We all know the Swiss Army knife as a trusty pocket tool containing various useful tools – depending on the model – such as a knife blade, nail file, saw, fish scaler, scissors, wire scraper, can opener, pliers, screwdriver, hoof cleaner, toothpick, etc. Every great ranger should probably have one in their arsenal. It’s a tool which was initially designed for the Swiss Army and was referred to as an “Offiziersmesser”. American soldiers had trouble pronouncing this in World War II and so the tool became known as the Swiss Army knife.
Today though, I would like to talk about what I comedically dub the “French Army knife”, my favourite tool and bottle opener of choice: the good old “waiter’s friend” or “wine key”.
Patented in Germany by Karle Wienke in 1883, it consists of a flat housing containing a lever-like corkscrew with a knife or auto-foiler, resembling a Swiss Army knife.
The first patented corkscrew was invented in 1795 by Samuel Henshall when he invented a corkscrew consisting of wooden handle with a worm. So, whilst the waiter’s friend wasn’t the first – and with many others having been designed since, certainly not the last – corkscrew to be invented, it is the most popular amongst waiters, butlers, sommeliers and restaurant staff alike.
The waiter’s friend is a small compact tool which easily fits into a pocket. Unfortunately, this also means that it can easily get lost, and I have lost a few over the years. The knife on the edge is perfect for cutting the foil off a wine bottle and I find it every bit as useful as the blade one finds on a Swiss Army knife. I have used it to peel oranges, hack at blocks of cheese and even open parcels. The bottle cap remover is great for when occasionally enjoying a refreshing beer on a hot summer’s day or any other beverage which is sealed with a crown cap that doesn’t freely screw off. With six and a half turns the worm drives through any cork.
For me the best waiter’s friend design is the Pulltap waiter’s friend, a design patented by Pulltex and made in Spain. The bootlever is a double lever system, allowing one control over extracting the cork with 2 swift lifts in a complete vertical position.
Whilst many people choose to collect stamps, postcards, antique furniture, autographs, soap bars, baseball caps, etc., I enjoy collecting bottle openers. They serve as great reminders of a wine tasting I may have done, a winery I may have visited, a wine I may have enjoyed, or a wine show I may have attended (yes wine reps, hide your corkscrews from me!). I believe that the quality of a bottle opener which a winery chooses to put their brand on is indicative of the quality of the actual wine they produce as well.
I also have an interesting love/hate relationship with my waiter’s friends. As mentioned, they easily fit in one’s pocket and I often find myself fidgeting with the opener in my pocket, often leading to cuts on my fingertips from the knife. I am currently working on breaking this bad habit… any tips would be greatly appreciated as the gum, patches, etc. aren’t working.
There are many other types of corkscrews available from “The Wing” to “The Screwpull” and Metrokane’s adaption of “The Rabbit”, yet the waiter’s friend remains my firm favourite.
Which do you prefer using to open a bottle of wine with?