“I’ll have a Paloma,” said the man in the mask whose bushy beard was poking out all around. “But no soda water, and no salt.”
The person who said the eyes are the windows to the soul didn’t know what they were talking about. Masks have a way of distorting a conversation, not only by muffling speech, but also by removing facial clues. One type of speech that doesn’t translate well in a masked world is sarcasm. Without a sly smile for reference, it often just comes off as rude, or at the very least, not funny.
“Just tequila and grapefruit juice?” I asked.
“Si,” he said, presumably sarcastically.
“So, more of a greyhound then,” I replied.
“No, a Paloma.”
Service people are sometimes accused of being rude because they ask follow up questions. They are often not trying to be rude; they are trying to be clear. And that difference is crucial. I’ve had people ask me to “decant” champagne before. They didn’t want it decanted (poured into a decanter), they wanted an ice bucket, but if I hadn’t asked follow up questions, I wouldn’t have known that.
Case in point, a Paloma without soda isn’t a Paloma at all, because it is the soda that defines the drink. With the coming onset of Cinco de Mayo many Americans might soon be slightly sick of, or sick from, the margarita. But recognize that both Cinco de Mayo and the margarita were invented, or contributed to, by Americans. The Paloma, on the other hand, is as Mexican as Mexican can get. It was invented in the town of Tequila, with tequila, and is quite possibly the most popular mixed drink in Mexico (tequila is usually served neat in the countryside).
The most probable provenance for this cocktail is that it was invented by Don Javier Delgado Corona, the owner and bartender of La Capilla, who passed away last year at age 95. Paloma means “dove” in Spanish, and La Capilla means “the chapel” which makes sense because the dove has been the symbol of the “holy spirit” for millennia. And who doesn’t like a good pun.
If we use Occam’s Razor, that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, we often get closest to the truth. And the margarita itself is the best example of that. For all the convoluted evolution theories that exist for this drink, the fact that margarita means “daisy” in Spanish, and that daisy is a type of drink that includes a spirit, a citrus juice, and a fruit syrup, and all the rest of the stories seem made up at best, and deliberately misleading at worst.
Rural Mexico’s Paloma is usually a mix of grapefruit soda and tequila, most often Mexican Squirt (which still comes in glass bottles and is still made with real sugar, much like Mexican Coke) although Fresca and Jarritos are also commonly used. The rim of the glass is salted, or salt is served on the side. Salt might seem counter intuitive but in hot climates salt and water are equally important to keep your electrolytes in check. Since liquor is a diuretic, salt becomes even more important. And trust me, the town of Tequila is hot.
The United States’ greyhound on the other hand, was invented before Corona was born, and in its original incarnation, first recorded in expatriate Harry Cradock’s Prohibition era book “The Savoy Cocktail Guide,” it was a combination of gin and grapefruit juice. Later vodka replaced the gin and still later gin returned in the now renamed “gin and juice.” Add a salted rim and you have the “Salty Dog.” Naming two ingredient drinks was more of a thing in the early 20th century, ergo the Screwdriver (vodka and orange juice), the Cuba Libre (rum and Coke) and the Highball (whiskey and ginger ale).
So, while the greyhound and the Paloma appear similar on the surface, their routes to cocktail icon status were completely different. Add into that mix that Squirt (or Fresca) is rarely available at bars in the United States, and you end up with US made Palomas often being a combination of grapefruit juice and soda water.
All of which I would have been happy to explain to the bearded man in the mask. If he had asked.
“You know everywhere I go; bartenders always seem to screw up my drink,” he said.
Leaving me with these thoughts
-Our price for a Paloma is $3 more than our price for a greyhound. Just saying.
-If you believe everyone else is the problem, you might be missing the point.
-Questions are usually only a problem for people who don’t have the answers.
-“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit,” is a saying often attributed to Oscar Wilde. Ironic since his complete quote includes the equivocation, “but the highest form of intelligence.”
-The customer might always be right, but sometimes being right will cost you 30 percent more.