Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Lost Art of Drinking

Whatever happened to drinking?

I’m not talking about this amateur act filled with Jäger Bombs and dollar Natty Light night. I want to know why the after-work whiskey has disappeared. Why is it no longer acceptable to have a nice bottle of scotch in your office? And when exactly did it stop being alright to carry a flask?

The drink was inspiration for Ernest Hemingway and Don Draper, yet it’s not good enough for us? Fuck that. What is this, the moral prohibition era?

Here’s a story for you: Last January, I had the honor of being a groomsman in a close friend’s wedding (mentioned here). At the rehearsal dinner, I ordered an Old Fashioned. The bridesmaid sitting beside me turned and remarked, “What are you, 70 years old?” Knowing she was a veteran of the service industry, I asked her if this was an uncommon order. She told me that in her experience, no man under the age of 50 orders that kind of drink.

My question is why the hell not? Have we as a society damned drinking? Have we left it for the drunks and college students? Where along the line did we forget how to drink like adults? For that matter, whatever happened to the toast?

This may be a rather strange example, but bear with me for a moment. Watch the dinner scene in Anchorman, the one right before Ron Burgandy goes crazy on the jazz flute. Listen to Christina Applegate’s character order her drink – that is how you order a damn drink.

People don’t do that anymore, at least not that I'm aware of. Maybe we just weren’t taught how to drink the right way, I don’t know. What I do know is that if I go up to the bar – my regular bar excluded – and order a shot, the bartender doesn’t bring me back Jack Daniels, Jim Bean or the like, but rather some brightly-colored, fruity mixed shot. What the hell is that all about?

I'm not saying that everyone should go on a bender, I am fully aware of the problems of excess. But I see no harm in throwing back the occasional drink or two. Grown men and women alike should know how to handle their alcohol, and how to drink without making a fool of themselves.

Years ago, I went to visit my father, who at the time was living with his friend. After being introduced, the man known as “Senator” – for his look and deep, growling Southern voice – offered me a drink. I accepted, expecting a sweet tea, or maybe even a beer. Senator brought me back a Crown Royal, two ice cubes, in a whiskey glass. My dad remarked, “Brooks, what in the hell are you giving him?” To which the Senator replied, “Scott, I offered the boy a drink, and I'm giving him a proper drink.”

A proper drink. That’s all it was. It wasn’t about getting wasted, or proving how much liquor you could hold. It was a whiskey on the rocks, simple as that.

So when did we lose our hold on the proper drink? When did we start ordering a Bud Light with our t-bone? When did the cocktail stop being cool? For that matter, when did we stop having a drink to call our own?

My grandfather was a martini man. That doesn’t mean he was an alcoholic, or that he couldn’t get by without his booze. It meant that the martini was his drink. It meant that when we had dinner, he would make himself one or two. It meant that when we went out, he knew how to order his drink – gin martini, straight up with a twist, rocks on the side. That was it; that was Gramps’ drink. Over the 25 years I knew him it never changed, save for a switch from Tanqueray to Boodles in his later years.

That is what we lack today – that confidence in ordering, that familiarity with our drink of choice. That acceptance of a man or woman knowing what exactly it is they want, and nobody else having a damn problem with it.

Remember that whole deal with President Obama’s smoking habit? Bad habit, yeah, but who cares? The man is the elected leader of the most powerful country in the world, if a cigarette every now and then helps him get by, so be it. My point is this: the man had something he liked, and did it because it made him feel better, but because of his position he had to abandon this pleasure.

Maybe that’s where we went awry with drinking. Everybody is so damn concerned these days with social status and public image that we just plain forgot how to enjoy ourselves. As far as I'm concerned, President Obama could address the nation from the Oval Office, top shirt button undone, Marlboro Red in one hand and a Manhattan in the other – and I would be damn proud to call him my president.

Why? Because I wouldn’t view him as a man with bad habits, but rather as a man who was comfortable with himself. A man that is confident, and knows that his habits and tendencies are part of what makes him who he is.

There is no shame in having a drink. There is no shame in being a drinker. But somewhere along the line we lost our grasp on how to drink and what it means to have a drink, and THAT is what we need to recapture.

So, here’s to rediscovering the drink in all of its misunderstood glory. Bottom’s up.


Blaine said...

God damn great post. Makes me want a Jack and water.

Ted Holder said...

Love the blog, TD. Beam neat after work is a highlight of my day.

Russell said...

Enjoyed this. I have ordered a Manhattan and a Martini before, but I've come to realize that most of the bars I frequent don't have intelligent enough bartenders to concoct the drink right. So usually I end up just getting a Wild Turkey and Soda (except a bartender at Little Willies decided that I wasn't really southern so Soda obviously meant coke.)