“Would you want to do me a favor?” I texted my good friend Z-Squared last Thursday evening. “I got roped into doing this bartender competition at the Madison Club tonight. Would you want to come as my ‘assistant?’ You’d be able to get real drunk on the cheap.”
“Wow!” was his response. “Sure. What do I gotta do?”
“I’m not sure. Drink a lot? And maybe zest some lemons for me.”
The digital response came quickly (That’s what she said?) “Okay!”
“Thanks!” I typed gratefully into my iPhone’s virtual keyboard. “It might be really douchey. Lots of weird hipster facial hair. It’ll be good to have a wingman.”
“But we’ve got facial hair.”
“Yes. But it’s not weird and hipster,” I assured Z-Squared. “It’s normal and awesome.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Don’t over-think things.”
And so it happened that the two of us found ourselves walking towards the Madison Club at 5:15 pm, each of us wearing snap shirts and jeans; I carrying a Boston shaker with a zester and a jigger, he carrying his wallet and a pack of Camel Lights.
I had been approached to participate in this competition several weeks ago and had agreed to it reluctantly. The competition was to feature eight of Madison’s ‘favorite’ bartenders in an evening of cocktails and whimsical enjoyment, as sponsored by Vom Fass. I suppose I should have felt flattered to have been asked to take part, but really, this competition was becoming just another crippling source of anxiety and self-doubt. I had been fretting about it since I agreed to it. I don’t deal well with situations such as this, which is typically what leads me to drink heavily.
“I just don’t like being on display like that,” I complained to Brown Fry at one point, about a week prior to the event.
“Dude,” said Brown Fry, rolling his eyes. “You make a portion of your living as an actor. Who acts. On a stage. ‘On display.‘ In front of lots of people. Dealing with all sorts of weird situations.”
“Fuck you for being right,” I thought, and then said to him, “Fuck you for being right.”
“You’re worried about it now, but you are going to have a lot of fun once you get there.”
The competition consisted of two parts. First, was each of the eight participants of the competition was to go to the Vom Fass store on University Ave. and pick out ingredients with which to make ‘Madison’s Favorite Cocktail.’ I wasn’t clear on what this meant, exactly. Neither were any of the employees of the store upon the afternoon when I showed up to make my selections.
“I’m one of the bartenders who’s gonna be in the competition next week,” I said as I was greeted at the door by a woman who eerily reminded me of one of my thoroughly bat-shit-crazy college theatre professors. “And I could use a little guidance. I’m not sure what the hell is going on with this event.”
“Perhaps you’d care to try some of these vinegars?” offered my college professor act-alike.
“I’m supposed to make a drink using some of your products. Should I be using vinegars and oils in my drink?” I inquired, beginning to panic. “Is that what the other contestants are using?”
The eccentric professor act-alike responded by holding out a tiny plastic spoon: “Try a drop of this organic pear vinegar. It’s delightful.”
“You’re not trying to poison me, are you?” I asked, accepting the spoon and tasting its contents. I was only half joking. This woman was seriously borderline mad, a clear result of too much time spent with delicious oils and vinegars and too little time spent with non-customer human beings.
“It’s lovely, isn’t it?” demanded the act-alike, as if she hadn’t heard me.
I swallowed and said, “It sure is. But maybe we should sample some of those liqueurs I see over there?”
The act-alike easily changed gears, like a dog who had just spotted a squirrel. “Oh, you must try this apple-lavender-lillypad-truffle-ginger-cathair liqueur. It is simply wonderful. One of a kind. Your tongue will thank you.”
She rolled a pretend, invisible ball between her thumb and her forefinger as she searched within her mind for each savory adjective.
For the next hour, I wandered around the store sampling everything in sight, hoping the booze seeping into my brain folds would somehow enlighten me as to what I was doing here. It did not. In the end, I made my selections, unsure of whether they were too many or too few, and fled as fast as I could to produce a concoction that would hopefully prevail as ‘Madison’s Favorite.’
“And so what is the recipe?” asked my dutiful ‘assistant,’ friend, and wingman, Z-Squared, on the day of the event. “Just so I know, in case something gets fucked up.”
I tell him: “1 1/2 oz. Yahara Bay Whiskey, 3/4 oz. sour cherry liqueur, 3/4 oz nut chocolate liqueur, and a whisper of raspberry vinegar. Shake it gently, and serve it ‘up’ with a lemon peel garnish.”
He repeats the recipe back to me. “And a cunt-hair of raspberry vinegar?”
“A ‘cunt hair?'”
“That’s what we call a ‘whisper’ in the Kitchen.” Z-Squared is a chef by trade, and thusly, the word ‘kitchen’ is capitalized.
“Then a cunt-hair it is,” I say.
“Okay. So. Whiskey, cherry, chocolate, cunt-hair, gentle shake, lemon peel?”
I smile, beginning to feel a little more at ease. “Nailed it.”