Tag Archives: House Rules

House Rules: Doggie Dining

Let us say this emphatically, because we want you to know it and believe it right off the bat: The Chop is not, repeat not a mean old dog-hater. We like dogs. We like them a lot, actually; more than we like most people. Dogs are almost always nice and friendly. People are often inconsiderate assholes.

As the Sun’s Julie Bykowicz reported last month a new state law will officially legalize bringing dogs into the outdoor seating sections of restaurants. The way we see it, when the law takes effect July 1, it will merely serve to double down on an already prevalent practice among dog-owning Baltimoreans.

A visual approximation of the Chop enjoying some peaceful, quiet, uninterrupted, dog-free al fresco dining.

The main reason we started a “House Rules” section on this blog is that a lot of people simply don’t know how to act when they’re out in public. This is never more true than where dogs are concerned. Where dogs cause problems, it’s never the dog’s fault. People are the real problem.

Let’s assume for a moment that your dog is perfect. It’s not true, but let’s imagine that your dog was the valedictorian of obedience school and that he’ll lie motionless under your chair for the duration of a meal. You’re still bringing it into an environment with several other dogs, and one of them is going to bark at your dog. We’re at the next table over, and we were just about to make a point before a whole patio of barking erupted because someone else not you, gentle reader doesn’t know how to keep their dog quiet.

It’s not even always the dogs that annoy. Even if you’re dog is lying still and sweetly under your table, somebody is going to come outside to smoke. That person is then going to fawn all over your dog whether you want them to or not. Although you’re probably used to that by now, we’re not, and we’re at the next table over. This asshole is now bumping into our chair and getting smoke all over us while we’re eating.

It’s not your fault either, that you let the waiter pet your dog when he brought the little bowl of water for it. He asked, after all, and it would have been rude to say no. But we just watched the waiter pet your dog and we’re not too happy about it. Especially since our salad hasn’t arrived yet.

These are just a few ways that even your perfect little pooch can cause a lot of chaos in a restaurant setting. If you’re eating outside this Spring and Summer, please keep in mind that you are in a restaurant and not at a kennel club or dog show. You don’t have to pet every dog you see just because it’s cute. We love eating outdoors, but come July we’ll be enjoying the air-conditioning in the dog-free, smoke-free indoor part of the restaurant. We’re not the only local blog who feels this way, either.

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House Rules: Check Cashing at the Corner Bar

The Chop is a stand up guy. How do you know you can trust the Chop? Because we don’t fool around with office buildings and churches and meeting rooms and all of that mess. All of our most important business, and most of our life decisions are conducted properly… down at the bar.

People often ask how we got started in our career, and the answer is “by talking to some guy in a bar.” We sold a car in a bar once, and rented an apartment too. We’ve borrowed and repaid money, made several major life choices and met some of the most important people in our life. Of course, we’ve also cashed a paycheck or two.

Baltimoreans have a knack for conducting business in bars; whether it's legitimate, illicit, or duck-related.

In this thoroughly modern world even going inside a bank branch is considered a somewhat old-fashioned activity, but we remember a time, if only vaguely, when people eschewed banks in favor of the financial services available at the local bar. Time was a man would get his check on Friday afternoon and carry it straight to the bar, where they’d cash it for him and he’d drink a certain portion of it after a hard week’s work. He might even take a part of it home as a money order in the amount of his BGE bill or car payment.

It’s strange to think of now, in an era when “totally free” checking, free debit cards and free online banking are the standard among banks, but for most of the 20th century a very large number of middle class people didn’t even have bank accounts. Those that did often used them primarily for savings, as opposed to checking, credit cards and other services. If you’re old enough to remember things like passbook savings and balancing a checkbook, then you know that those things were such a headache that they would drive a man to drink; with their minimums, monthly fees, long lines and bankers’ hours. Back in the day, it was just easier to manage your money in cash with the help of your favorite barmaid.

That’s to say nothing of another big advantage to doing your banking at a bar… the ability to hide money. If you’re flush, there’s seldom any need to hide money. Who among us is always flush though? At one time or another, we’ve all been hesitant to deposit a check because we never learned to balance a checkbook and we might come up short. If you’ve got an auto-pay bill or an overdraft fee looming, direct deposit can really fuck you when you’re trying to figure out who to pay first. Keeping your check away from the bank will allow you to insure that top priorities like the mortgage and grocery bill get paid, and the rest can wait if they have to.

