"new underwear for when he sh*ts himself from all the hot sauce and alcohol"
The Fingers Gift Guide, Mac's "autonomous zone," pumpkin beer maybe-#spon, and more
Welcome to Fingers, a newsletter by me, Dave Infante, about drinking culture, being online, and beyond. If you haven’t already, please sign up for future dispatches, OK?
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ATTN INSATIABLE CONSUMER: It is time for the first-annual Fingers Gift Guide! Find poorly curated, overpriced items for all the incorrigible drunks in your life, and too late for holiday shipping to boot!
Can I interest you in a $60 wooden six-pack caddy? It makes your beer heavier to carry and won’t keep it cold!
Or how about a decanter shaped like a rocket, a stellar steal at just $200? Just imagine all the jokes to be made around the bar cart about “blasting off.” Guffaws for days!
What’s that you say? Big spender? Well here we have our $4,600 “field bar,” which yes, on one hand is just a portable wooden cabinet full of cocktail paraphernalia, but on the other hand constitutes the ideal accessory for the bon vivant in your life to lug around in a Range Rover and impress all the other Barbour jackets on next year’s steeplechase circuit. Now that’s living.
For me? Oh, no—you’re too kind. I want no gifts this year. Simply encouraging a few close friends to subscribe to this humble boozeletter is present enough for me:
After all, we’re at 982 subscribers, and 2021 is looming nearer by the day. Help a fella get to 1,000 sign-ups before year-end, wouldja? Of course, if you simply insist on expressing your appreciation with a material good, I did make a small list…
But if you would be so kind, please keep any hot sauces on the mild side, friends. Your editor has a serious case of acid reflux.
Welcome to the Mac’s Public House “autonomous zone”
And now we turn our attention to Staten Island—a place that is in theory part of New York City but in practice is, uh, not—and the strange story of Mac’s Public House.
In late November, as COVID-19 positivity rates climbed past 4% on this Jersey-adjacent island of 450,000, NY Governor Andrew Cuomo designated certain neighborhoods as an “orange zone,” shuttering indoor dining for Staten Island businesses in those areas.
The owners of a sports bar in the orange zone, Mac’s Public House, responded by claiming whatever the sports bar-equivalent of sovereign-citizenship is, declaring their establishment an “autonomous zone” and plastering its frontage with signs rejecting the authority of city and state officials to shut them down. Bold strategy, Cotton!
Things got weirder and worse from there:
The state revoked the Mac’s liquor license and issued it a $15,000 fine;
The owners vowed not to pay the fines, instead releasing a YouTube video entitled “We Will Not Bow” in which they taunted Cuomo and “DeBozo” (NYC Mayor/failed Democratic presidential candidate/certified bozo Bill DeBlasio) to come to the bar in person to “have a conversation;”
They kept the bar open by offering food & drink for free in exchange for “donations;”
Which somehow convinced a ton of Staten Islanders to show up at a protest over the bar’s closure;
Those same protesters presumably contributed some of the $100,000+ that one of the bar’s owners raised on GoFundMe;
Before said owner allegedly fled arrest and ran over a cop with his Jeep, breaking both of said cop’s legs;
And got arrested.
Ah. Hmm. Anyway, here’s Staten Island native Dan Ozzi writing about his home borough in an essay on Welcome to Hell World from early November, before all this took place:
This is the Staten Island mentality in a nutshell, a dangerous combination of willful ignorance and misguided arrogance that will eventually lead to its own destruction. Scientists and doctors don’t know shit, elected officials and newscasters are bums, and anyone trying [to] take any helpful, preventative action that might be a minor inconvenience can go fuck themselves. It is a borough working as hard as it possibly can against its best interests and its residents are people who will cling to their misguided ideas of blue-collar “common sense” until it kills them.
Yeah, that tracks. The piece was titled “Staten Island Is America” and while I very much hope Dan is wrong about that he makes a pretty convincing argument. Witness: this Yelp “review” on Mac’s Public House from Brian M. in Cornish, New Hampshire, a place that is geographically speaking not very close to Staten Island but ideologically speaking, well:
This is what happens when your bar makes national news for establishing an “autonomous zone” in the middle of a pandemic, I guess. Of course there are a ton of one-star reviews on there too because lots of people are very mad at Mac’s for flouting the state’s COVID-19 rules in the name of FREEDOM or whatever, but that’s to be expected because everyone is stuck inside and there’s nothing to do but post. People be posting. (Well, they were, until Yelp temporarily disabled comments on the page to halt the brigading.)
As much as I want to dunk on these Staten Island jabronis some more, I won’t. I feel the same way about them that I felt about those bar owners in Texas who poured a bunch of kegs out in the street in what they apparently thought was a very-patriotic protest of that state’s mid-summer shutdown:
I guess being told you’re going to have to stop selling 2-for-1 Shock Tops to hordes of sentient Nine Line t-shirts for a little while so hundreds of thousands more of your fellow citizens don’t die just hits different when the social safety net designed to soften your fall in times of crisis has been gleefully ripped to shreds by a bunch of Koch heads and pleated-khaki-wearing Ayn Rand acolytes.
