Monday, January 5, 2009

Old habits need not die

Techy bar to beat the ban

The sight of all those smokers huddled in little packs outside of bars, their frosty exhalations of carcinogens forming a fog around them, has to elicit sympathy from even the most hardened anti-nicotine zealot. The poor devils are not only addicted to a substance that will drastically shorten their lives, but they also have to suffer in the cold to get their fix.

As a former cigarette addict, I know that the pleasure of drinking and smoking is greatly diminished if the two activities are separated. Until January 1, when Oregon’s new smoking ban went into effect, one could sit at many a bar inhaling harsh cigarette smoke and washing it down with a sip of beer. Now it’s outside, at least ten feet away from any door and in most places, the drink can’t come with you.

This tragedy--along with the fact that come summer, I will want to be outside too without having to endure such pockets of pollution—leads me to a solution. The main argument for banning smoking inside bars and other establishments is that the second-hand smoke harms the health of the employees (never mind that a large percentage of bartenders smoke themselves).

The answer is quite obvious: open a bar without employees.

The technology is already in place in many other venues, from cleanrooms to supermarket checkouts, though it certainly can be improved and modified to accommodate the needs of a bar.

Take a tour of such a bar:

You enter through a sliding door similar to the kind you see in any science fiction movie involving space ships. There’s an air lock chamber of a few feet and then another sliding door. While in the chamber, you show your driver’s license to an optical recognition device that can read your birthdate and also match your face with your photo on the license. If you are a regular, you will only need to show your face, whose image will be in the device’s memory.

Upon entering the main part of the lounge, you will go to a touch screen display to order your drink. This will be similar to those you see at Fred Meyer when you go through the automated checkout, and equally as difficult to operate. After all, with no bartender to determine your sobriety, you will need to prove it yourself. After passing a random sobriety test, you place your order and pay, just as you do at Fred’s (though with a credit card, you will have the option of leaving your tab open).

You are then directed to a window which slides open, revealing your drink. You also will be able to order food in the same way. Again, you’ve seen this many times on old space opera movies.

Once you’ve been served, you can choose from a multitude of electronic entertainment options, from video poker to sports on big flat panel screens. Or there may be disco music to dance to.

The d├ęcor turns out to be as techy as the service. Lots of gleaming titanium as well as very high-tech polymers. The floor, walls, chairs, stools and other things you come in contact with are made of a kind of plastic that is soft enough to keep you from cracking your head open should you flop against it, but smooth enough to easily clean. Sensors on the floor, or perhaps surveillance cameras, will detect anyone who tricked the sobriety test and then passed out. If there is a person down, the floor starts rippling and gently rolls the body to the side of the room, where a conveyor belt whisks the innebriate to a comfort station outside the bar while a call is made to Hooper Detox.

All glasses are made of unbreakable material. There are ashtrays everywhere and they look like the retro ones from the 1950s that have a trap door, only with these, the butts are funneled through the trap door and down a chute to an incinerator. Fans in the ceiling also suck up the smoke, not so much for the health of the patrons but to make sure the machinery doesn't get gummed up. All the furniture is attached to the floor, so people can't walk out with it.

Say you come in and enjoy yourself immensely at this bar, so much so that you are there at closing time. You go to get another drink at 2 a.m. and find the touch screen is blank and the dispensers are shut down, except for one serving coffee.

At 2:25 a.m., the ventilation fans are turned to gale force and all the liquid in the remaining glasses is squooshed up through them, and there is nothing left to drink.

A minute later, the sound system starts playing Creed's “My Sacrifice” repeatedly until the last person is out of the bar.

Then jets of water shoot out through high pressure valves in the walls, washing down everything. At the same time, the floor tilts and all the water and other debris in the bar flows down a drain and into a series of giant sieves where the stuff is sorted out. Within minutes, the bar is cleaned, restocked and ready to go for the next day.

That's Autobar version 1.0. I suspect that in later upgrades, there will be robot bartenders programmed to talk to you about sports, movies and politics, and, of course, light your cigarette.

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