[Photos by ME]
“Shut down your operation, closed for business/
Leave a foul taste in your mouth, like Guinness…" — Mobb Deep, "Hell on Earth"
You don’t have to be a fan of Bar Rescue to know that countless drinking places close every day…gone forever, lost to the memories of the former patrons. While there is a range of emotions that set in upon the closing — disappointment, heartache, happiness to some, anger to others — it eventually dissipates as we find another bar stool with our name on it at another establishment. Is that all it takes — on to the next one? What does the literal “Last Call” mean to the built and social fabric of our communities?
What does it mean to the patron? To the common visitor or urban transplant, it’s a lost opportunity to make a new acquaintance, learn something unexpected about their new surroundings, or see that new culture “in action”. This may not resonate with residents, as they may not give the same value to certain places that have “been there forever”. However, it’s a problem for them as well — the next time they want to show a visiting friend what their city is truly like, it may look the same as every other city in FranchiseTown, USA. What made that particular city unique passed on right under their noses, as they didn’t lift a finger to try and prevent it.
Let’s discuss the perspective of the changing city. When all this urban energy and social activity is gone, doesn’t it make our cities feel a bit dormant, just a little empty? Maybe lacking for that excitement and experience that you go home and tell someone about, or are able to pass along in recollection to a friend in a fond retelling? Every urban environment may not be like Vine Street in late 19th-century Cincinnati, which had 136 drinking places along its downtown stretch in 1890. That speaks to a certain culture of industry that sustains that level of activity — an industry long gone, with only physical remnants still visible.
Finally, the industry. One truism espoused by Bernard DeVoto was, “The surest proof of the moral foundation of the universe is that you can always find good whiskey if you will go looking for it." If one places closes, we can surely find another place willing to suit our tastes of fine cocktailing. However, what does that do to the local industry? In these tough times, it’s not easy to just set up shop somewhere. In simple terms, it’s hard out here for a publican. Small business loans, identifying and reaching a target user group, sustaining sales to woo continued supply — it takes more than just pouring a pony of spicy brown into a glass.
So, friends, in the words of Sean Connery, what are we prepared to do? The answer — realize that we can’t do it all ourselves. We must join together to keep our cities alive. About to enjoy that bottle of sweet brown you picked up the other week? Call over your buddy you haven’t spoken to in a month of Sundays to help you, so he knows what to look for upon his next visit to a drinking place. Stopping off for a quick cocktail with your main damie before a snazzy event? Have her girlfriends join you, and soak in their comments on how impeccably detailed a combination your suit and cufflinks make. Had an unexpectedly-informing exchange with the bartender at that corner spot, where you went for a “one and done”? Tell a couple people about it and send some business their way. The city will always be there, but it’s up to us to live in it.
Six plus six equals twelve. Perfect for numerology and outstanding for such a symbolic day as one year removed from stepping out to bring discourse to the world of drinking culture.
I hope I’ve brought exciting topics to the table. I hope I’ve mentioned a few things that piqued your interest or intrigued you. I hope I commented on a few current events that were timely. I hope that Mr. DeVoto kept a common thread through every post, and that everything made sense.
I trust that you’ve found a new drinking place, with warm lights and an open door, and that you’ve confidently and comfortably stepped inside. I hope that you’ve used something I’ve posted to stimulate conversation in that drinking place. I hope that I helped to make for a congenial experience. Above all, I hope that you’ll keep returning to my environment of drinking culture, The Congenial Hour. Cheers!
“And now we must be certain it is the right bar. This is one of the most satisfying of all the settings and combinations that life affords…
Quiet and softly lighted, of course, not necessarily tiny but at least small, only a few stools for the solitary, and if banquettes then not violently colored, if booths then not cramped. There is no more fitting place for the slackening of exigency, the withdrawal of necessity…
Time is extensible, no hour must be met, there is no pressure to go anywhere else…" — The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto, by Bernard DeVoto
**Another trend is developing — cheers to Joshua Lindo of Eye Journey (www.eyejourney.co.uk) for the photograph!**
"Never be cynical about bars, in fact, though it is right to be wary. A glory of American culture is that there is no place so far and no village so small that you cannot find a bar when you want to. (True, in some of the ruder states it must present itself fictitiously as a club or nostalgically as a speakeasy.) Many are resourceful than the label admits, many others water their whiskey, many are bad or even lousy…But do not scorn any of them, not even the neon-lighted or the television-equipped, for any may sustain you in a needful hour. And each of us knows a fair number of good bars and perhaps even a great one. The good bar extends across America, the quiet place, the place that answers to your mood, the upholder of the tavern’s great tradition, the welcoming shelter and refuge and sanctuary — and any man of virtue and studious habits may count on finding it. If you hear of any I’ve missed, let me know. Let us all know.
But a bar, though often a necessity and often an ornament of culture, is for a need, a whim, or perhaps an urgency. For the fleeting hour. For the moment — the high moment, or the low. For, perhaps, the meeting…bars are a convenience, an assist, a stay and an upholding…” — Bernard DeVoto, The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto
[Photos by ME]
This post was submitted as a response to the topic question, “How Do You Whiskey Friday?,” by Baratunde Thurston, author of the book, “How To Be Black.”
