Pay attention now, and I will teach you how to make the first cocktail I learned to make as a kid. There was no formal training. This was just from watching adults, usually at some sort of family gathering where the bar might have been the corner of a kitchen table. There was usually only one drink on the cocktail menu, the “Highball.” So here’s how to make it:
1. Get a glass. (This is important.)
2. Pour a shot of whiskey, or bourbon, into the glass. More than one shot is ok.
3. Add ice. (All we had were cubes from the refrigerator.)
4. Add Coke.
Plopping in a maraschino cherry was optional, but recommended because red makes any drink look better.
If you wanted variety in your drinking, the Coke could be replaced by 7-Up, or if you really wanted to go radical, Sprite was acceptable, but please, never Fresca. (There was also the drink which we knew simply as “Rum and Coke” unaware that in some parts of the world it was known as Cuba Libre.)
These drinks reminded me of Christmas, which was mostly when I had them, though never in great numbers, yet I always had a sentimental attachment to them. Then, I think I was a junior in high school when a spoilsport Health teacher, apparently trying to wisen us to the ways of the world, suggested that highballs, among other consumables, were not exactly health drinks. He actually thought there was something wrong with combining sugar, colorings, sodium, soda water and alcohol, into one drink. I could never enjoy a highball quite as much.
That’s just as well, because the booze world has expanded. Now we talk about craft cocktails, infusions and flavored grain alcohols. Even the old stand-bys, which were most often made in bars rather than at home, such as Sazerac and Old Fashioneds, have experienced a new surge of popularity.
This issue is about our picks of the city’s top bars. I am probably past the statute of limitations, so that I can now admit that the first time I had a drink at a bar was as a grade-schooler. I was downtown with my dad one Saturday when he stopped by the Roosevelt Hotel to see a friend who worked at the Sazerac bar. I sat on a stool at the end of the counter and watched the Army-Navy game on TV while my dad and the man talked. I guess it was a rite of man-hood but I was slipped a glass containing a sip of Sazerac. The sip was ok, but to me it tasted more like cough medicine. What I really liked most about the experience was being in a bar watching a football game on TV. ESPN, big screens and Buffalo chicken wings had yet to be created, but, even more so than craft cocktails, the barroom experience was about to change dramatically. I offer a champagne toast to the future, only let’s make it Prosecco.