7 ways to screw up a Jameson and Soda

Wait, you didn’t think there were any? Think again, especially before you travel.

I lived in Miami for a few years right before and during the ‘Great Recession’, and before the Era of Mixologists began. It may have begun in a few places but no one could afford to go to those places and many of them failed as a result.

I quickly caught on to the fact that I couldn’t get a decent bloody Mary if I wanted one. I’m kinda picky and had to think this out. I decided that I would switch to Jameson and soda when I went out. Simple, top shelf, and generally available. I like to have my J&S in a pint glass…lasts longer, more hydration. Plus, I wanted to find an occasional watering hole, like I was used to in my home town. How could Jameson and soda get screwed up?

Let me count the ways…

1. What is soda?

Fairly near my house was a neat bar that served tapas. It was outside but planted in a wonderful, well planted jungle of vegetation with a fountain that even had turtles in it. The bar had a thatched roof. It was a very pleasant oasis.

It was staffed by an endless flow of attractive young women who inevitably interpreted the word ‘soda’ to mean 7-up. This was so surprisingly common that I started to ask for Soda Water slowly and clarify as much as necessary wherever I went. I often had to turn down a big bottle of San Pellegrino. At that point I would likely be served tap water but I dislike confrontation so I let that go.

2. What is Jameson?

So, a new ‘pizza themed grill and bar’ opened near where I lived. You have to understand that at that in Miami at the time pizza was a staple, being easy and inexpensive to make. These grills were anything but humble looking. Another thing to understand about Miami is that Decor is Everything. This place had a black and white tile floor and all silver furniture. The bar was chrome with silver stools and behind it was an enormous mirror with glass shelves, well spaced, each shelf with a scattered but elegant display of top-shelf liquor.

The bartender, a handsome young man all in black (everyone was always all in black) couldn’t find the Jameson, which was in the middle of the third shelf, which was directly behind his head. Eventually I had to walk behind the bar and point to it.

3. How do we identify this ‘soda’ stuff?

I found an Irish bar, a little more removed from my place but very promising to in appearance. Old wood, The expected Irish type decor. The old wood bar was lined by classic stools and over it were dim glass light bulbs, styled like they were made in Edison’s era. Looked good! Strangely, it was only 2 years old. The owner was said to be Irish but the staff certainly wasn’t.

I’d travel there once in a while on weekends. I was served tonic water instead of soda so many times that I started asking them to taste a little before ruining my Jameson with it. The inevitable explanation was that ‘the guy that does the soda taps’ must have ‘mixed up the lines’.

If you’re wondering, Jameson and tonic is not drinkable. If that’s your drink, I feel sorry for you.

4. Make it pretty!

I went to a conference next door to a fairly nice hotel and thought, why not try the bar afterwards? This place served an international audience. The bar was what you’d expect, rectangular with lots of bottles in the center, surrounded by the tables, lit in the way that corporations like.

They made the drink properly and then garnished it with lots of fruit. Once the drink is accomplished it looks so plain, the logic clearly dictated. ‘This drink doesn’t say ‘South Florida’ at all!’

So she added lemon, lime, pineapple and a cherry, The citrus can be disposed fairly easily of but the cherry is hard to remove because it sinks. The only touch I didn’t receive was one of those little umbrellas. Fruit was common but usually kept to a lime.

5. Go big!

So a new pizza grill opened between my house and office and, of course, I had to check it out. This one had a lot of burgundy and black accents and a bright silver theme. There were velvet couches and velvet draping at the entrance. The chrome bar had the usual lovely glass display of top shelf liquors.

This bartender was my favorite…at least for this list. First, I went behind the bar and pointed at the Jameson. Then we spent some time identifying soda water, club soda, not San Pellegrino, and found a small bottle. I pointed to a pint glass.

He proceeded to fill the entire pint glass with Jameson. He proudly placed it in front of me and then held up the little bottle of club soda and said, “What do you want to do with this?”

If it was legal in Miami I’d have asked to have the whole thing to go. I doubt he knew this was prohibited but I was driving home.

I watched sadly as he poured the excess away and added ice as per my instructions. I thanked him, paid and sat at a table until I could escape.