Then there’s the wife. If you got a few hours of overtime on the check this week, well, she doesn’t have to know about that, does she?

For the most part these days, bar owners are out of the check cashing business. Only the oldest of old school bars do it (reluctantly) as a favor to their most regular and long-standing customers. Our own finances are more advanced than we ever thought they’d be, with our fancy free checking and credit cards and electronic transfers. Sometimes though, we miss our own little cash economy, and not having to stop at the bank before we hit the barstool.

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House Rules: Free Food for Happy Hour

The Chop is jumping on the Bolt Bus and heading up to New York for a party tonight. As much as we’re loathe to admit that any city anywhere has some advantage over Baltimore, and especially New York City, we can’t deny that there is one aspect in which the Big Apple is thoroughly and completely superior: free food at happy hour.

The tradition of free food at happy hour traces back to some time of yore in some place that we don’t really feel like Googling right now. However it is mentioned in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) in a scene in which Jurgis is low on money and chooses to go to the bar and buy whiskey in order to enjoy the free meal being served with it.

Rudy's in Hell's kitchen has been giving away hot dogs for decades and hasn't gone broke yet. Baltimore bar owners, please take note.

The Jungle is set in Chicago, of course, but we believe the tradition of free food to have originated in Manhattan, probably in bars with specific ethnic clienteles who all enjoyed specific ethnic foods. Rudy’s Bar in Hell’s Kitchen has made itself famous nationwide as ‘the place that gives away free hot dogs all day every day’, and any New Yorker who is hungry or broke or both can easily pull up many lists of plenty of bars which are more than happy to feed customers for free during happy hour. And we’re not just talking wieners here; these bars are serving up everything from dogs and burgers to wings, hummus, cheese plates, pasta dishes and even bagels and brunch spreads on Sundays.

In an era when people are as thirsty as ever and still feeling the lingering effects of the Bush Economy, free food at happy hour makes perfect sense. Baltimoreans are always quick to embrace a deal, and a local bar scene in which taverns compete not on the basis of who can throw the best dance party or tap the most microbrews, but who gives away the best and most food is a winning situation for everyone.

If Baltimore wishes to hold onto its claim of being The Greatest City in America, we need to get our act together on the happy hour food giveaways.

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House Rules: Credit Card Roulette

The Chop is not typically given over to gambling. We used to frequent Pimlico when the horses were running, and we’re loathe to back out of a bar bet if we’re absolutely sure that it was Paul Rodriguez who co-starred in DC Cab and not George Lopez. Aside from that though, we tend to eschew games of chance believing the odds are always in favor of the house.

So it may be a bit uncharacteristic of us to come out and endorse credit card roulette, but endorse it we do, and heartily.

CCR is great for fancy restaurants. Just make sure you don't eat like a horse...

For the uninitiated, credit card roulette is a game played by a group of friends out dining or drinking. When the bill comes, all parties at the table produce a credit card, which cards are then shuffled and one is picked at random, usually by a waiter or busboy. The owner of the card picked is then gracious enough to pick up the entire check, while everyone else’s card finds its way back into their wallets unswiped.

Credit card roulette is not new, per se, as the earliest reference to it we found in a quick Google search was 2006. It is however new enough that it has yet to gain much in the way of popularity. Despite a few mentions here and there on TV and in the movies and print media, many people have still never heard of it, and those who do know about it often balk. With the great recession taking hold in mid-2007, most people out there were lucky to be eating at all, let alone in restaurants, and that’s to say nothing of picking up the whole table’s bill. We’re slowly crawling out of that mire though, and we hope that 2011 will be the year that CCR really takes off as a social phenomenon.

Granted, it’s not for everyone. For those who go out often enough though, and who tend to go out with the same groups of friends on a regular basis, the rewards easily outweigh the risks. Hell, we endorse paying the bill out of sheer generosity if you can swing it. The reaction to a surprise check pick-up can range anywhere from genuine gratitude to outright awe. If you’ve never felt this from your guests (and at this point they are your guests), you owe it to yourself at least once. Even as a winner (loser) of credit card roulette though, a hearty round of thanks and appreciation are still your due.

