Drinking alone, especially out in public at a bar, is one of those endeavours that nowadays carries with it an air of pure menace. It’s seen as an activity engaged in only by those on the downward slope towards alcoholism.
And yet, I recall a friend in grad school who drank alone quite often. He would take a book out with him, sit at a bar and work his way through some slab of Marxist critical theory while drinking whisky. You needed to be half cut to understand the stuff, he argued.
Today, he’s a well-regarded academic at one of our nation’s finest universities.
See. Drinking, even in seclusion, does not inevitably lead to ruin.
Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by the notion of saddling up to a bar, drinking on one’s own — just you, a cocktail and a barkeep — but I’ve never really done it myself. So, I got this idea in my head that for Thursday Night Loaded number four, I’d give it a go.
Turns out, in this case, it was a very bad idea.
Not sure what went wrong exactly — likely a collection of factors. I’d chosen my venue well or so I’d thought. It’s somewhere well regarded in Regina for the quality of its drink menu; and adding to my enthusiasm, I’d heard this place had a premium gin on offer that I’d never tried before. A write-up about a martini made from the stuff would, I reasoned, fit well with the previous three columns.
You see, my intention in heading out was to come back and write a short, upbeat blurb extolling the virtues of one of our city’s finer drinking holes. Something breezy and fun that’d cheer our advertising salesman as he’s hitting the bricks on a Friday. “Just haul this baby out when you’re trying to sell ‘em a half page, Bradman. That’s free promotion, that is.”
Sorry, Bradley. I’ve failed you.
Hang on, no I haven’t. The night failed me.
Things started going awry nearly from the outset as I rounded a corner and approached the destination of my solo drinking, and wandered past a couple mired in that scary, nearly silent phase of an argument.
“I’ve told you to stop,” I heard the woman say, “But you never stop.”
The he, I could tell, was blasted out of his skull, his mind a pressure cooker, seething and confused, but his face was too anesthetized to express any of his counter arguments.
If I’d been a little less keen to get on with my evening I might have seen this for the bad omen it was and gone straight home. Instead I sallied forward into the bar….
… and discovered the evening’s entertainment was to be a solo guitarist playing a selection of adult contemporary hits. I silently bet myself a tenner he’d play Tears In Heaven.
I was simultaneously a winner and a loser by the time I took my seat.
At the opposite end of the bar were a group of young male hipsters out carousing. They were drinking Crown Royal with cola (not the worst drink imaginable) and wearing ball-caps with hoodies. (For the record: Redundant headwear is something I cannot abide.)
The barman came over, “What can I getcha?”
I checked the drink menu, saw the gin I was after, asked about it.
“Yeah, we don’t have that,” the reply. “Best I can do in the premium line is Hendrick’s.”
Fine. A Hendrick’s martini. Nothing wrong with that. So, content that I’d be kicking off the night with a decent cocktail, I cracked open the book I’d brought along and gritted my teeth as the guitarist began a rendition of some Jefferson Airplane song I mercifully can never remember the name of.
A couple minutes later, I watched in horror as my cocktail was prepared. The barman poured the vermouth in unmeasured. Shook it! Then plunked in three olives from a jar.
Now, I hadn’t specified a garnish, so I decided that in the spirit of the night’s adventure I should drink the martini despite the slummy spherules lurking at the bottom of my glass. But even though I was paying extra for a very nice gin, the cocktail ended up tasting cheap. Too much vermouth. Too much discount-brand olive brine.
Add to all this that while I was drinking, the guitarist moved on to “I’ve Got A Friend,” the lads at the end of the bar decided to sing along (they’re too young to know those lyrics… what are they doing knowing those lyrics?), and the protagonist in the novel I was reading was slowly and graphically tortured to death.
I finished up my drink as quickly as I could, paid my tab and went home.
Once there, as a balm for my disappointment, I fixed myself another cocktail. And seeing as I’d just suffered through a really terrible (and very expensive) martini, this is what I chose….
The Perfect Martini
2 oz gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth
1/2 oz sweet vermouth
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir well with ice. Strain into a pre-chilled cocktail glass.
To a martini purist, the name of this cocktail will seem pretty outrageous, but according to Thomas Mario, that’s what it has always been called.
And frankly, it at least was delicious.