THE BIG GULP
My name is David. And I drink. A lot. Every day. In fact, the first thing I do when I stumble out of bed is pour myself a tall one. I usually finish it while standing at the dining room table looking at the sports headlines. Then I plop a second one next to the computer in my home office while I check my e-mail. By noon I’ve had, what, three or four? Who’s keeping track? Then one, sometimes two, with lunch. And yeah, sure, I drink at dinner. Who doesn’t? It’s good for you. And maybe a little something after dinner. But I always stop three hours before bed. That’s just a rule I have because, frankly, I don’t want to tinkle all night. This has been my routine for years now. Six, seven, maybe eight glasses of water a day. From the tap. Actually, from the door dispenser of our refrigerator because it’s chilled. Good stuff. Which is why when some ridiculously attentive waitress starts off our little customer/server chat by asking if I’d prefer still or sparkling water, I say, “Uhmmm . . . tap?” She maintains that extravagant smile on her face, but her eyes give her away. They scream: Don’t you know that stuff can kill you?
Which is why I was pleased to hear a story on National Public Radio recently saying that Alice Waters--yes, that Alice Waters--was no longer going to offer bottled water at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse. After twisting the caps off 24,000 bottles of Italian mineral water every year for 30-plus years, she was over it. From here on out, her customers could drink filtered tap water or just order more wine. Whatever.
Alice, I’m with you all the way. I will defend you from numbnuts such as JamesM, who ranted on a Zagat blog that he will no longer grace Chez Panisse with his presence. “I want bottled water and won’t settle for less. I would like to remind people that both glass (which I prefer) and plastic bottles are recyclable.”
Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy. Would it shock you to know that Bay Area tap water is pretty good? And if you get off your high horse long enough to come south, you’ll find Los Angeles water is even better. In fact, it’s as good or better than many types of bottled water. Case in point: The National Resources Defense Council tested more than 100 brands of bottled water and found that a third of them “contain significant contamination (i.e., levels of chemical or bacterial contaminants exceeding those allowed under a state or industry standard or guideline) in at least one test.” You like your Yosemite brand water, Jimmy? It’s drawn from Highland Park. How about some of that yummy Aquafina, the top-selling bottled water in the U.S.? It’s taken from municipal taps in places such as Fresno and Detroit. Is that what you want?
Of course not. You want your Italian water in a green glass bottle. Like that Santa Lucia stuff. Which comes from the oh-so-chichi-sounding Parco Naturale delle Fonti di Santa Lucia in a remote area of northern Italy. Where it is bottled by celibate monks wearing rubber gloves, no doubt, and trucked hundreds of miles to some port, loaded on a container ship, schlepped thousands of miles over the ocean, then put on another truck and transported to your favorite restaurant. Where you, fool that you are, end up paying at least 10 times more than the equivalent cost of a gallon of gasoline. Nice. What do you think the carbon footprint is on that baby?
Oh, and the recycling thing? Only about 16% of plastic water bottles sold in California are recycled; the rate for glass is higher, but millions of bottles still end up in landfills every year.
And do you know why those fancy restaurants encourage you to feel so smug about that $7 bottle of water? Because they make a killing on it. Forget about the markup on the rib-eye you’re gobbling down. Where they’re really making money on you is in the two bottles of sparkling Italian mineral water you’ve ordered to impress your date. Why wouldn’t they be happy to refill your glass every 30 seconds? They’re pouring liquid gold!
“This is just something we’ve felt like we’ve needed to do for a long, long time,” says Mike Kossa-Rienzi, general manager of Chez Panisse. “I wish we’d . . . done it sooner. You think about the cost of getting the water from Italy, and then we have to recycle thousands of these bottles, and it’s ridiculous.”
Have people complained? Not a soul, says Kossa-Rienzi. “Oh, except one regular who said, ‘Can’t you keep just one bottle of water for me?’ I told him I’d run across the street to the supermarket and get him one when he came in, but he hasn’t taken me up on it. I think he’d be too embarrassed.”
And while the Bay Area may have (once again) gotten the drop on us when it comes to sensible, sustainable living, tap water is catching on at several L.A. restaurants. Jar on Beverly Boulevard, Abode in Santa Monica and Lou, a wine bar in Hollywood, are using the Everpure carbon-filtering system to remove chlorine and chloramines from tap water and make it an attractive alternative to the bottled stuff.
The city’s favorite new restaurant, Pizzeria Mozza, the Nancy Silverton/Mario Batali/Joseph Bastianich hot spot that has crowds lined up out the door waiting for a table, serves tap water filtered by a similar system, Eversoft. It’s poured into a very cool stopper-top bottle with squared-off edges that looks like an old-school olive oil bottle.
“I think a lot of people feel like bottled water is forced on them by restaurants,” says general manager David Rosoff. “People who ask for tap water may feel they’re not as upscale as their neighbor who is downing $30 worth of bottled water. So we thought serving tap water in a cool decorative bottle would even things out. And it fits the pizzeria concept.”
Like the other L.A. restaurants, Pizzeria Mozza still sells bottled water. “Some people just insist on it,” Rosoff says. “But it’s not a profit center for us. If your restaurant depends on selling bottled water to make money, you’re in trouble.”
Abode, a new eatery known for its sustainable, artisanal ingredients, serves filtered tap water in crystal decanters. The water “tastes phenomenal,” says owner Anastasia Israel. “As good as the food, which is the point.” Water is important enough to Israel and co-owner and husband Kelly Gleason that the couple put a $300 cocktail on the menu, called the Heal the Bay martini, that comes with a real black pearl in the glass. All profits go to the Santa Monica-based organization.
So I can just hear JamesM saying, Oh, sure. These big-name restaurants put in fancy filter systems for their water, but what about the little guys? Who’d drink L.A. water straight from the tap at a taqueria? It’s awful, right?
Actually, in 1987 Consumer Reports said L.A. drinking water was “flawless or nearly flawless,” testing it against 50 bottled waters and rating it higher than much of the overpriced stuff. And get this: Last year, New York Magazine, in an effort to prove that New York’s tap water tastes better than anyone else’s, did a blind tasting of water from there and five other cities: Los Angeles, Paris, Seattle, Newark, N.J., and Golden, Colo., (you know--Rocky Mountain High). The astonishing result? L.A. came in first; New York last. One of the judges called Los Angeles tap water “exceptional. Like a bottled water.”
Then there’s this: For the inflated price of a single bottle of Evian, you could drink 1,000 gallons of L.A.'s finest eau de tap. Why not if it tastes just as good?
Only about 16% of plastic water bottles sold in California are recycled; the rate for glass is higher, but millions of bottles still end up in landfills every year.