Sage advice from someone quite cosmopolitan

Mint, sugar, ice and lime juice all went into the shaker cups. Mash, mash, mash with the muddler. Rum next, then more ice. Shake, shake, shake. Then, each was topped with soda water and stirred. Garnished with a lime wheel and voila! — one Mojito.

Well, one of four Mojitos, because that was the customer’s order. Often doing four is almost as easy as doing one. Just ask the bartenders at the Buena Vista in San Francisco. They don’t specialize in Irish coffees because they’re hard, but because systematically they’re easy.

“Hemingway would be proud,” said the 25 year old who had ordered the Mojitos. It occurred to me that it was mathematically probable that even his parents might not have been born when Hemingway died in 1961. But often our only connection to greatness is mimicry.

“What are you thinking about?” asked the woman sitting in front of me nursing her Cosmopolitan.


I hadn’t realized that my mind was wandering. It’s not that I wasn’t busy — the Margaritas I was working on weren’t going to make themselves. The sign says, “Handcrafted cocktails.” Like there are any other kind. But handcrafted doesn’t always mean mindfully crafted, now does it?

She had ordered her Cosmopolitan with a sprig of sage, if we had it. We did and the classic’s slightly opaque pinkness now shone brightly in her glass.

Two men drinking Old Fashioneds eyed her drink, and one shook his head slightly. Ironically, many who judge believe that judgment can only happen one way.

She noticed, too, and she didn’t care. I didn’t blame her, because in the greater scheme of things her drink has been popular, virtually unchanged, cumulatively longer than theirs. These days, a recipe for the Old Fashioned is all over the map — different bitters, different sugars, fat washed this, barrel aged that, while the recipe for her drink has stayed pretty constant throughout its half a century of existence. That’s right, the Cosmopolitan is more than 50 years old. I know because I have been making them for 40 of those years.

“Can I ask you something?” she said, perhaps not realizing the irony in just such a statement.

I shrugged. People who ask questions about questions are usually not really looking for answers. I braced myself for the usual: Is all vodka really the same? What drinks do you hate to make? Are you single?

Now, granted, I haven’t heard that last one in a long time. But I have heard it, and that counts for something.

Soon I realized that a shrug wasn’t going to suffice.

“Sure,” I said.

“Do you believe people are inherently good or inherently evil?”

I looked up from the Margaritas I was making and lost track of where I was in their handcrafted construction. I certainly was not expecting that question. And not from someone drinking a Cosmopolitan. I looked at the men and then back at her because it is always bad form to talk about one customer in front of another.

I looked closely at her. She was about my age, maybe younger, her sundress revealed a slight bronzing, and the fact that she sat at a bar perfectly comfortable by herself indicated a certain level of confidence. I am often surprised at how many women, even today, tell me that they are uncomfortable sitting at a bar by themselves, which is why I make sure that they do feel comfortable no matter what.

I shrugged again, because that is not the kind of question one can answer over a batch of Margaritas. After a batch maybe, but not during.

“That looks pretty frou-frou,” one of the men said to her.

“It’s pretty darn good. Especially on a hot summer day.”

The men looked at their whiskey drinks and then at her sweating frosted Martini glass with its pink liquid and sage garnish.

One of them wiped his forehead. The other picked up his glass, looked at it and put it down.

“You know, I am getting one of those.”

His friend looked at him.



The friend shook his head. Soon after, he departed. His lingering friend and the woman in the sundress didn’t. They stayed until the restaurant closed.

Leaving me with these thoughts:

• “When you judge others, you do not define them, you define yourself,” said radio personality Earl Nightingale.

• Isn’t using the word “frou-frou” pretty frou-frou in and of itself?

• Some people have dead idols because dead idols never disappoint, nor are they ever disappointed.

• True understanding begins with the ability to see things from a different perspective.

• A sage Cosmopolitan? Who knew?