The Art of Social Drinking

Yes, I said “Art.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines art as “something that is created with imagination and skill and that which is beautiful and expresses important ideas or feelings.” When a person sits down at a sophisticated bar surrounded by a sometimes baffling array of spirits, noise, social norms and expectations, and people who are complete strangers, the feeling is at first slightly disorienting yet intimate. In virtually any other setting in life, when in public, people tend to tune each other out, especially with phone distractions or televisions blaring nearby. Yet here at a bar we sit down and face a bartender, eavesdrop in and most likely join, with perhaps some trepidation at first, nearby conversations, and order a drink.

We imbibe.

We absorb those around us and fall into a rhythm of conversation and connection. We enjoy the pastime of talking about fine whiskey or cocktails, and as that brown or clear juice elevates us we open up and mention a lost time, place, or loved one. We become giddy and laugh. Social barriers come down and understanding, that commodity so rare these days, expands our circle to include those we may never otherwise have the opportunity to know.

When I speak of bartending it is the act of creating; a round of drinks, an ice block chipped for a crystal glass, perhaps a story about the first distillery in Ireland, and an atmosphere of interaction. I never know entirely if the formula will work and some days I have my doubts. Yet invariably people attract, characters and personalities find their flow, and an inexplicable beauty takes place. It is fleeting but genuine and utterly pleasant.   Of course there is a place for solitude here too, for quiet contemplation, for sitting with one’s thoughts and grief. Here imbibing takes its effect too and spirits are lifted and perspectives softened. Words weave as threads through a tapestry from whiskey vintages to 18th century French philosophers to Game of Thrones. The arcane and trivial interspaced by the profoundly enlightening and gently revealing. I have heard confessions to crimes, family troubles, and life’s many foibles. I once had musician Paul Simon sit at my bar, order a tequila and grapefruit juice, and lament his relationship challenges in almost unfathomable sadness.

Ernest Hemingway once quipped to his bartender while sitting with a daiquiri “Madame, I know now that there is no one thing that is true – it is all true.” And as I ponder what an exquisite moment that must have been, I smile to myself knowing that I was part of this long story we weave every day. I also know it is an essential part of living.

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