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January 19, 2005

Epi-curious George Has anyone been to the "soup nazi" that was made famous on Seinfeld? And if you have, was the soup that good, or was it just sort of fun being waited on by a surly chef?

This leads me to my real question. Do you have any places that you like to go where the wait-staff/chef/bartender is a nazi? I remember hearing about a bar in San Francisco that only serves old school martinis and will bodily eject you if you order a "sour apple" martini (god bless them) and when I went to Philly I was taken to a cheese sandwich shop where I was told that I had to order in a local dialect ("one steak with everything") to get served. So monkeys, do you have any dining/drinking establishments with such strict rules?

I have a local pub that specializes in quality microbrews and 'real' ales (non-refrigerated, non-pressurized casks, drawn by hand). If you go in there and order a generic bottled beer from Molson's or Labbatt's they will vehemently attempt to talk you out of it.

Well, rocket88, that's like going into a famous sea food restaurant and ordering a burger. There are some things that just should not be done.

Damn, now I'm hungry for a Philly steak and beer.

Food Nazis surround us,
they browbeat and hound us,
they say, "Order ground beef"
when we want quarter pounders!

Oh yes.

On our last trip to NYC, we went to Katz's Delicatessen at 8am for a pastrami sandwich hangover cure. There were only 3 other customers in the joint, so all the old deli guys had a ball giving us crap. It was a surreal experience.

I understand the "don't go to a steak place and order chicken" thing (mmm, good steak), but I don't understand the charm of the soup nazi thing. My hometown is a great restaurant town and there are so many nice, reasonably-priced places to eat good food that even an overlong wait is enough to make me move along nowadays. Actual rude pushiness? Forget it. Promoting a strong specialty is one thing, but telling me how to eat is another.

Along similar lines, there was a thing going around last year about celebrity chefs who got shirty if you didn't want their dish just the way they wanted to make it. The gist of it was "we know more food about you, so shut up and do it our way". If I want to put my food experience in the hands of a chef, I may do that, but that's not generally what I want to do when I go out. Not to mention that if I tell you "no peanuts", I'm not kidding.

I am reminded of the decline of Sakowitz, an upscale local department store back home (Houston). I can remember that when I was a girl, the salespeople were nice no matter what you wore or what you looked like, because they were well-trained and (sensibly) didn't know whether the dirty guy coming in was a bum or a wealthy wildcatter there to buy something nice for his wife. When I went in to look at wedding dresses when I married my ex in about 1990, they were rude and snotty because I was underdressed, and I heard a lot of similar stories from other brides in salons as I tried on dresses. And sure enough, they were gone a few years later. That's what I expect to see happen to rude restaurateurs: why should I pay good money for someone to be rude to me?

PS: I live in spitting distance from Manhattan--it's where we go out to eat--and have never considered eating at the soup nazi's place.

Not perhaps the best policy, but my favorite bartender at my old haunt was known for kicking out anyone not actually drinking (including DDs). Just imagine a tiny-but-threatening Thai woman screaming "It's a fucking bar! Get the hell out. Now!"

You also needed to be a little careful ordering a mixed drink. I once mentioned that my Cape Cod was almost entirely clear, just the faintest hint of pink, and she said, "Oh, does the widdle baby want some juice?" Ouch.

There was this place I used to go to in Germany back in the 40's. Man! It seemed like everyone in the place was a Nazi!

Rioyu, 52rd street between Fifth and Madison. Was, anyway, it closed down this fall. Japanese restaurant, pretty good sushi, good soup, really good tempura. Right across the street from my office. I was really sad when it closed, I'd eat there at least once a week.

Anyway, there was a fellow who worked the take-out counter, Tim, a very particular, sort of fussily groomed, fifty-ish, tall Japanese guy who didn't take no shit from no body. He wasn't mean (at all) but he was REALLY strict, and brusk. He had a microphone that he would lean all the way into to speak your order to the kitchen staff and he would say, like a robot, "Miso larmen. Beef. Miso larmen. Pork. Chicken Teriyaki."

Best thing about Tim was if you hadn't grabbed your little iceburg lettuce with ginger dressing salad on the way past the refrigerator case (you were entitled to one with just about any meal), without fail he would say, loud, without looking at you, "please take a salad from the showcase." My friend Jeff and I used to intentionally forget to grab a salad just to hear him say that.

Now, my real question is: what is Tim doing now that Rioyu is closed? It would make my week to see him on the subway or something...

Been to the soup nazi a few times. The first time, I had the crab bisque. He yelled, I yelled back, telling him after waiting 30 minutes in freezing temperatures to pay 10 bucks for his soup, he'd damn well better be nice to me. I got everything I wanted. We came to a bit of an understanding...


$10 for soup?

*head explodes*

In the Meatpacking District of Manhattan, before the damn movie Ugly Coyote ruined it, there was a great bar (still exists, I believe) call Hogs & Heiffers.

