While I pursued my acting career in the ’90s, I supplemented my income working as a bartender at Embassy, a sleek modern bar located in Tribeca. I was terrified that Angus (the tall and handsome English bar manager) and Fabian (the quirky and mysterious English bar owner) would discover I was in fact an imposter who neither knew anything about making a drink nor could tell the difference between an oaky Chardonnay and a crisp Pinot Grigio. With Angus as my teacher, I learned everything about English beer, single malts, cocktail making and how to spot a personality type based on what they drank. Apart from learning how to swirl the vermouth around a chilled glass and toss it out briskly before adding the shaken or stirred vodka or the difference between Chivas and Oban, I learned that gin drinkers were alcoholics, beer drinkers were stoners, fruity martini drinkers were thrill-seekers, and shots were for people wanting to escape — like their weight or their spouse. Jack and Coke was for drug addicts and wine was for lovers.
My boyfriend at the time, Cedric, was a real beer drinker. He would stop by with his dog Drexel and his cigarettes and chat with me. He liked to stay up late and sleep in but he seemed to be in his own world and was never able to commit to anything, including our relationship, so after a few months we split up.
A few months after Cedric and I split up I fell in love with Thierry, a young French boy who had recently moved to NYC to escape Paris from something I didn’t understand. He use to drink Jack and Coke, not many people ordered that at the bar so I assumed it was some kind of French thing. On our first date at Jean Claude in Soho, over dinner I drank a glass of red wine while he drank one after another Jacks and Coke. It was typical for him to arrive late for our dates but one night after he arrived over four hours late he told me how he had collapsed in the street on his way to my house and thought he was having a heart attack. Apparently a stranger helped him and escorted him to the emergency room at St. Vincent’s Hospital where a doctor explained that he was having a reaction to cocaine. Thierry promptly checked himself out and was astonished to learn he had a drug problem. So was I, we split up shortly after.
My first regular customer was Bob who often came in right at the 5pm opening. Bob loved gin and tonic and Johnny Walker Black. I was confused the first time I met him that after just one drink, he could barely speak. He would sit on his bar stool with his index finger in the air as if he was about to ask me for another drink but he could rarely get any words to escape from his mouth. I didn’t realize that he had been drinking all day long at any of the local bars that would still serve him. He was seemingly harmless but eventually he was banned from Embassy as well as most bars downtown.
Often, just before closing, a tall peculiar woman named Pat would come in and check out the bar as if she was looking for someone in particular. She would order something different each time; but liked shots of anything straight up. Since she always wore a different wig I didn’t always recognize her immediately. She would find someone to talk to, and wasn’t shy about asking them to buy her another round. Being naive, it took me a while to figure out she was a prostitute. I liked her honesty and jolly behavior, but one night she showed up with bright lipstick and big sunglasses. I got a kick out of her until she took her sunglasses off and I noticed her bruised and black face. After that I started buying her her second round.
As my bartending and people skills became more savvy, I got another job working in a stylish bar uptown. On Halloween night a handsome man named Hooman came in with his friend Glenn. They were different than our normal clientele; quietly confident and pensive instead of the loud-mouthed ego-strong bankers I was use to. He ordered a Vodka tonic and I made it with a lime and took note of his choice. He was tall, had a great smile and warm eyes, a lot of hair and was a little older than me. I chatted with him and Glenn until they finished their drink and had to leave. In my Marge Simpson costume I wished them Happy Halloween.
I was startled a week later when a deliver boy appeared in front of me, as I was setting up the bar for opening, with a long white box of roses. I was even more shocked when he said the box was for Karri Jinkins, since I just assumed it was for one of my co-workers. “Me, I darted?” I opened the envelope and saw it was from Hooman, the interesting man from Halloween night. It took me a week to gain the courage to call and thank him for the flowers. He seemed delighted and we set a dinner date for the following week. At a chic Italian restaurant, we laughed and talked and shared a bottle of red wine that was perfectly delicious. Not too fruity, not too dry, with just the right amount of earth. Fifteen years later we got married and had a child and we still love to share bottles of wine. In honor of spring, I think tonight we’ll have a rose. Neither of us ever drink gin.