I am Beach Bistro retired.
After thirty -eight years I imagine that sometimes in the dark of night the Beach Bistro dining-room misses me a little – as I miss it.
The ashes of friends are suspended in the corners.
The empty spaces are guarded by Jimmy, our resident ghost.
We have ghosts and ashes but after over thirty-eight years of being flush with
dining patrons no one has ever died in that room.
That is in part due to the Bistro’s Number One Rule.
“No one dies in the Bistro.”
A good rule, strictly adhered to.
People dying in your restaurant is bad for business.
There is the press and the whispers.
“Some guy died at the Bistro the other night.”
We had a protocol.
At any sign of difficulty breathing or diminished consciousness, we immediately call the EMT’s and prepare to move the patron outside.
Outside he will get air and the EMT’s get the space they need to work.
If the EMT’s have to work inside they need room and you have start pushing the furniture around and people stop eating and the stress spreads and other people start to feel feint and then you’re going broke and people are passing out all over the place.
We had a drill. One waiter stays on the phone, one waiter goes to the street corner to direct the ambulance.
Four big guys carry the patient outside in his chair.
In minutes our patron is breathing easily and getting pink again by the time the EMT’s arrive.
The EMT’s hang around with him on a gurney with lots of room to set an IV and or take him
in for observation or send him home.
Thank you’s all around.
Follow the drill for the number one rule and nobody dies.
The closest call we had to a full-blown demise is a story best told by table Number One.
The guy on Number One was a big guy.
His pathway to Table One was a convoluted one.
It was a busy night and we were short of tables.
I got his party seated in a table off the bar, but the controlling lady that was with him had to have a table by the window.
It was dark and you could not see a damn thing out the windows but that did not diminish her insistence.
She was tough. She was just a tough person.
She wanted to show me that she was in charge.
Unfortunately for her we already had someone in charge and he was seating her at the only table he had.
I explained to her that she should not think of the table as a bad table but to think of it as the only table and a perfectly good table with two perfectly good chairs.
She continued to make a fuss.
I warned Annette.
“You’ve got a tough one on 19.”
Annette got her a drink and came back to me.
“She’s not tough… she’s mean.”
She was now on her way to being declared Mean Lady.
I said,“She came in that way. She’s a Scotch drinker.
Get some Scotch into her.”
Sometimes people are mean because their blood sugar is low and liquor helps.
Other times it makes them meaner.
Then Jimmy the Ghost hit Mean Lady on the top of her head with his crystal sherry glass.
Jimmy is the Bistro ghost. He passed away about thirty years ago but he still hangs out.
Occasionally he chucks stuff around in the kitchen but generally he doesn’t mess with the dining-room.
Mean Lady was sitting in Jimmy’s chair where Jimmy used to sit and drink my sherry.
Annette is Jimmy’s favourite. He doesn’t like people being mean to Annette.
Jimmy’s crystal sherry glass had been placed reverently and securely on the shelf above his drinking chair for years. That night Jimmy decided to drop his glass on Mean Lady’s head.
Annette came to me, “Jimmy just hit the Mean Lady in the head with his sherry glass.”
Me,“Oh for Chrissake. He just thinks that stuff is funny.”
Annette, “She has big poofy hair. No harm done.”
By the time I got to the table you would think Mean Lady had been viciously assaulted
by a waiter with a hockey stick.
I tried the Robin Williams’ line from Life According to Garp.
“Now this a perfect table. What are the odds that anything else will fall on you?”
I gave them another round of Scotch.
Right about then Table One opened up.
Table One is not on the window but it’s a great table. You can see the whole room from one.
I went back to her again.
“I have another great table where there is nothing over your head except a massive wine shelf groaning under the weight of a hundred Cabernets. You will love it.”
I took her arm. Her husband followed.
As we passed the front door I stopped.
I turned to her, leaned close, and looked at her gravely.
“We are at a crossroads…”, and I nodded at the door.
“You have a choice. You can leave things to me and you will have a great evening…or you can leave…by that door… now.”
She hugged my arm.