Not only would they cut your tie off if you tried to enter with it on, not only would the bartendresses yell various insults through a bullhorn for poor tiping, and not only did their in-house enforcer physically throw someone through the air onto the bar right in front of me but they also had women who would donate their bras to the ceiling display, had ex-Eastern Europeans named things like Bear and Vicegrip that always tried to get in fights and previously mentioned bartendresses that would perdiodically shake things up by stripping on the bar.

Good times, I say, good times.

30 minutes in freezing temperatures to pay 10 bucks for his soup

No. SHIT?

That soup had better be full of portable vaginas that spew bourbon on command, for ten bucks a bowl.

There is a Sushi Nazi down the street from my office building. He runs the whole place himself - chef & cashier in one. He's very popular downtown but he doesn't put up with much of anything he doesn't like. And if the place is full, he'll tell customers coming in - "Too many! You leave now!" and people scurry out the door.

Most people who work near Printer's Alley in downtown Nashville know about the Sushi Nazi. His name is Sam.

I *almost* got to. Some friends and I did a road trip to NYC last year, and by the sheerest of coincidences, the B&B we stayed at was literally around the corner from his shop. We saw the sign (which prominently advertised his Soup Kitchen website) and started freaking out.

Then we discovered he was on vacation. AARRGGHH.

In 1991-92 I spent my junior year abroad at Cambridge. I was a student at Girton College, which is a ways out of Cambridge proper, and thus very insular. Anyway, the college barkeep at Girton was a real character, Tom the Barman, about whom I'd been warned by the previous student in our exchange program. He was likeable, conversational, jocular, remembered your name and what you liked with uncanny ability, everything an old English Barman should be. However, he would NOT brook impoliteness. You could not be served at his bar without saying 'please.' More than once I remember a student from another college coming to visit friends at Girton, standing at the bar trying to get a round in. Tom would raise his eyebrows to the student (indicating it was his turn), the uninitiated would call out, "Three pints Guiness!" and Tom replied, "I can't hear you." The kid would repeat his order, and Tom would repeat, "I can't hear you." IN the end the kid would be SCREAMING at Tom the order, with Tom still pleasantly smiling, insisting he couldn't hear, though in the meantime he had take three or four other orders at lower volume and filled them just fine. Finally a Girtonite would take pity, whisper something in the kid's ear, and the red-faced kid would say, "Three pints Guiness, please?" At which point Tom would wink and say, "I heard you just fine, that time. " and fill the order.

I questioned Tom on his methods once, and he got very passionate about the importance of "please" and "thank you," saying "It don't cost you nuthin," and that especially those being educated at one of the world's great universities should learn the importance of being polite, even to those in service positions. I agreed, and still do.

I learned a year or so back that Tom had died, and I was saddened more by that than by the news of any non-family death I can remember. Strange.

I remember hearing about a bar in San Francisco that only serves old school martinis and will bodily eject you if you order a "sour apple" martini (god bless them)

It was called the Persian Aub Zam Zam. People used to go there to see how quickly they could get kicked out. The owner passed away, however, and now the new owners will gladly make you that Sour Apple Martini, if that's your particular poison.

"I learned a year or so back that Tom had died, and I was saddened more by that than by the news of any non-family death I can remember. Strange."

This is because you are an alcoholic.

At risk of sounding like a fool:
What is a soup nazi?

That makes me quite sad too, Tenacious, he sounds like someone I would love to meet.

I waited tables at a rib place. They sold pork and beef ribs. The owner said that the pork ribs were much, much better than the beef ribs. The owner further told us that if anyone ordered the beef ribs, then we should do everything we could to talk them out of it because they were terrible. I wondered why in the world they sold them. They did take them off the menu a year or so later.

the Soup Nazi explained.

I used to frequent a local place called The Vienna Inn in Northern Virginia. The chili dogs were A+ and the waitresses were well known--and well liked--for their rudeness.

Waitress: "What do you want?"
New Customer: "Um, we don't have menus yet."
Waitress: "Well, when you find the menu, I'll take your order."
New Customer:
Customer At Another Table: "Psst. The menu is on that big chalkboard on the wall behind you."

Good times!

There's a burger place here in Dallas that is supposed to specialise in insults. I've never been there myself, since we are awash in more good burger places than you can shake a steer at (or than I can eat at), but maybe sometime.

Thanks patita!

Oxford has a tie-cutting pub, too - though I don't recall the name. Very good pub though.

Austin Texas late '8os: GM Steakhouse which had a mic and speaker set up so the punk-rock guys behind the counter could hastle people walking by on the sidewalk. They would also yell at you while in line "WHAT do you WANT?" , "FRIES? DO YOU WANT FRIES WITH THAT?", etc. Best damn chicken fried steak for under $5.

San Francisco early 90's (and before then): Dover Club. If you ordered Bushmill's instead of Jameson, the bartender would point at the IRA propaganda on the walls and tell you if you ever ordered that again you would be 86ed from the place. He meant it.

