The arrival of fall brings with it the nesting season at Chez Stone. We have always been a wandering tribe, a move marking the end of the summer; whether it was relocating to Seoul, Shanghai or Yarmouthport. This season, I have an actual house to call my headquarters and a host of accoutrements which complete the domestic experience in such a way that I can surely spend my nights off comfortably ensconced in the living room. The nomadic, off-site nature of dining or hospitality professionals tends to lead us to rely on our restaurant kitchens and satellite bars for sustenance. We rarely see a full fridge with fresh produce filling the crisper drawer. The bottle of Martini & Rossi sweet vermouth tends to linger on the door next to a bottle of Fever Tree tonic. Strangely enough, on my nights off, I'm usually found out on the town, paying tribute to friends behind the stick or catching a bite on the bar at my usual haunt. The dishwasher is always empty and my glassware rarely moves from its place in the china cabinet.
Yet with a new home and roommates comes the chance that old habits might fall by the wayside and give way to a more conservative way of living. A little more space goes a long way, as does the opportunity to share that space with friends and family - to entertain, imbibe in the comfort of the dining room and maybe watch some football at home for once. I was raised this way. Never throughout my teens and early twenties did I ever feel the propensity to flee the home, post up at the local tavern and stare into the backbar mirror. This was a habit developed over years of nightlife work, not necessarily a bad thing, but definitely not the base material for building any sort of affable home environment.
It took a new roommate to prove to me, through the simple act of leaving a trail of metaphorical breadcrumbs, that a cocktail at home is just as good as one on the road or in the city. You can take that any way you like, but as a writer and hospitality professional, I often define scenarios by the evidence apparent to my eyes. Just ask your local bartender or service industry friend, when they walk into a bar or restaurant, the goggles turn on. We check out the glassware, the bar top, the settings on the tables, details. It is how we begin to build the story of our evening. Call it a survival mechanism, call it compulsion after years of prepping environments to receive guests. We care about the signs and when the tea leaves read positive, there's something fine just around the corner.
So, what was this constellation of domestic breadcrumbs that lulled me into a sense of joy and optimism for the coming fall and beyond? It was a simple collection of beaker, bar spoon, strainer and glassware, a cocktail set left in the sink from the night before. The sight of it struck me in the way a good Garrison Keillor story does: with charm, a certain niche sentiment of domesticity and the reflection that I live with people who care enough to remain here on an off night, mix a drink and enjoy the splendor of our space. Call me a sentimentalist, but when you've spent the past six or seven years in various living spaces, from a 400 square foot apartment in Korea, to a barren two bedroom flat in Shanghai, a little cocktail set sitting in the sink says, “People live here and they like it. You should too.” As I said, I spend my nights out, but now I've got a perfectly good excuse on that mid-shift day to scoot home at 10:30 PM, drop a couple of cubes into a beaker and stir up a stiff drink in the quietude of my home. How novel, how old-fashioned.
Maintaining a home inventory of tools and mixing supplies is just as important as keeping a couple of nice reds and whites around for a dinner party. The days of Captain Morgan handles and liters of Coke are so far behind me that their pictures fade in my scrapbook of memories. I might even be in the place to deny they ever existed and get away with it. I know enough of spirits now, and their proper partners in mixology, to fix a drink for myself, maybe a friend or two and catch the second half of a Sox game. I have gone from being a passive bar denizen to an active bar enthusiast. Now, you may just call that a fancy excuse for copious beverage consumption, but I could prove you wrong in a kitchen debate. I have never lived my domestic life with a bottle of Angostura bitters, nor have I ever chosen to keep more than a bottle of bourbon around for more than a week. It's just medicine, after all, good for a swig after a long night's working on my feet. Wrong.
Even if it's five bottles of spirits, a couple of mixing ingredients like bitters, liqueurs or fresh juices, maintaining that home inventory is a critical part of your cocktail repertoire. For every night that you spend at J.M. Curley, Citizen or Backbar, you could be taking in the change of the seasons with a window cracked, a small pitcher of batched sazeracs on the table and a decent album on the speakers. What a novel suggestion for your friends as well: “How about we meet at my place tonight after dinner for a round or two of Corpse Revivers and a couple hands of hold 'em?” At first mention, you may sound like your grandfather, inviting friends to the VFW for cribbage, but with a little nudging, the prospect of homemade drinks and curated company might sound like a welcomed relief. I know that my “married with children” friends understand the necessity of this. I'm looking at the bachelors out there, the ones posting up night after night with a colleague, dropping $11.00 on a few outstanding, yet easily made beverages and fighting the throng of financial district commuters for space by the service bar. Gents, pitch in for some gear, buy a decent ice mold and once a week, make your cocktails at home. You might find the conversation slightly more challenging, in a good way, or the view from your apartment just that much better with a drink in your hand. Homes aren't hammocks, they are, as the good old Corbusier said, “a machine for living.”
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