Last night I went with Barbara, MK, and Shane to a new bar (new to me) in downtown Durham, Whiskey, an old-fashioned dark-wood-paneled bar with a buck’s head facing the long bar.
I had said just that afternoon to Kirsten that if I could find a bar that makes a decent Sazerac cocktail, I could say I had found a hangout. (My esteem can be won by decent guacamole, spumoni, cheeseburgers, fish or shrimp tacos, and Sazerac cocktails.) Sazeracs, a mix of absinthe, rye whiskey, Peychaud’s bitters, sugar, and a slice of lemon, are reputedly the world’s first cocktail.
Top of the list of cocktails at Whiskey was the Sazerac. I ordered it ($12, steep, but it was a full-course meal), tasted it (made with a slice of orange, instead of lemon), savored it, and announced to everybody that I now had a favorite bar in town.
The bartender, a man with a dashingly curled mustache, explained the cocktail choices to us. Almost all of them were vintage pre-1960 mixes—the Cosmopolitan, the Old-Fashioned, etc. The TV show Mad Men had, he said, inspired the list.
In the course of conversation, Shane offered his opinion that the bar was a bit phony, that it lacked the authenticity of, say, a bar like The Green Room, a historic pool hall in town. I see his point. Authenticity would require that the bar date back to the 1950s, at least, that the wood paneling be antique and probably original to the décor, that the deer head on the wall have a story that goes with it (for all I know, it does, but I didn’t inquire).
Further, I can’t say what it is, but none of the clientele looked like regulars—perhaps the place is too new for regulars—and “regular-ity” is something that somehow shows in a person’s face, I think, like character—and, more alarming, everybody looked fresh and businesslike, without any sign of the disrespectability that stirs interest.
Still, Whiskey is by no means just an Epcot version of Cheers. It has eccentricities, which count for a lot: the cocktail list for one (I had not been able to order a Sazerac anywhere within 200 miles of where I live), and the dramatic swoop of our tender’s stache for another. Plus, there was an inexplicable “room” close to where we sat—a closet really—but a closet furnished with an overstuffed chair, where a lush could get a decent jag on in privacy if he so chooses.
And, no small thing, the bar is located smack dab in the middle of downtown Durham, a city with a distinctive louche ethos of its own, where I’m proud to live at a modest rent of $650 a month and free to nurse a Sazerac all night at my hangout.