6. Now what should be added? The instructions seemed clear.

Not far from my house was a fairly established restaurant with red awnings. The bar was outside and built tiki-fashion…for the uninitiated, that means one of those thick straw roofs associated with the Carribean, not tiki style decor. The place was pretty busy. The bar was a long row facing a long row of bottles. They were well equipped. There were some ceiling fans but you were basically sitting outdoors in the shade.

A pretty young woman who was serving me understood my directions and made a Jameson and soda in a pint glass, filling it to the top. Then she turned to me and asked “Do you want ice with that?”

Um, yes. Yes, please. Especially because it’s 80 degrees here. Actually I had been thinking of ice in it. She gave me ice on the side so I made 2 weak drinks by careful decanting. Sometimes it’s better to be patient.

I there a moral to this story? Well, no. I’ve heard of sour bottles of beer, a shot and a beer interpreted by putting a shot in the beer. You’re on your own when you go exploring.


A Tribute to Anthony Bourdain: Love and Endless Cruelty

I’m still trying to recover from the death of Anthony Bourdain. I look at his past episodes and the social media which I normally avoid. This was the only time in my life that I wished that someone I loved had relapsed and O.D.’d.

The most pithy comment I saw on Twitter was made by some newscaster at CNN. He said “We all wanted to be him. I wanted to be him. Everyone wanted to be him”.

I certainly did. And I felt…as did a whole lot of people…that my relationship with Bourdain, who I never had a chance to meet, was personal.

In 2001 or so I was not in great mental shape. I’d lost my daughter, my fairly long term boyfriend, and as I had worked underground as a cocktail waitress for several years I didn’t have a lot of career options.

I was about 34. I took an inventory of my wreck of a life and decided that the only thing I liked to do every day was to cook. So I cooked, for a while, and read everything I could find about being a professional Chef. As I recall it, the newly published Kitchen Confidential was the first book I read but that might not be true. It was certainly the most influential book I read. My only resource was the local library.

It took me over a year to find an apprenticeship in a French Kitchen in Baton Rouge, where I was living at the time with a transexual boyfriend, who had cable. To my astonishment, Tony was suddenly on the newly minted Food Channel. Whenever I felt discouraged, he was encouraging. It wasn’t overt cheerleader stuff. That he had had a checkered past and a late career was made clear, however. There was no shaming. He liked, and related to, the underdog, the unlikely, the people classified as damaged losers.

He moved on and so did I but I never stopped following his books and shows. He was my only celebrity hero. My career went fairly well…until I became ill.

As it turned out, I have rare hereditary condition called ‘Wilson’s Disease”. First I quit cooking and led a non-profit. When I was too ill to continue I started to write about food. I re-read MFK Fisher and every one else in my oeuvre but it was Bourdain to whom I turned, once again.

How do you get into the kitchen? He taught me. How do you get out? He taught me that as well. I was never looking for fame and fortune. I just wanted to know that it could be done. He was me as a young, hardworking Chef with a lust for life and me again as I sought success at a later age.

I’d always kept journals and notebooks, largely about food. I was just reluctant to try publishing. Tony simply published stuff. How he managed that I’ll never know. He certainly seemed to have luck on his side but he never shunned the unlucky, discarded people. He loved them. He was a strange and atheistic Gen X Jesus.

Suicide. I still have trouble accepting this. We all wanted to be him. He’d attained all the goals all of us…the wayward, the lost, the straggling, the addicts, the gentle poor of the world, aspired to achieving.

I guess that’s the guilt phase of grief. My first thoughts were how could he do this to us? How could he do it to his daughter and Eric and Asia and Ottavia? An Elton John song, of all people, kept running through my mind. If you’re a bluebird on a telegraph line I hope you’re happy now. I’m pretty sure Tony hated Elton John. His theme song for Parts Unknown ran through my mind too.

Today I’m thinking that maybe he did feel the weight. Maybe psychic strain of so many people depending on him simply broke him into pieces.

I felt angry as well as sad. My logic was, and to some extent still is, that he showed us that there really might be a prize under the rainbow…but it’s worth nothing at all.

Thinking about how much I love M., my dog, and the cats and my shabby apartment isn’t much comfort if an amicable ex-wife and lovely girlfriend and, most importantly, a growing daughter aren’t enough, even when coupled with a huge salary and terrific job. I guess there is never enough.

Tony Bourdain kept so many of us alive and we couldn’t return the favor.