Another great aspect of this game though, and the main reason we endorse it with so much gusto is because of the social bonds it can create and nurture. If nothing else, it’s an inducement for the loser to invite everyone else back out for another meal in the hopes of getting back to breaking even. After a few meals are exchanged and it all evens out (and maybe a few new marks get to pay once in a while) the whole thing becomes more of a gentlemen’s society and rotating supper club than anything else. And hey, who doesn’t like a free meal once in a while.

What about you? Have you played credit card roulette before? Won? Lost? Was the loser a sport or did they get all huffy about it. would you try it again? Let us know in the comments.

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House Rules: Last Call Part 2

Just before New Year’s we weighed in with our opinion on Baltimore’s 2 am last call law. While some find it absurd, offensive, and annoying, we really don’t mind it much at all. Love it or hate it though, 2 am last calls aren’t going away anytime soon in the City of Baltimore.

Since it’s here to stay, we all might as well make the best of it. When you’re out late this weekend, or any weekend in the future, keep in mind that there is a well-established protocol- a set of House Rules if you will. While the drill may vary slightly from bar to bar, the last call ritual is easier to endure when you know the rules.

Closing time.

Know and understand Bar Time. First thing’s first, when you arrive at the bar you intend to close, locate the House Clock. This will almost always be a large, non-digital clock, most likely behind the bar, but possibly at its end, near the front door, or high on the opposite wall. This clock will be set to Bar Time. Bar time is usually 15-20 minutes ahead of real time, but may even be as much as 30. It may be 17, maybe 12 1/2 doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, that’s what time it is. Doesn’t matter what your watch says. Your watch is wrong until you’re on the other side of the door.

Anticipate the last call-call. When the Bar Time clock says 1:30, you know that last call is coming in the next few minutes. If you’re already ready for another round, get it before every other jerk in the bar orders ‘one more for the road.’ If the bartender asks you ‘Would you like anything for last call?’ or just announces it to the company at large, you should know immediately a) whether you want to order and b) what you want to order. Whether it’s one more of the same, a round of shots, or something for a nightcap, now is the time to order decisively.

Make preparations to leave. If you need a cab, arrange for it now. If your party got separated, get them back together posthaste. If you need to get a phone number, get it before the lights go up. Finish your drinks. Don’t Chug, just finish. If you can’t or don’t want to, then don’t. No shame in that. Now is also a good time to get your coat, since barroom coat theft is a problem rampant everywhere from Baltimore to Blighty.

Pay your check. It’s best to ask for your check before the bartender closes all tabs and hands them out. You should be asking for your check at the same moment you order your last round, before everyone else has a check to pay also. This is also a very good time to ask for a six pack to go if you need one, because it’s not like you can stop by the liquor on the way home, yes?

Know the difference between Last Call and Bar’s Closed. When the lights are turned on, the stools go up, and the staffers start making comments like ‘If you don’t work here and you’re not sleeping with someone who does, you have to leave now.’ that’s not last call anymore. That’s the bar being closed. That’s when you walk out of the door because the bar is not open anymore. Don’t stand around complaining. Don’t go for the bathroom. Don’t try to continue drinking. Just leave. Bouncers and barbacks in this town *will* snatch the drink right out of your hand and tell you to fuck off. Please don’t make it come to that.

Get the hell out of there. Don’t stand out front smoking cigarettes for an hour and a half. Don’t make out in your car in the parking lot until dawn. Don’t walk around in circles drunk dialing people for no good reason. Go home. Or go to the diner or Wawa or someplace. But mostly go home.

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House Rules: Last Call- Part 1

New Year’s Eve is a sacrosanct holiday in Baltimore. It’s the one night of the year when bars are allowed to stay open as long as they damn well please. It’s like every drunk’s birthday at once, where midnight is the starting point and every barstool Baudelaire is bound and determined to drink until they see the windows lighting, stagger out into some epic new dawn of a new year of a new metaphor of a new day of being the Champion, the undisputed Champion of drinking.

When the bar looks that empty and blurry, it's time to go the fuck home anyway.

