Cocktail Love, Firsts and Favorites

Foxy Friend, Lee Houck takes over Bit By a Fox this week in what may be the beginning of a series of guest blogging posts about important cocktail experiences, favorite tipples and thoughts on drinking. 

Lee in the bathroom

At some point during my mother’s visit to New York City back in April, she remarked, apropos of our evening: “You sure do drink a lot.”  She was here for her birthday, so we’d been to the matinee of Chicago at the Ambassador Theater, and then we all (her, me, my dad and my boyfriend) had a happy hour drink at the Pegu Club — I had the Bayleaf Martini.  Then with dinner at Saxon + Parole, I drank a Chartreuse Swizzle, which is maybe the gayest drink in the history of history.  (About who ordered it, my dad joked, pointing to me when the server arrived, “Eenie meenie miney, MO.”)  I had a second.  With dessert, I ordered a Grasshopper, because, well, it was on the dessert menu and so why wouldn’t you?

Was I drinking a lot?  It didn’t seem like a lot.  “Well, every time you sit down to dinner, you have a drink,” she added.  It’s true.  Every time I sit down to dinner — at a restaurant, that is — I have a drink.  Also sometimes happy hours here and there.  Or a shaken something (let’s be honest, mostly terrible) at home when I’m cooking dinner.

When I moved to New York sixteen years ago from Tennessee, the only drinking I had done was:

1) Tiny sips of whatever the adults were having at parties thrown by my parents.  They like Leibfraumilch in the tall cobalt bottle, and my dad likes good Bourbon.

2) Giant horrible burning gulps of Alizé while hiking mountain trails.  (What?)

3) Half a glass of fruity red while watching the Tony Awards at the home of my theater teacher during high school.  (Yeah, I know.)

4) Three bottles of Zima at sixteen while enjoying the dance floor (read: being groped by older men) at New Orleans’ own “The Parade” after my friend Andrea decided I would look 21 as long as I was wearing dark eyeliner.  (Yeah…I know.)

Once I got to New York, I spent a short time drinking beer, because I had a completely platonic man crush on a straight guy who was really into Belgian wheat beers, and he talked to me about why I should like them.  “Orange peel and coriander,” he always said, and I later used that line to get laid at dive bars in the 90s, or so I like to think.  Then I had a boyfriend for a couple years who was deeply into good wine and he taught me a lot about how to order a bottle for the table, and what I should be looking for in various bottles.

Then — I’m not sure if it was just me, or the general resurgence of the mixologist culture of the last several years — I fell in love with cocktails.  I fell sweepingly, deeply in love with how the right drink for the right occasion with the right mix of friends can feel like the edges of everything are shiny and meaningful.  I don’t think it’s just the alcohol talking.

Lee's cocktails

I love a Negroni on a back porch.  I love a Salty Dog on the beach when it’s starting to get cool.  I love a Sazerac when the jukebox is too loud.  I love a dry martini at the Algonquin.  I love the French 75 at the Read House in Chattanooga.

I love bartenders.  I love Richard Brooks shaking a fruity Southeast Asia-inspired tall icy thing at the Mandarin Oriental on Columbus Circle.  I love Jeff Bell’s diligent, careful mixing at PDT.  I love Kristi Andre at the new Wheated on Church Avenue in Ditmas Park and their insane Cuba Libre.  I love the sugar-plus-Tropicana-plus-red wine Sangria served by bent, ancient men at The Spain Restaurant on 13th Street.  I even love the not-to-be-named woman at another local joint who didn’t know what an Aperol Soda was — she gave it a taste, proclaimed it like “cough medicine for robots” and then charged me $12.  I love a Manhattan with or without a cheeseburger, basically anywhere.

More than all that, however, I love that in the last year — and maybe mostly because I was drinking “a lot” back in April — I’ve transferred that love into a kind of cocktail menu empowerment.  I was having dinner with my mom in Chattanooga at the now-closed Niko’s Southside, and I was able to convince her that the St. Germain Spritz was totally her drink.

“Will I like that?” she said.

“You’ll love it,” I told her.  “Bright flavors, aromatic, perfectly light and drinkable.”

Okay, I don’t remember what I said about it at the time, but that sounds like a description I might have offered, right?  The point is, that’s what happens when you love something like I love a good cocktail.  It feels easy.  You seek out the nuances.  You long for the complex relationships — brief or extended — that a drink can provide.

I’m proud that my mom orders that drink now wherever she can.  Even if she’s in some far-flung Tennessee road house and has to explain what’s in it.

And now, so you never have to wonder what’s in it, here’s the perfect St. Germain Spritz, courtesy of Bit By a Fox:

St-Germain Spritzer

Lee Houck is a Brooklyn-based writer whose work includes essays, stories and poems appearing in numerous anthologies in the U.S., France and Australia, and in his almost-monthly old school printed zine “Crying Frodo.”  His debut novel, “Yield,” was published by Kensington Books. Website:

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