Proust had his madeleine dipped in tea that brought back a flood of long-forgotten memories.
I have my father’s bar.
Not the taste of liquor or any particular cocktail, but the actual physical bar top, the shelves, the stools. See, when I was about elementary school age, my dad built a bar in our basement. Several of his friends had already had bars built at their homes, and much as Dad loved to entertain he was not about to be out done.The front of his bar was upholstered in black faux leather had a bright red top. The leather bar stools, which alternated red and black,were arranged along the 7+ foot length. The wall behind was mirrored and the shelves under the bar were stocked with all the popular liquors of the ’70s and ’80s: Gordon’s and Tanqueray gin, Dewar’s and Chivas scotch, Bacardi rum, Smirnoff and Absolut vodka, Christian Brothers brandy, a bottle of Galliano that never fit on the shelf and never got opened, Kaluha, Courvoisier, Harvey’s Bristol Cream (for the ladies) and Johnny Walker Red and Black and the odd bottle of Wild Turkey.
The basement bar was Dad’s precursor to today’s man cave. It was the place he and his friends would socialize, play marathon games of pinochle, watch football and basketball, listen to R&B albums. But for me, it was the world’s best place for games of make believe. I can remember taking a station behind the bar while my friends would clambor up on the stools. Then I’d act out the part of bartender , or rather what I thought bartenders did based on my extensive research viewing soap operas and old movies.
“What will you have?”
“Scotch,” said my customers, who had all seen the same shows.
“You want that with rocks or neat?” (I told you I had been studying)
“How many rocks?” (For some reason my studies seemed to suggest this was a reasonable question)
Each of my friends required a different number of rocks in their drinks. Then I’d mime putting the appropriate number of ice cubes in their glass, pouring their scotch and giving each a little stir with a swizzle stick. Only the glass, well really a plastic cup, and the swizzle stick were real. As they “sipped,” I’d keep busy wiping the bar top and glasses with a cloth. You could not tell me I wasn’t a pro.
It wasn’t too long after Dad retired and moved back to his hometown in North Carolina that he had a bar installed in the basement there. While the new bar isn’t as long, it’s plenty fancy. Dad’s bottle stock also got an upgrade: Bombay has replaced the Gordon’s, there’s Ciroc and Grey Goose, Hennessy and Remy Martin join the Courvoisier, Appleton Reserve rum, and a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue Label.
Coming back to my parent’s house for Christmas, walking downstairs and seeing that bar brings back such a rush of happy memories. Of those times when I was allowed to stay downstairs when my dad had company, listening in on his and his friend’s conversation as they played cards, being sent to bring down more ice in the big red and white ice bucket, or to freshen up a drink (“not too much orange juice and just a little more ice.”).
Dad passed away a little over a year ago. No gathering will ever be the same without him, the consummate host. But, his bar still remains, and with it all those memories. Now that comfortably over the legal drinking age, I no longer have to pretend to pour drinks. And I’ve picked up a few skills and some knowledge through the years.
So this holiday season, I’m spending time behind the bar once again. As you toast and drink to your friends and family, I’ll be doing the same.
[Share your bar memories in the comments]