Makes No Sense To Me

This has nothing to do with anything, but I’m very confused after reading about the latest pro athlete/criminal driving at a very high rate of speed and supposedly under the influence of marijuana. I never smoked pot and my usual vehicle was a VW Bug but I had one experience on the almost empty lanes of the Jersey Turnpike at midnight. I had eaten some pot brownie at a wedding and now found it impossible to drive faster than 40 mph in a Buick sedan that idled at 15mph. If I saw a car coming at me from 6 lanes over and a half mile away I would slow to 30 mph.

The question is: How can these guys be smoked up and drive a car 100 mph? And alcohol cannot explain it because I was still slightly buzzed hours after the wedding I attended.

I just don’t understand it. Real time Saratoga is keeping me busy but I’ll try to get some more horseracing posts here soon.

Chef Soper

Carlos Part 2: Love The Horses – Hate The Job

I want to continue the racetrack theme today with some additional Carlos stories integrated with a few snippets of the job career he hoped to avoid. When his early life of privilege ended, Carlos tried several shady but unsuccessful opportunities. His social exposure to Georgetown’s saloon industry afforded him secondary employment chances; some management positions utilized his well dressed, smooth and sophisticated style but didn’t provide the desired monetary compensation. He could enjoy meals and drinks as part of the benefit package, but the salary wasn’t sufficient for his lifestyle – especially money to wager on the ponies. The old racetrack adage applies here: “If you want to get a million dollars from horse racing then you had better start with two million.” So his restaurant career evolved into a combination of manager and bartender – the bar made him more money but was a bit too menial for him to pursue fulltime. This exposure afforded him personal contact with a lot of the bigger gamblers in town and he cultivated many relationships over decades before the crops went bad.

One of these was newspaper columnist and top horseplayer, Andy Beyer. He chronicled many of Carlos’ exploits and gambling failures in the local papers. I would love to see a book of Andy’s great articles published today – one of these detailed Carlos missing out on a successful pick-6 syndicate ticket – he normally was part of the investment group but some personal revelry interfered with his participation this time. What Carlos failed to realize or chose to ignore was the amount of hard work Andy and some of the others in his circle put forth in their racetrack study – when Carlos tried to bet horses for a living, he didn’t have the commitment to this regimen. His flawed solution was to try to glean information from these “wise guys” and then manufacture his own plays. Although he regularly learned most of the ingredients for a winning dish, the proper recipe was not included. He had easy access to a group of true professional horseplayers for many years but … as in his younger Georgetown days, he was a fun guy to have around – until he wasn’t.

This first story shows the dark side of Carlos. The old bartender fraternity from Georgetown of the 1960’s and 1970’s loved action. But if you wanted to bet the ponies back then you were limited by each track’s scheduled races. If someone had a tip on a horse running in New York, then you needed to put together a plan of action: a person to drive there after collecting money from many sources and then keep a proper accounting. Carlos was smart with numbers and loved to drive so he made a good candidate. However it probably was not a good idea to let him select the nag, which happened one time. He and a partner set up a trip to NYC and the prospective horse was going to be a good longshot, which always garnered more wagers from a group whose disposable income was never farther away than their tip cups.

The trip went forward, but the wagers went backward. It seemed just another hard luck story until some of the group gave it a closer look. Then it appeared to be a variation of the scheme in the movie “The Producers,” except off Broadway and onto the racetrack – more Damon Runyon than Mel Brooks. Basically Carlos had chosen a horse who couldn’t win and took all the wagers without making the bet. After a few victims examined the betting pools, the actual odds and the money supposedly invested therein, the numbers didn’t make sense. The selected horse was so bad that no one else could have bet on it with the amount said to be wagered by Carlos. Although the scam was never officially proven, Carlos’ days as a cash courier unofficially ended.

I should have known better when Carlos and I embarked on a Saturday trip from DC to Belmont Racetrack in NY. We were attracted to a high class day of racing and both had the day off. He was willing to drive up and back himself and having me there made the trip a little easier. It was a beautiful day and the drive went well. Our picks at the track ran slow but that happens. It definitely makes the trip home a real chore, but as we reached Jersey Carlos lifted my spirits with the promise of a great meal in the culinary wasteland of Delaware. As he drove, I would press for details but he danced around any specifics – all this mystery kept me excited about the prospect of turning around a disappointing trip. Naturally there was no grand meal – just the boring rest stop on the turnpike after we filled his car with gas. It certainly was no big scam by Carlos – just something to pass the time for a large chunk of the ride home.

