James Spader is a regular, the host informs us as we walk to our table. Oh, and Will Ferrell sat right there with his family just yesterday. All lovely people; great tippers. My friend and I slide into the modern red wing chairs in Los Angeles' Ray's & Stark Bar and ask for the water menu. We're here to drink flights of water. Yes, like wine, but with water. That you pay 12 bucks for. Fucking L.A.
Ray's & Stark has a new water menu with more than 20 "varietals of water from around the world." You can get three-ounce pulls of three different ones for $12. Yes, $12 for nine-ounces of water.
When I ask the waiter for a water menu, he's confused but returns a few minutes later with a leather-bound, 45-page water bible featuring waters familiar (Fiji, Perrier) and unknown (Vichy Catalan, Beverly Hills 90H20) (For real).
We're informed by a manager that the water flights are actually sold out — they've had major interest since the L.A. Times piece — but that they would pull together a special tasting for us. It's nice of them to let us know about the stand-ins for tonight's performance, because they could've easily served water from three different toilets and we would have been none the wiser.
With that, yet another person emerges with our three waters for the evening:
Vichy Catalan, Beverly Hills 90H20, and Perrier.
He explains that the restaurant's general manager, Martin Riese, is a "water sommelier" — the only one that he's aware of in the United States — and takes his water very seriously. In fact, he even makes his own water, the one and only Beverly Hills 90H20. Which, by the way, is never not fun to type or say.
When I ask to clarify what "makes water" means, he says that Riese found the fresh water spring for the water and then added his own personal mixture of vitamins and minerals. I laugh-gag at "personal mixture of minerals" — but am honestly excited to try it.
We first dive into the Perrier, which, I feel, is a racket to pay for, as it tastes worse than tap water that's taken two farts from a Sodastream, but whatever. What's there to say? It's Perrier, and Perrier is like you took delicious bubbly water and added salt and the result was carbonated tears. It tastes like what I thought classy was when I was a kid; it's what Robin Leach drank between takes on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But it's still just Perrier. You know what it tastes like, you can buy it in bulk at Costco.
Next, Riese's own Beverly Hills 90H20, which I'm predisposed to like based on terrible name alone. It's flat, it tastes like water. Like San Francisco tap water, which I maintain is the finest in the country. It's refreshing because it's water, but when I try it side by side with tap water and Arrowhead Springs and also Walgreens brand Pure, it all tastes exactly the same. I mean, maybe slightly different, but the overwhelming similarity is the taste of water.
Next, Vichy Catalan. We're informed that this is the official water of the Spanish national football team. Obviously, I'm down. Hello boys. Unfortunately, it tastes like polluted sea water. Like, if you were forced to drink from Ariel's seashell bra after it had been left out in the sun a few days too long. It was putrid. The waiter was basically all, "Yeah, everyone hates it. It doesn't pair with any foods. I don't know. That'll be one million dollars, please!"
In addition to the flights, you can select from the 20 different varietals — all rated on scales from sweetness to saltiness and smoothness to complexity — with page long descriptions dedicated to their taste. Here's Fiji:
Just a reminder, this stuff is worse than Cleveland tap water.
The staff is incredibly friendly, and it must be noted that the vegan olive pizza I had was absolutely scrumptious — being rich is undeniably the best — but the whole operation is painfully, awfully, humiliatingly Los Angeles.
Especially considering that nearly 1 billion people live without clean drinking water worldwide. Of course, that's not Ray's fault, but when you juxtapose it with the effects the bottled water industry has on our health, climate change, pollution, and our reliance on oil, it's a whole lot of clueless.
But I'm American and it's my civic duty — nay, my patriotic obligation — to waste. I will drink my fancy repackaged tap water, and I will lie to myself and others and say that it tastes better than repackaged tap water, and I will celebrate my ignorance and excess because it's my God-given, unalienable right as stated directly in the Constitution: "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of a $150 bottle of water."