The Chop, for one, just doesn’t get it. You can go into any bar in this city on any night of the year and every single patron in there will have an opinion about closing time. We don’t suggest you test this theory, because if you do, you’re going to have nitwits falling all over themselves to tell you their own personal stories and opinions on the matter.

“I used to live in New York and up there…”

“Well down in New Orleans…”

“I don’t even get off work until after midnight…”

“I’m a libertarian and blah blah blah…”

Personally, we’re past the point where we even like staying out late. You know the Chop, and we’ll go out five, six nights a week but we’re happiest when we’re getting back home around 12:30 or 1 am. It’s nice to have some time to put your feet up, watch the Daily Show, and decompress a little before the stroke of 3 am. Even on the nights when we want to make it late, we’ve got no problem grabbing a table at the diner or taking it back home for a nightcap. We’ve managed to see the sun come up plenty of times with the liquor laws just the way they are.

We’d also like to humbly suggest to those who would whine about a 2 am closing that it is legal to show up before 11pm. If the place is that great, if drinking is so much fun, if you want to be there longer and drink more, just come earlier. Show up at 9… five hours of bar drinking should be enough for anyone.

Later this week we’ll discuss the actual etiquette of last call. As for today, the comments on this entry are closed. We know you’ve got an opinion on it, but you can go harangue some other drunk about it. We’re too deep into our home bar to listen.

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House Rules: Who Should Pay on the Last Date

You know, the discussion of who should pay on a first date is a pretty old, circular and tired argument. There are tens of thousands of opinions on the question in books and magazines and all over the internet, including our own sage advice on the matter. It’s the kind of question that most people ask simply because they want their own opinions reinforced, and most answers, whether foolish or wise, fall on deaf ears anyway.

We’re here today though to answer a question which is just as important, yet seldom ever discussed; namely, who should pay on the last date.

'It's not you... it's on me.'

We’ve got the answer, but before we give it to you we’ve got to figure out if a last date is even necessary. It can be a tough thing to end a relationship with someone. We’re not even talking about serious relationships here either. We mean Dumping someone, with a capital D. You don’t ‘Dump’ your long term significant other, and even if you did we wouldn’t have much advice to give you.

No, we’re talking about those sorts of relationships that get past that crucial third date, and may go all the way up to boyfriend or girlfriend status, but definitely stop short of “in love”. So, 99% of most peoples’ relationships.

Sometimes things just don’t work out, and if you’re not Dumping someone for a specific reason (like cheating, an argument, etc), you may think the most gentle and forthright way to go about it is over dinner, or at least over drinks or coffee or something. The Chop subscribed to this logic for many years, but plenty of very bitter experience (on both ends) has convinced us otherwise. It’s a sort of juvenile, emo record, life-as-romantic-comedy sort of idea that backfires more often than not.

The truth is that if you’re about to Dump someone you’re not in love with, you sometimes have very little idea how they might react. They might become angry or withdrawn or resentful or confused. They might even be indifferent. At any rate, Dumping someone halfway through a dinner is a sure-fire guarantee that the rest of the meal will be excruciatingly awkward and uncomfortable. The only thing worse than getting dumped is getting dumped in public.

Another strategy that some people pursue is to schedule a date, but then meet up and say “Oh, let’s not have dinner after all. We need to talk…” This is not any better, as it’s basically the equivalent of standing someone up one last time. If you arrange a date, a date should happen. Although this tactic is slightly preferable to calling the person you’re seeing on the phone and saying “We need to talk…” and then refusing to say anything else until you see them again. For the love of God, don’t do that!

We truly believe that in most cases a face-to-face Dumping is not necessary. On the rare occasions when you feel it is an obligation, the best way is to go over to someone’s house and be matter of fact about it. Any pretense of dinner or anything else will all come to nothing in the end.

But supposing you absolutely feel you simply must meet someone out in public for a pre-scheduled Dumping, because you “owe them that much at least” or whatever, the least you can do is pay the goddamn bill. That’s right. We’re calling it right now. It’s a new rule. From now on it will be a point of etiquette carved in stone: The person doing the dumping pays the bill. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight, man or woman. It doesn’t matter if you’re dumping them over beers at the Dizz, coffee at the Grind, or a Feast at 4 East. if you’re dumping, you’re paying.

It’s the least you can do. You owe them that much.

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