Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Drinker's Notebook #13: Savoring a Drink at the Bar

Most things we do now feel differently than when we did them in years past. Not necessary better or worse, just different. I thoroughly enjoy my daily walks along the country roads of Pennsylvania, but they are seen through somewhat different eyes and certainly a different body than the kid I was, doing a little skipping and throwing rocks at first basemen disguised as trees, a few decades ago in West Virginia. Air travel? You know that story. I savor food more than I once did, and I could eat more of it in years past without thinking about consequences. And I was less jaded. The one thing that hasn’t changed over the years, at least for me, is having a drink at a really good bar with a friend or my wife. It’s exactly the same feeling that I had – with different thoughts, of course – when I had my first whiskey at a bar in college with an older buddy who was initiating me. The bar also has to be right. Can’t be a sports bar or a crowded bar, but a serious, adult bar with some good music, preferably jazz, playing on the sound system or coming from a real pianist off to the side. Bar tables don’t count. It has to be at the bar, and the drink has to be a cocktail or something on the rocks. My theory of alcoholic drinks is that beer is for refreshment, wine is for dining, and spirits are for relaxation. At a bar, that relaxation also comes with some sense of anticipation – a feeling at once of sophistication and camaraderie. My wife and I almost always drink wine at home, always at dinner and occasionally with some cheese in the afternoon, perhaps in front of a fire in winter or in the woods in summer. We wait to have cocktails at the bar when we go out for dinner, often getting to the restaurant a half hour early to sip and chat while waiting for friends to show up. A Manhattan for me, a Martini or gin and tonic for her, perhaps a Bloody Mary if we are travelling and are having lunch out. Amusingly, one couple we know has the same custom, so it’s a race to see which of us gets to the bar first. Then we have a pre-dinner chat before being seated and ordering wine. Yes, I’ve changed. And through the years I’ve acquired intimate knowledge of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of bars around the world – but the feeling remains the same as the first time.

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