In the first of a series of epistolary short fictions, Erik Hinton explores hipster life in the Big Apple.
My nights in the city are usually mundane. Sipping on pony bottles of Rolling Rock at the local watering-hole before I hotstep over to the local dancing hole, puff out my chest, and return home. On the whole, it’s a banal routine, but a routine nonetheless and there’s not much that can’t be said for consistency.
Last night, though, oh wow. We discovered a cocktail bar.
Not one of those, oh-we-serve-old-fashioneds-in-mason-jars-and-call-it-hyperlocal-drinksterism joints. No, a full blown this-is-the-place-that-Chris-Noth-would-take-a-lucky-lady-to-be-seduced kinda bar.
I knew it would be special as soon as I couldn’t find it. The easy location for fashionable establishments is in the middle of hip neighborhoods or grey-around-the-temples blue-chip districts. This place was flanked by a vacant Popeye’s and a row of shingles advertising an entire diaspora’s worth of legal advice. An arthropodic doorman fluttered his Droopy dog eyelids at me. He knew I was lost. He knew I had found the place. He mumbled something condescending and the feeling of having-arrivedness was too much for my fragile constitution. I swelled and brisked through the door, over the carpet, down the stairs, past the paneled wood door. I stroked the ash (or was it oak?). I’m not ashamed.
And then, there were four of them. Bartenders in skinny ties. Ties nothing like those four-lane-highway Pierre Cardin numbers you fitted me in. They were like licorice ropes. Little tongues of fashion licking around the buttons and plackets of these dapper dans.
What light there was, a few lanterns, was choked out by cranberry or merlot dark walls. Lusty walls gobo-ed by macramé or voodoo pieces of art. It was distinctly cultural. Margaret Mead with a manhattan in Manhattan! Either way, I had to squint when a guestbook-sized menu was thrust at me, the bartender tic-ing in acknowledgement of my arrival.
I say a guestbook, Mom, but it was a tome. Twelve double-thick pages smeared with a Rorschach-design (it’s a dog, it’s a lover, it’s a martini!) and letter-pressed with fantastic names of drinks.
- The Sound and the Fury: A mist of vermouth over a pot of gin and orange juice, mulled elderberries
- Henderson the Rain King: Cane alcohol, tap water a sprig of mint, three star anise
- The Passion: Blood orange juice, Hennessy black, burnt soy shavings
“Oh by the way,” whispered a waitress, “we make all of our soda water in house.” She flipped ten pages to the alcoholic sodas section. I was in a bind. I could never have any of these cocktails anywhere else — hand-crafted club soda, remember — but the Absalom, Absalom had caught my eye and I hadn’t had Benedictine in months. But thousands of manicured bubbles, mouth-blown (I assume) into mineral, spring, maybe even distilled? What dilemmas we city boys find ourselves in, Ma.
I don’t know what I ended up ordering, I was already drunk on the atmosphere. I’m not sure they ever took my order. I was sitting alone in a corner trying out the ottoman seating options.
I saw a mousy group of girls surprise a button of a lady for her birthday. The girls brought the cheer, and the bartender brought long lines of miniature deserts and a carpet of rose petals for the seats and the tables and the floor. This cocktail bar cut no corners. None at all.
Mom, all I can say is this bar was transformative, ethereal. I wasn’t lost anymore; I was a man. Hell, I was Tennessee Williams.
Micah the Graduate Student