I just don't understand this. Are they natural allies or natural opponents?

DSC02501.JPGOver here, representing Washington State's hospitality industry (hotels and restaurants) is Anthony Anton, a perfectly reasonable guy who loves statistics, loves to tell his listeners how many people are employed by his industry, how many customers they serve, how much they contribute to the state's tax coffers.

And yet, this very same Anthony Anton was complaining last week that it was unreasonable to ask his members (that is, the people who pay his salary) to pony up $15 an hour for their workers. "Don't impose Seattle's minimum wage experiment on Washington," he told the Puget Sound Business Journal.

But $15 is no "experiment." It's an experiment only if you don't know the outcome. We know the outcome of a higher minimum wage, and, as study after study has shown, it results in greater prosperity for everyone.

And so we move to the other ass-backward debate, this time over the issue of regulating Airbnb. Yes, Seattle is short on hotel space. Yes, it's expensive to build new hotel space; $200K per room is just a starting price. But the appeal of Airbnb to property owners (that is, apartment dwellers or single-family home owners) is undeniable: it's just monetizing the spare bedroom.

Parenthetically, Airbnb is in the proud tradition of Servas, an international "hospitality exchange" organization founded in Denmark in 1949.

Here the tables are turned. Progressives fear that a landlord will take a vacant apartment or a vacant home that could (or should) go toward housing a local family, remove it from the long-term rental market in favor of the short-term benefits of renting to tourists at a higher price per night.

Needless to say, hotel owners are no fans of Airbnb either, but unless they had rooms to rent for fifty bucks of so (they don't), they should be reminded of this: no business category benefits more from Airbnb guests than the restaurant industry.

According to figures provided by Airbnb, guests pend spend an average of $198 per day per person in Seattle, about $70 of which is for dining out.

The average hotel room in downtown Seattle costs about $200 a night. But three quarters of Airbnb rooms aren't downtown or traditional tourists areas. And

From the restaurant report:

  • 74 percent of Airbnb listings are outside of the traditional tourist hotspots and hotel districts.
  • 42 percent of Airbnb guests' spending occurs in the neighborhood in which they are staying.
  • 56 percent of guests who saved money by using Airbnb spent more on food and shopping
Seems straightforward: people who travel to Seattle no longer have to stay in "tourist hotspots." Airbnb takes the pressure off downtown convention hotels. With the money they save on commercial lodging, the visitors eat in neighborhood restaurants. Isn't this what you want? Aren't those cute and cozy bistros the very heart and soul of your organization? So please, WHA/WRA, stop the reflexive negativity, embrace the new Airbnb economy. Even if traditional hotels and Airbnb never align their interests (though they should), at least the restaurants do better under Airbnb.

Your very own copy

| No Comments

Forking cover for KDP.jpg

On Kindle, sure, but I highly recommend a printed copy or two. Nightstand, bathroom, glove box. Not a guidebook (you've got a smartphone for that), not a collection of recipes (you've already got tons of those) but great reading.

So go here and order yourself an old-fashioned book. Price is less than a round of beers.

Some recent reviews:

I'm With "Nasty" Hillary

| No Comments

Who'd a thunk, who'd a thunk
(Even you, Donald Trump?)

that an offhand remark
could light such a spark?

That doing the "nasty"
(like angioplasty)
would be just the snark
To break the dam, jump the shark

Who'd a thunk, who'd a thunk?
Even you, Donald Trump.

Berthold Goldschmidt.jpgMy "English" cousin Berthold--my mother's first cousin--passed away 20 years ago this week at the age of 93. He was a prize-winning composer and conductor of great early promise in Weimar Germany, but his success got him denounced as "degenerate" under Hitler's draconian Nuremberg laws (enacted in 1933) which prohibited Jews from engaging in most liberal professions and artistic undertakings. Goldschmidt, despite his many awards and strong ties to Germany's musical elite in the 1920s (he had been an assistant conductor at the Berlin Opera), was no match for Germany's newly legalized anti-semitism. Dismissed. Gave music lessons to survive. One day, a sympathetic SS officer, whose daughter was taking lessons from Goldschmidt, and who discussed Schumann and Schubert with him, whispered some stern advice: "Get out of Germany as soon as you can."

Wasting no time, Goldschmidt decamped, alone, for London, where he rented a coldwater bed-sit on Belsize Crescent; he would remain there for the next six decades. With a refugee's ability to adopt and adapt, Goldschmidt became more British than the British. Goldschmidt's wife, who was not Jewish, arrived from Berlin, heating was eventually installed, and Berthold found (menial) work as a rehearsal pianist and as a pit conductor for West End musicals. He provided dutiful commentary on his former rivals for the BBC. He gave music lessons, he conducted at Glyndebourne. Our family (the Americans) would visit him in London and take tea at Swiss Cottage, or meet in his beloved resort of Ascona, on the Lago Maggiore; he loved the mountain air but not the waterfront crowds, and would spend his holidays at a modest pensione, the Scacciapensieri, in the hills above the town.

