Annals of rookie bartenders, v 12.5(a)

“I’m not really a bartender,” said she. “The bartender got sick.” Oooooh….is it too late to leave gracefully?

Yet the drinks menu included the Last Word, one of my favorite Pre-Prohibition drinks. Equal parts gin, lime, green Chartreuse, and Maraschino liqueur.

Equal parts, no garnish: What could go wrong?

The stand-in barkeep flipped through the recipe book. I could see her lips moving.

She jiggered her way through the ingredients and paused at the Maraschino, stumped. She scanned the shelf, the well, everywhere. Red mottled her pale complexion, rising from the neck.

Moving her work down below bar level, she snuck open a bottle of Rose’s Grenadine, measured it into the tin. She was furtive, hoping to escape detection.

Guessing at her thought bubble:

Damn, can’t find this “maraschino” stuff. That sounds like cherry. Huh. No cherry anything. Hey, here’s this little bottle of red stuff, and it looks sweet. Cherries are red…I’ll try this.

Horrified but curious about what was about to show up in the chilled coupe, I silently allowed the story to unspool.

It was like not yelling at the guy who walks under the piano suspended above the sidewalk when he stops to use his cellphone. You know horrible things may happen, but the darkest part of you wants to see how it’s going to end.

She shook. She strained. She poured. She set it on a cocktail napkin.

It was the color of a blood rinse.

I touched it to my lips, gingerly.

The drink had gone spinning into the carnival.

It toppled the drink into Shirley Temple’s lap.

It tasted distinctly of Robitussin.

Compassionately, I think, I gently slid the drink back in her direction. I explained.

Standing for a better view behind the bar, I spotted the Luxardo in its handsome basket wrap, tucked away deep in the rail. I pointed it out, asked her to remake the drink. She did, the pink spreading up her cheeks, apologizing all the way.

Whether the lesson she learned was that ingredients matter, that Rose’s grenadine must be used only to decorate a set at a community theater production, or that she should pursue a different line of work, I can’t say.

But properly measured and shaken, the drink was solid as always. Equal parts, no garnish. What could go wrong?

Author: Craig Stoltz

Suburban boulevardier. Former Washington Post journalist, entrepreneur, Top 25 blogger. Foodie. Cocktail geek. Proudly work in digital communications for you, The American People.

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