When this sweet young couple slid onto their barstools your friendly bartender pegged them in their early twenties. The guy however was hell bent on acting much older. He said, “The lady will have your best Chardonnay and I’ll have (all in one rapid-fire exhale) an extra dry Beefeater martini, shaken not stirred, on the rocks, straight-up, water back.” And he said it so fast it didn’t sink in til I grabbed the scooper and went to pull up some ice. (WTF?)
“My friend, you said ‘on the rocks’ and ‘straight-up’, which is it?” He’d obviously memorized this James Bond riff and somehow screwed up the ending.
“Pardon me?” He was still clueless.
“”On the rocks means with ice, straight-up means no ice. You said both.” And believe me I said it nicely for I could see his rehearsed James Bond-ness swiftly going south.
“Oh-ah, of course, make it straight-up.”
“Twist or an olive?” I continued, again not breaking balls but guiding him through this.
“Umm… you know, either way.” Then, “I mean, no, make it both!” Then he winked at Chardonnay to assure all was well. It wasn’t. He looked like he’d swallowed an oyster laced with Tabasco.
But I don’t bring this up to make fun, dear reader, but rather to bond with young Bond, for your friendly bartender has been there himself many times. Yes, he’s made his share of mistakes acting cool out in Bar-land. Like this time…
On a long ago Friday night, when your friendly bartender was your friendly school teacher back in his hometown of Pittsburgh, with half his monthly pay in his pocket and packed in his new three-piece suit, he climbed into his Oldsmobile Cutlass and headed a mile down the road to a place called Mary Stark’s. Stark’s was a grown-up cocktail lounge (a far cry from the screaming college bars) and it held all the promise of all kinds of mischief and intrigue. Men in sharp, fashionable suits, sophisticated ladies on the town for adventure and grown-up play, was the milieu in which I was attempting that night to immerse myself. For I’d thought about doing this for quite some time and this was the night I would do it, this was the night I would say hello to the cool world. So I parked my car on the gravel stoned lot, slid out into the night, and slammed the door on my car and hopefully my youth. Then I ground across the noisy stones and opened the thick wooden door of the famed Mary Stark’s. And what a sight!
Dimly lit and made all the gauzier by billowing wafts of cigarette smoke, what lay before me was a scene from the TV show Mad Men. A seemingly sophisticated older clientele (particularly older women!) was seated around a copper-top bar strewn with martinis and rocks drinks, each person planted and poised for the ritual of nightlife. This was it! But alas as I ambled across the thick, burgundy carpetiing heading for a seat at the bar, I felt all of a sudden more like in a scene from a cowboy movie. You know, where the stranger in town walks into the saloon and everyone turns and whispers, for I swear every person at that bar seemed to give me the once over. Here we go again! I thought.
See the problem I had when I was young, dear reader (at least in this regard) was the fact that I looked too young to be going into bars. Way too young. I was easily and always a good five years off the pace. So with my mop of sandy-colored hair on this night draped goofily across my forehead, and the dusting of freckles that lurked and danced just beneath it, it was clear by the expressions on the faces observing I was Opie in Andy’s suit looking for Aunt Bee. In other words I didn’t evoke, “Ooh, who is that?” in any of these sophisticated ladies, but rather, “Didn’t I see him serving 10:30 mass last Sunday?” And of course in rounding out this bar-wide scrutiny no eyes were more discerning than those of the bartender.
“I’m gonna need some ID, pal,” he said when my ass hit the stool, which brought out a tinkling of laughter, most of it female.
“I’ll have an Iron,” I said with some force, once I’d proven I could vote any time I wanted. Iron is short for Iron City beer, at the time mother’s milk to our working class, and the bartender set it down with a tall, fragile pilsner glass. Aww, shit! I internally winced at the sight of this tapered vessel, having always just drunk from the bottle and dreading the pour. For this wasn’t a mug, which I had poured into, but rather a tall fucking test tube testing my skill. But I raised the bottle and thank God pulled off the pour. (Every drop observed by the still unconvinced bartender.)
Well, as things can sometimes happen in life I finally got settled in, bathed in the glow of those first few swallows of beer. I was no longer feeling the “stranger in town” like before. And to add to my newfound ease and comfort and painting the picture just right, was the voice of Tony Bennett soaring from the juke box. He was belting, “I want to be around to pick up the pieces, when somebody breaks… ” etc., which richly added to the cool of this most cool setting. I took out a Marlboro, lit it with care but aplomb, then exhaled my contribution to the overhead cloud.
Well, here I am, I pondered, finally sitting in Stark’s, finally taking a shot at this grown-up drinking stuff! Fuck those stupid college bars, it doesn’t get any better than fucking this. Or at least that’s what I thought just before it happened…
I’d caught the eye of an awesome woman who was at least an awesome thirty five awesome years old, and she was staring at me for God knows what kind of reason. But she was staring, that I knew. So I reached for my drink to gesture her way, to give her a suave “Here’s to you,” but being in the habit of drinking from the bottle I reached for the bottle and knocked over the glass with my elbow. How appropriate then were the words to that Tony Bennett song. The glass hit the copper, the copper made it shatter, and the beer from the glass soaked a good three feet of good bar space. Fucking unbelievable!!! And the woman along with the whole bar shared a fun moment. Opie spilled his milk! I could hear them thinking.
“Awww, fer’ Christ almighty sakes,” yelled the bartender, “what the hell happened here?” sounding more like my principal than my bartender. Then he approached with two damp rags, he mopped and picked, mopped and picked, carefully gathering all the shards, then finished by giving me a look of, “Do you really want to be here?” And as I scanned the bar at the myriad expressions painted on my fellow patrons, here was my unspoken answer to the bartender’s query.
In less than a half hour’s time I had paid for my Iron City beer, gone home and changed into chino’s and a crew neck and was standing in a raucous college bar in Shadyside where I belonged. That was my answer. Stark’s would have to wait, I figured, this was more my speed… at least until I could lose that goddam Opie thing. Or handle a glass!
And so to you, my young James Bond… Mr. Shaken-not-stirred-on-the-rocks-straight-up, if you please… I know what it’s like to screw up, my friend, your friendly bartender has been there, so don’t take to heart the encounter we had in my bar. In other words, don’t be “shaken” just “stirred” to do better next time.
Over and out from Bar-land… see ya’ next week-end!