A Simple Twist of Kate

Imagine a person you’ve never met before, yet you’ve seen them hundreds, maybe even thousands of times.

You know their age, their relationship history, where they’re from, how much they earned on their last job, perhaps even their weight. They, on the other hand, have neither seen nor heard of you before. You are a complete stranger to them.
But today is different. Today the role you’re playing is a familiar one: a friendly, impartial face amidst a sea of intruders and sycophants, patrons and paparazzi, yes men and nobodies. You’re their bartender. And you’re here to help.

I’ll never forget the first time I served a big celebrity at my bar. I was hunched over the sink behind the bar at a trendy SoHo restaurant where I was bar managing and suddenly I looked up to see Kate Moss peering at me from between the beer taps. She was smiling a little and said hello as soon as we made eye contact. For an instant I forgot where I was, and wondered if I had met her somewhere before recently. Obviously, I knew her, but how on earth did she know me??

She spoke again, “ I have a bit of a sore throat and was wondering if you had something back there for it. Maybe a-what’s it called…a Hot Toddy?” Suddenly jolted back to reality and context I realized I was in fact her bartender and it was my duty to produce a drink for her. “Sure. Would you like whiskey, brandy, or maybe… rum?”
“Whatever you think is best” she said. Her being British, I settled on a nice scotch diluted with warm water, fortified with a bit of honey and lemon. I stirred it up and handed it over. She took a sip and as she complimented me on it I found myself feeling strangely disoriented again. Not because I was star struck, I’m from New York and had met or been around numerous celebs since I was 8 years old. But there was something in the dynamic of this exchange that seemed odd to me. Here was a very well known celebrity who is often forced to shun and avoid public attention. A supermodel that has had to contend with being recognized wherever she goes. She must tolerate being approached by strangers who want things from her and who approach her as though they know her because they know her image so well. Yet on this day, at this moment, she has come to me seeking something, and she recognizes me, or at least the role I play behind the bar. My image as the bartender is one that is familiar and for a bewildering instant, the typical social dynamic is inverted and it’s as though we both inhabit the same stratosphere. We are breathing the same oxygen and Kate Moss is my friend and peer.

Well ok, not really, but it feels that way.

You see, being a bartender means that, in a sense, you become a public figure. People know you. For the duration of their stay at your bar, you’re their buddy, their confidante, their matchmaker, their life concierge. Like the song on the TV show said, “Where everybody knows your name…” And your name is “bartender.” Participating in this charade of friendship with your guests can be annoying at times, as can, I imagine, being a celebrity. Guests, especially regulars, can start to feel like fans. They want know what you’re up to when they’re not around or not at work. They can sometimes push the envelope by making judgmental comments on your appearance or demeanor. They expect things from you, and they keep coming back for more. At the end of the day though, this is what you want, and what you need. Fans. A loyal group of people to sustain you when it’s slow or when you’re bored. To get you through the lean times. You may start to feel a hint of contempt at the familiarity and routine of it all but ultimately the show can’t go on without them.

Kate Moss sipped her Hot Toddy and resumed her conversation with her agent or whoever she was there with and when she was done, she paid, said thank you and left. I plummeted back to earth and landed with a dull thud, returning to my quotidian rituals of polishing glassware and cutting fruit.  But for a brief glossy moment I was on stage. I breached the paper wall of that magazine cover, and I was recognized and rewarded. With a tip.

Cocktail Epilogue:

Hot Toddy

½ oz. brandy, whiskey, rum or combination of two

1 teaspoon clover honey

½ oz. fresh lemon juice

Combine in a mug and fill with hot water or tea.

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The Bubbly and The Green Dress

The story behind the creation of the Bellini, and how the drink got it’s name, is fairly colorful and interesting. Yet perhaps even more interesting, is the story of how Harry’s Bar, the place where the drink is said to have originated, was financed in it’s beginning. Something involving money lent to an expat American (the eponymous Harry) in Venice during the depression. It’s all very Hemingway-esque. Which is ironic, since Harry’s later became one of Papa Hemingway’s favorite haunts.

My own personal Bellini story is a bit more R-rated, but it is, I assure you, quite colorful and exemplifies the kind of spontaneous, “No two days are ever the same” shenanigans unique to the life of a bartender.

I was somewhat wearily throttling the stick on a late Saturday night, while entertaining a few dead-enders and an old friend who lived nearby. This particular friend had been having great difficulty meeting and finding success with the opposite sex. So from my discerning perch behind the bar, I decided to make him something of a personal project of mine. I encouraged him to read some books on social interaction with women, to work on his appearance a bit, and to use the bar whenever he wanted as a sort of flight-simulator for chatting up the female species. He took advantage of this with varying levels of success during pretty much every shift I worked.