Amazingly I have a positive tale in which Carlos acted as the messenger to Laurel Racetrack for my wagers. I was finishing a consulting project at Southside 815 in Old Town and my presence was required on an August Saturday – another big day of racing at Saratoga. Fortunately, by the 1990’s I could bet the race in NY here in Maryland. Carlos offered to take my bets out with him – he lived in Old Town at the time and could hopefully return with winnings for me. Luckily it was slow at work and I spent half the day explaining my wagers to the owner Ben – he was fascinated by the whole process and the lack of business allowed me time to give him a basic seminar on handicapping the races. Even better, the race was being shown on national TV and we could watch it live at the bar.

I had bet the race strongly – using my horse in exactas and trifectas as well as the basic win wager. Plans like this one seldom come together when the Racing Gods are involved, but that day the race unfolded exactly as I had forecast. We had discussed it so much that Ben was familiar with the pace scenario I had mapped out.. We rooted in tandem as the horses I predicted to lead the turf race did so and then began to back up as my filly made her move. I always remember her name – “You’d Be Surprised” – and as she took the lead for good in the stretch Ben and I started urging my secondary horses to get the correct placing behind the winner. All the bets were winners and I think Ben was more excited than me as we tallied up the winnings when the results were made official.

I had planned for a large payment on completion of the project the following week and then Marie and I were going to travel to Saratoga for a vacation. Now I had close to a grand to add to the racetrack war chest. Yet I still had to wait for Carlos to show back with the cash and hope nothing went wrong. Carlos completed his mission without a hitch, which was enough for me to forgive the false hopes of a great meal in Delaware he had planted years earlier during our miserable road trip.

As expected, Carlos’ work experiences later in life continued to chip away at the upbeat demeanor of his youth. He was holding out for some eventual inheritance but his mother’s long life hurt that chance. One beautiful summer day I saw him at OBIE’s By The Sea in Rehoboth performing a previously unimagined management task – his arms were elbow deep in a giant plastic bin full of coleslaw, mixing away. After that unappetizing sight, I didn’t eat any slaw for years. Several years later I saw him behind the bar during a preopening event at The Palm Restaurant in Tyson’s Corner. He was sweating and they were not even open yet. I knew that would not last and it didn’t – a job was bad enough but sweating was not for Carlos.

His mom died not long after that and he did receive an inheritance, although less than he had expected in his youth – about $230,000. I don’t think his sisters were pleased he received that much. But now Carlos finally had a chance to live the life of a professional horseplayer. Predictably it did not go well – much like his whole life – and he went from High Roller to America’s Guest. In less than two years that money had disappeared. On his last trip to Saratoga he was difficult to differentiate from his traditionally dour friend Danny. Siro’s maître d’ Jim Tarpey eyed those two at the track and famously made the sarcastic ID – “Hey, it’s Mr. Happy and Chief Dark Cloud.”

It seemed Carlos felt the weight of the world atop his shoulders but I think it was more likely the world had grown tired of lifting him.

I’ll try to recount some racing exploits which are more uplifting in upcoming posts. I’d love to hear some of your exploits at the track.

Chef Soper

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Ponies Part 1: Saratoga and the DC Connection

Six months after my Hoya classmate Lou Raffetto introduced me to “The Sport of Kings” at nearby Laurel Racetrack another friend, Dave DeCerbo, invited me for a weekend of truly royal racing in Saratoga, NY. His dad, known very affectionately as “Mr. Longshot,” took full advantage of his work schedule as a Latham, NY school principal and attended every day of racing each summer at Saratoga. Father and son were great guides to the specific intricacies of racing at the Spa. Up to this point my preferred form of gambling was poker, but Saratoga changed all that. I was hooked on the sport’s athleticism – both animal and human – with the bonus of being able to gamble on the difficult-to-analyze outcomes. This was the Sunday NY Times Crossword with live video and cash payouts.

