Holy, crap, I missed going to bars.
Visiting the bars was one of my most favorite things to do when I blogged more regularly.
A while back when I wrote about Alex Day’s last shift, someone left an amusing comment asking if I would be returning to Death and Co. now that Mr. Day was not working there. Even though I responded that I would most certainly return, the comment happened to coincide with the time that things got real busy and I had to drop back on my barhopping shenanigans. It ended up being a kind of unfortunate coincidence that made it seem like I was shunning the joint.
So last week when I decided to take a tentative foray back into bar visits, it seemed highly appropriate that the venue should be Death and Co. We had history, man. I remember I could leave the office as soon as the day’s work was done. It would be a quick 6 train ride from the old offices down to Astor Place. I could get there by 7 pm at the latest, park myself on a stool, and drink until they closed around midnight. They don’t even close at midnight anymore! But more on that later.
As I made a right turn around the familiar corner of 6th and 1st Ave, I felt giddy and anxious. It kind of felt like going to go meet an ex. Not in a bad way, like, there was a lot of yelling and throwing stuff when the break up happened. No, this was like going to meet the ex where you were both young and broke up amicably because outside forces made you drift apart. You got that cool job offer working for that cutting edge ad agency in another part of the country, and she had just gotten accepted to an art program in Europe and wanted to continue exploring her artistic style. You both had a chat over coffee at a late night diner, realized you were heading different places, and decided that it’d be best to let things go while the going was good and just hope that the universe would bring you back together. And 10 years later you now both find yourself in the same city again…uh, where was I?
Well, my point being that there was a certain wistfulness going on that was making my heart go pitter-pat with excitement as I walked toward the bar. Also a good chunk of it was my usual weirdness with people and public spaces.
I was happy when I saw Jason Littrell at the door, but not happy to see his arm in a sling. He said it was the result of a biking accident.
When I grabbed a seat at the bar I saw it was Thomas Waugh behind the bar. He kind of had a small look of surprise pass his face when he first saw me. After expressing as best he could over the the din of the Saturday night rush his surprise because it’d been a while since he’d seen me around these parts, he handed me the menu.
I also spotted Jessica Gonzalez working alongside Thomas. At this point I felt I could relax since now I’d reached equilibrium between my personal comfort level vis-a-vis the number of people I know present in any one place. Me: 3. Social anxiety: 0.
“Hey, Sonya!” Jess said coming over from her side of the bar.
“Holy, crap, hey how are you?” I answered. “I think I haven’t seen you since Philadelphia.”
True story. I think the first time I’d been properly introduced to Jess was at Nicholas Jarrett’s last bar shift in Philly bash when she was one of the guest bartenders on the roster that evening. I’m pretty sure I’d seen her once or twice before that in New York, but it was the drunken haze of Philadelphia where it was probably the first and last time I actually got to have any sort of real conversation with her.
I opened up the menu. A lot had changed but it was still the same neat format of spirit sections with their on compartments of of drinks. Ooh, a hot or cold cider option. An agave page…
My eyes kept coming back to the whiskey page. Besides it being my preferred spirit, the art work on the page showing a gun shooting a lemon twist, along with cocktail names like Vampire Blues and Dangerous Summer reminded an awful lot of Hyung Min-Woo’s Priest, which was one of my favorite comics growing up, and just the awesomeness horror-Western, like the late 90s PC game, Blood.
(Nerd quibble: In the comic the monsters that Ivan fought were more like zombies rather than vampires, and vampires in what will promise to be a tragicomedy of an American movie version of the series that destroys everything great and awesome about the original comic.)
I figured nostalgia was the theme of the evening. and dove right in with the Vampire Blues, which Thomas told me was one of Jess’ drinks. It’s made with Old Weller 107 Proof Bourbon, Lustau East India sherry, Fresh lemon juice, pumpkin butter, Angostura bitters and grated cinnamon. The drink came with a whole stick of cinnamon in it too. At one point I tried to drink some of the cocktail up through the cinnamon stick, just to see what it would be like.
I gave the cocktail a sniff, and smiled at the familiar smell of bitters and spices and spirits. One of the things I enjoy a lot about the smell of a lot of modern cocktails is how much it reminds me of the smell Korean/Chinese herbal medicines brewing. It’s not so much the herbal part, or the spicy part. I mean those scents are there, but there’s a deep, pungent character to the smell that’s more similar to smell really good quality aromatic wood. Like cedar or something. I guess it makes sense considering how many spirits are aged in wood and how many bitters involve the use of herbs and medicinal plants.
Thomas asked how I liked the drink as I was mid-deep sip.
In my haste to get back to drinking, I took a big gulp so I could reply with a barely intelligible, “Oh, man. I missed this so much.”
I stuck with whiskey, trying the Orkney Chapel next (HIghland Park 12 year single malt scotch, Dolin dry vermouth, Lustau Amontillado sherry, Grand Marnier, Petite Canne sugar cane syrup) and then the Blue Run Sling (Elijah Craig rye whiskey, fresh apple juice, fresh lemon juice, housemade vanilla syrup, Averna Amaro, house orange bitters and garnished with a bittered orange wheel).
The Orkney Chapel was a nice toe dip back into the pool of brown and stirred drinks: lightly sweet, with clear and clean flavors. The Blue Run Sling was an explosion of layers of flavors. The vanilla kind of sneaks up on you and smacks you in the back of the head before running off.
After tossing back three drinks I realized I was not in fighting form and would have to call it quits for the evening. But I was glad to have made it out and see folks again.