Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The first drink I ever ordered at a bar, I think

Years ago, I spent a rollicking weekend roaming around New York City with some buddies. We were underage, but the City in those days was not the sort of place that worried about technicalities. Two of us found ourselves in the bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel.

This was not the Schrager redesigned Gramercy, just an old-school New York hotel with a dark, woody bar. I remember it was silent and empty. The barman was tightly wound up in a white vest, and he regarded us with weary indulgence as we approached the bar.

We were slick kids, and we posed the question thusly: “Can we charge drinks to the room?” Dealing with the issue of whether or not they’d serve them to us at all en passant.

The answer was yes. We wanted to pump our fists up and down and hiss “Yes!” but we kept ourselves together. Inside, however, I was a roiling mess of anxiety. Having successfully stepped up to the plate, I was now called upon to swing the bat. I had no idea what to order. What do people drink? What do grown-ups drink? I drank Rolling Rock and occasionally swigged Southern Comfort out of a bottle at a party. I didn’t have time, or I didn’t feel that I had time, to consider my options. I didn’t have the confidence to ask the bartender for a recommendation he’d call me out as the amateur I so clearly was. I asked for a martini on the rocks, and my friend asked for the same.

We gathered up our drinks and slunk to a little table where we gingerly slurped at our very bad ideas. We weren’t ready for the glassy burn. Our young palettes were in no shape for astringency.

I was nervous, I lacked vocabulary, and I ended up with something I didn’t want.
I’m not suggesting that we should set up cheat sheets for underage drinkers, but outside of the cocktail culture itself, drinkers might need a little help finding things they’d like to drink. Wouldn't it be wonderful if there were a primary menu like a card on top of the drinks menu that has friendly, accessible, affordable drinks (and never mind if they’re shaken or stirred, classic or new wave). Slapping a binder down with byzantine classifications and triple digit price points for glasses of whiskey is no way to introduce someone to the French 75, which, of course, they’d love, if they ever got a chance to try one. I like David Wondrich’s recipe:

French 75

* 2 ounces London dry gin

* 1 teaspoon superfine sugar

* 1/2 ounce lemon juice

* 5 ounces Brut champagne

Shake well with cracked ice in a chilled cocktail shaker, then strain into a Collins glass half-full of cracked ice and top off with champagne.

Although come to think of it: what would have happened to me if I'd actually liked the first drink I ordered in a bar?

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