Karma, Come Hither

Last night a young dude who’d tipped me a dollar a drink for his first two vodka-tonics came up to the bar towards last call and ordered a third. He handed me four bills, which, as he began to stroll away, I unfolded and found to be a fiver, two singles, and a Benjamin. Morality swooped in instantaneously, prompting an internal struggle in my buzzed head. Should I stuff the big bill into the tip jar, and act as if nothing had happened? Choose a middle ground by maintaining silence and setting the hundo aside in case the young blood returned to reclaim his unintentionally gigantic tip? Or do the “right thing” by getting the guy’s attention and giving him his money back? Bar three-deep with thirsty knuckleheads screaming for drinks, I had to act fast. I went with my gut, hollering “Yo!” several times, but amidst Madonna’s “Ghosttown” blaring from the speakers and the skeleton-shaking  bass machine, my call went unanswered. Unwilling to abandon my lofty cause, I jumped over the bar and chased the fellow out to the patio, tapped him on the shoulder as he lit up a Parliament, and said, “Are you ready?”

He looked at me like, “Wha? Huh?”

“Did you mean to tip me one dollar or one hundred one dollars?”

He stared at me, raised his eyebrows, smiled. I handed him his hundred, said, “Remember me, brother,” and walked away.

Every night, some people tip me exceedingly well, whereas others stiff me. The majority fall somewhere in the middle, tipping a dollar a drink or fifteen to twenty percent on tabs. I could have easily justified keeping the hundred and sealing my lips, for the greater good of my own coffers and those of my fellow bartender and bar back. Yet, at the end of the day (or, in my case, night) I was able to go home and sip a single malt Japanese whiskey at peace with my actions and my decision. I pray to the bartending gods that the global drinking collective will give back to me for being an honest drinkmonger.

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Wake Up and Stretch

What is the cure for the next-day pain from four shots of Tullamore Dew 12 Year Old Special Reserve, five of Fernet Branca, and one of Bushmill’s? Yoga, without a doubt, if not in the park then in my room, my Zen sanctuary. Twisting and back-bending, beads of sweat drip onto my mat as I wring out the whiskey and Fernet. Afterwards, I flood my cells with Zico coconut water and, for a brief moment, feel radiant once again. Detox to retox, the saying goes.

Rye to the Rescue

Studying for the GRE makes me thirsty. That’s where Bulleit Rye comes in. With the first sip, my standardized-test-induced angst melts away as the whiskey warms me from within. Its smoothness, oaky aroma, and hints of vanilla, honey, and spice make this rye go down easy. Plus, at 90 proof (45% ABV), it delivers an uplifting buzz that assuages my post-practice-test fatigue and primes me for anything WeHo throws my way on a warm Wednesday night the week after Halloween.

Whereas I used to knock back shots of Jameson like it was water, then indulged in a prolonged affair with Bushmill’s, of late, the greater spice and complexity rye offers has stolen me away from Irish whiskey. Praise the spirit that’s made a glorious comeback!

Popeye’d Be Proud

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After a weekend of slinging drinks and then rocking out hard to The Strokes at Fuck Yeah Fest on Sunday, I need to make my Monday mo’ betta. I start with this smoothie: vanilla coconut milk, banana, roasted flax seeds, dates, and spinach. Crafting a cocktail and building a smoothie are two distinct yet similar art forms. The creator must take into account ingredients, flavors, and textures, among other elements. I seek to take all of the experience and knowledge gleaned from my years toiling  behind the stick and apply it to this nutritious A.M. ritual, which actually happens closer to 5 or 6 P.M., when I eat breakfast. No matter. Another day, another smoothie. Man cannot live on whiskey alone.

Beer and Biscotti

Just when we think the dog days of summer are coming to an end, the mercury in the City of Angels is still flirting with triple digits. Not in the mood to make dinner, but very in the mood to drink beer, I pick up a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Flipside Red IPA and a box of Trader Joe’s pumpkin biscotti to satisfy my late-night suds-induced munchies.

TJ’s Fearless Flyer recommends pairing the biscotti with coffee or tea. I say, wash ’em down with a good, spicy seasonal ale. Because let’s face it: beer makes everything better.

The tropical fruit and citrus hop flavors of the beer complement the cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and ginger kick of the cookies perfectly. And of course, the beer’s ruby-red hue looks pretty darn sexy alongside those little orange bars of crunchy pumpkin goodness.

My advice for an LA October summer eve? Light some spooky skull candles, get comfy, alone or with your lover, crack open a Red IPA, tear into those pumpkin biscotti, and call it a night.

The Challenge

“Do you carry Fernet Branca at this fine establishment?” the self-proclaimed King of Fernet asks the bartender.

“We do.”

The king whips out the coin – the Fernet challenge coin, that is. He pounds it onto the bar. The bartender looks at it, smiles. I observe, in a haze from two glasses of caramel-like Angel’s Envy rye and halfway through my second Abita Wrought Iron IPA, hoppy and then some.

“Do you keep your Fernet chilled or at room temperature?” the King asks the ‘tender.

“Room temp, but I can chill it for you, if you like.”

The King frowns. “Never put Fernet in a shaker,” he declares. Then, he turns to me. “Would you like one?”

How can I refuse? His Majesty turns back to the barman who now has the bottle in hand. “We’ll have two,” he says, holding up two fingers.

The bartender gathers four small rocks glasses and pours us two shots as well as one for himself and one for his bar-back. The King and I clink and lock eyes. “To your health,” the he says.

“To yours, brother.”

I’m A Rye Guy

“I’m a rye guy,” I said to the bartender at the Mud Hen Tavern on Highland last Wednesday night as he displayed a bottle of WhistlePig rye whiskey. He popped the cork off and held the bottle to my nose. After I nodded my approval, the bartender poured me the tiniest of nips in a shot glass and slid it towards me. I swirled, sniffed again, and sipped. Already buzzed from a Swami IPA (ABV 6.8%), I can’t recall the notes or images the rye elicited. I’d call apt the words WhistlePig uses to describe its product: Courage. Quality. Character.  And a fair amount of courage I had to muster to down that whiskey.

Having survived my two-week alkaline stretch, I’m back in the saddle, as my bar boss would say, meaning, I am drinking again. Can’t say the rye went down easy. I think it burnt my throat a bit, but that’s likely a result of my ever-lowering spirits tolerance. Nonetheless, I sat and savored the entire atmosphere and not just the whiskey – the quiet bar on a slow-ish Wednesday night, the bartender rocking a Will Ferrell-esque ‘fro and a beige apron, the blackboard on the wall next to the bar, on which a server’d scrawled in chalk the night’s specials as well as the cocktail du jour, a cucumber jalapeño margarita.

The vibe of the Mud Hen Tavern lived up to what its website promised – “a casual neighborhood place that feels like your second home.” While I chomped on fried oysters, chicken and waffle croquettes, and pumpkin ravioli, I whet my lips with WhistlePig, and chased that with Drake’s Denogginizer DIPA, a massively imperial India Pale Ale, clocking in at 9.75% ABV. As the one-hundred-proof rye and ultra-hoppy ale surged through my bloodstream, the ‘tender reminded me more and more of a koala bear swinging from a vine, especially when he held the beer draft handle with one hand and a pint glass in the other while pouring pints for patrons, glancing over his shoulder at a regular and asking her, “What do you want?”