The trouble with drinking is that if something goes wrong, you're not in the best position to defend yourself. In relation to the authority figures who are supposedly looking after you, you're somewhat infantilised - there's an assumption that if you're intoxicated, you must be in the wrong. Or at least, there is if you're dealing with arrogant arseholes who have forgotten their position role.
It was such a perfect night. We started by visiting Fremont Brewing. Situated on the northern lake shore of the fractal coastline that makes Seattle so stunning, it was one of those brief moments when you think life simply can't get any better. The beers were stunning, the atmosphere was amazing. It reminded me of the bars on South London's celebrated Bermondsey Mile, but it was more confident, more relaxed, more grown up. We could have stayed there all night.
Instead, we decided to move on to Pine Box, a craft beer bar that had been recommended by everybody to whom I mentioned my impending trip to Seattle.
Before we left Fremont, a few of our party visited the merchandise shop. For as long as I've been writing about beer, I've always thought north American craft brewers have got merch nailed. They make you excited to be around them, and they have a knack of making stuff you'll spend money on. At Fremont, one of out party bought a metal sign to bring home, about two feet tall, embossed, like this:
Outside Pine Box is a flight of stone steps leading down to the street. We were standing on these steps, waiting for our cab, when a female member of staff came out, snatched the Fremont sign and said, "You are not taking this away, because you stole it from our wall."
Naturally, this provoked a strong reaction from us, and soon a member of security and another male member of bar staff were blocking our way, preventing us from getting my friend's sign back.
The bar staff disappeared back inside, while the security guy prevented us from following them. A minute or so later, the male member of bar staff - tall, with a long, hipster beard and a topknot - came back out and returned the sign, apologising for the confusion. No, of course he didn't, because we're talking about someone who had already accused of stealing without actually checking to see if anything had been stolen. He came back out waving the sharp metal sign, narrowly missing slicing another member of our party across the face with it, and said, "Don't you ever DARE lay a finger on a member of my staff again." He thrust the sign into my friend's hands and disappeared back inside. Needless to say, no one had touched the bartender who stole our sign. We had tried to take it back from her, as you would if someone tried to take something from you that you had just bought. There was no apology. Even with our sign back, the guy had gone out of his way to make us feel like it we who were in the wrong.
The security guy was conciliatory and did what security guys are supposed to do, and often don't - instead of inflaming the situation, he tried to defuse it and calm us down. But from the bar staff, that was it - no apology for ruining our night and accusing us of being thieves, no admission that they had made a mistake.
I can understand why, on a Saturday night, if you see someone walking out of your bar with a big metal sign you might be worried. But if I was in that situation, the first thing I would do is look at the wall where my metal sign was hanging and see it if was fucking missing before accusing a customer of stealing it. (We never spotted a Fremont sign on the wall, but I'm guessing there must have been one. They must have checked this after taking our sign, and that must be why they returned it.) Having realised my mistake once I'd attacked and stolen from a customer, I would then have been profusely apologetic. I certainly wouldn't have swung the sign in a way very likely to cause injury.
This was a serious incident that could have escalated. Making a mistake is one thing, and is understandable to an extent. But having accused a customer of being a thief, upon realising your mistake it's surely imperative to try to resolve the situation and make sure everyone goes way happy. The staff at Pine Box not only failed to do this, they further inflamed the situation by acting extremely aggressively, attacking us rather than apologising for their error. I simply would not feel physically safe drinking in a place run by these people.
The owner of Pine Box responded very quickly to this and has issued a full apology to the person who was attacked by his staff. I'm sure our treatment there was very out of the ordinary because so many people recommended the place to me - that's why we went. But I blogged this publicly to make a point about this kind of thing, to see what would happen.
I've changed the title of this blog to be less inflammatory about Pinebox, but it stands as a commentary and a case study on a much wider problem. It's generated some interesting debate. Everyone I know has had surly treatment in craft beer bars. Everyone has been 'served' by people who clearly think they are better than the customers they are supposed to be looking after. But everyone has a voice. Staff really can't afford to treat their customers with contempt.
Next time I'm in Seattle, I'll go back to Pinebox for their phenomenal beer list. I hope we have a completely different experience.