Charles Ronald Spindler didn't wait for history.
In late October 1968, he started a bartending school at the private 2300 Club in Church Hill. A dozen men were already enrolled in the two-week, $79.50 course, despite the fact that at the time, Richmond didn't allow public restaurants to serve liquor by the drink.
This had been the case since 1916, but more than 50 years later, the rules would change.
Pictured raising a cocktail shaker next to a Times-Dispatch story, Spindler said that he anticipated demand for knowledgeable bartenders. He observed that only a professional could satisfy the connoisseur drinker.
"Surprisingly, there are more connoisseurs in Richmond than you'd realize," he said.
Debate then to get the liquor-by-drink law passed was at times as vociferous as today's discussions about privatizing liquor sales.
The referendum was sent to 43 localities statewide after the General Assembly cleared the way in January 1968 for what newspapers termed the "public option." A 53-44 vote in the Virginia House of Delegates sent it to the Senate, which passed it 24 to 16. The Senate rejected a committee amendment asking to delete the term "B-girl" (nothing to do with hip-hop music, these women encouraged extra spending at bars) from a list of objectionable employees constituting grounds for license revocation.
In October, the News Leader printed breathless queries such as, "Will restaurants have girls in low-cut, alluring attire or other suggestive costumes? Will there be B-girls that try to solicit customers to buy them ‘drinks'? Can there be topless entertainers or lewd exhibitions and conduct of any sort?" No, the law expressly prohibited such behaviors.
Liquor-by-drink supporter Better Metropolitan Richmond sent W. Stirling King to debate the Rev. Wayne M. Womer, the Virginia Council of Churches' director of education. The council opposed the measure on moral grounds, as well as the possibility of alcoholism. King, however, noted that other localities that allow liquor to be served in public restaurants and bars "enjoy competitive advantages."
The liquor measure went to the public on Nov. 5, 1968, the date of the Nixon-Humphrey-Wallace presidential election. Plenty of people needed a stiff drink after that, especially in Richmond, where the vote for legalization was 3 to 1. Support was less enthusiastic in rural counties, some of which did not even vote on liquor-by-drink.
On Nov. 8, the measure having passed in 33 localities across the state, Judge W. Moscoe Huntley of Richmond Hustings Court officially proclaimed the legality of the mixed-beverage law.
Because of license application procedures, the first legally served Richmond cocktail was delayed until Dec. 18, 1968, at the Captain's Grill, the Hotel John Marshall's bar. Other original licenses went to the Joy Garden Restaurant, the William Byrd Hotel, the Thalhimers department store and Nick's House of Steaks on Staples Mill Road.
A year later, 300 mixed-drink licenses were issued statewide. By 1976, Virginia's numbers tripled, and Richmond had 137 mixed-beverage licensees.
In May of that year, another prohibition fell, when the ABC approved the "walk-sip" rule that allows restaurant patrons to pick up their drinks instead of being served while seated.
In any event, the bartender was in the ascendancy, as Spindler had figured before the vote. The job required a sharp memory, he said, because a good bartender should know 36 varieties of cocktail from memory, according to Bob Lindsey's T-D story.
Spindler said you could always expect jokers who'd try to test the bartender's abilities with off-the-wall concoctions like a Jack Rose or a Sidecar.
Women were invited to Spindler's class, too, but he didn't see much chance of them getting a job. Regular customers want a man behind the bar, he said. "The minute you put a woman behind a bar, it tends to de-class a place."
There was still some room for progress in Richmond.