I miss a lot of things right now that I didn’t think I’d miss so much. Airplanes. Hotels. But most of all, I miss bars. I don’t miss drinking. (I mean, I don’t miss drinking because I still drink.) But I don’t go to bars because I like to drink. I go to bars because I love bars. Oak, brass, copper, and glass. Gleaming tiers of bottles. Too many kinds of vodka. Never enough kinds of scotch. And not dive bars, or cheap bars, either. No, I love grand bars. Flagship hotel bars, especially. This might make me sound like a snob, which is factually correct.
I judge a bar by its cocktail menu. A) it should have one, B) it should have a martini that is actually a martini, not spiked punch in a martini glass, and C) a dash of wit is always appreciated.
I miss the bar at the Grand Hotel in Lucerne. I had a martini there last year with a bartender who spoke fluent Switzerdeutsch but grew up in New Jersey. He suggested I try the local gin, which was redolent of cardamom, and terrible. I had two. I miss Dukes in London, home of the world’s best martini and I will fight you on this. It never touches ice (everything is kept in the freezer,) uses №3 Gin and housemade amber vermouth, and is made tableside in the lounge by an Italian gentleman in a white dinner jacket from a trolley. Because it is not diluted with water at all, if you have two there you will begin making very poor decisions.
I miss the Oak Long Bar at the Fairmont Copley here in Boston, which always serves its martinis with a little extra “sidecar” kept over ice. I still treat it as having “one” even though it’s closer to two. I miss the ridiculous Skyview bar at the Burj al Arab, which has a minimum spend and charges $50 for a tiny well martini. Yes, I could buy bottles of a decent gin and vermouth for that, but I am not there to buy a drink. I’m there to rent a moment.
I miss the bartenders. Sterling at the Avery Bar. Adam at The Bristol. I miss Jamie when he was at Stoddards, but I haven’t been to his new place. I miss being a regular. Not in the sense of the great song by The Replacements — I don’t think I’ve hit rock bottom (yet.) I don’t play tennis, I don’t play golf, and I am not in the Rotary Club. The Avery Bar is my club, and the price of membership is witty conversation with erudite Bostonians, and a healthy tip, of course.
I prefer eating at bars to eating at tables. I get to sit next to my wife, Tamsen, rather than opposing her. I don’t like to oppose her. Tamsen and I can easily spend an entire night sitting at the Avery Bar, laughing with Sterling and our fellow patrons, having bitters and sodas between our drinks. Starbucks and Barnes and Noble famously tried to become “the Third Place,” a social hangout for short periods of time between home and work. Well, I work from home, and the Avery is my second place. There is, from time to time, a drink named after us on the menu called the T&T. This brings me immense joy. It’s like the plaque on a church pew.
Tamsen and I essentially closed the Avery down with Matty and Clinton, two other regulars, before they turned off the lights there. A few days later, the doors of the Ritz-Carlton itself were closed, sending Sterling and Jack and Mouad and Frali and Sudip and Shakil and Phil and Jose and Eugene and Uton and many, many more into the ranks of the unemployed. I like to think that I am a good tipper. It wasn’t enough.
Last night I made myself a B&B on the rocks and watched a 35-year old Celtics game. The game was incredible. I found the drink lacking.