Several weeks ago I returned a one hundred dollar bill to a guy who’d given it to me by mistake when he tipped me for his vodka tonic. I reflected on whether it’d ever come back to me, financially or otherwise. Karma, come hither! I pleaded. Last night, one of my regulars renewed my faith in the work I do and executing it with integrity, honesty, and passion. The guy is a true class act. He appreciates a well-crafted cocktail, tips exceedingly well, and in all respects exemplifies how to politely and efficiently order drinks from a busy bartender. After buying me two shots of Fernet and giving me free rein to experiment with the El Silencio Mescal we had on hand as I made his drinks, he asked me to settle his tab. In the middle of the Friday night rush, I closed it, gave it to him, and thanked him profusely. Seconds later, I grabbed the check presenter and looked at the receipt. There was a dash through the tip line, on a ninety five dollar tab. No tip! Had I said something to offend him? As I pounded out drinks behind the bar, I could not stop wondering what I’d done wrong. Then, several minutes later, he emerged from the sea of drunk people. He squeezed in amongst them and handed me a bill. I looked at it. A Benjamin. I tried to refuse it, out of humility, modesty. He insisted, and put the note in my hand. “Thank you, so much,” I said to him. He smiled, and walked away. Karma must’ve heard me calling.
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“A working man’s beer. Very American,” says the ‘tender to a couple at the bar at Angel City Brewery in DTLA. I agree.
As the bartender serves me my pints, I chime in: “I’m a bartender drinking it on my day off,” I say to a young couple asking about the flight in front of them. “Great for when you want to pace yourself. I’m usually an IPA guy but I could drink this all day.”
And I will.
I drink a lot of Fernet. I also drink a lot of Rye. However, I never thought of combining the two in the same drink. So when I read the ingredients in the Lost Hollywood on the menu at the Three Clubs Cocktail Lounge on Vine in Hollywood, I had to try it. Rye, Fernet Branca, grapefruit peel, served up. Three Clubs’ website homepage proclaims that it is “Your favorite bartender’s favorite bar.” Thanks to the Lost Hollywood, Three Clubs is now my favorite bar, or at least one of them.
I asked the bartender what kind of rye he used in the Lost Hollywood. “Old Overholt,” he said. More loyal to Bulleit when it comes to rye whiskey, I wavered for a second, then decided to err on the side of restraint and said, “I’ll just take two Golden Road IPAs.” As though reading my mind and nudging me to abandon my course of caution, the bartender said, “It’s a great drink,” referring to the Lost Hollywood. Sold. “I’ll have one of those, too,” I said.
Why not? Sunday night for me is like Friday and Saturday nights for everyone else, time to let loose after toiling behind the bar all weekend, and once I start slugging, there’s no turning back. Hence, at that moment, it didn’t feel the least bit excessive to double-fist a hoppy IPA and a very potent cocktail with two of my favorite liquors in it.
How was the drink, you ask? Delicious. The robust rye balanced the herbaceous liqueur perfectly, with the Grapefruit peel’s slightly bitter, citrusy zest tempering the sweetness of the Fernet. “Is it just rye, Fernet, and bitters?” I asked, the bartender after downing the last drop (I’d noticed he added a dash of Angostura bitters to his mixing glass as he stirred the cocktail). “And a bit of sugar,” he said.
There you have it, a blissful marriage of the two spirits most dear to my whiskey- and Fernet-loving heart. Were I to mix the cocktail myself, I’d probably omit the sugar altogether as the drink was a bit sweet for my palate, accustomed as it is to Fernet, chilled, and taken straight up, or whiskey, neat. “It is a great drink,” I told the bartender. “Great drinks are usually simple,” he said.
Thus, amidst a night of debauchery, my alcohol education continued, and I’ve a feeling I’ll be appropriating the Lost Hollywood, or some variation of it, and serving it to my most discriminating clientele in the near future, perhaps my next shift even. As my boss, AKA The Guvna, says, “Gotta educate ‘em.”
Three Clubs educated me. Now, I must pass it on.
An older guy walked up to the bar last night and asked me, “What do you have for whiskey?”
I gestured to the rows of Scotches, bourbons, ryes, Irish whiskies, and sour mashes on the shelves against the brick walls behind me.
“Do you have Seagram’s 7?” he asked. I pointed to it.
“I’ll take a Seven and Seven,” he said.
I poured it, set it in front of him, and he handed me a twenty. “The change is all yours,” he said.
To air on the side of professionalism and fairness, I charged him the eight dollars for the drink and offered him his twelve dollars in change.
“Keep it,” he said.
“Thank you very much.
Second round, same result. As I stuffed the twelve bucks into the tip jar and thanked him again, he asked, “How much are these drinks, anyway?”
“Well, then, I’m getting a bargain!”
By the time he ordered his third, Happy Hour had descended upon us, and the price of his drink had plummeted to five dollars. Still, when I tried to hand him his fifteen dollars in change, he said, “That’s yours.” I poured him an extra shot in gratitude and thanked him once again.
Happy Hour in full swing, I’d removed my shirt, as is the custom in many WeHo bars especially during the busy Friday-Saturday surge.
“You better watch out,” the guy said to me. “You’ve taken off your shirt now, and I’m a dirty old man. Now, you’re stuck with me.”
Moments later, my bar back stood beside me, stacking glasses next to my well.
