and slings drinks at a number of local establishments. He also writes a surly blog at www.jackgoesforth.blogspot.com. Find him on Twitter @jackgoesforth. Have a question or comment for the bartender? E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.