In the days before the great pandemic, when life was simpler and we were living normally, M and I stopped to have a glass of something before dinner – often with a small dish of nuts or olives – and talk over the day. We still do but these days are not normal, but it seems especially important now to share small pleasures. It doesn’t surprise me that sales of beer, wine, and spirits have risen 300-500 percent in the last two weeks in the wake of the statewide quarantine. After you’ve binge watched Mrs. Maisel, Chernobyl, Berlin Babylon, and Jack Ryan you need a jolt of something strong.
In the interest of full disclosure, you should know I was the proud recipient of a one-year medallion from Alcoholic Anonymous (35 years ago), but like all innovative would-be alcoholics skirting the edges in these perilous times, I’m a practicing denier and have come up with a “cocktail project” to take my mind off my weakness.
Moving on… In 2007 M and I did a three-week bike tour of Vietnam, and when we reached Hanoi at the end of the trip we went to the Metropole, one of the world’s great hotels, to celebrate. There, on the bar menu, was an item that seemed irresistible – a Wasabi Martini. I hadn’t had a martini in 30 years, but after three weeks of nothing but watery Tiger and Bia Saigon it sounded irresistible? When it arrived in a frosted martini glass, the jade green liquid shimmered and when the wasabi hit my tongue it was sharp and spicy.
When we returned to Seattle, I looked for a mixologist/bartender to duplicate the Metropole version, but none came close. That Christmas, as a total surprise, M gave me the ultimate martini kit – two kinds of glasses, a cocktail shaker, strainer, two kinds of gin, dry vermouth, and a jar of pimento stuffed olives. She thought I could work on The Wasabi myself. There are recipes all over the internet and I’ve tried several, but they all fall short. When we returned to Vietnam to work, we made a pilgrimage to the Metropole, but The Wasabi was off the menu. Sometimes, it’s the occasion and setting that makes it impossible to reconstruct a special moment in time.
Last year, a talented friend, Delia Cabe, who teaches writing at Emerson College in Boston published a book called Storied Bars of New York: Where Literary Luminaries Go to Drink that more than made up for the disappointment. Her book was the perfect gift for me, a collection of stories about writers and their favorite NY bars and their signature cocktails. When the pandemic lockdown came along it gave me the idea for a “Cocktail Project.” I thought I might work my way around in Delia’s book trying out recipes until the time we’re finally released from house arrest. I may not strictly limit myself to her book, but that’s my starting point in the same way food blogger Julia Powell made a book by working her way through Julia Childs’ The Art of French Cooking. Remember the movie Julie and Julia. That’s the idea.
In quarantine, drinking has become a cultural phenomenon that would have alarmed us just two weeks ago. We’re not becoming alcoholics, but after all the books, Netflix, Prime Video, newspapers, push ups, walks and daily “rally/task force briefings,” we need something to look forward to at the end of the day.
Two years ago, my daughter-in-law gave me this book from a famous East Village boîte in Manhattan. The name is catchy; I hope it wasn’t an early message from a higher power about the apocalypse. So be it; I’m plan to use it as a supplement Delia’s wonderful compendium of recipes and literary bar anecdotes.
For now, in these stressful times let’s just say cin cin, salud, santé, prosit, or cheers. Enjoy!!!
PS: You can follow the “Cocktail Project” on Instagram at jdbernard743