“I’ve been coming out in this area since before both of you were born. Well, at least before he was,” he said, gesturing towards me.
“I’m actually a lot older than him,” I said. My bar back is twenty three. I’m pushing thirty, but I’m blessed with Eastern European genes that make me look much younger.
“Well, I wouldn’t be able to tell, unless you were both naked,” said the big tipper. “Then I would be able to tell from the wrinkles.”
Looking back at this exchange I realize that, as a straight bartender working at a gay bar, “it comes with the territory,” as the saying goes. Furthermore, perhaps the generous gratuities that came with this old man’s overtures is the nightlife universe giving back to me for my honesty last weekend, when I returned a guy’s one hundred dollar bill that he unknowingly handed me as payment for a single vodka tonic.
So says David Mamet.
Another stress melter? Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Wild Ale. Lagunitas Brewing Co. calls it the “long lost Belgian cousin of a Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’,” another of its “homicidally hoppy” ales. I call it the perfect way to unwind at the end of a lazy Sunday in LA in December. Dishwasher hummin’, dryer whirrin’, I crack open sumpin’ wild and prepare for the ride. At 8.8% ABV, that ride starts with a malty jolt from the first sip and continues to the last drop. Ounce after ounce of malt, hops, yeast, and water.
When in doubt, at the end of the day, take a long, cold swig of a Little Sumpin’ Wild and be thankful for hops.
An NYC transplant in a season-less city, I scatter synthetic Fall foliage on my bedroom floor to remember autumn days of yore in the chillier ‘hood of my youth.
Halloween has come and gone, November has begun, and finally the air turns brisk in LA. Time to hunker down and tap away at my laptop to the hypnotic beats of electronic music artist Mark Fanciulli.
Or, on a nippy Saturday night, I dive into a pre-shift writing sesh, spooked and revved up by the eerie yet upbeat sounds of Akbal Music’s Dance Spirit Podcast.
Music is my drug – it gets me in “the zone”, that place any speed ‘tender knows so well, where focus, concentration, Zen, and adrenaline converge, so that I can slam drinks for thirsty WeHo on the busiest bar night of the week.
I’ve mentioned my love of simplicity in the past [see Back To Basics from September 23]. As much as I enjoy slinging the pots and pans in the kitchen, I’ve just a few precious hours between down-dogging it in the afternoon sun and squeezing my aching arse into my skinny jeans to go to work in WeHo. For this reason, when I need to feed myself, I choose provender that requires the least complicated preparation possible yet still provides me with energy to write and deal booze. Currently, I’m in the thralls of a serious fruit fetish. Something about the slicing and dicing appeals to me. Rinse. Slice. Consume. Repeat. I savor a plate of fresh Fall fruit for its aesthetic appeal as much as I do for the taste and vitamins it provides. Here’s to the apples, pears, and avocados out there fueling this scribbling bartender’s creations on the page and in the glass.
You know you’re a bartender when you pour water into a pint glass from your Santevia Alkaline Water Pitcher and tilt the glass to a forty-five-degree angle because you’re so used to pouring beer from the tap at your bar.
Why the tilt? To minimize head, or foam, at the top of the beer. Tilting the glass allows the beer to slide smoothly down the inside of it, reducing head. More beer for the thirsty hophead!
Why alkaline water? To maintain my body’s healthy pH balance, thrown off by lack of sleep and one beer too many.
I’m a thirsty hophead myself. This I cannot change. I can, however, counter the higher level of acid from all those hops (and barley, and yeast, and…) by flooding it with alkalizing minerals like calcium and magnesium.
Stay hydrated, my friend.
We’re well into October, and, sadly, it’s time to say goodbye to a summer superfood sensation. Tonight I blend my last acai smoothie of the season. I whipped this guy up with vanilla coconut milk, banana, pure acai, frozen blueberries, and chia seeds. If I’ve learned anything from my indestructible superhero of a boss, it is that a bartender does well imbibing superfood liquids during the day if he plans on swilling liquid poison at night. It’s all about balance. And if Brazilians swear by this powerful fruit, why not take advantage of it in LA? After pounding this nutrient-packed shake, I’m ready to shake it up behind the bar all night long.
I have a great deal of experience with tea.
Some of the tea at Trader Joe’s is pure, like green tea, peppermint, or chamomile. Other varieties, however, are blends, particularly the Yogi teas, such as Yogi Ginger or Yogi Super Antioxidant green. For this reason, I often go to Whole Foods when I go on a tea shopping spree.
At Whole Foods, for a few more pennies, I can buy tea from brands that sell varieties that consist of just a single ingredient, such as lemon balm, licorice, or fenugreek. These brands are of superior quality because their owners get their herbs from places like a small farm in Bulgaria that grow the best, most fragrant, most potent herbs in the world. Moreover, these tea experts tend to know people such as the woman who picks the herbs on the farm and, on their most recent trip to the farm, she probably made them dinner and exorcised spirits from their souls and then mended the exorcism wounds with steaming mugs of lemongrass tea.
When drinking something as simple, satisfying, and warming as a cup of tea, I like the ingredients to be as pure as possible to better cleanse my addled soul.
Day in and day out, I seek to become the best tea drinker in all the land so that I may edify my fellow tea drinkers and convert all coffee and whiskey drinkers to the holy leaf in its brewed form.