In this series, we ask bartenders to use their imagination to conjure an inspired drink. The brief is simple – pick a muse, imagine he/she walks into you bar, based on how you would describe his/her personality, make a befitting drink.
We’ve had some inspired and inspiring responses including some far-out ones that sound like they could become movies. This one, however, tugged at something deeper. Nick Ord took the brief a few notches up and responded with what can only be described as beautiful prose. Needless to say, Nick’s response got us thinking about why we do what we do, at what point we think we’ve arrived, and what keeps us going. We won’t lie to you, this even got us a little teary. We’ll leave you to it.
““You can stand behind this bar and be struck by lightning, I’ve seen it happen.” Bryan Brown as Doug Coughlin, Cocktail (1988).
Every bartender fantasises about who may walk in and pull up a stool at the bar next, be it celebrities, politicians, musicians or peers. Famous sportsmen, untouchable ice-queens, a beautiful model or the perfect girl next door, or even the next love of our lives. At home we play games that ask us to choose the guest list for our perfect dinner party and discuss personalities and characters of the past and present, imagining how we would react and interact. In the bar world these people can and do cross your path.
So how do we live this fairytale? Good bartenders are reading and dissecting your personality and desires from the second you enter the room, deciding how to greet, how to smile, how to make each person happier than they were and leave happier than they arrived. As the say, preparation is everything. The truly great bar hosts are ready for you even before you arrive at the door, leave home or even decide to visit. Sometimes weeks, months or even years before. Endless hours are spent speculating and observing, practicing and improving to be ready for your magic moment.
My muse walked into my crowded bar one evening, so I do not need to imagine such a scene. It swept away a lifetime of planning and thought. She was alone in the room, or perhaps that was just me. Beautiful and charming, slightly distant and reserved behind a warming laugh and infectious smile. Captivating and terrifying in equal measure. I am the kind to be lost for words in such situations, frozen by procrastination and fear of the awkward moment of embarrassing fail. On this occasion, when the moment of truth arrived and we were face to face, there was no hesitation, second-guessing or soul-sapping nerves. No desperate searching for the right thing to say or snatching at half-remembered lines boys teach other to (like the polar bear) break the ice.
I felt no need to make this person a drink. For so long the default recourse and safety net of a near-terminal introvert, who has fallen for the bright lights of an industry where for the briefest moment, days or weeks, you can be somebody else, hidden behind a wall of mahogany and ice. I am a different person to many of my most special guests. A different shade of myself to suit mood, occasion, and whim. All honest but filtered and incomplete. So when my muse finally walked in, years of preparation and speculation were forgotten. Or was my hard work rewarded? Did these thousand Nick Ord’s find a singular moment of clarity and deliver me from stage-fright at the most vital moment? They say the great actors learn the lines so well they cease to become lines. They simply are. So I did not make my muse a drink. To do so would have been to choose one voice from the many when they were finally singing together in harmony.
The joy of finding our own perfect muse is realising that the perfect recipe does not exist and is not the point at all. Poets and literary greats pursue their muse for lifetimes without ever feeling they have completed their journey and captured their essence in the prose. Why should my cocktail be any more successful and why would I want it to be? My muse inspires me each time I reach to the bottle shelf, find a new flavour or pour into a glass. I will never create the perfect drink for her and nor do I ever want to. To do so would be to trap lightning in a bottle. The journey would be over, the inspiration spent and satisfied. I hope to keep searching for that elusive flavour forever, trapped in the rapturous moment when she first walked into my bar and asked her bartender for a drink.”