Joe Robbins on Classic versus Craft Cocktails

My favorite place to grab a drink is a local bar: Chinatown.

Yes, it’s also a restaurant, and they serve up a mean Kung Pao, but more often than not I stop by for a drink only. The regular bartender—Sonny—makes a honest-to-goodness worth-the-money martini. They have the old style big glasses, and when Sonny is done pouring from the shaker, I take that first sip carefully to avoid spilling any.

Anyway, last Thursday, I stop in around six, figuring I deserve a little reward since I’ve been working hard all day. (Actually, I’m between gigs, so working hard involves a two-hour exercise routine and reading a lot, but life is short.)

I stroll in with Bombay Sapphire and olives on my mind. But as I round the corner of the bar and step toward my usual seat, I notice something: No Sonny.

Instead, standing there with a curvy figure and curly hair is a new bartender, or maybe I should say, a mixologist.

She’s in a white sleeveless shirt with an open collar and has these unbelievable tattoos on her hands. They are Wonder Woman tattoos. Gold in color, sparkly even, they cover her fingers, hands, wrists, and the first six inches of her forearms. Having lived in Austin for years, I’m as unflappable by tattoos as the next person, but my eyes linger just long enough that when I glance up, I know she knows that I’ve noticed.

“What can I get you?” she says. Big smile.

“Um.”

Suddenly, the old style martini seems flat, like I’m not with the current generation of hip. The craft cocktail revolution has gone mainstream. If you’re drinking whiskey straight or a gin and tonic, it’s like you’re wearing khakis with pleats. Sonny never cares about that stuff. But Wonder Woman?

Sure enough, she turns the handwritten menu my way.

“We’ve just published the latest,” she says. “Chinatown originals.”

“Uh huh.”

“New spins on old favorites. The Singapore Slang drops the pineapple juice and triple sec and subs in mango with a touch of cinnamon bitters.

I nod.

“The Piña Piñata swaps tequila for rum and is punched up with chili liqueur.

“Sure.”

Now I rub my chin, like I’m thinking things over, but inside I’m flipping. All I wanted was a quick Sonny special, a little something to take the edge off of life, to make the streaming Netflix waiting for me at the condo a little more interesting. Maybe I should leave.

“And then there’s the Sloe Comfortable Shrew Down the Hall,” she says, “which keeps the sloe gin but drops the Southern Comfort in favor of Campari. That’s the shrew part.”

“So many great choices,” I say. “Gosh, it’s tough. Feels like I’m choosing a college major or something.”

“Over the top, right?” she says, shaking her head. “I went to classes to learn how to make all this stuff. Mixology school. Two thousand dollars and eighty hours of instruction.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“The thing is, when I’m drinking on my own time, sometimes I like straight up booze unencumbered by all the sweet stuff.”

“For real?”

“Some nights you just can’t beat a MACALLAN neat.”

“Right.”

“So what can I get you?”

“Um, a martini? Bombay Sapphire?”

Her eyes scrunch. “Wait. Are you Joe?”

I chew on my lip.

“Sonny told me you might drop by . . . said you always order the same drink. Joe’s usual. I got it.”

She gets right to it: ice in the shaker, long pour of the gin, a trace of vermouth, and shake, shake, shake. She moves fast, lots of energy. With an eyebrow cocked, she smiles again. Her curly hair bounces on her shoulders. She has a beautiful neck.

How old is she? Late twenties? Thirty? I’m mid-thirties myself. Okay, so I’m pushing late thirties. If she was thirty-two, that would be okay, right? When is younger too young? Should I ask her?

“So,” I say, “are you going to be working here steady now?”

“Nah, just subbing. I’ve known Sonny forever. Too bad, though, I like it here. Nice people.” She slides the big martini glass toward me, and even though it’s filled to the brim, she doesn’t spill a drop.

Sometimes classic beats craft like a champ beats a chump.

Best, Joe

 

Disclaimer: Joe Robbins is a fictional character. Even so, his opinions leap from the keyboard unbidden, and thus, out of necessity, the author and the publisher disavow any responsibility for his words.

 

Joe Robbins, an amateur detective with mixed emotions, is the hero of three novels: A Fateful Greed, A Just Rage, and A Siren’s Love.