Drink / Good Life

Cocktail Hour: Neighborhood Speakeasy

This week I was invited to provide some content for my pal at Red Clay Soul. The task at hand became a lengthy and waggish piece on the holiday home bar- a list of sorts armed with a few recipes for “pink cocktails” that are sure to get Grandmom rosy and bright. 

To be clear and careful, content about drink does float to the top along with my mix of food, the outdoors, and general muses about family and culture- but I have to be careful. When you put yourself out there, the world sees what you present them as all that you are. This can be lead to nefarious consequences for a person that would be better served living a quiet life- but I am one that enjoys sharing. I digress . .

My home is a small city nestled in the left armpit of a greater Metropolitan region. While it may be geographically connected (or separated by two rivers if you see it that way)- it is and likely always will be very different than its big sister. My hometown still has a bible belt ethos. It definitely doesn’t have a bar culture. It’s fair to say that our native people are either Presbyterian or Baptists- with some Methodists in the middle that are very confused about which way to go. By nature Presbyterians come from long lines of Scots and Scots-Irish whisky drinkers- but are also pious enough to keep shade over their business. AND- We have a joke about Baptists:

“How many beers do you take on the boat if you’re fishing with Baptists?”

“None if you take two or more, extra if just one!”

The only bars in our hometown are either service counters in restaurants or places that have single mothers dancing on poles in the corner. In my lifetime, “liquor-by-the-drink” was on the ballot and most of the little hamlet mill towns that surround us are “dry”. In so many ways prohibition never ended here. A generational response to prohibition runs strong in every corner of society. Bikers have private clubs, bankers have country clubs- all places to not be seen. Out of the culture, one astounding habit has arisen- the Cocktail Hour. A place to visit, joke, keep conversation shallow and cordial- and honestly lighten a load in the privacy of those you cherish. While every little enclave may have its own idiosyncrasies, there is something significant to note about little gatherings in the parlors and porches of my neighborhood (and likely yours too).

Little Cocktail Hours come in different shapes and sizes. Some are nearly accidental in their impromptu nature, others are not-so-accidental but still have that “oops, it happened again” feel. Some come about by a short notice invitation, generally falling within the two day, twenty-four hour, and morning-of notice. There are standing cocktail hours as well. No matter how these gatherings come into being, one element is sacrosanct, When a cocktail hour is over- it is over. There is no after party. When the host slaps his knees and says, “well okay….”, you know.

The Cocktail Hour can happen at different times and places. The most focused time would be after work but before dinner, before family time, or a more formal engagement. Thursday and Fridays seem to fit the bill. Private homes seem to be the locale. Generally, hosts are repeat offenders and each has its own setting. Some are porch people and cocktail hours are held in rather elaborate living spaces outside of the air conditioned home. This can relegate some hosting to 9 months of the year and entering the home is generally a faux pas (or great honor). There are those that open their kitchens, as this follows the gathering trend of every informal social situation. Some folks go full bore and serve cocktails like “high tea” in formal spaces.

The Cocktail Hour has a certain cast of characters. There are regular hosts and the every-so-often host. The regulars seem to have a routine that is idiosyncratic and understood by guests. The not-so-often seem to have more of an invite lead and “fancy-plans”, like hors d’oeuvres. The other cast of characters are the attendees, ranging from folks that show up like a regular on Cheers and tag-along buddies that get last minute invites. Some folks work the circuit. The golf cart culture that has emerged in the past decade undergirds this. Some cocktail hours are just as simple as a drifting couple on a golf-cart-voyage looking for a refill in their double-stacked, styrofoam cold-cup toddy. This is, of course, why the discussion of stocking a bar for a cocktail hour (circle back to the RCS article on the Christmas Bar Stocking) comes into play.

Always- At the Ready

In my neighborhood it is a great idea to keep bourbon in a decanter- this is generally designed for three specific neighbors. Once we did a double blind bourbon tasting (see Ice Bucket Challenge: Bourbon in Big Haint Blue) and learned that the most inexpensive and generic spirit that everyone consumed in college ranked in the top 10th percentile. The decanter helps class it up, but heavy pours are appreciated and these old boys won’t carve into the kids college fund that hard. 

Generally, most cocktail hours have a couple of bottles of wine open, beer on ice- in my hometown that is Budweiser and Budweiser only. To the side a bar with liquor to make simple rocks and highballs. I seems most dudes want a heavy pour of bourbon and a splash of water these days. I’m a friend of “Pink Drinks” for those that want to feel special and go light. This includes, perhaps, a seasonal drink, especially in the spring and summer (Mojitos, Juleps, Margs). It is not untoward to bring your own drink. It is kind to gift your host a bottle- esp. if they invite you in well advance. It would be considerate to add to the regular host’s regular stash if you’re a regular guest. 

It has been common practice for very informal gathering to use styrofoam cups and canned beer- both of which are expected to be policed out when empty by the attendee. On the other end of the spectrum, nothing beats the courtesy and thoughtfulness of fine glassware and linens. It is always thoughtful to ask your host if you could help with the “dishes” before the clock hits the 00:59 mark.

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