You may not know this, but there is a bar besides the Tonga Room in the Fairmont Hotel. It sits at the back of the Laurel Court restaurant, which is off the main lobby. I stumbled into it after hiking up perfectly vertical streets for about five blocks, from Chinatown to Nob Hill. If you are one of the 30 percent of folks in this town who do not go to climbing gyms on your lunch hour, then your hindquarters will feel like mine did — a feeling akin to soaking your ass in a vat of Icy Hot and then being flogged.
With great relief I sank into a sofa in what I suppose could be called the grand foyer. There are so many kinds of people milling around in the lobby of the Fairmont that unless you are visibly derelict you stand a pretty good chance of blending in. Its website recommends a "smart-casual" dress style for patrons, which, frankly, could mean someone in a Boredoms T-shirt and Converse, because it takes a certain cerebral bent to like a band like that. I was wearing an ELO T-shirt, which I suppose made me below-average-intelligence-casual. I decided that if a staffer asked me which room I was staying in (which is probably how they approach the riffraff so as not to offend someone like Lemmy, on the off chance that said riffraff was in fact a rich rock star) I would say that I was visiting my in-laws, who were staying there and were due to meet me in the lobby any minute, and did they know what time it was, exactly?
But no one cared. Europeans were jetting to and fro, their overhead-bin-size wheeled luggage pulled behind them like dutiful terriers. This is my new pet peeve — the invention of the pull-out luggage handle, especially when applied to things that are meant to be worn on the body, like a backpack. I find them especially egregious when the people in front of me on an escalator are employing one and take their sweet time yanking it off the mechanical stairway upon disembarkation, putting my life and the lives of everyone behind me in jeopardy. Still worse are those people who walk in front of you with them, then suddenly switch direction, causing you to nearly trip over their wheeled JanSport full of Beanie Babies and Twix bars. "Maybe they have a bad back and can't carry a bag," says nearly everyone that I bitch to about this. "Maybe they damaged their lumbar vertebrae while building houses for Habitat for Humanity." The more I demonize the Pullers (as I call them), the more people seem to want to leap to their rescue. Well fuck you, Pullers.
The more I thought about it, the more righteous anger fermented inside me as I sat there in the lobby. I didn't walk five blocks and exercise for 10 minutes to feel like this, so I gave myself a change of scenery. I got up and went into the Laurel Court Bar, or Le Petit Versailles. The look is Motel 6 French Provincial, with mauves and golds and invisible cherubim that fly over and drop your synthetic-fabric napkin in your lap. I liked it there, though, because you could still watch all the lobby goings-on without actually having to be in the center of it.
I had made the mistake the previous week of ordering a bag of chips and a Diet Coke in the "Caffe" in the Fairmont's basement, all of which cost me $4.50. Only Amtrak and the movie theater have worse deals. So I figured I could probably afford only one drink at this place. As it turned out, I could only afford half of one drink, so I just got a club soda. I perused the menu though, because I'm a bit of an expert on such matters, and my readership has come to expect nothing less from me — meaning you are tired of me giving you less. So here you go: There was a drink called Some Like It Hot, with tequila and serrano pepper, and one called Marshall's Farm Honey Old Fashioned. Upon further research I found that the Fairmont uses its own honey, which I assumed was made somewhere in Sonoma or something. Then I found out that the honey was produced right there, in the hotel. By its own count, there are over 100,000 bees on the premises. They are housed in the garden outside, but still, damn. What an amazing idea: Gather thousands of swarming insects in a place that caters to the same number of guests. It was so bizarre that I was beginning to respect the Smart Casuals who run the Fairmont. It was as if Chuck Palahniuk had designed a luxury hotel.
From a business standpoint, the bees cover a lot of PR ground. First, they are sustainable and local. Second, they are seen as a threatened species, so the management appears to be doing its part for the environment. Third, they can be trained to engulf the riffraff if they can't say what room they are staying in.
Yes, the bees are a brilliant move. In fact, bees are like bar columnists. When a bee has found a fecund lea of lavender or honeysuckle, it returns to its hive and dances a "waggle," which is a series of movements that tell all the other bees where the bounty can be found. I like to think that this column has a certain waggle, leading you to verdant glens of Glenfiddich and vermouth. Here's another cool thing about bees: They don't need pull-out luggage handles. They apply the pollen directly to their own asses. I think we can all learn a thing or two from this.