The Graceful Exit
My thirteen year career as a bartender is split between a ten year tour of duty at an infamous Granville Street nightclub and a three year continuing post at the Pourhouse in Gastown. The former made me feel like a grunt in the midst of trench warfare. The latter more like a green beret…in the ranks of some serious and specialized bartenders. They took me in, all rough around the edges, and gave me a chance. Even as an old dog I learned a new level of craftsmanship and creative edge, I finally loved what I did. I have been a service well bartender most of my career…At Pourhouse this means I’m responsible for all drink orders for the restaurant, lounge and the wood in front of me, the other bartender is there for the rest of the wood. I’m a workhorse, a real grinder, so give me a busy night, a white-out, in the weeds, chits deep and the gentleman or lady in front of my bar asks for a Dealer’s Choice. In the parlance of the cocktail, that means a few details fleshed out but ultimately free rein for a bartender. You can reference a five year history of Pourhouse creations or take from our firm adherence to pre-prohibition cocktail history…or empty your mind like the waiting coupe glass in front of your stirring pitcher. All the while a whirlwind of servers are waiting for drinks, managers are calling out 86’s, and the kitchen bell is ringing for service. I get a brief respite, a zen koan, a moment to create something out of nothing.
I had a regular in front me who asked me to come up with “one for the road,” I asked if he liked Mezcal and he smiled in approval. Mezcal is a song I can’t get out of my head, it haunts me…as an ingredient I’m fearless with it and that’s the way I feel it wants to be treated. Usually I take a classic, break it apart and rebuild it either from the foundation spirit or the supporting structure of unique amaro, liqueur or other oddities we like to hunt down and covet. So I bastardized and tweaked a spirit/sweet/bitter build, by taking a heavy smoke, sweet and spicy Mezcal like Los Siete Misterios, the floral and herbal sing-song of Amaro Montenegro, the bitter and sweet oranges of Aperol, a dash of Bitter Truth peach bitters to round out the fruits and lemon oil to dry out the finish. The regular stared at me after the first sip, then back down…I asked for his verdict…he nodded his head, refusing to look up from the coupe. Silence mixed with measured and considerate sips, then maybe a smile are the only signs I look for…if that’s what you get, then it goes in the little black book of recipes we keep on the back bar. He asked me for the name…and I told him I just came up with it…no name meant he would have to wait before he got to call it out to another bartender.
When I worked on Granville I had some rough nights…obnoxious riffraff looking to burn the world nights…Granville on a weekend is like a DMZ…an Apocalypse populated only by the doucheratti and their ilk. Every weekend I was helping doormen break-up fights or in the middle of my own with no doormen to be found. You acted like a shitheel, then you got curbed (I don’t mean stomped, I mean yesterdays trash). This part of being a bartender appealed to me, something Hammett or Chandler-esque about it all. Late night noir and a Speakeasy dust-up. A barroom spaghetti western stand off. Like Toshiro Mifune…a samurai brawl in a sake joint. I really loved this shit. I saw countless ‘little boys,’ dumbed down and lit up by testosterone, cocaine and jagerbombs, taken out with a ‘hard exit’. Of the two doors, that acted as entrance and exit to the nightclub, one was open and the other was locked. The doormen escorting the antagonists out the door would attempt to unlock that door with said shitheels head, hence the “Hard Exit.”
As the regular finished up his drink, paid his bill and shook my hand goodnight…he thanked me for the cocktails and imparted that he hoped I would name that drink soon. As he walked out the door, I remember thinking, so that’s what a graceful exit looks like.
Derek Sterling Boone