Part of this evolving makeover also included him wearing different and slightly flashier clothing and accessories in order to attract attention from afar and to stand out in the crowd of all the similarly clothed, male, Dockers wearing sloths who usually populated my bar on the weekends. Among his more favored accessories was a white fedora-style hat with a bold patterned band. The accoutrement worked rather well, and he began to have a lot more women approach him to flirt and strike up conversation. This is, in fact, what happened on this particular Saturday night shortly after a group of about 6 people came in and ordered a round of drinks. There were a few women in the group and one was wearing a very short, and very tight, green, one shoulder dress. tan, barelegged and propped up to an impressive height in a pair of wedges, she had dark blonde hair and garnered no small amount of attention from the malingering guests at the bar. This included my friend, whom I will call Dennis.  As the group began to order their respective drinks, I could see Dennis considering his conversational points of entry and doing the necessary mental calculus required before approaching a strange woman at a bar. The groups round consisted of the usual assortment of vodka sodas, etc. with the last two drinks standing out slightly. One being a Maker’s Mark on the rocks and the girl in the green dress’ order: a Bellini.

A Bellini? At 3 am? I hesitated and thought about suggesting something more appropriate to the hour and setting but I learned long ago not to argue or even try to understand these things. As I rummaged through my low-boy fridge to find the white peach puree, checked the expiration date and then began to mix her cocktail, I noticed her grab the glass of Maker’s Mark while the other guys back was turned and take a huge gulp of his bourbon. My mouth dropped agape momentarily as I stirred the puree into the Prosecco. I was both stunned and impressed.

I probably should have been concerned, but then, there was the matter of that dress. While I stirred and began to pour, Dennis feebly struck up a conversation with her, using some sort of mundane but ultimately effective opener. Broken clock theory at its best. She bit and they were chatting pleasantly as I served her cocktail.

As the two of them drank and talked, she playfully removed his hat and put it on, unintentionally proving that it was an awesome accessory to everything else she was wearing. Further, she proved herself to be quite insightful and observant when; upon noticing Dennis’ discomfort at being deprived of his hat, she made a bold pronouncement about his seeming to “Need the hat to feel complete.” “What do you mean?” he blinked, as I stood there slack-jawed at her perceptiveness. “ I just feel like you need the hat. Like you feel as though it’s the source of your power. Some sort of crutch maybe.” Whoa. This girl was quickly making mince meat out of him. Dennis was reeling and clearly out of his depth, so I decided to extend a hand across the bar and try to pull him back into shallower waters. “Waitaminnit.” I piped up. “You women are the last people who should talk about needing a piece of clothing as a source of power.” She turned toward me serenely and said, “What do you mean?” I continued, pontificating, “Well you have all these things you use to look better, smell better, appear taller, sexier, and you use them to get all of kinds of extra attention when you go out.” And then I made one of the best conversational maneuvers of my entire career behind the bar. “Like that dress for example.” “This dress?” she said, stepping away from the bar so we could survey her from head to toe. By this time, her friends had made their way outside to the smoking patio and the only ones at the bar were me, Dennis, and our inscrutable middle-aged Chinese barback Min who stood nearby waiting for the keys so he could begin locking up the joint.

We all looked her up and down and figuring I had her cornered logically, I smirked with satisfaction and prepared to gloat. “Yes.” I answered. Suddenly, with what seemed like preternatural speed, she reached down, pulled her dress over her head, completely off, and flung it aside. She stood there defiantly in nothing but a pair of wedges and a G-string.

Talk about playing your trump card. I was rendered mute, something that rarely happens to me behind the bar. Min looked like he just won 10 grand at Mah-Jongg and Dennis tongue rolled out of his mouth and out the front door. She seemed calm and sober as she said superfluously, “I don’t need this dress.” She had a beautiful, toned, sun smooched figure. As I took everything in, I believe I managed to stammer, “You win” or something to that effect. A little observant time behind the bar will quickly teach you that women are much smarter creatures than men, and with a flick of her wrist this woman had just proven it. She outmaneuvered us all. Game. Set. Match.

There were a few more conversational acrobatics as she put her dress back on and then, for her closing argument, removed it again, this time along with the g-string.  Later, during her nude bartending lesson, she told me that F. Scott Fitzgerald was her Great-Grandfather and she proved this by almost drinking the bar into bankruptcy. (After a display of such audacious wit, drinks were most certainly on the house.) I have no idea where her friends went, but after I tossed her almost forgotten g-string into the cab I escorted her to, I locked up, and was left with a memorable and humbling lesson in gender dynamics.  And you can’t put that into the tip bucket.

Cocktail Epilogue

The Bellini

2 parts White Peach Puree

3 parts Prosecco*

½ part Marie Brizard Peach liqueur (optional)

Combine ingredients (without ice) in a mixing glass and stir. Then pour into a chilled champagne flute.

-Invented in 1948 by Giuseppe Cipriani, founder of Harry’s bar in Venice, Italy.

*As always, proportions may be adjusted slightly according to personal taste.

 

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