In the late 1930s, Goldschmidt had led a remarkable BBC propaganda effort to showcase music by Jewish composers (Mendelssohn, Mahler) and performers (Kreisler, Schnabel). The broadcasts were beamed to Germany with the objective of undermining the Nazi government's claim that Jewish artists were "degenerate," The program didn't last all that long, and was dismantled after the war ended. His own music was rarely, if ever performed; it wasn't so much controversial as out of fashion. He actually won a blind competition for a Jubilee opera ("Beatrice Cenci") to be performed in honor of the Queen Mother's 50th year on the throne, only to find that English anti-semitism, though disguised by upper class manners, was no less virulent than the German variety; the opera was never staged. (Even Churchill, lest we forget, was a notorious if closeted anti-semite.) Too many melodies, too much "bel canto," was the excuse. Stung, Goldschmidt stopped composing entirely for the next 30 years.

A lesser man would have given in to despair. Berthold, however, never lost his energy; he would brave the elements daily for long walks on Hampstead Heath. He also began working on a years-long project with the musicologist Deryck Cooke to restore the "lost" 10th symphony by his idol, Gustav Mahler; he eventually conducted its premiere. Then, in the late 1970s, his wife died of leukemia, and Goldschmidt, almost 80, seemed to have reached the end. But quite unexpectedly the work of so-called "émigré" composers was featured in a concert series sponsored by the conductor Simon Rattle, beginning with a previously unheard Goldschmidt piece, Ciaccona Sinfonica. It would prove a turning point in England's musical and cultural awareness of Jewish composers: attention was suddenly paid to a whole category of persecuted artists whose work had been deemed degenerate by the Nazis. Goldschmidt acquired a major publisher, Boosey & Hawkes; his early compositions received performances in concert halls across Europe, and at the Proms in London. Yo Yo Ma performed his cello concerto in London; Decca set out to record his entire life's work. Miraculously, Goldschmidt began composing again at the age of 80.

Even "Beatrice Cenci" was eventually performed in 1988, at London's Queen Elizabeth Theater, to tumultuous success, None of Goldschmidt's old tormentors, however, were still around to see his triumph. ("I miss my enemies," he told the BBC. Also: "Bitterness is an acquired taste.") Even so, in 1996 a pair of German film makers produced an hourlong documentary about Goldschmidt; the signature line: "Man muss einfach nur überleben!" -- you just have to survive. The British musicologist Norman Lebrecht bemoaned England's small-mindedness in stifling Goldschmidt's creativity. "He had arrived with a massive competence and priceless experience," Lebrecht wrote, in a column in 2001 that concluded, woefully, "He could have taught this country the craft of music, if not the art, were it not for the insurmountable rocks of small-mindedness and little-englishness. ... The loss is as much ours as it was Berthold's."

There's a happy ending of sorts to this story. In 1993, when Goldschmidt was 90 years old, the German government finally made amends and awarded him its Verdienstkreuz Erste Klasse, its National Order of Merit. His works (manuscripts, ephemera, CDs) are enshrined at the Akademie der Kunst in Berlin, and his musical legacy is preserved. His musical renown these days remains modest at best, however; contemporary orchestras (and classical radio stations) don't play his exquisitely wrought compositions. Unlike his contemporaries, Britten and Hindemith, Goldschmidt is still considered "old-fashioned." And yet. Amazon offers several dozen CDs of his music, easy to sample and easy to admire. A fine voice in a major key, diminished but not extinguished.

Goldschmidt photo above by Denzil McNeelance, Camera Press (Times) London, 1988. Below, from family archives.


Charles Smith's $120 Million Payday

| No Comments

It's been three and a half decades since Chateau Ste. Michelle opened its showplace winery on the former Stimson estate in Woodinville. The idea, almost revolutionary at the time, was that it would become a tourist destination. "Wineries are just factories," the snobs intoned; "you wouldn't leave the house to visit a toaster production line in South Seattle, would you?" Ah, well, turns out the snobs were wrong. Over 100 wineries now fill the Sammamish River Valley, a few of them having made gestures toward their agricultural roots by planting a symbolic vineyard (that takes spaces away from the parking lot), but most firmly in the toaster-factory production facility mode. The difference for the producers is "access to the market," and, for visitors, "free samples." Wine-touring in the Seattle area has come to mean a trip to Woodinville.

