Our man at the bar, John Burns, savours a Southside as he mulls the value of drinking local
Barstools are for boasting. And when you’re alone, they’re for wool-gathering, your privacy on public display. Random thoughts assail you — unless you’re just there to watch the game, which is fine but for the purposes of this column let’s assume no high-def.
I’m at a bar now, in fact, just me and no TV, making notes on napkins the way you do. This is not unusual. Over the last 18 months I’ve warmed my share of seats, and I’ve written about some of the highlights in these pages, usually from notes on the backs of napkins very like this one. Those 18 months happen to have included a fair amount of travel, and so the cocktails I’ve described have often gone down in other cities, in bars very like this one.
There’s a cocktail for every mood and moment, says John Burns, our man at the bar
To me, cocktails are mood on ice. They elevate a moment, enhance life. They’re the pocket squares of gastronomy, the clever patterned socks that tie it all together and keep the same old interesting. In that way, they distill our best selves.
When I travel, I always treat myself to an interesting bar off in some neighbourhood (thanks for the research, city magazines!) and in preparation, run through the questions. What will I wear? What time of day will I visit? And, of course, what will I order? The whole sums to this: For these precious minutes, who will I be? Cary Grant? Steve McQueen? (Hey, don’t laugh at other people’s self-delusions.)
Our man at the bar, John Burns, explores the mystical properties of Magical Drinking
The rest of the world has moved on, but I’m still hung up on Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Top of the eighth, the Chicago Cubs were ahead 6–3, then gave away three runs for the Cleveland Indians to tie it up heading into the ninth. When play resumed in extra innings after a rain delay, Cubs second baseman (and series MVP) Ben Zobrist hit an RBI double for the go-ahead run that brought a 108-year drought to its end.
Relief Cubs pitcher Jon Lester let in those three runs, but that’s OK. The guy’s a hero (a story for another time), and more germane to a cocktail magazine, he secured this historic victory through magic. When the Cubs started their pre-season in April, the Commons Club in the Virgin Hotels Chicago offered the Never Quit: a fundraiser cocktail for Lester’s favourite charity, with vodka, peanut syrup and leaf alcohol, topped with Old Style lager. The twist: the vodka was macerated with Lester’s pitcher’s mitt. Yes, it was a drink of fake grass, peanuts and leather, which sounds terrible — like a Moscow Mule minus all the good bits — except, to repeat, it appeared in the same season that Lester helped shutter a century-long curse. Coincidence? I think not.