It had to be a couple of years ago. It certainly was more than one. I know that because I was standing behind the bar and people were sitting at it, mask-less. It would have never occurred to me then that things might change. Little things like sitting next to a person you don’t know in public without a mask on. And bigger things like a whole nation shutting down.
I was as happy to be there then, as I am to think about it now. The two couples could not have been more different. A younger couple making the most of a night out without kids, and a mother and daughter doing their best to navigate the vagaries of interfamilial relationships.
People often think of bars and restaurants as “all this” or “all that.” It’s a hipster bar, an upscale restaurant, a dive bar, etc. But the truth is they are not all one thing, they are a hundred little things encapsulating a hundred more little things all happening simultaneously.
Case in point, I knew both couples equally well. Both were quasi regulars, regardless of the fact that they couldn’t have been more different. Tattoos? Probably. Cashmere sweaters? Definitely. Style? Absolutely. It was their differences that made them interesting.
The younger couple were drinking Fernet, light beer and a glass of viognier. The related couple, a Japanese whisky, and a Bloody Mary. Proving that even within the microcosms of macrocosms there are always small differences.
The older mother called me over, as she stirred her bloody Mary with a frilly celery stick, one that I always set aside, just for her.
“I have something to show you,” she said.
She often brought in old pictures, small antiques, or bar related items she had around the house. Things that in her good taste she had accumulated over the years. And being a student of bar arcana, human interaction, and sociality, I always found them interesting. Things like a 200 year old Dutch wooden shoe, a fabulous platinum brooch, objects whose beauty has stood the test of time.
She reached into her bag and brought out a paper wrapped something or another. Slowly, she proceeded to unwrap the carefully bundled tissue, finally revealing what was veiled beneath. There sitting on the bar, on a Wednesday night, sat the most delicate, most exquisite, most exotic champagne coupe glass that I have ever seen. Coupes had been the old school way of serving champagne before somelierian snobbery banished them almost exclusively to cocktail service. Also called “saucers” they are wide brimmed and squat and are often erroneously credited to a modelling of one of Marie Antoinette’s breasts. Take it from someone who has seen the queens’ cenotaph effigy at Saint-Denis, they are not.
The young mother in the young couple gasped.
“That is spectacular!” she exclaimed.
And she was right. A glass from a different era, sparkling in its leaded crystal brilliance, hand-blown by Baccarat, delicate and thin rimmed, there might not be a more beautiful glass in all the world.
We often think of style exclusively in reference to ourselves. It’s what we think of as cool at the moment we happen to be living in. But real style transcends that moment. Maybe that’s why we don’t see parachute pants, fingerless gloves, or net t-shirts anymore.
Later that night, my curiosity piqued, I did a cursory search on eBay for antique Baccarat champagne coupes. Much to my surprise I found a set of four for a fairly reasonable price. I bought them. Two I kept for myself and the other two I gave to that young couple for their next wedding anniversary.
Sadly, the older mother who had brought in that glass passed away earlier this week, proving that while true style is timeless, we ourselves are not. All we leave behind are the memories that we create. And to one of those beautiful memories, I, one young couple, along with a grieving daughter, will raise a toast in the most beautiful glasses imaginable.
Leaving me with these thoughts
-For all those people who think that coupes let your champagne go flat, let me just say, I personally have never had that problem.
-Marilyn Monroe always drank her champagne out of coupe glasses, and frankly, that is good enough for me.
-“Style is very personal. It has nothing to do with fashion. Fashion is over quickly. Style is forever,” once opined Ralph Lauren.
-“Wow!” said one forty-something daughter, one fifty-something bartender and one thirty-something mother, simultaneously, one Wednesday night not all that long ago.
-RIP Mary. I will miss your kitty sweaters, your frilly celery, but most of all, I will miss you. Baccarat crystal is not the only thing that is timeless.