How do I Whisk(e)y Friday? That’s the type of question everyone should ask themselves — to recognize how “your identity affects how you start the weekend.” I’ll offer my perspective…
The number one way is to always, ALWAYS, be sure to respect the bottle, or it’ll disrespect you. Knowing how you like to drink will lead you to where, and then towards what to drink. I think that you can find out how you whisk(e)y friday at a drinking place that catches your fancy, one that you’ve always wondered what’s happening within its walls. Bernard DeVoto says that time should be spent with “two or three friends,” but Derek Brown finds interest in the lone imbiber; let’s follow that path for now.
You should spend some time asking your friendly neighborhood barkeep a couple of questions. Since you’re by yourself, the bartender is your only “friend,” but well-suited to give you a bit of info on the area, anecdotes about what you’re drinking, even bits of etiquette that will take you far in this world of handshaking and hobnobbing. While you’re sitting at the bar, take a gander at the pretty bottles in front of you — ain’t they purrty? Remember them — they’ll come in handy when you need to make a reference sometime later.
Now, that person that’s been sitting next to you, you notice them? Ask them something. Comment on something. Anything. Doesn’t matter if they like you or if they’re interested in you or if you share something in common. What matters is that you’re elbow-to-elbow at that moment in time. You’ve got a brain — use it. Tell a joke. Or a story. Ask them a question that only they can answer. Remember that shiny blue bottle you noticed earlier? The one with the Queen on it? Ask them if they’ve ever had any. Tell them you’ve got some in your glass and it’s kept you smiling, though other brands usually put a smile on your face. Offer a cheers in response. Take another sip of your cocktail and smile because you can’t wait for the next Whisk(e)y Friday. Then go home, go to sleep, wake up and attack Thursday.
Because when you feel like taking a minute to #getcongenial, you don’t wait for the weekend. The day doesn’t matter. You don’t even wait for Whisk(e)y Friday to come back around; it might be the perfect time for Gin o’Clock. To share in a moment of humanity is a characteristic that’s essentially human. We aren’t meant to suppress desires or common courtesy or humor. For what reason? Because it’s not a designated time and place? Rubbish! Take the time when you have it because you don’t know if the time will come again.
"All cultural subtleties belong to the city — where else are women beautiful?
Which brings us to Marjorie…She is a pretty woman and she will be prettier very soon…So it is Marjorie’s presence that reveals the fullest meaning of the water of life; what it truly dissolves away is loneliness. She and good liquor at 6:00pm — two warmths, two tendernesses, have met in the martini of the heart…
There should always be a woman at the hour, to make the renewal richer, to augment the beauties of evening and ease and alcohol, to orchestrate life’s appetites…” — The Hour by Bernard DeVoto
Sharing a cocktail is one of the most distinct experiences of the male-female relationship. Sharing a drink is one of the most often used methods to meet a woman. Sometimes it involves inviting her out to a local drinking place; other times, offering to buy a drink for that certain lady at the bar that caught your eye. Many people and articles have posited what your drink says about you, and it’s in this particular scenario that men and women can find out what makes the person who they are, by starting to strip their idiosyncrasies off of them, while putting some shape and form to their personal identity. Some casual offerings can provide deep insight, as men figure out exactly where Venus is located, and women use their GPS to get to Mars.
And this is all for the love of the sport, right? I mean, we do have opposite chromosomes, so there’s enough room for competition, right? But save for a little pent-up competitive spirit in the absence of fantasy football, why spend it here? Can’t we enjoy the beauty of fellowship, as DeVoto eloquently states? Why spend your time at the bar scheming on which women to sink your wolf teeth into, when you can concentrate on the time at hand: the two of you, at that moment in time, sharing a bit of humanity, two beings in the name of fellowship. That’s worth drinking to, especially today; best believe I’m planning to be the fellow on the ship with my special Valentine. Cheers to you and your sweetie, on this day that makes for a rosy, congenial heart.
There are two transitions in the day when drinking occurs. One of them is “The Hour”, which Bernard DeVoto so eloquently detailed about the happenings of six o’clock. Another transtion in the day that has a connection with drinking is what happens after late-night drinking. Not quite after the last drop is gone, but in the next hour or so following it.
Let’s set the scenario: You get clean/spiffy/appropriate at home before heading out with spouse/significant other/brohams/wingwomen. You head to a neighborhood spot/Da Club/hotspot and get it in, having a most glorious and congenial evening. It’s at the point where the heels of the people in your group near the threshold of the establishment that someone asks the prescient question….
