Dreaming of Delirium… Sunday a true day of rest… Maysville, KY transplanted to the Big Apple… Secrets over a second round… True family time at Barrio Chino… Drinks and details… A contract between cousins…
Sunday, February 24
Barfly is in bed, shivering, shirt soaked in a cold sweat. Early morning Monday light filters in the wide south-side windows at the Doctor’s sixth floor digs, and Barfly’s thinking, Do I have the DTs? He takes stock of the situation. A week in New York so far. Some serious drinking under his belt. But this is all business, research, networking. Not—he hesitates to say the word—alcoholism. Barfly guesses his body can’t tell the difference between pleasure and this peculiar kind of business. So I took last night easy—and this is my punishment?
Sunday was indeed a day of rest for Barfly. I threw my lengthy itinerary out the SoHo sixth floor window and planned only two leisurely destinations. The first was brunch with Julia and Dré, daughter and son-in-law of two Danville friends and regulars. The second, dinner with cousin Will, who I hadn’t seen in far too long.
A focus on food! Sounded like a welcome reprieve. With a few drinks included, of course. Couldn’t do a day in the city without a drink—it’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it—and when back in Danville, a drastic detoxification will be due, I decide.
Maysville had unpretentious service, a sophisticated menu, Miike Snow’s “Animal” bumping in the background (I like that song, don’t get me wrong, thinks Barfly, but it doesn’t mix well with bourbon), and an unabashed shrine to bourbon behind the bar—it all didn’t really jive, but I was sure that with age the elements would integrate, like a good whiskey. Bourbon takes at least five years before its burn, vanilla, caramel, smoke, and oak all meld into something really worth drinking.
Since the new friend I had invited to brunch with us the night before had cancelled—that 8:30 am conference call with Dubai must have taken a lot out of her—(her loss, Barfly thinks, even if I’m terrible company I was still going to treat) I dragged along the Doctor, who had been struggling to survive the morning. “Trust me, you want to come,” I had told him.
Where amber light bathed the bourbonites at Char No. 4 the night before, here it was a relief to sit in the clear white light streaming in through the windows (and bask in the glow of all that brown stuff). We munched on an excellent dish of brussels sprouts—Julia’s first, and not her only first of the meal—crispy pig ears, quail egg, lemon and buttermilk dressing as Dré detailed his recent return to water polo at Mardi Gras tourney down in New Orleans—confirming that it was indeed a rough but satisfying sport, combining the aquatic elements of swimming with the camaraderie of a collaborating as a team (Barfly laments: I should have played water polo).
“So when you swing your legs back together at the end of the eggbeater kick,” Dré explained, “You point your fingers at the end of the kick.
“You mean toes, yes?” I asked.
Dré laughed. “There I am, bringing out the ESL again.” Born in Colombia and raised speaking Spanish, Dré spoke nothing but beautiful English.
“I don’t think it’s an ESL thing—it’s just a brain short-circuit thing,” I said. “Believe me, I’ve had plenty of those this week.”
With that, we raised our glasses full of the stuff that slurs the speech and stops the filter—if one indulges too much.
Julia had a “Hound Dog,” a bourbon cocktail with grapefruit, honey, mint and lime. “It reminds me of lemonade in the summer,” she beamed. The Doctor was drinking the “Spicy Buck,” with Weller Antique bourbon and Blenheim Ginger Ale from South Carolina—sweet from the wheated Weller and spicy from the Blenheim, the oldest continuous independent soda bottler in the world. Dré and I were doing traditional brunch with a twist: Smoked Chipotle Bourbon Bloody Marys.
As we leisurely worked our way through a first dish and then the main course, the conversation drifted as freely as the fugitive minutes, from Colombia to Danville, theater to film, graphic design to good spots around the city. We spent more than two hours together and enjoyed each other’s company too much. A first round gave way to a second, and Julia had her second ‘first’ of the meal—her first Old Fashioned.
“Now you’re a real Kentucky girl,” I said.
With the warm feeling of affection in the air, Julia gushed about Dré’s expert dancing, and this led the Doctor to share the story of what his family still refers to as “The Sexy Thanksgiving,” a flirty night between family and friends where everyone seemed so deeply in love with life and each other. You’ll have to ask the Doctor if you want the details.
Dré, perhaps loosened up by the atmosphere and his second drink(s), a beer and a shot Maysville calls the “Barreled Over,” with Woodford Reserve and Brooklyn Black Ops, told his story of his martini night, where attired “Risky Business” style, he answered the knock of the nuisance downstairs neighbor who never could stand the slightest noise. And as before, the same applies—for details, ask Dré. At brunch, some things are best kept between friends. But believe me—it’s a great story.
“Were you drinking gin or vodka martinis?” I asked (always thinking about booze, Barfly thinks).
“Vodka. Isn’t that traditional?” Dré asks.
The Doctor chimes in. “I think it’s gin, actually.” With his affinity for that juniper-tinged juice, I’m not surprised he knows. “But my father Warren judged a martini-making competition back home (tough duty for the Mayor of Frenchtown, thinks Barfly), and there were ten competitors. Ten drinks. Not a single one of them was gin.” (Barfly: honestly, a tragedy)
Glowing with a light not unlike the glow of a finely-made Manhattan after the meal, we four strolled down the street and ducked into Milk and Honey, which the Doctor and I so enjoyed the other night (what day was it? Barfly thinks). No drinks—no bartenders, for that matter—but it was nice to see the place open, being cleaned and worked on. (Behind the glossy exterior of these fantastic joints throughout the city, there are still people working hard, and a community coming together to support the business, Barfly thinks)
That night I was excited beyond belief to meet with my cousin Will, who I hadn’t seen for eight years. We met at Barrio Chino, a fusion of Chinese décor and Mexican food that mirrored the junction of those two communities in the neighborhood. I arrived early and bellied up to the bar, ordering a habanero-infused grapefruit margarita off the drinks menu written in sharpie on corrugated cardboard. Delicious and spicy, the grapefruit was the perfect strong citrus to complement the Mexican chili. I turned and saw Will out the window, missing the entrance (knew it was him, thinks Barfly, because he is 6’8”, after all).
I leaned out the door and called out. “Easy place to miss, I know,” I said after we had embraced.
“Those are some of the best,” Will replied. We ducked in the door (him perhaps literally, thinks Barfly), and settled down at a table. “Really unique concept,” he said. We talked over ceviche (they cheated and were a little heavy on avocado, Barfly thinks, but it was still good. Will thought so, and he lived in Spain, for goodness sakes) about everything under the sun. We made plans to round up the family for a reunion celebrating my uncle’s 70th in December. As the youngest representatives of this generation of the Johnson clan, we thought, we have the energy and the excitement to make it happen.
After dinner I said I was stopping by Apotheke for a quick drink. Will was up for it, so he put his card down for dinner (thanks Will); he paid the quick cab ride to diminutive Doyers Street. I protested.
“It’s ok. When you’re famous and writing for the New York Times, then you can pay for the cab.” (Will, if that ever happens, then you got it, cousin) And off we went.