Miss Claudia Caswell: Oh, waiter!
Addison DeWitt: That is not a waiter, my dear, that is a butler.
Miss Claudia Caswell: Well, I can't yell "Oh butler!" can I? Maybe somebody's name is Butler.
Addison DeWitt: You have a point. An idiotic one, but a point.
Miss Claudia Caswell: I don't want to make trouble. All I want is a drink.
From All About Eve (1950)
May I share with you the small thrill I received at the ripe age of 9, escorted into the AAA club in Savannah at three on a weekday afternoon with my Uncle Joe, the inky black inside of the bar making me look blind as a raccoon at midnight, eyes adjusting, the glow of the jukebox at the end of the room my only light source? All of the adult men (no gals) are lined up at the bar hunched over a cold Pabst Blue Ribbon, talking here and there but mostly quiet. I am thrilled. An illicit world! Heartbreak! Jokes! I feel right at home. I think I know exactly what they are getting up to. I feel no judgment or fear as Joe gets me my usual cherry coke and I hang loose with my brother Andrew (it is summer and we have just been released from The Boys Club which I am also too young to be a member of). As I suavely peruse the selections from the jukebox – most of the yellowed cardboard selections with typewritten song titles are from some other foreign era - I note that it is cool as a cave in here. I tinkle the cubes in my Roy Rogers cocktail thoughtfully. Time seems flexible so who knows how long we are in this dark paradise. But something is forming inside of me. I know that everyone here is letting their inner child loose. I know this even as a child.
Part of growing up was waiting to be indoctrinated into this great secret club. In my college years I had my share of over dosage, confusion, weepiness and shame yet I was fortunate in that I always had a limit (four drinks....six on very special and regretted occasions), never blacked out, and never got caught driving drunk. (Do not tsk tsk me...we have all done it.) Alas I never quite made it into Uncle Joe's world, the one that so enchanted me back then. Was it even possible? I was a Gen X'er trying to be arch and suave and my mates were just as confused as I was. I suppose the great gay bars of my 20s provided something similar, add a dance floor and the delicious possibilities of sex. But it wasn't quite a “club”. We didn't have that same mutual 9 to 5 to come down from. It lacked that blue collar bonhomie. And it certainly lacked that style – deeply Southern, secret, decidedly grown up.
Now that I am in my 40s I think I am finally drinking like an adult. I look forward to the magic time of day (5pm on the weekends with my partner) when I am ready to “melt down”, ease those cares, and relax into myself. These days I am besotted with the shaker. I love the alchemy of raw ingredients to potion. Mosey into the kitchen, grab some vodka, a splash of cranberry, a jigger of triple sec and half a lime and you have The Cosmopolitan, my favorite cocktail. I am not unaware that there are some folks who do not even consider vodka a proper spirit but I have nothing to prove. This drink (if mixed properly) is a symphony of balance. So what if those damn Sex and The City girls overexposed and ghettoized it as a luxury lady drink? I am unabashed – I love it.
A man (or woman) is judged by his drink of choice (I love good beer - ok, all beer – what does this say about me?). As I am new to the wine game I mostly brave bottles in the 10 to 15 dollar range. Spanish reds are my current favorite (Garancha is delicious). Scotch and Bourbon have a narcotic effect on me. I can only assume that these are for the tightly wound. Gin I associate with drunks; it also makes me feel mean after drink two so that is out (maybe juniper is poison). Cordials I can never finish but I prefer Drambuie – very nutty. Rum: only in the tropics. So this leaves me (excepting a Sidecar here or there) with Vodka and Tequila. Vodka, I love thee: Vodka Cran with a lime (you have to have a lime) is my drink of choice. People insist vodka is flavorless but I can taste it plenty: Smirnoff and Absolut are dreadful. They remind me of rubbing alcohol. Kettle One is my top choice; it is so smooth that it is nearly flavorless. The new Scandinavian vodkas on the market are cheap and delicious (try Fris). Tequilas I find heavenly. What is better on a hot day than a margarita? Nothing! It is one of my favorite 5pm drinks. The sugars and the spirit are so magically paired I believe it is the smoothest buzz there is. If you are making one at home pour in that liquor! Tequila I never stint on.
Drink is also the highlight of any party, and there is a ceremonial quality to arranging your materials. If I am hosting a soiree I take the time to neatly line up all of the glasses like little soldiers, have the ice bucket full, fruit cut, spoons placed, and the different liquors and mixers at the ready. This sets up the anticipation for the little kisses and hugs at the door, the taking of the drink order, and watching for the mysterious direction the conversation will take during the evening. Once the first drink goes down and your guests have decided what the tone will be (recent troubles? political outrage? bad movie? celebrity sex scandal? perhaps the holy grail – someone else's straying husband?) everyone begins to politely levitate and then come back down in a much more relaxed, human way. Talk goes around person to person. Sometimes you contribute, sometimes you drift back into your own thoughts, sometimes you watch them chat and you just enjoy your buzz. It has usually been a long week, frustratingly sober as we are most of us required to be, and this is as nice a landing as one could hope for.
Have I made it into Joe's world? Those days have probably gone the way of the Cadillac. But I do like that I finally feel “of age” and that cocktails (the old and superior term) have their place. If you are in the neighborhood by all means drop by for a drink. I will run to the freezer, pull out two martini glasses frosted to a hard chill, and make us a couple of Cosmos. If my attention drifts I just may be remembering myself as a child, pulling a maraschino cherry out of my coke with two clumsy fingers, and doing a slow twist to the jukebox music. But I will snap out of it. We will have a chat. Whether things get serious or we just relax into our drinks not to worry: there is always next weekend, and we can do it all over again.