I was alone behind the bar on the Monday night shift. The night had been quiet, as it often is on Mondays. Peppered with people just looking for a place to come in, out of the cold, and try new drinks.
A couple walked in. The woman was lovely, petite and wearing a tight dress that she didn’t appear entirely comfortable in. The man was barrel-chested wearing a black leather jacket; the body language always gives it away, clearly this was a date.
She held her white shawl closed by folding her arms across her chest and stared up at him looking misguided and rigid. He touched his hair and adjusted his jacket in an unnecessary fashion. She hesitated to approach the bar first and fell a step behind. He carried himself with the conceit of someone with well-oiled dating behaviors as he approached my bar.
As they sat, I greeted them with a smile and handed them a menu. He glanced briefly at the list of house cocktails and then scanned the rows of bottles behind me with the assurance that comes from those who take their drinking quite seriously. I smiled politely and made a couple of suggestions to the woman from our specialty list.
She struck me as the kind of girl who would enjoy a vodka cocktail, served up and stained with raspberries. He, and his thick Hungarian accent, brushed off my recommendation and requested the bottle of Luxardo Maraschino. I pulled it from the line-up and he eyed it skeptically as if determining its quality through the glass.
Just then he slammed his hand on the bar, startling his date and rattling the champagne flutes perched in front of the couple next to them. With his authoritative Hungarian accent he bellowed,
I was still new to bartending and cringed at orders like this because I knew I would have to ask for the recipe or crack a joke about having forgotten my Mr. Boston’s guide while the customer would look at me with a betrayed look.
So with a smile on my face I asked if he could describe the Hemingway for me. He spent a few moments accessing my rum options before deciding on Appleton, for its compliment to the grapefruit, obviously. He then guided me through the mixing of a series of Hemingway’s, some with less rum and more maraschino, some with less lime and more grapefruit or vice versa. This went on for a few rounds, four to be exact.
The Hungarian had the concentration of a sommelier and either recoiled in dissatisfaction or nodded in potential approval of my mixes. After each sip the man would look to his date and spew out some simple fact about rum:
“Its name comes from the Latin iterum, which means ‘a second time’”
or about Luxardo:
“The company was founded in what is now Croatia”
or about Hemingway:
“You know, Hemingway was quite a heavy drinker.”
After each declaration, she would just quietly smile in my direction.
Eventually, he deemed my recipe drinkable and ordered a second for his date, who then took only tiny, puckered sips.
It was fortunate that no other customers were made to wait during this or else I would have discouraged such a time consuming charade. Luckily for me and in accordance with proper first date impressing etiquette, he left me a very generous tip.
I added the Hemingway to my repertoire.
One year later I was working behind a different bar waiting for the newest addition to our bar staff to arrive for training. He arrived and introduced himself. He was barrel-chested and spoke with a Hungarian accent. He said I looked familiar to him but that he couldn’t pinpoint where from. I said probably from the bars, where alcohol soaked customers often made my acquaintance, only to forget shortly after.
I began to ramble off the mundane information necessary when training a new employee and handed him a list of our house cocktails. We started going through the recipes discussing proportions. Behind the bar he moved with stiffness and uncertainty and it was clear he was the type who dislikes feeling callow in the presence of others.
Nonetheless, as we jiggered and mixed he asked me what I typically drink. I told him I preferred whiskey to the syrupy sweet drinks on the house list. He asked me what bottle I look for first when I walk into a new bar. I told him I liked to see bars carrying Hangar One because it’s local vodka. He said, “When I go into a bar I always look for one thing first, Luxardo.” At the sound of this, seemingly out of nowhere, the taste of maraschino cherry flooded the back of my throat.
“Are you familiar with…the Hemingway cocktail?” he asked. Parsing out the last three words slowly as though as if he had just realized he’d left his oven on. Without giving me a chance to reply, he pointed the muddler at me, slammed his hand against the beer fridge. He laughed as he bellowed:
“I knew I had met you before. The Hemingway!”
I smiled without recognition, shook my head slightly and shrugged my shoulders.
“You served Hemingway’s to me and my girlfriend one night.”
Suddenly it all came flooding back to me; the barrel chest, the leather jacket, the accent, the Luxardo, the critical iterated sips, him returning glass after glass of chilled Hemingway.
Flatly, I replied, “Ah yes, how could I forget?”
He laughed his Hungarian laugh. “It’s like we’ve come full circle. Now here I am learning drink recipes from you, I’m your trainee.” He gestured emphatically like he was biting down on his fist. “I remember that night because it was my first date with my girlfriend.”
“Well, you know what I think was responsible for the success of that date, right? It was the Hemingway.”
“Yes, of course. You can always blame it on the bartender.” He paused then said, “Now I worry that I have made a bad impression.”
“No, please, I’m just teasing you. There are no hard feelings, really.”
I brought the drink he had just prepared up to my lips and tasted, “Hmm, this needs more lime.”
1 1/2 oz. white rum
1/4 Luxardo Maraschino
1/2 grapefruit juice
3/4 fresh lime juice
3/4 simple syrup
Shake and serve in a martini glass.