Bay Area bar veteran Scott Beattie is known by his peers as "The Garnish God" for creating libations that are almost too pretty to drink. That kind of technique takes a lot of hands-on work -- and that's one reason why Beattie says a new California law targeting food safety will do more harm than good.
"I'm not aware of any public-health crisis that has recently materialized that would warrant this new extreme action," he said. "If this really goes through, we might as well be wearing full-size bodysuits so that nothing ever, ever touches the food we eat."
The "extreme action" Beattie is talking about is Assembly Bill 1252, which requires that no bare hands touch ready-to-eat foods. That means every martini olive, every lime for that gin and tonic, and every sprig of mint for that julep must be handled by a gloved bartender. The law, which took effect Jan. 1, has caught many in the industry by surprise and is facing serious pushback from bartenders, chefs and service-industry workers statewide.
AB 1252 is currently in a six-month buffer period in which health officials might give out a warning before citations. That's also given opponents time to persuade legislators to revisit parts of the law. One of those opponents is Josh Miller, a lover of all things tiki who writes the Inu A Kena booze blog and who created an online petition at change.org against the ban.
Miller spoke to The San Francisco Examiner recently while he was on his way to Sacramento to meet with the chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, on suggested edits to the law.
"Let's hope they're able to do something in Sacramento in the next couple of weeks," Miller said.
Robert Abelon, a spokesman for Pan, said that indeed restaurant and bar groups had been meeting with lawmakers to voice their concerns. They are expected to join Pan on Monday morning in Sacramento to announce emergency legislation addressing some of these concerns.
"The goal is to have food and drink that is clean and healthy, but not in a way that hinders bars and restaurants who are experts at their craft," Abelon said.
In San Francisco, a city that hosts the most restaurants per capita in the U.S. and seemingly has bars on every block, the glove law is seen by big hitters like Beattie as less effective than other recent health and safety initiatives. California bartenders are now required to carry a Food Handler's Card, educating those pouring drinks about proper techniques for storing food and juice and frequent hand-washing.
"That's likely had a real impact on public health," Beattie said. "The health department already does an excellent job with what they do, but [the glove law] may be taking it too far.
"Personally, I would worry a lot more about the door handle you touched on your way into the bar than the mint in your mojito."
The law also prompted other concerns, including that it could be extremely wasteful because of the amount of gloves that would be used during daily service.
"At the end of the day, I appreciate what bartenders do," Miller said. "We're in this second renaissance of craft cocktails and these laws will hinder bartenders and their craft."