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December 21-27, 2005

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Silicon Alleys - Gary Singh

Silicon Alleys

The Secret Steinholders

By Gary Singh

The Secret Holy Fraternal Order of Gordon Biersch Steinholders convened for a holiday get-together on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005, in the Pilsner Room of that brewery on San Fernando Street. The event was not open to the general public, and only Steinholders were allowed to attend. From the street, you'd never even know the Pilsner Room existed, as it's located in a secret sacred celebratory space off the back patio—perfect for such a hush-hush cabal of imbibers like the Steinholders.

The steins themselves are half-liter German-style chalices with pewter lids that you flip open with your thumb. Each Steinholder has his or her name etched into the lid and onto the museum-style cabinet in which the steins are kept behind the bar. You really feel like you've discovered the Holy Grail itself when the bartender opens the cabinet and pulls the stein off the shelf—the shelf with your name on it.

Whenever an out-of-towner or a nonregular arrives at the brewery, he or she always asks, "How do I get one of those?" What no one seems to understand is that no one will ever answer that question because nobody really knows. Those of us who have the steins just give whatever fake answer we can think of whenever someone asks us. One Steinholder might facetiously say, "You have to spend at least $10,000 a year at the bar in order to get one." Another might say, "We don't know. The bartenders all have to get permission from the supreme grand master of the San Fernando Street chapter of the West Coast Lodge of the Secret Holy Brotherhood of Steinholders." My particular response is usually, "You must have traced your bloodline all the way back through Charlemagne, Fulk the Black, Godfrey de Bouillon and eventually Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene"—which I've actually done, on my mom's side. (I can't vouch for its accuracy, of course, but the need for mystery is always greater than the need for an answer, as Ken Kesey always said.)

Thus, the mere mortals dining at Gordon Biersch always depart the place pondering just who the hell these Steinholders are, which is precisely the intention. As I've always said, if you can make it look like you're important, then that's actually more important than being important. And only a few people in Palo Alto are blessed with secret knowledge about the exact origins of the Steinholders themselves. I have no idea. Maybe it goes all the way back to the mystery schools of ancient Egypt—like the Rosicrucians.

But we do know that Gordon Biersch first opened in Palo Alto in 1988 and that the San Jose locale emerged in 1990. There exist Steinholders who have been there ever since. The private get-together last week found several of them gathered around tables in the Pilsner Room, clutching their lager-filled Holy Grails like the grog-swilling monks of Th´lème Abbey in François Rabelais' debaucherous Renaissance classic, Gargantua and Pantagruel. The lager flowed and the food just kept on coming. The only thing missing was a harem.

This is exactly what Silicon Valley needs more of: secret grog-swilling cabals dedicated to celebrating the pleasures of uninhibited excess. We need to revive Sir Francis Dashwood's Hell-Fire Club, a.k.a. The Monks of Medmenham, those 18th-century dilettantes who gathered in satirical meetings to rejoice in all forms of licentiousness and to ridicule all religious morals of the current day. Rabelais provided the main influence, of course.

The Steinholder parties take one right back to those times and even further back to the Th´lème Abbey itself, that fictional place in Rabelais' novel where, upon the portal, it said, fay ce que vouldras, or "Do as you will." And, throughout the course of last week's Steinholder party, no one else in the entire restaurant even knew that way back out there in the Pilsner room, the Secret Holy Fraternal Order of Gordon Biersch Steinholders were tipping their chalices and filling their bellies in pure Rabelaisian fashion. A classic exchange from Gargantua and Pantagruel adequately sums it up:

"Here boy, be a good lad, please, and fill her up."

"Crown here till she's cardinal red on top."

"Natura abhorret vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum."

"Do you think a fly would find any leavings here?"

"Breton fashion, bottoms up!"

"Fall to! Don't leave a drop!"

"Gulp it down; it's medicine!"

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