After 45 years of regular attendance there, I am always struck by the number of DC people I encounter each summer. Davis Mead – a longtime partner at Saratoga’s preeminent watering hole, Siro’s, before selling his interest a few years ago – left the local restaurant scene in DC to settle there at a college bar in Saratoga’s downtown called the Tin and Lint. His ascent to the top of Saratoga’s food chain spurred other DC bartenders, especially those who were racetrack habitués, to venture north for the summer action not available in sleepy summer Georgetown. Local veteran Mike Kelly was one of the first and Brian “Jumps” Knight, Bernie Poirier and Jim Hagerty joined the parade as well. Jim Tarpey, Kiwi, T-Bird followed in addition to a large contingent of waiters, including Fitz and maybe Chooch, although he moved around so much between DC and Saratoga I’m unsure which came first. He may have actually started in Lake Placid before becoming a front of the house vagabond, who traveled the country like a tornado with fine dining knowledge and a wine key. I also count Albany area native and Manhattan bartender Tony Walsh in this group since he had relocated to DC and partnered with his brother CD to run Pendleton’s on Capitol Hill. Then he re-relocated back home and took some time off from his gambling at the track to work first at a short lived bar in downtown Saratoga before joining Davis at the legendary Siro’s and their newly opened “Cigar Bar.”

That doesn’t take into account the scores of visitors from DC I have met over the years as well as the many Hoyas from my college days who seem to show their faces and wallets each year – not to mention former Third Edition bartender and current Sienna basketball coach, Jimmy Patsos. In a short time there he and wife Michele have become VIP customers at many of Saratoga’s finest establishments.

To conclude this post I offer a  heartfelt thanks to Dave and his late father for inviting and educating me to the greatest six weeks of thoroughbred racing each year – minus thunderstorms – and I hope all my fellow DC horseplayers continue to enjoy the Spa’s immense charms. I hope to continue the racing theme in my posts during the next month with some of the memorable moments we have experienced at the track over the years.

Chef Soper

 

Hot Day in DC and a Hot Sauce Follow-up

Just wanted to tell you a short story given to me by Mike Baker. He read the recent posts and loved the “hot sauce in the tuna salad” strategy employed by Carlos. I see Mike regularly, but because he read these posts he was reminded of a hot sauce story of his own. Our conversations often involve food but this tale was new to me and also falls into that “small world” category often experienced by old Georgetown bartenders.

When he was still a full time teacher and part time bartender in the early 1970’s, Mike worked the weekend day shift at The Aquarius on Penn. Ave.- that location would eventually become his own  Baker Browns Saloon years later. For most of the summer he had a young college couple come in on Saturday afternoons. The Aquarius was well known for its special Bloody Mary preparation, which featured a dash of Tabasco among its 16 ingredients – all of which were mixed to order and served in a large beer mug. The couple had a regular routine of Bacon Cheeseburgers, Bloody Marys, and a roll of quarters for the jukebox. All of this was pretty normal, but the girl would always ask for extra Tabasco for their drinks and really douse each Bloody with the potent condiment. They would use most of the bottle each afternoon, which seemed to cause the guy more pain than his date.

The young man always paid the bill, but on the last weekend of the summer she picked up the check with a credit card. As Mike noted the name on the card, everything finally made perfect sense. The Tabasco Company is based in Avery Island, Louisiana and is owned by the McIlhenny family.- the same name on the girl’s credit card. Mike saw a program years later on the Tabasco history and this old customer’s name was mentioned in the family info. She and her date certainly helped company sales that summer.

Hope to have more later this week, but a lot going on with the start of Saratoga racing on Friday.

Chef Soper

 

 

Random Thoughts: Pope, Irv and Tipping

We will be selling a special Pope Francis Chimichurri Chicken Melt Sandwich at Rumors starting next week – more details to follow.

My earlier post spurred Joe Bolivia and his wife Jason to drive with Marie and me to Pasadena, Maryland for a visit to Irv’s basement bar. We had no idea what to expect but had an amazing time and reinforcement of the small world nature still in our business. 91 y.o. Irv was outside his home right on the water talking to neighbors when we arrived about 4:30 Saturday. We introduced ourselves and asked if he was open – he responded “I am now – I open when I have customers.” He went through the house and unlatched the door to the basement, allowing us to creep down the dark cement stairs.

The basement is a bar and only a bar – made by Irv decades earlier and still solid with a pool table, a jukebox with songs still unused, TV, two tables with comfortable chairs, and a restroom each for “Buoys” and “Gulls.”. The backdoor opened to a beautiful river view. Beer and liquor, mixers and glassware were arranged behind the bar, where Irv positioned himself to serve us our choice. Some other customers arrived soon but I was still able to have a 15 minute conversation with Irv while Joe made friends with one of the new arrivals who sold crabs. I gave Irv a book and we all shook hands to leave, although Irv likes to hug the ladies, which probably explains all the bras hanging from the ceiling. If anyone who loves bars has a bucket list, this needs to go to the top. When Irv leaves us, so will the opportunity to visit his “one of a kind” place.

