BYON

10 years ago

Shortly after Alessandro and I met, we fell into the custom of enjoying after-work cocktails at a corner baretto a few blocks from our apartment in Milan. I’d always order one of the aperitivi della casa (which invariably tasted either like a Negroni or a fruit punch) and Ale’d always order something exotic, something that probably made him feel like he was Magnum P.I. Various free stuzzichini (munchies) accompanied the apertivi: a small plate of pizzette and canapés, a cup of roasted nuts, a handful of potato chips. Nothing that would overwhelm the appetite or break the bar’s bank account: just enough to enhance the alcohol buzz and keep customers happy.

We continued our cocktail habit here in San Diego, primarily at the Del’s Babcock & Storey because the view and the people-watching are choice (particularly during wedding season). However, in place of the free stuzzichini, we get to share a free microscopic bowl of peanut-y trail mix with our drinks. We always assumed that this parsimony was a Del exclusive, a sort of prerogative of privilege characteristic of the pinched classes. It seems that we were wrong.

Yesterday, a friend who’d been visiting was returning to Italy and we of course drove him up to LAX. He invited us for drinks and, after spending an exasperating two hours checking him in at Bradley International, made a mad dash upstairs to one of the lounges. The service was impeccable – our drinks arrived 30 seconds after we placed our order and we were offered a mountain of snowy napkins and three huge glasses of watered down chlorine. The only problem was that neither a single nut nor a stale chip was offered. We were a bit confused and checked out the neighboring tables, thinking that this lack of nuts/chips was probably just an oversight. It wasn’t. We asked the waiter. He confirmed. No free nuts; no free chips: but lots of free napkins and watered down chlorine.

In such circumstances, taking out one’s frustration on helpless waiters for policies devised by miserly managements is hardly fair. It also solves nothing. Having temper tantrums in stalls of airport restrooms is also not terribly useful. The only real remedy that we could come up with for deprived munchies when cocktailing at cheapskate bars was byon – bring your own nuts. Here’s how it might work:

(1) Keep your pantry stocked with three or four different kinds of nuts – walnuts, pecans, pepitas, almonds – whatever tickles your tastebuds. When we do beer bashes at home, I serve a combo of raw walnuts and roasted and salted pecans and pepitas, which would work great in a byon situation.

(2) Just before you’re ready to hit the bars, mix up your nuts, then place the mix in a clean paper or plastic cup or small container stamped prominently with the name and logo of some actual vendor: say, Moo Time. Make sure that you hold the cup in your hand as if it really contains ice cream or a soft drink.

(3) When you’re seated at the bar, set the cup at the center of the table as nonchalantly as possible and start munching away.

Ok, so it’s not a particularly elegant solution, but I’m willing to bet that it’s quite effective. Now Ale and I just need to find the courage to actually carry it out.

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