This is from last year - just seems appropriate with New Years almost upon us...
You kids won't remember this, but "Italian restaurant" once meant a place that served basically spaghetti or lasagne - everything with red sauce and garlic bread. Then came this new thing, at the time called "Northern Italian". A whole new world with this crazy "pasta" stuff that came in different shapes and sizes: capellini and fettucine, "al dente" or spinach or squid ink with garlicky white wine sauces and cream sauces and bay scallops and calamari. Crazy.
In the early '80s I waited tables at one of Chicago's Northern Italian semi-biggies called "George's", from restauranteur George Bodonski (I think that's how you spell it).
It was on Kinzie near the Merchandise Mart - at the time just a "dangerous" enough location for people from the burbs to go and feel like they had a real city experience. My brother was a car hiker there, and more than once he'd run to the next block where he'd parked somebody's Caddy, then have to come back and discreetly give the keys back to the host.
It was the host's job to explain that sometimes cars get stolen.
I remember Gordo (not his real name) the "host" claimed to be the illegitimate son of Mel Torme, the manager was a fabulous woman who, if a table misbehaved, would give 'em the bum's rush out the door (my first experience with hey - the customer might not always be right), and they had live music.
For this one New Years, they had Ramsey Lewis (the Ramsey Lewis Trio, I think), and it was a giant deal.
I had a station up front by the stage, where all the tables sat two (a 2-top), but you could also put them next to each other and make a giant table. It was one of the premier stations, and I was gonna make a billion dollars off a 10-top that had pre-ordered 8 bottles of Dom (or something really expensive) for the Big Moment at midnight.
The night's going smoothly and Ramsey's playing and it's getting close to the New Year. I've got the first bottle of champagne on ice by the table's host who's a bearded guy in his 40's wearing Armani or something, and most importantly is the guy who's gonna pick up the check and leave me a fat fifteen percent.
This guy is licking his chops. It's his New Years party. It's his glory, his moment, and (all phallic stuff about opening a bottle of champagne aside) it's about to climax in about 8 minutes.
Suddenly there's a commotion by the front door - people with giant video cameras and microphones and lights.
It's Channel 2 (or something) News!
They huddle with Gordo the host, and Gordo waves me over. Can they shoot me opening a celebratory bottle of champagne live at midnight?
I know what they want and it means a great celebration shot for tv, but it also means spilling a bunch of really expensive champagne. You're really not supposed to "pop" a cork, but rather you put a napkin over the top of the bottle and nudge the cork out a little at a time. No spraying, no loud "pop", nobody gets hurt with a missile-cork.
So I go ask the bearded guy if he minds if I do the whole pop and spray opening for him with Ramsey Lewis on piano in the background on the Channel 2 News?
He's thrilled. Beaming. A celebrity!
Now, there's about 2 minutes left to go and it's literally insane around my table - people shouting, a lighting guy has a spotlight on me and he's lit up the ceiling so the background is as bright as a Walmart, the newswoman with the microphone is fixing her hair and then suddenly she says something like, "We're live at George's Restaurant for the countdown..." and I'm fumbling with the foil and I get the wire carriage off and the woman is saying "8...7...6..." and I get my thumbs under the cork and I'm aiming it at the ceiling so nobody gets a black eye and "THREE...TWO...ONE!"
I push the cork.
I push it some more, and it falls limply onto the table.
The bearded guy (the host and tip-giver), he grimaces and says, "IT'S FLAT!"
And I don't remember much after that.
BECAUSE I WAS A FREAKING IDIOT ON LIVE TV AND PROBABLY LOST MY BILLION DOLLAR TIP!
I remember scrambling for another bottle.
I remember the newspeople turning off the lights and saying "Shit" before they left.
I remember recovering my composure with the 10-top, and they all had a great time.
But at the end of the night? Ten percent.
I guess it's hard to forgive when you're on tv with an idiot waiter who brought you flat champagne.
Luckily, nobody I knew saw the debacle on tv.