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Punch Drunk

Jack ruminates on men and drinking.



In a darkened subterranean barroom, the Stones play on this hulking contraption called a jukebox. The misguided and deplorable laws of nicotine and of the health-conscious and of 2 a.m. closing times seem a distant memory. Smoke bulges the eyes, reddens the white space. There are no elliptical-machine-crazed suburbanites giving dirty glances, no ill-dressed, North-Face-wearin’, craft-beer snobs passive-aggressively rolling their eyes. This bar doesn’t even serve beer. Well, maybe it can scrounge up a bottle of Budweiser if it’s before 3 p.m.

A man two seats down wears a gray suit, tie loosened. He stares off into space, slowly sipping from a rocks glass — pack of Marlboros in front — no cell phone in the vicinity. The liquid is brown and it will never meet an ice cube. Devoid of thought, of business, of family, of the overbearing responsibilities that have crept up over the years and come to dominate his adult life. He’s in escape mode. The bartender refills his glass with another generous tumble from the Johnnie Walker Black. No pour counts at this bar.

A slug, a pop, a bracer — a whiskey neat — is what the Clipper referred to as a belt while he sat around with the fellas at Toots’ trading barbs. This oft-overlooked and dying breed of man drink has been lost in a sea of craft everything and intricate cocktailian creations.

Few remain of the men who order it. Jackie Gleason is dead. Toots Shor and his nuttin’-fancy brand of drinking and eating are long gone. Society’s wussification of the modern male has rendered that class of men obsolete.

Sure, have a bottle of red at night or in conjunction with a steak (only medium-rare or less, please). An ice-cold gin martini — no vodka! A few can beers at a tailgate, and even a shot of good Anejo tequila for a nightcap — but don’t even glance at that shit bottle of Patron. If absolutely forced, maybe a really good India pale ale before dinner. Loose Cannon Clipper City Brew is solid.

Nothing’s inherently wrong with traversing any of those paths, or drinking anything you want, for that matter. It’s just not on par with a good whiskey — not the same level of class.

It’s difficult to articulate, but those who know, just know.

DiMaggio knew it. Sinatra damn well knew it. Every on-deadline, half-in-the-bag New York City sportswriter from 1910 to 1970 knew it.

Don Draper? It goes without saying.

Want respect from a bartender, from a discerning woman, from your World War II-veteran grandfather?

A rocks glass with the good brown: a scotch, a bourbon, an Irish, a Canadian, whatever your pleasure. Just no extraneous discard, no bilious crap, no wasted motion — no small talk. That is sublime. That is respect.

The bonus here is that there’s absolutely nothing sexier than a woman confidently sitting alone at a bar drinking a Jack Daniels neat. No chaser.

This will not be argued.

Remember these important things when that knee-jerk reaction to order something Red Bull-laced kicks in tonight.

Frank Sinatra, holding a shot glass of bourbon in his left hand, walked through the crowd. He, unlike some of his friends, was perfectly pressed, his tuxedo tie precisely pointed, his shoes unsmudged. He never seems to lose his dignity, never lets his guard completely down no matter how much he has drunk, nor how long he has been up. He never sways when he walks, like Dean Martin, nor does he ever dance in the aisles or jump up on tables, like Sammy Davis. — “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese, Esquire Magazine, April 1966

Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback can be heard on “River Mornings with Melissa and Jack” weekdays from 6-9 on 103.7 The River. On Twitter @Jackgoesforth and by email at bartender@styleweekly.com.

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