When life starts to beat you down, the day-to-day grind makes you resemble crushed peppercorns, and you reach the very end of your rope, the word “vacation” starts to sound extremely enticing. That should be the easy part — deciding to take a vacay — but the logistics usually take precedence. When flight itineraries, hotel stays, entertainment costs, and lack of public transportation start to rear their ugly head, a glorious option pops up.
People might decide to stay in their home city instead of spending googobs of money on expensive flights, cruises, train rides, or pony expresses. This “city retreat” might include a visit to a museum, dinner by candlelight, and a walk on the river with one’s sweetie. Other staycations might be held inside the home, with a book, a DVD, or a pillow.
But are those the only options available? All of us need our rest — and home is where the heart is — but can’t we rest when we’re dead? The fact is, YOLO should be the aim; we don’t have nine lives like our feline friends.
Why not take a “city retreat” and make up your own pub crawl: one place for happy hour, another for aperitifs — maybe a dinner break — then another place for digestifs or dessert + drinks. Embrace the warm weather and try out a couple new drinking places’ summer menus. Take a rooftop lounge tour, a grungy basement tour, an alfresco/riverfront tour — the possibilities are endless. Well, that is until last call. Regardless, take advantage of your city whenever you can. You might not get an umbrella in your drink, but you might grow fonder of the place you call home.
Back in November, I didn’t know I’d have to post a eulogy. One week after a cautionary post about a wayward athlete, here’s another one about a celebrity on the wrong side of the bottle. This is not the type of deja vu that I appreciate.
I’m not going to tear up the internets by mentioning Whitney Houston’s passing; they’ve been torn to shreds in a similar fashion to when Michael Jackson almost flattened the WWW. But this is not a post about technology — this is a post about making better decisions when you drink, the crux of what The Congenial Hour is all about.
When everyone heard of Whitney’s passing, we all thought of her past drug abuse and somehow thought she had a relapse that was too much for her to withstand. However, the apparent cause was something that we’ve seen before, and will probably see again: the one cocktail that always brings about last call, alcohol and prescription medicine. It has taken celebrities from the worlds of music, film, hockey, and professional wrestling. The worst thing about it is that we have not seen the last of this type of tragically regrettable occurrence.
Two things about alcoholic beverages always need to be considered. One, the irony of the term “alcoholic beverage” is in its name: it should NOT be considered a beverage. When I think of a beverage, I think of a tall glass of milk after eating an arm’s length of Oreos, a “cold drink” of Coca-Cola or sweet tea when I visit friends and family down south, or a Gatorade Propel while I’m working out. Those are beverages — drinks intended to quench your thirst. While I’ve got some lovely items in my cocktail cabinet that are quite tasty, I don’t have a “thirst” for them. I do itch for a good Old Fashioned from time to time, but I’m not running into the house for some 7yr W.L. Weller after running around Lake Montebello — I want something from the Brita!!
The second thing is we need to start making better decisions about drinking. Alcohol abuse is not new on the radar but it’s causing some of the same pains that it has for centuries now. Binge drinking without water or food, drinking copious amounts of liquor without a care, really has to stop. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying spirits and wonderfully-crafted cocktails in a night out with friends. Nothing wrong with pairing champagne cocktails with a culinary delight. But when you’re grabbing beer and champagne to wash down your burger and fries, you might want to take a step back. Slow down and realize that everything has a time and place. Certain cocktails are for a certain time. Certain spirits go better at specific times — there’s a reason there’s an aperitif as opposed to a digestif. You don’t need them all, all the time. Take a minute and get Mother Nature’s favorite beverage in your system; it just might save your life.
Rest in power, Whitney.
“Robert Rebutato, the son of the restaurateurs, was an architect in Le Corbusier’s Paris studio. For many summers, he had been Le Corbusier’s constant companion for the vacation routine of two swims a day, one at the end of the morning, the next in the late afternoon, each followed by an aperitif. Over ritual drinks, Le Corbusier would hold forth to his acolyte about architecture, nature, color, or whatever the passionate theme of the day was.” — Le Corbusier: A Life by Nicholas Fox Weber
What are all the senses that comprise the experience of a spirit or a cocktail? A few are obvious — taste, sight, smell, touch — but is there something missing? What is that “fifth element” that takes the cocktail to extraterrestrial heights?
Various cocktails have basic compositions for their elements: strong/weak/sweet/sour, spirit/sweet/sour/bitters, sparkling/aperitif/bitters/sugar, among many other spirituous combinations. In this superfecta of choices, is ice the “fifth element”? Has LeeLoo traded her orange “Sideshow” bob for a coiff that’s either cubed or crushed?
When you’re walking through the aisles of your favorite spirits store, what makes you stop? When there are “racks-and-racks-and-racks” of so many types of gin, vodka, rum, and whatever else you can think of, at what point do you stop walking and start to make a decision? When you see a bottle with a nice price point to it? When you take the bottle in your hands and admire its distinctive design? Maybe if you’re at the bar, and your local barkeep has handed you something the establishment got in, you take out the cork and get a whiff of this intriguing liqueur he was raving about. If he offers you a tipple of it, is that enough to win you over? Or do you have to put your ear to the bottle and hear the whispers of….alright, that’s taking things a bit too far!
Umami is a term from the culinary world that stands for the “savory” element of food. Since this is a stretch to describe apart from the other four — sweet, sour, bitter, salty — it’s said to be the fifth element of taste and represents the “indescribable” part. While there are subjective aspects to flavor profiles, there are also some very objective aspects: a type of gin has a certain amount of flavoring botanicals, for example, that have their own distinct flavors. Maybe since certain culinary ingredients are entering the cocktail world, the “savory” can be experienced now. Or somewhat experienced, as the umami takes over your palate….
**Thanks to Christophe of Local Wine + Spirits blog for introducing me to the term umami.**
"Money is involved in the time taken up by a business transaction, the time in which things are manufactured. At that time seconds are as precious as gold. As for us, we undertake nothing, we let the country go to rack and ruin; time has no value. Aperitíf time is one of the active moments in French life. On the day that we undertake the construction of new white cathedrals, the thinking capacity acquired around aperitíf glasses will produce living works."
— Le Corbusier, When The Cathedrals Were White
"American restaurants are devoid of conversation.
I note this characteristic thing: the café terrace is Latin. London, New York, Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, do not have them. The aperitíf hour is Latin. In New York it is the cocktail hour.
You have cocktails at the homes of various friends after your day’s work in the city. Thirty people, fifty people, even more. You stand up. It is impossible to carry on a conversation standing up, for, in the middle of a phrase, a third person intervenes, taps you on the shoulder and says “Hello!” It is useless to go on trying, conversation is out of the question. One cocktail leads to another, your blood warms up, voices rise; the noise, annoying at first, becomes intolerable. Everyone shouts and has an alcoholic smile. Cudgel blows on spirits wearied by hard work in the city. Decidedly, conversation is impossible.
A French aperitíf is taken when you are seated around a table. There are two, three, four persons. You have chosen your companions. You drink slowly. Conversation is calm, interrupted by the silences of well-being: you talk, you discuss, you can even enter into disputes. But the idea is followed through. Thus personal ideas are born, points of view, opinions. It is an agora around a siphon. The aperitíf is a social institution and the café terrace is an urban institution. I may say, at the end of this panegyric, that I do not take aperitífs, since I lack the time."
— Le Corbusier, When the Cathedrals Were White