After an early-evening performance last Friday, fellow musician and guitarist Pete Smith and I ducked into a café for a drink. The place was simmering with a happy hour crowd wearing suits and loosened neckties and doing exactly what Pete and I were prepared to do: recount the day's events. Few things parallel the bonding that occurs post-performance when congratulatory remarks are awarded, regrets are confessed, and gossip is exchanged.
New York musicians rarely have the time for idle chat and conversation after a gig. Despite popular assumption of our scintillating after-hours, that illusion is overtaken by the constant hustle to juggle a part-time or full-time job, a myriad of errands, a second or third gig of the day, and perhaps a child or two somewhere. Growing up, my imagined life as a musician was something along the lines of me lounging in a Learjet en route to a swelling outdoor amphitheatre on a dazzling summer's eve. My friends and family are all too familiar with my shameless -and yes, Massive! -- aspirations. Anyway, life often rears its homely head. Instead I balance in a rattling subway car, breathing through my mouth to avoid the all-too-familiar odor wafting through the train, on my way to sing at a sub-par steak restaurant where the musicians are served salads and fries. At least, that is what my life has looked like up until recently. New successes have made way for grander opportunities and more glamorous promises.
My crony and I anxiously moved into a noticeable position at the bar and ordered an "old-school" gimlet and a negroni. After the bartender asked Pete to which martini school he pledged his allegiance, the old or the new, I found out what defines the two institutions. An old-school gimlet is made with gin and Rose's lime juice, served over ice; whereas the new school is made with limes, simple syrup, and either gin or vodka, shaken and often served in a martini glass. I took a sip of Pete's martini and immediately felt like I'd taken a dip in the swimming pool. It was refreshing and would have made me loosen my necktie if I wore such a thing. Next, with great anticipation, I turned my attention to my own beloved cocktail. At first, I mistook it for someone else's cosmopolitan. Served in a martini glass and dawning a glorious shade of red, it was easy to mistake this drink for the Carrie Bradshaw go-to. The only giveaway was the perforated orange rind floating at the surface.
A traditional negroni is served on the rocks in an old-fashioned glass. It consists of gin, Campari, sweet vermouth, and an orange twist. It is, to me, the perfect cocktail, providing the exact, right balance of bitter, sweet, and spice. It never ceases to make me to pause in mere appreciation of the thing. I am all of five feet tall and have the unfortunate inability to hold my liquor, though I adore sampling the product of a mixologist's musings. I also love scotch, although if I indulge in more than one of those, I am utterly done for (or should I say, done floor). Therefore, whenever I have attempted to live up to my reckless, societal obligations as a musician, I've fallen short. However, this handicap ultimately serves me well. It allows me to take my time with the one drink I can handle, and savor every blissful slurp. (While working at Starbuck's in college, I learned that it is a coffee lover's prerogative to slurp. The technique physically allows for equal distribution to all of one's taste buds and results in total maximization of experiencing that which is being drunk!)
On this Friday evening, Pete and I shared the rare luxury of time to admire our cocktails and celebrate our humble statures as musicians. Things don't always go exactly as imagined in life; but with the aid of the perfect negroni, I was afforded some perspective. Little things, like gladsome conversation over drinks in a crowded bar can bring an equal joy to that of the Learjets and amphitheatres of my childhood imaginings.