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My Father's Bar

Bars, particularly those deemed best, are the subject of our cover story this month – coinciding with another feature in which our readers voted for The Tops Of the Town. With all this judging going on, when the subject is booze, it isn’t one that’s out of my family culture.

My parents weren’t bar-hoppers, though my father did have a small furniture store bar in the corner of the den. He always liked to tell prospective guests that “I am always good for a drink,” and he was, though the menu wasn’t extensive. There was no talk about fusions, fresh fruits or bitters in his repertoire. The selection was mostly two versions of one drink: The highball, which consisted of either Coke and bourbon or 7-Up and bourbon. If the economy was good, the drink might also include a cherry and maybe even a dash of cherry juice. My father was of that last generation when America was still a hard liquor-drinking nation (albeit diluted by soft drinks), before wines took hold. He did get to experience when cork pulls changed from the old-fashioned kind that required a lot of tugging, to the device, still frequently used, with levers on each side that make it look like a man doing jumping jacks.

(“Whoever invented this,” my father would say, “should go straight to heaven.”)

As loyal as my parents were to the highball at home, it was a different story when they travelled. My father always carried a bottle of Gordon’s Gin, which I remembered from the distinctive emblem of a wolf’s head on a skate.

Each year we would talk a long driving vacation. After stopping at a motel for the night, he would mix up a gin and tonic for himself and my mom. I just tried to figure out the wolf.

I can’t remember the last time I had a highball, but on those hot summer afternoons, especially after cutting the grass, a gin and tonic is a welcomed elixir. This past summer was extra special because of my first-ever lime harvest that provided many extra twists.

Time and circumstances produce variation. One year, when I was in college, I brought home a bottle of Southern Comfort. My father found the bottle, thought its contents to be like bourbon and stirred his drink. To his surprise, the distinctive fruity taste, unlike anything he had experienced, was like nectar. It became his favorite ingredient. I tried to explain that it was my bottle but it didn’t matter. The highball had taken on new velocity.

Shelves at my house are now filled with many liquors and mixes, several with which I’m not sure what to do. The house specialty is the Sazerac, which does at least involve bitters. I, too, am always good for a drink and, if things are right, I might even include a cherry.

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