Thursday, 6 March 2014

Special request

I remember it well. The night was so cold and the wind chill was intensely painful, even through my coat, scarf, gloves and hat. I hadn't come out with a destination in mind but when I spotted the sign I dived straight in.

Instantly a blast of hot air made me glad of my choice. After the grey of the winter twilight, the warm orange tones and strong black and chrome outlines seemed almost homely.Spying a fireplace I staggered over, ripped off my gloves and extended fingers which had become cramped with cold. Despite the stylish appearance the fire was real and the warmth flooded into me. After a few moments I felt recovered enough to open my coat, then remove my scarf.

Before I was fully comfortable a waiter approached and queried with a cynical shade if I would be staying to eat. Instantly swamped with guilt I knew I would not only be eating, but probably spending a lot of money to compensate for use of the facilities. Briefly reflecting on what faced me beyond the portal of this place, I decided there were worse things.

Acknowledging the basics of my thoughts - yes, I would be staying for food - I then fought for a way to buy time before my meal. First, I declared, I'd like a cocktail in order to warm myself up. Having seen my arrival and subsequent fire worshipping, the otherwise suspicious waiter was wholly prepared for the possibility that I might need to thaw a little and directed me to the bar "as soon as I was ready".

After two or three minutes alone, during which I regretted my lack of backbone in the face of challenge, I went to the bar. Wrapping around two walls of the establishment, lined with copious bottles of spirits in repeating patterns, it was clearly a busy place when there were clientele present. At this point of the night there were only the waiter, one bartender, myself and a man perched on a barstool with a ball glass of what looked like brandy. The discarded clothing to the stool on his right suggested that he had sought out the same warmth I had, and his casual picking at the bar snacks indicated that I really didn't want to be in the vicinity of his peanut breath.

I chose a stool four removed from his. Having worked bars myself, I couldn't see justification for making the poor bartender hike between us, and this was the closest I felt was safe when peanuts were in the mix. The bartender, Alex according to his nametag, entered into the usual banalities. The tome he produced when I asked for a cocktail menu made me sure I was in good hands. I looked at the first few pages to see if anything leaped out at me, but as it didn't I girded my loins and made the one request I have always wished I could of a cocktail maker:

"I want a drink that is beautiful, and very entertaining to watch being made."

He grinned, a wicked twinkle lighting up his eyes. "Ball park price?" My involuntary wince must have eradicated about a third of the options from the menu and he chuckled and waved his hand reassuringly as he ducked for a glass; "Not too expensive, got it!"

For the next five minutes bottles, tumblers, ice and liquids chased each other through the air in a spiral around his person. I was hypnotised. It was all I had ever dreamed it could be and more. By my count - although to this day I'm not sure - there were two juices, three spirits (although I think one may have been a liqueur), one mixer and a lot of ice - some of which was only used to cool the drink as it was sifted into the final glass! The masterpiece was a layer of juice and one spirit mixed, with a clear mixer layer, before being topped with the final juice and booze. At the last moment he spurted a jet of flame from an orange peel over the glass, dropped in two straws, an umbrella and a stirrer with a cherry on the top before sliding the glass with a final flourish, over to me.

I broke into well earned applause and was surprised to note that my fellow patron was also impressed. The mixologist extraordinaire declared it was his own invention - not too sweet, but very fruity.

With a premixed drink, you can take a cautious sip, but it has always been my practice with layered drinks to use the straw to suck a little from all separate layers at once so it still looks pretty when I have the first taste. The downside to this is that you will end up with a very full mouth and if you don't know what to expect flavour-wise, it can be shocking.

This time it tasted like whisky. I am not a whisky drinker. This actually tasted lovely, and I even managed to say "nice!" before my whisky face hit me. Nevertheless, hit me it did, and there are very few people who will be convinced you like something when they see that expression as you attempt to ingest it. I spent several minutes trying to ensure Alex's feelings weren't hurt. Eventually he escaped and I continued sipping and shuddering my way through the drink - which I cannot reiterate enough was much tastier than I made it look! - and my fellow patron drew me into conversation.

We chatted for a while - he confessing he was something of a whisky buff - and I offered him a taste of my cocktail. He took it happily and was very impressed with the drink. When Alex returned the two of us were still conversing and my new companion would not let me return to my prior occupation of grovelling. However, after a few minutes of observing me too scared to drink before the eyes of the thwarted artiste, he took the drink out of my hands, and requested a fresh one be made for him. "But first" he said with a grin, "please get the lady another cocktail that meets her requirements and has no whisky. This one's on me."

Five minutes later, the mixologist had wrested my entire library of alcohol and beverage preference and all of my favourite flavours, hobbies and interests. At the end of it he nodded and once more entered the fabulous world of failing to decorate the ceiling with the contents of the bottles he was juggling. The only bottle that didn't enter the whirligig was a champagne bottle which he laid reverentially in the ice box. Finally I was presented with a flute containing, amongst other things, chilli, lime, vodka and some form of champagne. It was amazing. It tasted like summer scented dry fire in a cold glass. 

Before my new friend had his new drink, I was almost halfway through mine and I expressed a reluctant need to order some food to ensure I didn't get drunk. As it happened, he insisted, he also needed food and would be glad to avoid eating alone. Once we had ordered our food at the bar he waved a card at Alex and must have instructed him to keep them coming because the moment I finished my amazingly delicious beverage a new one appeared before me.

When our food arrived I was provided with a delicate white wine and sadly waved goodbye to my cocktails. 

The truly sorrowful part of this story is that I eventually married the man who bought me those drinks and since our first date I haven't had another of those cocktails. Ever. I'm tempted to divorce him to see if he takes the hint and tries to find the recipe to woo me back.

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