I was just trying to remember the GM Steakhouse! The best, biggest burger you've ever had. Great cheese. The size of a muffaletta.

I used to enjoy the place and their friendly insults but once, I took Jill, a black girl I was dating, and the insults seemed to cross the line into hostility. They even put a thumb through her bun, which I thought was too much.

I do miss those burgers, though.

This topic makes me spitting mad. Why Seinfeld had to take one of the great NYC institutions and turn it into an offensive and demeaning caricature is beyond me, and I'm torn between trying to explain the facts to the "how could anyone even dream of going there??" people (who, after all, have no idea and are simply responding to a dumb TV shtick) and figuring "the hell with them -- more soup for me."

Al Yeganeh is a genius whose specialty happens to be soup rather than atomic physics or jazz saxophone. His entire life is soup; he takes the summer months off so he can travel the globe looking for new recipes and perfecting the ones he has. He uses nothing but the finest ingredients and watches every pot like a loving parent. Yes, it's expensive, for the same reason any great restaurant is expensive; it would be a lot more expensive if it were a sit-down restaurant, plus you'd have to put up with maitre d's, snooty waiters, and tipping; as it is, all you have to do is stand in line. Yes, it's a long line; that's because the food is so fucking good people are willing to wait for it. I've spent my entire lunch hour on that line more than once, and only regretted that I had to choose a single soup to take back to the office -- there are always several hot soups and one or two cold ones.

The "Nazi" stuff (and what a subtle way to make a point!) is based on the fact that he has a few simple rules, basically common sense, to make life easier for his customers, so they don't have to stand in that line any longer than absolutely necessary. Give the order when you get to the counter; move to the right so the next person can order; have your money ready. Is that so hard? Yes, he can get impatient, just like any other New Yorker, but I have never heard him chew anybody out -- he'll just repeat "Move aside" (or whatever) a little snappily. In a world full of genuine assholes eager to ruin people's lives, if you choose to get your panties in a twist over somebody who loves good food and wants to share it with as many people as possible, that's your business, but please disentangle the stupid Seinfeld shtick from the real Soup Guy, who (quite rightly) hates Seinfeld with a passion for blackening his reputation.

Thank you. This has been a public service announcement from the Good Food Folks of New York. Please resume your regularly scheduled contemplation of bananas.

Atchafalaya: yes, there are reasons I no longer live in TX.

Was it really Seinfeld's idea, Larry David's or someone else/some combination of writers?

*takes a bowl of nazi soup and slowly dumps it out on the ground in front of languagehat*

Just to add an anecdote about Ann Arbor's Chef Jules of LeDog, often called a Soup Nazi, he is not only a very, very nice and generous guy (so long as you don't ask stupid questions that could be answered by a glance at his menu), but last year, when the olympic torch passed through Ann Arbor, he had on display a torch, designed by Hitler, and used in the very first olympic torch relay at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, that his father, a Hungarian track & field official, smuggled out of Nazi Germany. So watch those perjoratives. After all, he's completely right; there is no such thing as a Caesar salad without dressing.

When I used to bartend I would refuse to pour vodka & coke, my reasoning being that it was a waste of perfectly good vodka and perfectly good coke.

Well, regarding all this talk about nazis and such, I myself could be regarded as a nazi if you asked me innane questions while concentrating at work. But talk to me on my down time or while I don't need to concentrate and I am a teddy bear.

$10 for soup is expensive, but so is $5 for a milkshake.

languagehat, I'm pretty sure most people assume Seinfeld took liberties, even with the stuff that was inspired by real life. Besides, the episode was funny.

My milkshake brings all the boys to the yard
And they're like, it's better than yours
Damn right it's better than yours
I could teach you
But I have to charge

> a bar in San Francisco that only serves old school martinis

The Persian aub Zam Zam. Very pretty little room in the middle of upper Haight Street. (ambrosia, I didn't know the owner had died). The owner was notorious for kicking people out if they didn't order a drink he deemed correct. Mixed drinks were kick-out-able. Martinis made with (gin? vodka?) were kick-out-able. He must have owned the site, as he couldn't possibly have made any money. Even other business owners on the street couldn't find a home in his pretty little bar.

My girlfriend and I were so deadbeat after finals one semester we went there not caring at all what our welcome would be (the owner was rumored to hate single women along with everything else). We just felt like it was time to be in a pretty bar.

We asked for dry sherry. We were served, politely, by this fearsome proprietor. We drank - we both loved sherry - and talked. Then, when we were whispering to each other if we could afford another, he treated us.

I was told later that this was unprecedented.

Goofyfoot, you and your girlfriend are obviously charmed. I request a blessing, if at all possible.

*kneels in obsessence*

I humbly ask that you send good vibes toward Sweetzer and Melrose in LA, CA, Estados Unidos.

Oh, and you and your girlfriend are probably hot too.

The good vibes are still humbly requested.

It would be remiss of me not to thank L-Hat for his ace comment in this thread.

Extended commentary + personal experience = great.

*applauds*

More like this, please!

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