I’m not ready to be alone yet, but F has to go to work so I trot along with him.
They’re all there when we arrive: D, B, A, O.
Four of us had a big night last night. We hug in recognition and compare how our days went. There’s pizza and Pepsi in the office.
I sit up at the bar. Next to the-bit-where-the-drinks-go-out. They call it dispense. My plan is to only order drinks that taste like dessert.
D glances at the glass in front of me. A Dominicana, he says. Never thought I’d see the day.
A and O are on the bar. But they all taste and assess.
Needs more sugar.
Lemon, not orange.
Needs more dilution. I’ll stir it for you.
You’ve got too many rocks in that shaker.
Just a bar spoon. Half that.
Citrus rinds are scoured from the fruit and placed with precision. Imperfect lime wedges are discarded and replaced. Mint leaves are picked, trimmed and placed, just so. Cherries are plucked with tweezers and neatly submerged. The nutmeg is freshly grated.
O asks me what I’m doing after. Probably a bath, I say. And a rom com.
Ugh, stop, he says. We discuss what film I might watch. We wonder if there is an Easter-themed rom com. We decide that there isn’t.
They roll up at dispense in succession. Light the candle, place the drinks, and are gone. Sometimes they smile at me, sometimes they say something. F touches my arm.
I ask for a daiquiri-except-with-tequila-not-rum-and-maybe-strawberries. D gives it its proper name and orders it for me so A doesn’t have to interpret my layman’s terms.
Often, they speak in code:
That’s full. What’d you do?
One and a half, one and a half, one.
Nah, needs one, one, three quarter.
The drink is poured out. Remade.
I love listening to them talk, I say to L. She nods. She’s new.
I feel like a sponge when I’m here, she says. I’m learning so much. I thought I knew quite a bit, but nup, I know nothing.
When I return from the bathroom, my phone has been nestled in a napkin, on a small plate. Soon, F makes it napkin-trousers and D adds a pillow.
Your phone has a bed, says B. I wish I was your phone.
My water glass is never less that half full.
My desire to understand their language is balanced by my enjoyment of being on the outside, but a welcome outsider. Of being listened to and taken care of, despite my ignorance, perhaps even because of it. They want to help. They want to hear what you say and translate it and bring you the best drink of your life.
This is my favourite drink, says D, stirring. He names it and describes it. The words only vaguely ring a bell.
In fact, make me one, he tells A. Then old mate can try it.
That’s me. I’m old mate. This is my favourite of all Australian colloquialisms and I glow with its impression.
He lines up his favourite drink next to the others on the tray. This is a good looking tray, he says. I look at it. Four drinks, all whiskey-coloured, all with a citrus peel. They look the same, I say. He looks at me aghast, before whisking away.
As far as I can tell, the map of cocktail knowledge is one of substitutions. If you add this spirit, instead of that, the drink is called this. If you replace the bitters with a spritz of orange rind, it is that. If you pour those same three things over ice and top it up with soda it becomes this other thing altogether. An endless network of this-not-that until you know one thousand substitutions, two thousand drinks, more.
A grasshopper walks into a bar. The bartender says: We’ve got a drink named after you. The grasshopper says: You’ve got a drink named Steve?
F likes this joke. I’ve heard him tell it many times. But I’ve never seen him drink one. It plays out in my mind as I drink. It tastes like melted mint ice cream and is the dessert-drink to beat all dessert-drinks. D tells me about the grasshopper pie his mum makes.
When the mint leaf garnish starts to get in the way I pick it out and lie it next to my phone. F and D are not impressed. What’s this?
A leaf friend for him! I protest.
But no. The leaf is removed. The phone is brought an eye mask.
Inevitably, I start to feel sleepy. Something about booze and candlelight and an enviably-cosy mobile. I settle up and say my goodbyes. A hug. A kiss. A nod. A bye mate. And I’m down the stairs and out the door.
I wasn’t ready to be alone yet, so I was welcomed, I was listened to, I was looked after.
But the night is young and they resume formation.
Can you water table four?
Can you clear table seven?
Can you look after my section?
This drink is so. good.
A version of this post was sent by email on the 16th April 2017 as part of Internet Care Package.
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