Smith w rose.JPGNow the locus of this paradigm has shifted from the northeastern suburbs to a close-in neighborhood of South Seattle. The state's most innovative wine maker, Charles Smith, has opened a winery that houses a 32,000-square-foot production facility and tasting room. A video at CharlesSmithWines.com introduces visitors to Smith's irreverent attitude toward wine, not as an an "aspirational" object to be approached with awe but to be consumed, to be drunk, to be enjoyed: "It's just wine," says the site, "Drink it."

For all the "aw shucks" and "pshaw" attitude, the Smith empire is extensive. The original K Vintners winery in Walla Walla has spawned a supermarket label, Charles Smith Wines, a brand called Sixto (chardonnay only), another called Wines of Substance, another called Vino (pinot grigio), an Italian-style sparkler called Seco, and a partnership with wine maker Charles Bieler called Charles & Charles. It's no wonder that Smith was named Winemaker of the Year last year by Wine Enthusiast, the first time the honor has been given to anyone in the Pacific Northwest. "Amazing," was Smith's reaction.

Although he had worked as a sommelier in several prestigious California restaurants, he had no grand plan to get into the wine business. Instead, he followed a girlfriend to Denmark and spent the better part of a decade as the manager of rock musicians in Europe. Eventually he made his way back to Washington and took over a tiny wine shop on Bainbridge Island. And after a while, he made a few hundred cases of wine himself. That was 15 years ago. Today, Smith's various labels produce half a million cases.

In the beginning, he worked with Frenchman Christophe Baron; now he has hired Efeste's Brennon Leighton for the chardonnays and Andrew Latta in addition to partnering with Bieler. (Replacing Leighton at Efeste is a Canadian, Peter Devison, who's got a good grip on eastern Washington vineyards.) Smith quickly found critical acclaim, perhaps because Washington vineyards provide an antidote to the pro-California bias of the national press and international wine judges. They cannot deny the quality of Washington grapes ("So amazing," says Smith, "because we can make great wine from every grape: Bordeaux varieties, Burgundies, the Rhone, aromatic whites").

The defining moment, what he calls his "masterful hands" epiphany, came in 2007. By then, Charles Smith had been in the wine business for over a decade. He had won prizes and accolades, and really no longer needed to prove himself. It was the moment he realized that he had become a master of his chosen craft, that he really did know how to make wine.

And now he's moved into Seattle's oldest commercial neighborhood, Georgetown, "where Seattle has always made things." The designer for his new facility was the architect Tom Kundig, who had won awards for his remodel of the tasting room in Walla Walla.

As he adds production, Smith is moving beyond Walla Walla. In fact, many of the vineyards are as close to Seattle as to Walla Walla, so the move to Georgetown makes lots of sense. Much of the riesling, for example, comes from the Millbrandt brothers' Evergreen Vineyard in the Ancient Lakes region (a relatively new AVA adjoining the Columbia River near Quincy). The Wine Spectator named Smith's Kung Fu Girl Riesling to its annual list of the world's top 100 wines.

Now, firmly ensconced in his "Jet City" winery at the north end of the Boeing Field runway with Mt. Rainier in the background, Smith is moving into popular Italian varieties, even a Prosecco-style sparkler, and Spanish varieties like Tempranillo. "It's just Wine," he reminds us, and we remind you. "Just drink it."

And to update this tale, according to reports from the Wine Spectator, the folks at Constellation Brands seem to agree. They have just announced an agreement to buy five Washington brands from Charles Smith Wines for $120 million. The sale is expected to close later this month. With this deal, Constellation says it will become the second largest supplier of Washington state wines.

The deal features five wines that Charles Smith calls "the five core brands" of his company--Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Eve Chardonnay, Boom Boom Syrah, Velvet Devil Merlot and Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon. Altogether, the brands add up to nearly 500,000 cases per year, selling mostly at $12 to $15 a bottle.

Smith created these wines as separate brands, beginning with Kung Fu Girl in the 2006 vintage. The rest were added in 2007. One hundred twenty million dollars. Kaching, right?

The Mermaid v The Mall, 2016 Edition

| No Comments

Our Daily Brew.JPGGuess what, the Mermaid wins.

At least, that's the conclusion of a report by the investment banking firm Piper Jafray, reported in the current edition of Business Insider. (Side note: the editor of BI paid a $2 million fine and agreed to a lifetime suspension from Wall Street for insider trading; last year, he sold the firm for $400 million to the conservative German publisher Axel Springer. Moral: crime pays. Just keep that in mind when you read juicy stuff.) Now, where were we?

Ah yes. High-income teens, the survey contends, would rather hang out, socialize, text, slurp up the wi-fi, slurp down the Cocoa Cluster Frappuccinos, and nosh on Cranberry Orange scones at Starbucks than go to the mall. More cafés than malls, in any event, probably ten times as many, at least in cities.

