or "Even Mondays aren't safe from Death & Company"
“You’ve been here before?” Alex, who I had met before at Tailor, asked me as he prepared several drinks.
I had already polished off a Oaxacan Old Fashioned (El Resoro Resposado, Los Amantes Mescal, Agave nectar, dash of Angostura bitters, flamed orange peel) sans dinner so the Mucho Picchu (champagne, pisco, Maraska Maraschino Liqueur, fresh grapefruit juice) I was nursing was beginning to work its magic, but the whir of Alex’s arms grabbing at a bottles and shakers and jiggers was plenty distracting.
After a slight pause, I shook myself out of my reverie and answered sheepishly, “No.”
Alex shot me a half-serious and half-joking look of shock.
I do go to bars and it's not that I'm a teetotaler. Besides the fact that a) I'm only one human with one liver that I'm beginning to worry about increasingly as I get on in the years, b) I've found that my fascination with cocktails ended up being something almost academic. Drinking a cocktail? Fine with that. But drinking something you've only read about or something entirely new? That's where the fun is. I'm more than happy to pick the brains of bartenders and watch them do their thing, but at the same time I get nervous about visiting hot spots because my previously mentioned awkwardness in crowds kick in. I've gotten over that a bit since I started doing beverage-related things for NRN, since, if anything, I'm all about working around my quirks. But for the large part I still try to sneak in all ninja-like at non-rush times so I can grab a seat far from the madding crowd.
And that was exactly why I’d stepped through the doors of Death & Company at 7 pm on a Monday night. I was grimly determined to do a tactical strike of the place. I heard it could get crowded and I wanted it to be clean. In early and out the door by the time the crowds descended. Things didn't go that way.
Damon, the “new” guy (new by virtue of having joined Death & Co.'s ranks just a week or two ago, though he'd mixed elsewhere before), had manned the bar for the first hour and a half all on his own in a frenzied yet impeccable solo performance.
However, he handled the entire situation with perfect aplomb even as the drinks queue grew longer and longer and the wait time grew between drinks. He apologized for the wait, but I didn’t mind waiting since I could very much see with my own two eyes how busy the place was. I also was busy copying down drinks of interest and their ingredients into my notebook while jotting out possible story ideas. While doing this, I found time to be inspired to write several haikus. Here's one.
of frantic cocktail mixing;
Drinks warm a cold spring.
...I never said I was a poet.
The crowd had arrived early and hit the place hard. Eventually people were getting turned away. At one point I was apologetically asked if I didn't mind moving over to make room for two guests because they were from London and had never been to Death & Co. I was more than happy to oblige for the out-of-towners.
After traveling over to the other side of the bar, two gentlemen sitting next to me got up and left and another two filled their place. One of them was Naren.
"Oh yea! Bret wrote about you!" I exclaimed, almost a bit too enthusiastically, in a stroke of inspired recognition after he figured out I worked for NRN and with Bret. The other gentleman, Kenta Goto, also recognized me at the same time I recognized him because I'd run into him previously when since he can be found behind the bar at Pegu.
In all honesty, as busy as things got, and even in the small intimate space, my crowd-hating self was doing pretty OK. Without a throng of people standing around you don't feel the press of people behind you as you sit at the bar, and those at tables have an unobstructed view of the bar so you didn't feel like your order sort of disappeared over the sea of heads into some kind of blackhole.
Though the staff tried to be accommodating, seat numbers were strictly adhered to with people encouraged to come back later when space opened up. I'm sure not every bar can get away with this, but if people desire what you're offering in terms of atmosphere and product, then they're going willing to come back. But in the case of the guests from London, it also is a good thing to be smart enough to recognize when customer relationships can be forged.
The most important part of this equation is the attitude of the bartenders. Ahem, "Like a glass for a cocktail, the good bartender is always chill." I really apologize for that. Would it make it better if I said that's from my notes for "Chicken Soup for the Bartender's Soul" that I'm shopping around? OK, not really. I will say, if anyone out there is interested and is willing to offer me an advance, I can come up with some more no matter how painful.
I asked Alex about the difference between yellow and green chartreuse besides the color (Answer: There's a slight difference in proof and some difference in flavor).
I asked Damon if the Elder Fashioned was in the spirit of an Old Fashioned, but with elderflower flavors (Answer: Yes).
Alex guided me through the murky depths of picking a third drink with actual conversation (Alex: "Hm, so do you want to stick with tequila?" Me: "Well, I already had something with champagne in it so I don't think sticking to the similar spirits is going to save me at this point.").
Damon humored me when I asked for a Paloma and made a pretty decent facsimile even though he didn't have any authentic grapefruit soda on hand.
All this while churning out drink after drink.