As far as public benders go, few can compare to the one that Marlene Ramallo Chalmers Cooke unleashed on Georgetown on Sept. 15, 1993. The then-wife of Jack Kent Cooke (or was it oilman David Chalmers?) was spotted driving a dark-green Jaguar convertible down M Street NW with a young man clinging to the hood. The man was beating on the windshield in a vain attempt to convince the Bolivian-born socialite to take him home. He reportedly rolled off the hood before she could consider the request.
Marlene’s one-woman thrill ride came to an abrupt halt at the 3200 block of M Street NW, where police officers administered a sobriety test and charged her with driving under the influence, a charge eventually thrown out of court for lack of evidence.
So where was Marlene before she turned M Street into Talladega Speedway? She was dining with friends at Cafe Milano, the Italian restaurant where the rich and powerful go to feast on the sight of one another. “When she left here, she was perfectly fine,” the general manager told the Washington Post at the time. More than 13 years later, Cafe Milano isn’t interested in telling the story of Marlene’s Big Adventure. “We would not like to get into that issue at all,” says spokesperson Jan Staihar.
When it comes to discussing drunks, many fine-dining managers would rather pass out without a peep than cough up details. They have good reason not to talk. It’s illegal to serve anyone believed to be drunk, and if you happen to serve someone who’s already intoxicated, and that person then harms himself or others, a restaurant and its servers could be found negligent and therefore liable – at least in the District. Drunken episodes can affect your liquor license, your liability insurance, your very livelihood. “I bet people don’t want to talk about it,” says Jackie Greenbaum, owner of Jackie’s in Silver Spring, who doesn’t want to talk about it. “What if the [action they took] isn’t right, and they didn’t know?”
Fine-dining restaurants might not want to talk about it, but they certainly know how to deal with drunks. Three were willing to tell us their secrets.
Black’s Bar & Kitchen
The drunken scene: Several days after the renovated Black’s reopened in June, a group was camped out on the patio, drinking, smoking, and picking over the last of their meals. A few friends showed up, carrying red Solo cups full of alcohol and swelling the assembled group to about 12. When the manager tried to take the cups away, the new arrivals initially refused but ultimately surrendered their drinks. During these negotiations, the manager noticed that one of the revelers was intoxicated, and she promptly informed him that she couldn’t serve him any alcohol. “The guy says, ÔSure, no problem,’” says owner and chef Jeff Black, who witnessed the scene. “Well, his friend went and bought him a drink.”
How they dealt with it: Because the customers had shown they could not be trusted, the manager cut off the entire table. “It got really heated,” Black says. “There’s no point in restaurants getting into confrontational mode with a guest, but there does come a point when customers go too far.” These customers went too far when they insulted Black’s general manager. “They called her a word that I’m not going to repeat, and the little hair on the back of my neck stood up,” Black remembers. “That was it. I’d had it. I got right in the middle of it, and…in front of them, I said, ÔCall the police. These people are going to jail. This is over.’” In the end, Black didn’t even have to call the police. “The interesting thing about intoxicated people, as soon as you mention the police, they tend to want to run,” Black says.
The drunken scene: Sometime around June, a young man staggered into this downtown outpost for regional Italian fare. It was late, around 9:30 p.m., and the potential patron had clearly spent his more coherent hours elsewhere. When the guest reached the host stand, he was met by Enzo Livia, the executive chef and owner, who immediately knew he was facing trouble. The man’s movements were slow, his eyes shiny, his speech slurred. But the man wanted to eat, so Livia seated him away from the main action in the dining room, where the mush-mouthed diner “would not disturb other patrons.” He insisted on more alcohol, but Livia rejected that idea. Instead, the chef fed the man, poured him coffee, and, when the check came, even forgave part of the bill. “He didn’t have enough money to pay for the dinner,” Livia remembers. So the owner told the cheap drunk to “pay whatever you have, and then just walk, just go home and make sure you get home safe.” The man promptly walked to the bar and ordered a beer.
How they dealt with it: By the time Livia spotted the patron at the bar, the guy had already taken a couple of sips of beer. The bad boy knew he had crossed a line. At seeing Livia, the customer gripped his beer and tried to conceal it. “It’s like a little kid when you see your dad coming,” Livia recalls. The owner knew the scene could turn ugly quick. As other bar drinkers looked on, Livia decided to adopt an avuncular approach. “I tried to be his friend,” the owner says. “I was lucky enough, in a sense, that he was younger than me, so I could sort of embrace him.” Livia asked the patron his name and told him that drinking more was not a good idea. “As I was telling him, I’m tapping him on the back, patting his back. I was able to get the bottle out of his hand.”
Michel Richard Citronelle
The drunken scene: It was a recent September evening at Michel Richard’s culinary fun house. A 30-something man was seated in the lounge, with little interest in sampling the celebrity chef’s lobster burgers or mushroom “cigars.” He had three women in his cross hairs, and he didn’t give a crap that one of them might have been attached to the lone guy in their party. “That’s probably what this guy saw: ÔOh, one guy, three women. Let me see if I can get in on this action,’” says Brian Zipin, assistant sommelier and bar manager. “You could tell the guy was a little, I don’t want to say unstable, but a little off that night.” After repeatedly telling the guy to buzz off, the women finally complained to the bartender. “Nobody wants their boundaries crossed,” Zipin says. “Well, some people do want that, but you want it from the right people.”
How they dealt with it: Zipin was working the dining room floor as sommelier when the bartender told him about the unfolding scene in the lounge. Zipin immediately got the scoop from the servers and the offended guests, then staked out the scene to confirm the story. “He was being annoying – really, really annoying,” Zipin remembers. “And that changes the dynamic of a dining room, of a bar.” The bar manager wasted no time in confronting the drunk. Zipin told the guy, “I’m sorry, I think you’ve had too much to drink….I think it would be better if you left.” The dude tried to dodge Zipin’s swift boot. He told the manager, “I’m sorry, I’ll just drink my drink, and I won’t talk to anybody.” Zipin wasn’t buying it.