January 2016 Bar Bulletin
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Three-Martini Lunches: Or Things We Will Never Do Again


The experiment begins with 10 Schwabe attorneys and staff flowing into Oliver’s Lounge (405 Olive Way, Seattle; 623-8700; www.mayflowerpark.com/olivers-lounge/). It is the afternoon before Thanksgiving. They find themselves a spot in the back — adjusting tables, perusing menus, talking about beef, grilled cheese sandwiches or stews.

Back at the office, lights are being turned off, and the front desk is transforming from a bustling area of activity into a quiet ghost town as the staff and many of the attorneys head to grocery stores to buy turkey trimmings or to their homes to find loved ones waiting for them.

No more work will be completed: no filings, no discovery, no patents to draft, and no memoranda to research.

According to Wikipedia, the three-martini lunch is a term “used in the United States to describe a leisurely, indulgent lunch enjoyed by businesspeople or executives. It refers to a common belief that many people in such professions have enough leisure time and wherewithal to consume more than one martini during the work day. Steaks, oysters and lobster are among dishes cited as a staple of these lunches.”

But does anyone actually have three martinis during the day — and what happens to them afterward? Dining Out with Schwabe decided to find out. What better time for Dining Out with Schwabe eaters to slip into memories of another era, and for some to put on their lab coats and conduct an experiment on what they see to be the myth of the three-martini-lunch?

In 2013, Forbes visited the infamy of the three-martini lunch. From Jimmy Carter’s rhetoric that the working class was subsidizing the three-martini lunch to Gerald Ford’s retort that the “three-martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful, and a snootful at the same time?”

For the younger set, the references to three-martini lunches cannot be exhumed and can only be imagined in the context of television shows such as “Mad Men.” This set of lawyers sees visions of white men in black suits taking clients away from yes-men and setting them beside pressed table cloths and, together, spiraling into frank conversations, ideas, dreams and misogyny.

Others worked in professional service offices decades ago and recall the way the staff would rush at 11 a.m. to ensure that all the real work of the office would be done before their bosses devolved into the drunken, sleepy messes they were accustomed to. This is a state that would be described merely as “afternoon.”

One lawyer’s uncle routinely engaged in such drinking from his gig selling matronly shoes to the ungodly wealthy in Manhattan in the late 1960s. He and his W.C. Fields-esque co-worker often escaped to a small bar around the corner where a brisk waitress would keep the drinks coming until they were so numb that they were friendly to the women whose demands upon their attention surpassed unreasonable and unkind.

Most of the lawyers who walked into Oliver’s that Thanksgiving Eve had never personally partaken in a three-martini lunch. They were both the experiment and the experimenters. Each vowed not to drive, work or bike. Each identified their approach. Some focused on hydration — a glass of water for each martini. Others relied on a heavy meal, ordering a weighty burger topped with beets and strong cheese.

These are the lessons learned from the three-martini lunch. They are offered so that you will never have to conduct this experiment or ask the “can I still do what I did in the 1980s” question.

1. The problem with three martinis is that if you have three martinis, it becomes really difficult not to keep drinking for the next six hours. As our queen administrator noted the next morning: “I can’t find my liver and I know I came home with it.”

2. Everyone knows about drunken driving. Not doing it is increasingly easy with Lyft and Uber. However, drunken walking is also treacherous and ill-advised. This is particularly poignant when reading a lawyer’s email that he “made it home safely” at 3:26 p.m. He left early.

3. If you commute on the Sounder train, do not fall asleep on the Sounder Train.

4. Five percent tip should be added for each martini over three. While you might not think you are obnoxious, you are. A new lateral added: “I think we all got a lot louder and more … free … in our topics of conversation.”

5. Text messages can be brutal. You may text your loved ones things like, “I’m drunk, and need a spring-form pan, and whipping cream, and sage, and I can’t drive.”

6. Macy’s is really nice to you when you are trying to buy a spring-form pan after three martinis.

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