In my time so far on the planet I’ve uncovered two key coping mechanisms for dealing with life’s topsy-turvy twists and turns: strong drink and Liam Neeson, preferably in combination. There’s a steadiness and predictability to Liam Neeson’s oeuvre that’s not unlike a favorite bottle of whiskey. If I devote a few hours to it, I know I’ll wind up feeling warm and fuzzy and ever so slightly brain-dead.
So you can imagine my surprise and delight when I heard that a new Liam Neeson film was coming out this month (February releases being the best of the year as far as I’m concerned). I’ve spent all week preparing for it by watching a minimum of three of his films per night, accompanied by the aforementioned bottle of whiskey (a Tullamore D.E.W. Phoenix Irish Whiskey, if you must know) and I have made several key observations...
I walked into Bar Gaucho on my first night in Pamplona, the town that Ernest Hemingway made famous in his first novel The Sun Also Rises. To follow in his footsteps one would head straight to Café Iruña, the place he mentions by name in the book. It still stands today, on one end of the main square in Pamplona, and it is worth a visit because it is beautiful, it is old and it serves nice drinks.
But for pintxos, northern Spain’s equivalent of tapas, skip Café Iruña and walk directly across the square to Gaucho, a brightly lit oasis of delicious food, lively conversation (even if you can’t understand it), and attentive, no-smile service. With a group of people or even as a single drinker/eater, I cannot imagine anyone ever feeling out of place at Gaucho.
The pintxos are little pieces of art, like servings in a multi-course dinner at a fine dining restaurant. The only difference is, they cost about $4 each and they get plopped down in front of you with a jangling knife and fork instead of being precisely set down between flatware glinting on a white tablecloth.
Eating pintxos is like rummaging through your refrigerator, pulling out one delicious thing at a time, devouring it, washing it down with wine, beer or cider, and then searching for another delicious thing. When you find one of the most delicious things you have ever had, as I did when I found a fried piece of toast topped with crab salad, smoked salmon and imitation baby eel known as gulas, you might order three of them in a single night. Or four. And you might go back to Gaucho every single night you are in Pamplona, even after you have had dinner, and order just a couple of pintxos, making sure to have at least one order of the salmon-crab-eel-toast. You might do that. It’s okay—they’re small, and you’re on vacation.
For one thing, we figure, we know how the customer thinks because it’s us.
If you ask folks that own bars, they’d just laugh it off in the same way my Craigslist date laughs off the very idea of being a pro, at least on the phone. What are these people hiding? Easy money, that's what.
This got me to thinking “business plan” this morning on the long bus ride to work: Just what WOULD create the perfect bar? I mean, other than a bartender with Bill Clinton’s gift for recalling names?
I’ve compiled a list, and the list is not all-inclusive, but the secret ingredient to any bar seem to be the actual clientele. Ideally, your favorite bar should be populated with people who have enough in common for decent conversation, yet differ from you in the important area of being an even bigger fuck-up in at least one key area, usually work, love or alcoholism.
Who has not lifted that extra happy hour pint with extra confidence becaue they are at least not like that recently fired, thrice divorced slob drinking cheap vodka since noon?
In the trade, your customers are known by a specific term. In the way doctors have “patients,” and lawyers have “clients.” you have “assholes.” Remember that a group of baboons is known as a “Congress,” and a group of assholes is known as a “passel.”
Here are a starting five of must-have passels:
I'll soon be headed to Louisiana for a few days. Louisiana is located in what's called the Deep South. Being a Philadelphia native, in the Deep South I am what's called a Yankee. And not the kind people like to watch play baseball, either. Now, some folks - not everyone, mind you - but some folks in the Deep South don't take too kindly to people from Up North. We Yankees don't mind. Everyone gotta hate on someone. Personally I hate jugglers and Bulgarians. But suffice to say when in the Deep South I don't always wear my Philly roots on my sleeve, because why stir up trouble? I know we'll all probably get along just fine, and we don't need a little something like the marriage laws in Massachusetts to come between us. When entering the sort of place that serves the kind of clientele for whom second cousins are acceptable members of the dating pool, and you want to have a good time, it is crucial that you modulate your behavior appropriately. (If you're looking for trouble of course, feel free to walk in and shout “Where the white women at?”). Fortunately, over the years I've visited many a bar below the Mason-Dixon line and west of the Delaware Water Gap, and therefore have mastered the art of...
How to Be a Yankee and Survive a Bar in the Sticks
1) Say as little as possible
As we all learned in first grade math class, zero is as little as possible. And if getting away with not speaking in a bar were possible, I'd recommend it, given that the easiest way to out yourself as a Yankee is by opening your mouth. To a southerner, a northern accent is like a bee sting on the nuts - hard not to notice. Problem is that is you are at a bar you will need to order a beverage. And this means that if you don’t want to blow your cover you must be able to utter at least one syllable while affecting a believable drawl. That syllable is "Bud." As in the King of Beers (that microbrew shit don't hunt in the boonies). Don't fuck around and try to tack on the "weiser" or a "please" (or, god forbid, “lite”) either, because if Tom Hanks taught us anything in "Forrest Gump," it's that even the finest northern-bred actors can screw up a southern accent if they try to say too much.