"You all wanna go grab something to eat?" *sound of the angels singing*
The main point of that question is on the surface quite easy to figure out — the person is hungry and wants to grab a bite to eat. But if the time is 2am, 3am, 4am, or even later, who is thinking about their sustenance & nutrition? No one! Which is precisely why I’ve argued that the point of going out to eat after drinking is not to eat, but “to extend the night.” Who cares about rushing home to brush their teeth or hang up their slacks? We want to spend a bit more time with our best buds & favorite people, and what better way to do that, if we can’t drink, than by sharing some food?
Hummus and pita will have to wait for another meal. The main approach to “soaking it up” post-quaff is to get fat into your system, as it slows your body’s absorption of alcohol. Anyone can return home to a bag of chips. But after a night of quaffing mint juleps, why not go, or return to The Brown Hotel for a Hot Brown? After all, it was CREATED for fourthmeal — what food can say that? Isn’t it always nicer to go to an authentic place, a “one of one” instead of a corporate rehash? If the Brown is a bit too posh for your t-shirt wearing brigade, why not go to your favorite late-night restaurant or diner? At Tempo in Chicago, Sip-n-Bite in Baltimore, Chau Chow in Boston, or House of Pie in Los Angeles, everyone has times that resemble Schrevie, Boogie, and the guys. That McDonald’s or Burger King might beckon, but you can spend time with them during the day — why not head to White Castle, that family-owned bastion of sliders? Or go with the “tree theory” at your fave pizza window and throw three oil-laden slices on a separate plate and nosh while taking in the scenery. Nothing is funnier than the street talk that emanates from people post-clubbing. Add a Maxwell Street polish sausage or a Philly cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz and you’ve got yourself live television in HD!
People sharing stories, serendipitous conversations about who-knows-what, trying to see if you can make that quick couple of minutes turn into something special — it all resembles a fine drinking place, probably the one that got us at our favorite eatery in the first place. Stay congenial!
Here’s to hoping you share a *clink, clink* with, in the glorious words of DeVoto, “a woman at the hour, to make the renewal richer, to augment the beauties of evening and ease and alcohol, to orchestrate life’s appetites.”
"Beautiful music when champagne flutes click, eh? Beautiful women sipping through rouge lips, eh…" — "Thank You", Jay-Z
We are a pious people but a proud one too, aware of a noble lineage and a great inheritance. Let us candidly admit that there are shameful blemishes on the American past, of which by far the worst is rum. Nevertheless we have improved man’s lot and enriched his civilization with rye, bourbon, and the martini cocktail. In all history has any other nation done so much? Not by two-thirds.
…look nearer home, at the Indians….they were an engaging people whose trust we repaid with atrocious cruelties….They evoke both pity and dismay: north of Mexico they never learned to make a fermented beverage, still less a distilled one. Concede that they had ingenuity and by means of it achieved a marvel: they took a couple of wild grasses and bred them up to corn. But what did they do with corn?…They threw the spoiled stuff out for the birds, angrily reproaching their supernaturals, and never knew that the supernaturals had given them a mash.
The Americans got no help from heaven or the saints but they knew what to do with corn."
— Bernard DeVoto, The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto
The Congenial Hour has a special connection with the workday. New posts occur during the 6p hour every workday, as mandated by our good friend, Mr. DeVoto. But this blog wouldn’t have been able to do that without the lovely folks who brought us the weekend — labor unions.
The Hour isn’t long enough to discuss all the hardships and battles that labor unions went through to reach a sensible balance between life and work. But respect should be doled out to those that put in extra effort to ensure that we could properly observe the time “when evening quickens in the street,” where we sit down with friends during the “pause in the day’s occupation.” There would be no transition, no “lifeward turn” without the trials that the unions went through.
So the next Friday — possibly today — when you and a couple mates are sending cheers of “TGIF,” remember who allowed you to make that toast.
”Oh, hands and hearts are weary, And homes are heavy with dole;
If our life’s to be filled with drudg’ry, What need of a human soul.
Shout, shout the lusty rally,
From shipyard, shop, and mill — Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest, Eight hours for what we will!!”
"I will inquire into no man’s reasons for taking a drink at any hour except 6:00 P.M. They are his affair and he has a rich variety of liquors to choose from according to his whim or need; may they reward him according to his deserts and well beyond. But when evening quickens in the street, comes a pause in the day’s occupation that is known as the cocktail hour. It marks the lifeward turn. The heart wakens from coma and its dyspnea ends. Its strengthening pulse is to cross over into campground, to believe that the world has not been altogether lost, or, if lost, then not altogether in vain. But it cannot make the grade alone. It needs help; it needs, my brethren, all the help it can get. It needs a wife (or some other charming woman) of attuned impulse and equal impatience and maybe two or three friends, but no more than two or three. These gathered together in a softly lighted room and, with them what it needs most of all, the bounty of alcohol. Hence the cocktail. After dinner you may, if you like, spend an hour or so sipping a jigger of whiskey diluted to any attenuation that matches your whim with soda or branch water. But at 6:00 P.M. we must have action. When we summon life to reveal forgotten benisons and give us ourselves again, we do so peremptorily. Confirm that hope, set the beacon burning, and be quick about it. So no water."
— Bernard DeVoto, The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto