Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Great Equalizer

The Longwood Grille, a 12-seat bar in Boston's Hospital District.

Getting back to the 'States from London was a huge wake-up call. Getting the chance to run the first bar I ever tended while I was there was like going from zero to sixty miles per hour in seconds flat, coming back home and trying to convince everyone I'd done it was like going sixty miles per hour and running into a brick wall. Starting out my bartending career as a bar manager was both a blessing and a curse: I'd had a taste of a wonderful career only to have it pulled away. Heading from bar to bar and taking rejection after rejection proved a sting to my pride, and more importantly, taught me not to take the incredible privelige of shaking cocktails for granted.

It took a year of job hunting for me to find my next bar gig. I went in twice; the first time, they interviewed me, lost my resume, and I returned again after seeing a second posting a month later. Even then, I had to parlay the position by exchanging four shifts as a bus boy for a bar shift on Sundays. But by that point, that one shift back behind the bar would have been worth just about anything to me.

The bar was next to a hospital. That's a unique experience for most bartenders, who are used to customers who come in to a bar to relax during lunch hour, watch the game in the evening, or try and pick someone up late at night. This bar had a lunch hour crowd, a game crowd, and a late night crowd, but their reasons for being there were very, very different from most bar patrons. Many had friends and family who were patients; some were even patients themselves. Their stories were sometimes so heart-wrenching that I couldn't help taking ten minutes to close my eyes and rest myself after a shift, even a slow one.

On one of those slow nights, a man sat down at the bar, his head in his hands. One of my regulars was there enjoying his usual glass of wine with his meal. He took one look at this sullen soul and asked if he could buy him a cocktail. Of course I agreed.

The two got to talking. The man's daughter was due in the OR for surgery the next afternoon. Her condition had been chronic and terrible, and the operation was a last ditch.

"Pleased to meet you and thank you for the drink," the man introduced himself. "I'm A*****."

"I'm A***** B*****," my regular replied.

The man's eyes lit up. "I know you!"

"Oh?" My regular raised an eyebrow.

"Yeah! Oh my God! You're my kid's anaesthesiologist."

It is rare in the medical world that doctors, patients, and their families have this kind of contact. But something about getting to meet the man who would work on his daughter brightened the heart of this man. Parent and doctor talked together for about an hour. Then the doc got up, shook his new acquaintance’s hand, and walked away from the bar with a new sense of purpose.

When people ask me, “why do you work at a bar for a living?” I remember this story. It taught me that above all, the bar is not just a watering hole where we go to grab a pint, watch the game, or pick someone up. It is so much more than that. At its best, the bar is a watering-hole for a community, a place where people go to meet others they wouldn’t ordinarily run in to in their comings and goings. It is a break from regulation and the daily routine. In short, it is the great equalizer.

Here is a classic cocktail I used to mix to cheer up sullen patrons at The Longwood Grille. Fittingly for the time of year, it’s a classic Cinco de Mayo drink. I found it crisp and delicious, particularly in summertime.

1 1/2 oz. Milagro Silver Tequila
2 oz. Fresh Grapefruit Juice
1/2 oz. Lime Juice
Top up with Soda
Shake all ingredients and strain into an ice-filled highball glass.
Garnish:  Lime Wedge, half-salted rim

This past season, Ben Scorah and I did a take on the classic Paloma at Bar & Books.  We named the cocktail after Ben's favorite Bond Girl from the illustrious Bond movie Die Another Day.  In the movie, Jinx serves the role of "The Great Equalizer" in many ways... odd coincidence. :)

Jinx Cocktail
1 oz. Casa Noble Reposado Tequila
3/4 oz. Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
3/4 oz. Becherovka (a Czech Digestif)
1 oz. Fresh Grapefruit Juice
Shake all ingredients and strain into a cocktail glass.
Garnish:  Flamed Grapefruit Zest

Happy Shaking!


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