I’m sure by the time the weather gets colder and patio-drinking is no longer an option and the virus comes roaring back for a second wave, Congress will have put together a meaningful relief package that won’t yet again hook up millionaires and billionaires while forcing independent publicans across the country into the impossible choice of flouting the law and medicine, or going broke and letting their businesses waste away to keep their communities, staffs, and selves safe.
LOL. Anyway I expect more of this, not less, and I lay blame at the feet of not only our big, wet, lame duck Donald Trump but also Mitch McConnell, Nancy Pelosi, and all of these people, too.
Wait, was this Bill Burr SNL skit Sam Adams #spon?
Back in October, Saturday Night Live ran a sketch starring Bill Burr as a crusty Bostonian in the requisite Carhartt who scoffs at the frou-frou flavor of Sam Adams’ Jack-O-Pumpkin seasonal lager, but then drinks a bunch of them anyway because the beer is free. The character is an avatar of what Hamilton Nolan once (rightly) identified as the city’s “scrappy-band-of-sailors persona,” in the vein of Casey Affleck’s Dunkin Donuts version from 2016.
This “Boston Camp” bit a good-enough gag even despite its obvious flaws, which Spencer Buell riffed on for Boston Magazine a couple weeks back:
Never mind that Boston’s grit has been significantly polished away—Kenmore has rapidly become cleaner and tamer since the Yankees Suck era, and the beloved accent has slowly but surely been on the way out—and that the overwhelmingly white casts of Boston movies belie the fact that the city is majority non-white, and has been for years. This is the image that sticks.
I get the sketch. But what I didn’t get when I first watched it, or in the half-dozen times since, is: is this sponsored content? After all, the beer brand, which non-industry types are still mildly shocked to learn brews very little of its beer in Boston, is nonetheless running an ad campaign in which brand-friendly versions of every tired trope about working-class white dudes from that city are funneled into a deeply unnerving simulacra known as “Your cousin from Boston.”
Are these things related? Did SNL’s writers know that Sam Adams has been flogging this same line of “humor” for most of the past year? Is that the joke? Or was this sketch a branded bit of marketing synergy, a beer-industry inverse of that bizarre cultural moment when the GEICO Cavemen commercials got a network sitcom spinoff?
For example, when you play the SNL skit on YouTube, the pre-roll ad is a 15-second “Your cousin from Boston” spot. What?
Boston Beer Company, which makes Sam Adams, told NBC Boston that sales of Jack-O-Pumpkin are up 229% since last year. Did this skit have something to do with that? Almost certainly not… or did it???
Related: is this funny?
Questions abound. Do you have answers? The Fingers tipline is always open!
Anyway, don’t forget that Sam Adams (and Dogfish Head, which BBC acquired in 2019, and Angry Orchard, its hard cider brand) are slowing down these days, and that the company’s growth is “extremely reliant” on the Truly brand. As your Fingers editor often says, everything is hard seltzer now. Or in this case: haaaaahd seltzahhhhh. (Sorry.)
Speaking of everything being hard seltzer…
I’ve filled out the media request form for samples. Stay tuned. In the meantime:
Drink the rich: a Fingers mini-review of The Billionaire’s Vinegar
Pappyland, an account by Wright Thompson of the history, heritage, and hype that surrounds the brown liquors pouring forth from Van Winkle Distillery, is sitting pretty on the New York Times bestseller list these days. (James Carville must be delighted.) I’ll probably read it at some point; after all, it’s a rare booze book that can break through to a mainstream audience. 12 years ago, The Billionaire’s Vinegar did exactly that.
Your Fingers editor, wine-deficient and customarily late to the party, finally got around to reading journalist Benjamin Wallace’s renowned 2008 bestseller about 18th century wine and the obscenely wealthy marks who became obsessed with overspending on it 200 years later. It’s as good as advertised: a cinematic investigation into international intrigue and bamboozled billionaires (Forbeses, Kochs), of venerable Bordeaux châteaux and the shadowy collectors that brokered their bottles at breathtaking mark-ups throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Think Ocean’s 12 meets “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” but somehow more embarrassing to everyone involved. (Note: I’m actually a big Ocean’s 12 apologist, but I acknowledge that most people did not like it!)
Vinegar is a terrific read, set in an era of pornographic wealth-hoarding that presaged our present moment of calamitous economic inequality. If you like wine, mysteries, and history, you’ll likely enjoy this book; if you savor the flavor of rich dipshits getting hosed as they try to spend their way into sophistication and status, you’ll absolutely love it. 8/10, Fingers recommends.
Here’s a pretty good Instagram comment
The mainstream Instagram meme account @middleclassfancy posted this the other day:
The meme isn’t very good because the underlying joke—the same one SNL used in the Burr skit—is pretty stale, something user @evanperaica pointed out:
@middleclassfancy amassed 2.2 million followers putting out this sort of dreck and whoever runs the account is probably richer than either @evanperaica or I will ever be, but you gotta give the guy credit for keeping them honest.
Incidentally, @middleclassfancy is part of Doing Things Media, which has done some beer-business promotion before: