There are times when one sets out on a journey to a bar, and there are times when one simply ends up at one. This night was more of the latter. I was in L.A. to check out the cocktail scene; all the hip joints were on the agenda. But ironically the hotel I was actually staying at was not among them.
My hotel smelled of disinfectant and neglect. Not in an obvious way, but in a way so subtle most people wouldn’t notice. Cleaning is one thing, but spraying disinfectant on something is an altogether different endeavor. And it ain’t cleaning.
The hotel had been quite something in its day, a landmark every bit as impressive as the Ritz Carlton or the Beverly Wilshire.
It wasn’t as if the hotel was bad, but it was certainly not on the A list anymore. We’ve all had that experience: you go to a restaurant that you have loved for years, but this time something is different. Or more like somethings. The bathroom isn’t clean, the manager isn’t particularly friendly, the drinks are marginal and the food is just not great. Each is not a deal breaker, but as a whole it gives the entire experience a lackluster feel.
And lackluster is how I felt after I had to walk up the stairs because the elevator was broken, so broken that the handwritten sign saying it was broken, was broken, too, laying on its side on the floor. By the time I made it to the bar at the top of the building I was thirsty, and not in the way that most people who go to bars are thirsty, but actually thirsty.
The hostess never even saw me, engrossed as she was in her texting, holding her phone in a little open drawer in the hostess stand, as if that disguised the fact.
The bartender noticed me immediately.
“Hey there,” he said cheerfully.
“Can I get something to drink?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said, leaning in close. “We’re actually thinking of opening a bar around here.”
I laughed, partly because it was funny, and partly because I didn’t expect it, especially not there and especially not then.
After a delightfully chilly vodka martini, I ordered dinner.
Crab Louis, the California classic. Now I know the venerable Palace Hotel in San Francisco is known as one of the possible originators of the Crab Louis salad: a mixture of Dungeness crab meat, lettuce, vegetables and egg with a piquant chili-based mayonnaise dressing usually served on the side. The Palace Hotel is also on the short list for the invention of Green Goddess dressing. But I digress.
Ironically my Crab Louis did not come with Louis dressing, but rather Green Goddess dressing, a fact that they should have made clear on the menu. Especially since I loathe tarragon, the primary spice in most Green Goddess dressings.
I mentioned it to the bartender.
In a moment he was out from behind the bar and on his way to the back kitchen, past the idle chef in his pristine white chef’s coat and leaning on the hostess stand chatting up Miss Texty. The bartender returned with a bowl of aioli (garlic mayonnaise), ketchup, Tabasco sauce and some dill pickles.
“You know,” he said. “Where I come from we call it Thousand Island dressing. It’s just mayo, pickles and ketchup.”
He then proceeded to make Louis Dressing at the bar by chopping up the pickles and mixing the sauce right there in a little bowl. In 30 seconds I had the most delicious Louis Dressing, no Thousand Island dressing, that I have ever had. It made my evening. When I left, I wrote in a well-deserved 30 percent tip.
On a search for great service in an area known for great service, the most impressive service I received was at the least-impressive place imaginable.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
• “Initiative is doing the right thing without being told,” Victor Hugo once said.
• You can teach people skills, but you can’t teach them talent.
• The Internet is everywhere, meaning that anyone with access to it can look up anything anywhere, even a guy working at a hotel on its downward slide.
• “Anything worth doing is worth doing right,” said Hunter S. Thompson.
• The Palace Hotel in San Francisco serves a crab salad with Green Goddess dressing; it just doesn’t call it a Louis. Oddly enough its “original” Green Goddess dressing also contains no tarragon.