I walked up to the couple just in time to hear her say:
“It’s not you, it’s me…”
I tried to turn and head in a different direction, but I was too late. And when I say, “too late” I mean “too, too late.” Because when one’s private humiliation is put on public display, one often lashes out, and often in the wrong direction.
“Where are you going?” asked the man, as I turned.
“I’ll have a martini,” he said, his unblinking eyes boring right through me.
I waited a second or two, because I know there is no such thing as “a martini.”
Martinis come in all shapes and sizes these days. Vodka, gin, soju, aquavit, genever, just to name a few. They also come with or without vermouth, and sometimes with different brands of vermouth (or different kinds). They also come in different glasses. The name martini is used to describe everything from apples, to pornstars, to secret agents. There are dirty ones, clean ones, and even different kinds of dirty (Christina Aguilera vs. Brittany Spears is a common trope). Some have olives, some have lemon twists, some have both, and some have neither.
“But I don’t want vermouth,” he said, proving my point. “Or olive brine. I don’t want it dirty,” he added, his eyes still unblinking. “And I don’t want blue cheese olives in it.”
Sometimes people focus on what they won’t do, instead of what they will do. They say things like “I won’t do chardonnay” or “I won’t do gin” as if there is only one type of chardonnay or one type of gin in the entire world. Often, they think they are being “clear” or “fierce” in their determination. And that is what makes it difficult. Life is so much easier when you know what you want, and you are able to express that. Working around someone else’s dislikes is never easy.
Asking him if he wanted gin or vodka seemed to catch him off guard. And that is the problem with laying out all your dislikes, sometimes what is most important, gets overlooked.
He had already looked away when I asked.
“What kind of gin?”
Those unblinking eyes could not have looked more annoyed.
I ignored his “Think you can handle that?” comment. Because if anyone knows how transference works it’s a bartender. They are not mad at you, they are mad at the situation, and if you take things like that personally, it is going to be a long night, for everybody.
I tried to deliver the drink and then beat a hasty retreat, but that is not how life works.
“I’ll have a martini too,” she said. The man looked from her to me, and then back to her. This time I didn’t have to wait at all.
“I’ll have Square One vodka, medium dry, with Lillet, if you have it. Chilled, up in a coupe glass. And please garnish it with an orange zest.”
What she didn’t add was a “Think you can handle that?”
There are people out there who still insist that a martini is just one thing. And of course, these same people think that only they get to define what that is. I have learned, in my 30 plus years behind bars, that choice is what makes the world go round. The bar industry is filled with people trying to tell you, that you don’t know what you want. Only they do. And if you disagree with them, then there is something wrong with you. That is why every year we have sommeliers insisting that Riesling goes best with turkey, and spirits writers insisting that “bottled in bond” is the best thing ever, and even “mixologists” who insist (and I mean insist) that you “can’t” shake this, or you “can’t” stir that.
The truth is, there is no one way to do anything. And the sooner you figure out what “way” works best for you, the better off you are going to be. And that all usually begins with the ability to articulate that, either to yourself, or to the world at large.
“You’re so picky,” said the man.
She just smiled and sipped her drink, enjoying her choices.
Leaving me with these thoughts:
-I think it was actually him, not her. Just saying.
-“Everybody’s so different, I have to change,” once crooned Joe Walsh about rock stardom. It’s even more true for bartending.
-Criticizing someone else’s tastes doesn’t make you more sophisticated, or more desirable. It just makes you an ass.
-Everybody else is not wrong. If you believe that they are, you might actually be the problem.
-Self-righteous people often find themselves all alone. Not so great as a bartender, but even worse as a lover.