An Investigation We Can Get Behind: Busting Bars for Passing Off Swill as Top-Shelf Booze

Why do you make fun of New Jersey? In many ways, they’re on the cutting edge. Take, for example, consumer advocacy in the field of drinking. A great article by Christopher Baxter in the Newark Star-Ledger made me smile from ear-to-ear this morning. Authorities in the Garden State have been working on "Operation Swill" for a year, sending investigators out to find out which bars were passing off cheap booze as premium brands and pocketing the difference in price. The results are in, and the list of cheaters is long, featuring many big franchises. Namely, an Applebee’s in Kearny, a Ruby Tuesday in Bridgewater, and no fewer than 13 T.G.I. Friday’s. WTF, TGI? According to the story, "The investigation began as a result of complaints, confidential informants and new technology used to test liquor covertly purchased at the establishments by detectives." It’s that last part that made my ears perk up: "new technology used to test liquor." Where can I get some of this technology? Can I buy it from the Russians? The North Koreans? The Chinese? I’ve got to have it, because I think I’ve found my life’s calling. 

Some people in the comments section of story are going on about this being a waste of resources. Those people are wrong. Not only is this a fraud perpetuated on consumers, it’s also a tax violation, with bar owners claiming liquor expenses well beyond what they actually pay. And I reckon that the producers of those top shelf bottles wouldn’t want to be misrepresented. It can damage their reputation. It’s not like those investigative resources would otherwise be used to go after Wall Street misdeeds. Might as well use those gumshoes for something that affects your life every day. 

But more importantly, it’s something that only an official government agency can look into. Think you’re being short-changed on a drink at a bar on a Friday night? Go ahead and complain. At best you’ll be ignored. At worst, you’re tossed out of the place because you’re "drunk" and "acting belligerent." In the eyes of the cops who show up, bar management’s always in the right, even if the bouncer leaves you within an inch of your life. Self defense, officer. Sure, I have six inches and 100 pounds on the guy, but he was intoxicated, and I was afraid. 

Of course I can see how this happens. Passing off cheap booze as expensive has to be the most tantalizingly easy way for a bar to line its pockets, since so few people can actually taste the difference between Johnnie Black and Jim Beam, especially in a cocktail. But it’s a crime all the same, and just because some people enjoy a belt or two after work doesn’t make it right to take advantage of them. 

And so, this drink-analyzing technology. I want it. It’s probably been around for a long time in some form. I’ve been told that for decades, Coca-Cola has similarly employed teams of people who analyze samples of drinks served as Coke at restaurants to ensure that they’re not instead Safeway-brand cola product. Maybe it’s the same deal. Let’s find out where they get it. I’d like to see whole armies of drinkers deployed to bars with little handheld test kits, just to keep them honest. 

I applaud New Jersey authorities and give a big wag of my finger to these unscrupulous bar owners. Bad bars, bad bars, what you gonna do? What you gonna do when they come for you? 

[BlackBook New York Guide; More by Victor Ozols; Follow Me on Twitter]

Share Button

Facebook Comments