SHE CAME AT me directly out of the late afternoon sun. With the sun higher in the heavens our little below world gets illuminated in very unusual places. It was as if her head was a fiery ball of reddish cotton candy and her face a mere shadow. Because of the angle of the sun I couldn’t tell if she was 24 years old or 84 years old.
“I want a gin martini,” said the ethereal redhead. “But don’t shake it, because I don’t want my gin bruised.”
“Oh,” said her minimally illuminated nearly faceless companion. “I want a traditional Manhattan.”
I did have to ask what he meant. After much verbal wrangling, I finally discovered that he meant, stirred. Just like her martini.
When they finally stepped into the relative darkness of the bar, I noticed that they could not have been more than 25 years old.
Their orders employed beliefs that I have heard many times in my long bartending career. Just not recently.
Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana once wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
To wit, I offer these two points:
• You cannot bruise gin.
• Manhattans are just as traditionally prepared shaken as they are stirred.
Today marks my 400th Barfly column. Nearly half a million words on bars, bartending and people. Thanks to the Web, Facebook and Twitter, Barfly is now regularly read in 16 different states and in seven different countries. My book “Twenty Years Behind Bars: The Spirited Adventures of a Real Bartender,” based on this column, has reached No. 25 on the iBooks sales charts, and both the Kindle version and the paperback version cracked the top 100 on Amazon.
Despite of all that exposure, every day someone says something to me like that couple did.
In the bar business it can often feel like you are reinventing the wheel over and over again. If you tend bar long enough you will see the same things again and again. Crème de blackberry becomes blackberry brandy which becomes blackberry schnapps which becomes blackberry vodka. Each only marginally different than its successor.
Fresh juice cocktails will give way to canned juice cocktails before returning back to fresh. Rye whiskey will disappear, only to reappear decades later. Shaking drinks will give way to stirring drinks only to return to shaking. All it takes is time.
I thought about pointing this out to the younger generation now seated in front of me. But I have found that you often cannot change the world, you can only change yourself in relation to it.
So, changing, I turned to take another order.
“I’ll have two gin martinis, both up, both with olives, one slightly dirty,” said the young lady, not much older than either member of the earlier couple, while holding her money out.
It can really be that easy, I thought to myself, giving the newest lady her change.
“By the way, I love your column,” she said.
Proving, perhaps that occasionally you can affect some change after all.
This experience left me with the following thoughts:
• “Change begins with a whisper” is the tagline from the movie “The Help,” which ironically is about service staff.
• The French say: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Translation: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
• Déjà vu is another French saying, referring to a phenomenon in which you believe that you have experienced an event currently happening, before.
• I like my gin martinis and my Manhattans shaken. This was fashionable 20 years ago, went out of fashion a decade later and is returning to fashion once again. None of which has ever affected my preference.
• I have been buying up Scotch, figuring that it should be coming back into style any time now. And if not, I will always have the Scotch.
• Déjà vu is another French saying, which refers to a phenomenon in which you believe that you have experienced an event currently happening, before.
To those of you out there who have read and enjoyed Barfly over the years, especially those who have written in, thank you so very much.
Also, thank you to all of you who don’t read Barfly because, without you, I would have run out of material years ago.