If that wasn’t enough, we went to a neighboring crab house, where we ran into Maggie and Sean from past Whale days, Joe’s nephew who has a boat at the marina, and a couple who own horses and employ Dennis Lynch as their horses’ dentist. We were definitely off the beaten path but on a wild ride.

A friend mentioned the recent publicity from a regular customer at a restaurant on Connecticut Ave. – Blue 44 – tipping the waiter and manager $2000 for a number of recent kindnesses bestowed on him. Most of us have had a great tip or ten in our days, although the recent story certainly represented an unusually large amount. I have two tales to add, and although neither involved me I was privy to the details.

My former in-laws once had dinner with Frank Sinatra and his wife Barbara in the 1970’s at the legendary 21 Club in Manhattan. After dinner the management orchestrated an employee line so Frank could greet all with a $100 handshake. I think this falls into the category of urban legend which is actually true. They all got a c-note, including many who were not working that shift, but were alerted to the impending largesse.

Finally I will turn once again to Carlos Meyer, who created the weirdest tipping plan in history. He was the regular day bartender at Union Street Public House in Alexandria. At the time there were still many lunch regulars who came 3-5 days a week in a fairly predictable pattern. Carlos used the mathematical portion of his brain to predict each customer’s monthly expenditure and more importantly, the total gratuity due him over the course of the coming month. He then gave each  his monetary expectation for the next month and offered a 15% discount if they prepaid him in cash upfront. The amazing thing was most took him up on the offer because they figured it would work in their favor, especially if they spent more than usual. I think he had at least a dozen participate in the only tipping hedge fund ever attempted.

Thanks for listening, Chef Soper

 

 

 

First Week: Wrapup

Thanks to all for the interest shown for the blog so far. I’m working on several ideas for next week – not easy to put down some thoughts that make some sense without the time a book gives you to continually edit. My friend and part time editor Jeffrey is anxious to do some more editing after reading these posts.

Our friend, Father Ken Gill, suggested running a special Pope Sandwich to honor the pontiff’s DC visit. Rumors restaurant will donate some of proceeds to Catholic Charities meals program and the local arch diocese will mention all in an online website which will be passed on to the Pope. As Dr. V. says “We can use all the help we can get.”

Any ideas for the future posts and Book II are appreciated.

Chef Soper – chefsoper@starpower.net

Carlos Meyer: Part 1

My first post included my plan to launch ideas for my next book in this space. This will be the first attempt in that mission. It’s difficult to decide where to start so I went with one of the more interesting characters from the G-Town Golden Saloon Age and one with whom I have had a personal and professional relationship. First of all, Carlos passed away recently at age 72 with more of a whimper than the bang-bang-bang of his earlier years. I will try to give a little background  and stay mostly within history I witnessed. He produced a wide range of responses from friends, acquaintances and family – generally trending more negatively the longer you dealt with him. I was lucky not to be so close that I received any major damage, but I am probably in the minority.

I mentioned Carlos only briefly in my book because of space and concept, but he embodied a lot of the personality and fun of the subject era I wish to explore in my next book. His father was Minister of Sugar in pre-Castro Cuba, which is a little more important than being Minister of Automobiles in 1965 Detroit. He went to the prestigious Culver Military Academy in the U.S. before starting Georgetown U. He typified the mid-1960s international, preppy, blazer off the shoulders, ladies man, privileged Hoya; yet he managed to set himself apart – not always in a good way. One of his contemporaries discovered this when introduced to Carlos’ father at a tony Georgetown party. He innocently said to Mr. Meyer that he knew a Carlos Meyer and was informed that “My son is everything but a murderer.” Luckily for Carlos, like many of us, his mom loved and tolerated him.

I first met Carlos when I waited on his table at Chadwick’s in 1972. I knew his name from our bartenders’ stories although the name on his AmEx card was different. His order is forever etched in my memory – Tuna Sandwich on White Bread and New York Steak, rare of course. I’m pretty sure that order has never been repeated in my presence. That food selection led to an afternoon Tuna Salad Sandwich Contest between the two of us, while I tended bar. About 20 bar hobos came in to judge our preparations and I won my first culinary contest. I knew my chances were strong when Carlos produced a bottle of Tabasco for his recipe. Although hot sauces are as prevalent in DC today as yoga mats, I Phones and Starbucks Reward Cards, in 1972 the people were not ready for it in their tuna sandwich. Years later I would regularly  try to spice up Carlos’ management meal to meet his need for heat.

