The pixie hair lady with chunky black glasses and an all too serious face coolly replied, “Let's do the 99 Gratien... nice shoes by the way.” My response, “Great. I’ll get that right away for you… thanks!” Eager and giddy to open the special bottle of vintage Champagne, which I just added to the wine list that day, I thought, “Could it be that easy?” (Submissively shifting a guest out of his or her $100 per bottle Champagne comfort zone to something a bit more rare and pricey). Well, yes of course it could be, if you were a dapper sommelier with the right big talk and the right big attitude. Then I thought about myself… a different type of person and thus a different type of sommelier, more reserved, maybe a little too honest, and a sucker for the underdogs and bargains. “I know you’re interested in the bla-bla-bla for $150, but you should really try the bla-bla-bla for $100, it’s totally underrated.” Making my way down to the cellar, freely gliding and bouncing down the steel-cut stairs, I looked down at myself, past my black tuxedo pants and wondered – “Nah, can’t be, it’s the Air Jordans.”
As sommeliers, we are constantly judged. There are villages of respectable eaters and drinkers out there who have experienced an unfortunate or awkward moment with a sommelier. Maybe it was the ridiculous over-pouring of Riesling, too full and top-heavy to swirl and catch the aroma of fresh peach and lime. Maybe the folly was the delicious bottle of Pinot Noir that surprisingly ended in one too many zeros or the cute and perky know-it-all “somm” in the perfectly tailored midnight blue suit that rubbed you from lukewarm to cold. Whatever the sorry circumstance, certain guests will look you up-and-down, and in an instant judge you – I like her, I don't like her, let's call over the sommelier for help or… let's not. I’m a sommelier, but firstly I’m a girl, and I like shoes. I like all types of shoes: high shoes, higher shoes, and sometimes, low shoes. Tuesday is my Monday, and I’d start-off the week strong, 3-inch heels. Wednesday, no problem, 3-inch Italian black patent leather it is. Thursday, take it down to 2-inch, a busy Friday, go 1. Come Saturday, 3 private parties, 120 covers confirmed in the main dining room, we’re rolling with one food runner, Chef Jimmy is working and sweating the fish station… give me my Air Jordans!
My shoe pattern began to stick, and Saturdays I properly dubbed “Air Jordan Saturdays.” Over a three-month period I mentally documented the nights I wore my black sneakers with the bright pink swooshes and noticed two things. Guests were more likely to randomly initiate conversations with me as well as request my assistance in selecting a bottle of wine. I’d walk-up to table 41, an abbreviated, loose version of our dialogue would be:
“Hey nice sneakers (Bob)… Thanks (Me)… What do you think between this wine, this wine, or that wine? (Bob)… I'd get that wine, it’s awesome (Me)…. Ok, we’ll go with that wine (Bob)… Ok great… I’ll bring that right away for you (Me)”
Then table 43, then 57, then the bottleneck of techies at the food-bar, “Hey nice sneakers,” all night long. Would I have the same luck if I swapped-out my Air Jordans for Chuck Taylors or throwback Pumas? This experiment, part 2, I have not tried, but tempted. I am, although, secretly looking forward to “Adidas Stan Smith Saturdays” with the arrival of AQ spring.
Enthusiastic about this correlation between sneakers and a guest’s behavior, I consulted Teresa, Chef Mark’s wife, a sharp girl I could trust; the kind of lady that could make a witty joke in a room full of suits while being the cool girl that could hang with the boys or with the chicks. We were standing by the cooks’ pass as Saturday night’s final tickets were seamlessly birthing out of the little black box. She diplomatically listened to my theory and asserted, “Did you ever think that maybe it’s not the sneakers, maybe it’s yoouuu in the sneakers …and that is the difference.” Sure she had a point. I was more comfortable in my sneakers, more relaxed, possibly even exuding an extra smile as I glided down the stairs towards the 99 Gratien. So in the end wh0 did Jordan seduce… was it the lady with the pixie hair or was it me? I’m not convinced it was all of me, but I am grateful for #23, my sneakers, and the special wines I get to taste and drink every night.
Thank you, Michael Jordan.