“I am certain we will have a lovely evening.”
And we were back on track.
I seated them graciously and got her scotch number three.
There was an incoming patron by the door.
He had witnessed my grave conversation with the Mean Lady.
He asked wide-eyed, “I can’t believe you were so blunt with that woman.”
“We needed a better understanding.
She is happy now. And she will have a lovely dinner.”
I seated the dismayed man and his wife at the table next to Table One.
Things went swimmingly for a while.
Annette found me a half hour later,
“The guy on Table One with the Mean Lady just passed out in his fish.”
I went to the able.
Sure enough. Passed out. Right on top of his fish.
Straight down, nose first.
I was pulling him upright out of his dinner when a man rose from another table.
“I am a doctor. Let me help”
No matter what they say, there is always a good doctor in the room.
The good doctor revived the man.
His wife ordered another Scotch. She was now oblivious to her husband’s health.
There was a sense of a calm between storms.
Sure enough, five minutes later, Annette, “The man passed out on his fish again.”
The good doctor told us that the poor man was not well and that his condition had been aggravated by his dining choices.
The tuna special that night was “Tuna Towers” of sushi grade tuna on a glimmering dark pool of luscious pepper demi-glace. The tuna tower was crowned with a flower formed from house-made wasabi.
It was as beautiful as it was delicious.
Unfortunately, the man did not see well and he thought the wasabi flower was broccoli and he scooped and swallowed the whole dam wasabi flower.
All of it.
Three ounces of wasabi.
Hard to do and still breathe.
When he took the straight dive into his fish for the second time we went to the drill.
I said to Annette, “Nobody Dies”.
She said, “Got it.” She called the EMT’s, sent the busman to the corner and called up our “big four” team from the kitchen.
Under my direction we picked up the very large, unconscious gentleman in his chair and lifted him up and over three tables and a dozen patrons and out the door.
Within minutes the man was revived and safely in the ambulance and off to the hospital.
When I left the Mean Lady she was sitting by herself in a chair in the parking lot with yet another scotch.
She had been transformed into the “Happy Lady”.
As I passed back into the dining room Susan called.
I took the call standing by the Dismayed Gentlemen who had been seated next to Table One. He had witnessed my brief conversation by the door with the Mean Lady who was now the Happy Lady.
He had been dismayed a second time when we had lifted a large unconscious patron directly over his head and out the door.
I spoke to Susan. “Kinda crazy tonight….”
Just then a woman seated in the middle of the room dramatically dropped from her chair and spreadeagled on the floor.
Apparently, she had indulged. She had dropped her phone and fell from her chair when she leaned to retrieve it.
To Dismayed Guy and I it looked like she had simply passed out and hit the deck.
I muttered to Susan, “They just keep dropping. They keep dropping.”
The dismayed man was listening intently.
If his eyes had been wide as saucers they were now wide as dinner plates.
I leaned down to him, looked him full in the face and said casually,
“Tell me you did not eat the shrimp”.
Table One loves the excitement of a busy room filled with laughter and excitement and people celebrating life events – and the occasional life and death event.
Table one misses the action…and misses you.
The Bistro Dining room is climbing steadily toward preparation for reopening.
We will celebrate a new beginning with a completely new air conditioning system with state of the art covid-purifying technology.
We will have great food and great service and we will also have “best air”.
In the meantime.
I don’t believe it is safe to dine inside or outside in Florida just now.
The Florida Restaurant Association is flaunting old protocols of contact cleansing and ignoring the realities of air transmission because just wiping things down is easier and cheaper than controlling air quality.
At the Bistro we have made a very substantial investment in air quality in the past three months.
Our HVAC system has been almost completely replaced with a system focused on ventilation and air purification.
By mid-October we will be ready for safe dining inside and outside.
We will begin by taking reservations soon for private events for 10 to 30 guests.
These will be private, “family and friends”, celebrations where the guests know
their company. Soon after we will be opening our books for reservations for tables of family and close friends.
Until we reopen, be patient, be smart, take care of each other…
…and please… wear your goddam mask.