Would you pass this test of honesty? – Jim Duffy

Jim Duffy was presented with a cornucopia of alcoholic delights (Picture: Allan Milligan)
Jim Duffy was presented with a cornucopia of alcoholic delights (Picture: Allan Milligan)
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An ‘honesty bar’ in a boutique hotel in Spain has made Jim Duffy think about the nature of truth.

“Honesty is the always best policy” should be the main mantra for the way we live our lives. Whether that be honesty with ourselves, our work colleagues, relationships, companies we deal with online or simply telling our children the truth.

It seems this mantra is not what we are getting from some of our politicians, who like to be economical with the truth, albeit for them, they are being honest. But, for the large majority of us, we try our best to live our lives as “honestly” as we can. We pay our bills on time. We do not pinch milk from Sainsbury’s self-service checkout. We do not do a runner from the petrol station.

All this came into sharp focus for me this week when I was presented with an honesty bar. The results were a little blurred.

I’d come across honesty bars before. Unlike a traditional bar where one would order some drinks then hand over cash or a card, an honesty bar has no-one minding the till. There is no ‘bar’ as such or anyone preventing you from direct access to drink.

The gantry and fridge is open for business and you are the sole arbiter of how well the bar does at the end of the night. In short, either you are honest and pay for the drinks you have consumed or you try to shave off a little mixer or dram here or there. The whole honesty bar process and concept tells you a lot about you.

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So, how did I fair? Checking into a lovely boutique hotel in the Spanish mountains is the stuff dreams are made of – €90 a night for the most breathtaking views and small well-equipped room that made me feel I was straight out the book, A Year in Provence. Mind you, when I asked our Spanish hosts if they had read it or spent any time in France, the look said it all – non. Everything was perfect for our one-night stay to celebrate my birthday. It was literally picture postcard stuff with a set menu for dinner. Then the owner dropped the bomb on me when he showed us the Honesty Bar.

The bar itself was a very swish wooden-built bar with fridges built in. There were large compartments, each with their own specific spirits. The gin compartment housed ten varied bottles of gin. So too the vodka, brandy, rum and, of course my favourite, whisky.

There was a multitude of wine varieties, where the bottles themselves were works of art. The fridges contained a plethora of beers from all over he world as well as ice, cut fruit and mixers for the drinks.

Everything was as it should be, with elegant glasses for wine and heavy tumblers for that gorgeous dram. There was a little receipt pad located on one of the surfaces with a pen, to record what we had consumed. To record what we had consumed ...? This wonderful bar was like an Aladdin’s Cave of drink and possibility. And it was mine to explore before dinner and, of course, it would still be there afterwards.

But, despite feeling elated at full exposure to this candy shop of alcohol, there was something niggling at me – the receipt pad. It wasn’t free and gratis. It was up to me to be honest about what I would take. But, alas, there was no-one there to check. No-one there to monitor my tab. How would I fair and just how honest would I be?

I poured my partner a gin and tonic. Some strawberry affair with matching tonic. It all looked a bit posh as gin does these days. A simple “Gordons” has been replaced with a whole choir of gins including apple, orange and strawberry. A most competitive marketplace, I mused as my eyes were constantly drawn to the whiskies. I quickly decided on a good old Scottish malt. A Glenlivet with a single cube of ice.

Mind you, I free-poured a large one – after all, that is what they do in Spain right? No optics or measures here. And who would check anyway? I duly noted one whisky and one gin on the receipt pad. Job done. Well done, to a extent ...

We sat with our drinks and I savoured the moment. I watched as others used the honesty bar, pouring large drinks into tumblers. I watched them also tot up their rounds on their own receipts. Then it was off to dinner.

The next morning after breakfast, our host enquired as to what drinks we had taken from the honesty bar? It seemed my rather bland attempt to obfuscate the exact brand of gin and whisky we had taken was not ideal.

But, the big question is, did I try to cover up the fact that we had premium brands or was I simply being flippant with the receipt as it was not really going to be checked by HMRC? I took the receipt and re-entered exactly what we had taken by brand. And at that moment, I felt a slight pang of guilt. Why had I not been 100 per cent honest? Why did I treat the honesty bar with so little respect? As we checked out later, we paid our bill and – of course – our bar bill. Every item on the bar bill was now in ink and it looked very different from what I had jotted down the night before. Still feeling a little disheartened as we left, despite paying €14 for one round of drinks, I did question myself on why I simply did not record my drinks accurately at the honesty bar. Hey ho, I thought, one to ponder.

But, it made me think about what “honesty” really means and when presented with choices in life, when honesty is at the fore of decision-making, what measure do we really use to be as honest as we can?