Thursday, October 4, 2012

Drink Like It's Illegal


 Have you ever dreamed of transporting yourself back to the era of flappers and speakeasies?

Or are you like my friend Cathy who feels she may have danced the Charleston in rolled-down stockings in an earlier incarnation?

Or maybe, like me, you like trying new things.  Or perhaps you just like to drink.

There is something about Cathy that reminds me of the young Barbara Stanwyck.
All of the above led three women professors (Cathy, Kelly and me) to enjoy some nuevo imbibing at singlebarrel in downtown San Jose.  This place bills itself as a speakeasy, which means:

* there is no sign out front (just a barrel hanging over the door),
* the employees wear newsboy caps and suspenders,
* and you can't just order whatever you want.

That last feature sounds like it sucks, no?  But the expertise and creativity of the bartenders is featured here.  So after you walk down the dark steps into the dark, windowless, surprisingly large room (featuring a bar, warm woods, and plenty of tables and chairs)--you cozy up to your own personal bartender.

Our guy was Patrick.  Because of his name and thick accent and job in a bar, I assumed he was Irish.  But we discovered he's French, which provided Kelly a great opportunity to throw around a few nasally phrases.

This might or might not be Patrick.  (credit)
He asked each one of us what we like to drink.  When Cathy and Kelly launched into descriptions of the kinds of cocktails they usually drink, he asked a few clarifying questions such as:

"So do you like sweet or salty better?"
"Do you like fruitiness?"
"Do you mind tasting the alcohol in the drink?"

And then he pulled out a zillion bottles and went to town, creating unique concoctions.

Cathy enjoyed her Original Norman Rockwell (fruity, with a slightly refreshing tang), a creation of one of the bar's owners.  Kelly savored her Red Lion (slightly sweet  and citrusy, with a zing of strong alcohol), which Patrick informed us won won a 1933 cocktail competition.

The iPhone, even with a flash, didn't work so well in the dark --but this picture does capture the fuzzy giddiness of the moment.
When it was my turn, I panicked a little.  Was I in the wrong place?  I'm not a fan of hard liquor.  Only beer and wine.  But he asked me what kind of beer I like.  (Bitter.)  Light or dark?  (Light.)

So he poured me Pliney the Elder.  That used to be my go-to beer.  It had been years since I drank it.  Bitter and hoppy are an understatement .  It tastes like it could be cut with a knife.  I loved it.  But I made a mistake in having two.  I hadn't had dinner, and this place doesn't serve food.  And, oh yeah, Pliney has 8% alcohol content.  Needless to say, it was a good thing I was taking the bus instead of driving.

Perhaps as a way to sustain the illusion that we're hanging out in an illegal Prohibition-era club, all patrons are asked to keep their voices low.  As we three women drank and talked about the things we tend to (books, writing, sex, and work), several times we erupted into laughter and were hushed by a cap-and-suspenders-wearing boy.  Okay, probably technically a "man," but barely.

Being hushed felt strange--not fun, like play-acting should.  (Or maybe the problem is I like to be loud in bars!)  Also, at $9-10 each, the drinks are rather expensive. However, if you like specialty drinks, and you like unique experiences, you get what you pay for here.
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