As crazy as he was, Carlos met his match with his first wife Bunny. Beautiful and energetic, Bunny was a lot of fun, but the combination with Carlos and his crazy traits doomed the relationship before it ever had a chance to settle. They remained friendly as long as Bunny remained a safe distance away in Charlottesville, Va.. I always got along with Bunny despite my growing reputation as a tough guy in the kitchen. During a dinner shift at the Foundry, Bunny decided to surprise me with a basket of fresh summer vegetables from her home garden. She rolled into my busy kitchen – I was working the grill station that night – to the horror of the wait staff. They were leery of interrupting the kitchen flow with a reasonable request and looked on, expecting to see a lava flow from my head destroy this unsuspecting visitor. Of course Bunny runs up to me, screams “Hello Chef” and jumps into my arms with a big hug. I start laughing as she proudly shows me her basket of veggies.The entire staff spent the next week trying to believe what they had seen – me being nice to a kitchen interloper, a woman at that. Although he wasn’t present, Carlos always loved that story.

More from Carlos later, Chef Soper

Off The Beaten Path

Being a city dweller who doesn’t drive a car anymore, I live on the regular DC food path, namely steakhouses or similar high profile places. I was reminded of my status when Joe Bolivia told me about a recent road trip to Frederick, Md. for crabs and fun at Avery’s Maryland Grill. He hit all the bases – Beer Spiced Shrimp, Oysters and Crabs served in a friendly, casual atmosphere with horse racing on the TV.

There was a time when road trips to Maryland produced such consistent low profile fun. Any state that produced Cal Ripken Jr., H.L.Mencken and Spiro Agnew has a lot of variety to offer – not just an Oriole game in the old Memorial Stadium. Some of the veteran bartenders from my early Georgetown days would regularly make an Annapolis road trip for cheap beers and great crab cakes at a waterfront dive with a no nonsense attitude – I think it was run by a real local character named Sam Luray – not sure of the spelling. Unlike today, I’m sure he never responded “Absolutely” to any customer request. It could have even been called Luray’s Tavern. My friend Wally from Southern Maryland would come into town and take us to a way off the path restaurant – Fontana’s in Bladensburg. It was a real family place: mom cooking and kids serving in their actual house with a pretty small bill to pay – we brought the wine. It was great, especially because we had nothing similar in DC.

They had different laws then in suburban Maryland, which leads to a road trip I want to make today. In Pasadena, Md. there is one home left which can legally serve and charge for alcohol in their basement. The homeowner’s name is Irv Koch and he is 91. His house in a residential neighborhood is the last vestige of a time with no zoning laws or other government oversight. Friends and loyal patrons bring along beer and booze for Irv to sell back to them in his bar strewn with a lifetime of memorabilia. The Capital-Gazette newspaper had a great article on Irv last winter – look it up.

Truly off the path but in the present. I hope Joe is listening – we need to make a trip.to see Irv before Maryland becomes DC.

Happy travels off the path, Chef Soper

I’m still not sure how comments work, if anyone is reading, but you can always email me at chefsoper@starpower.net

Radio

Old friend and a combo chef – bartender like myself, Joe Bolivia, are talking about a weekly radio segment. We could discuss local restaurant topics as well as national food and restaurant trends. We would probably be climbing over each other with stories and favorite recipes to accent the topics.

My possible segment titles are ” Pardon The Indigestion” or “Eat, Drink, But Be Wary.

Look out, Chef Soper”

Chef Soper Begins Blogging Career

Alert the media – I’m blogging. Like most of the world they probably don’t care. My plan is to use this format to launch some preliminary ideas for a sequel to “Meet Me At The Bar, I’m Hungry.” Many of you enjoyed the stories which I wrapped around the recipes. After all it is a cookbook too so I needed recipes. It seems there is a lot of interest in  Georgetown’s rich bar and restaurant history – especially the people involved. My basic idea is to chronicle the people and places before and during my time. The tentative title is “Bars, Stars, Ramblers and Gamblers.” The focus would be the old bars, their great bartenders and other employees, the characters who moved in and out of that world as customers and the specific characters who were most known for their horse playing, sports betting and illicit scams.

So that is the plan – I hope it works and generates a lot of interest from my readers and maybe a media type or two.

Talk with you soon, Chef Soper