Some interesting also-rans: Chipotle, Chick fil-A, Taco Bell, Mickey.D. Hard to tell if the national numbers would hold up in Seattle, given the absence of a meaningful Chick presence (Bellevue, Tacoma, Lynnwood, Vancouver) in the entire state. Also, given the company's ultra-right-wing stance on gay rights, it's doubtful they'd do very well in this part of the country.

Chipotle, on the other hand, we understand (sort of). We wrote in these columns, three years ago, about Chipotle's new, vegan Sofritas, but we looked away while the chain (2,000 stores) fought its way through half a dozen food-safety alerts, scares, and scandals.

At least so far, no Starbucks disparagement, unless you count the 550 calories in the 24-ounce Caramel Mocha Frappuccino--no worse than a Big Mac, actually. Besides, you can always order off the Evolution Fresh menu, or just relax with a soothing cup of Teavana. The American way: something for every taste. The kids know where it's at.

Not 'our' vodka after all

| No Comments

Seattle, no surprise, has a pretty good nose for the phony, the bogus, the sham, the counterfeit. Even if the venture gets some bold-face names to front the deal, a business conceived and bankrolled by a distant corporate sponsor gets found out pretty quickly. Such was the case with a "micro-distillery" in Ballard called Our/Seattle Vodka, which had its production facility and tasting room at 1836 NW Market St.

And by micro, we mean really, really tiny production. A thousand half-bottles per batch, from Distilled Resources in Rigby, Idaho. (Parenthetically: there's nothing inherently wrong with a start-up company acquiring its base spirits from outside sources. The regulatory hassles involved in a getting distillery license are fearsome. A gent named Mike Thiede of Ginkgo Forest Winery & Ginkgo Distillery in Tacoma holds the artisan distillery license for BroVo Spirits; Marteau Absinthe was originally custom-distilled in Switzerland, and so on.)

Mike Meckling.JPGBut here's the thing: Our/Seattle Vodka was far from unique, distilled from local invasive plants or the exhaust fumes of Greenlake hydroplane races. It was, rather, a skunk-works project launched by half a dozen creative types whose Swedish design agency worked for Pernod Ricard, a worldwide drinks company based in France. Eager to work on a concept that would appeal to a younger clientele, the Swedes came up with vodka in a 375-ml bottle with a crown cap like a Coke.

The stuff inside the bottle was almost irrelevant; it would be all about the buzz. So Berlin first, then London, then Detroit, Amsterdam, Seattle. Eventually New York, eventually Miami. The key to the project was to involve local artists, to make the brand as "local" as possible. In Seattle, Pernod Ricard recruited designer Thom Jones (Semigood Furniture) and music promoter Mike Meckling of Neumo's (photo). And in April they were ready to open on Market in Ballard, in a space once occupied by Ballard Camera but vacant for several years. Alas, it was not meant to be.

In a neighborhood studded with legit micro-distilleries (Mischief, Old Ballard, Captive, not to mention 206 Distillery and Sound Spirits in Interbay) Our/Seattle Vodka was met with indifference, if not hostility, not the least because Seattle is already home to scores of distilleries. Statewide, since the Legislature passed the craft distilling act eight years ago, over 100 distilleries have sprung up, following the mandate that at least half the ingredients come from Washington. Our/Seattle never explained what made its product specifically local, because there wasn't anything local about it. We should have seen it coming. In fact, in a prescient article for The Stranger two years ago, Bethany Jean Clement called the venture "Absolut Phoney."

For its part, Our/Vodka scrubbed all mention of Seattle from its website. The Facebook page posted a farewell of sorts: "Thanks to all our amazing customers and fans for following us. Unfortunately Our/Seattle is closing down this month. Despite our efforts and great team we didn't manage to make it work as we had hoped." I guess not.


Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.


Recent Comments

  • KuKuRuZa Popcorn: Hi there, Thanks so much for spreading the wonderful news read more
  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnbwbejZ1MsEAD7tUryc0LW5VoGSME1aF0: Hi Ronald, Great post!:) Your timing was perfect, as I read more
  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawkSgkNW34VZ7fYMFTYxNLnf5BXImrmrJtM: My nephew is on his second replacement and is doing read more
  • robertinseattle: Ron - I realize you have a strong opinion of read more
  • julierenneresq: Sounds delishhhh . . . Fun place for a Behind read more
  • jessnoonan: Great article! One of the best things I have ever read more
  • lisajenkins0: I look forward to watching what comes next! read more
  • joeconnector: Great post Ron - and thanks for forwarding the NY read more
  • jessnoonan: Totally agree!! read more
  • thestickywrapper: I can't wait to check out all these awesome people! read more