Beer drinkers face off against wine set

New Yorkers claim alcoholic double standard

— Ahhh, the joys of a summer day, when the toughest decision might be the choice between a perfectly chilled bottle of wine and an ice cold beer.

That choice might be a little easier these days in New York City, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg uncorked a brouhaha by suggesting that while drinking wine in the park with the symphony is fine, beer and the beach just don't mix.

The comment has set off allegations of snobbery and classism, a problem for the billionaire mayor who was already perceived by many New Yorkers as unable to relate to them and their problems.

The whole mess started on the Fourth of July, when people at a fund-raiser on Rockaway Beach in Brooklyn for memorials to World Trade Center victims were rousted by police for drinking beer.

The city's open-container law bans alcohol in parks and on beaches.

A few days later, thousands of people sipped wine in Central and Prospect parks as they listened to the New York Philharmonic, the nation's oldest orchestra, during free performances followed by fireworks. Police did not issue a single citation.

A photograph on the front page of the Daily News the morning after the Prospect Park concert showed Bloomberg sitting on the lawn next to music lovers imbibing wine. One concertgoer, according to the paper, even offered the mayor a shot of vodka -- which was politely declined.

Bloomberg said that enforcement of public drinking laws was at the discretion of individual police officers and that his neighbors in the park were "behaving."

He said inebriated people on the beach ran a much greater risk of harming themselves, as opposed to those who drink in the more placid confines of the park.


AP Photo

Brooklyn residents, from left, Gayle Sanders, Charles Sinclair and Mike Ambrosio drink wine during a concert in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York. While Fourth of July revelers on Rockaway Beach were cited for drinking beer, concertgoers at some of the city's free park performances have been allowed to drink wine without being cited despite the city's open-container law. The disparity has some New Yorkers complaining of classism.

"I don't know of anybody that's drowned in a tuba recently," Bloomberg declared when asked about the discrepancy.

Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe said drinking wine in the parks when the symphony plays was a cherished rite of summer in the city.

"There happens to be a four-decade tradition of Philharmonics in the park," Benepe said. "The tradition has been that people have come out and have a bottle of wine ... There have never been problems related to that."

It's not fair, some New Yorkers say.

"Clearly, there's a class bias," said Doug Muzzio, a political science professor at Baruch College. "Bloomberg is from the Chablis and brie set, not the beer and burger set."

The idea that beer is the brew of the lower classes is not new: In about 350, the Roman Empire denounced beer as "the brew of barbarians."

Wine lovers say many beer drinkers revel in what is sometimes a crude image, in television commercials, at keg parties or on T-shirts.

"Listen, there is no equivalent for wine of that 'Reasons Why Beer is Better than Women' T-shirt," said Alan Roberts, a Manhattan salesman who bought a bottle each of cabernet sauvignon and pinot grigio at a downtown liquor store.

But Jon Bloostein, owner of the upscale Heartland Brewery and Chop House chain, said that as the quality of beer continued to increase, prejudice against beer drinkers diminished.

"There isn't the same kind of snob appeal with wine-drinkers that there once was," he said.

Counters Roberts: "Bacchus is the god of wine, but there is no god of beer, unless you count Homer Simpson."


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