By: Vince Keenan
April 7, 2020

Day 1: Seattle



I wish I’d have planned my last cocktail out better. But that’s the definition of a crisis: you don’t get to plan anything, large or small. You simply react, and do the best you can.

The drink itself was good, Toki whiskey with lots of bells and whistles—a few too many, to be honest. I’d ordered it to accompany what would be my final restaurant meal for the foreseeable future. When I look back, I’ll likely edit that cocktail out and claim I temporarily rang down the curtain on bar-hopping two nights earlier, at a place owned by a friend. He’d opened it a few months before to great acclaim and bountiful business. Now it sat nearly empty during what should have been a bustling happy hour. My wife and I didn’t need to worry about the still-new suggested social distancing practices, because there was room enough to spread out. The cocktails, chiefly their signature Old Fashioned made with calvados and apple brandy, were as always thoughtfully crafted and presented. The bartender gave us a bonus pour as we settled up. A little something extra, he said, because it was getting strange out there.

Every bar and restaurant in Seattle was shuttered days later. I’ve donated to the GoFundMe supporting the employees of my friend’s establishment, and campaigns for the staffs of several other spots I frequent.

That’s where quarantine life has proven difficult for me. I’ve worked at home for years, so this should be a walk in the park—which, as of this writing, is still permitted. I write about cocktails and spirits, so my personal bar is amply stocked. I always assumed when society inevitably collapsed, my liquor collection would save me. I’d be Mad Max: Fury Road’s Immortan Joe, only with Campari instead of Aqua Cola. “For this sole remaining bottle of Cherry Heering, I demand safe passage through the wastelands.” I’d even made an impulse purchase of twelve-year-old Irish whiskey that allowed me to mark St. Patrick’s Day in style.

But now that I’m confined to quarters, I’ve realized that since diving deep into cocktail culture, I’ve been living my life according to Quentin Crisp’s dictum to treat your home as your dressing room. It’s in the spaces currently denied to us where I feel the most like myself. Sociologist Ray Oldenburg’s concept of the “third place,” a location other than home and work where people can gather informally, has been cheapened by Starbucks and other chains, but the core principle remains vital and valid. I have a list of third places that I am missing fiercely right now.

Virtual happy hours are useful. Seeing old friends, even if it’s through the screen I’ve been staring at all day, with a Quarantini in hand can be a balm. But they lack the element of chance that visiting a favorite watering hole has. Admittedly, chance isn’t what we want now. Chance is what we’re actively seeking to avoid. But it’s what we’re going to need later. I miss walking into a bar and discovering which of my fellow regulars is in attendance, or falling into a conversation with a complete stranger, or overhearing some snippet of conversation that sparks a chain of thought I wouldn’t have otherwise had. No Zoom session with old workmates is going to provide that.

A few nights ago, I decided to wind down after a rough day with an episode of Cheers. I told Netflix not to skip the intro, and the theme song damn near tore me to pieces. I didn’t need to hear that making one’s way in the world can be difficult, thank you. But it was useful to be reminded that bars—and restaurants, and coffee shops, and movie theater lobbies, and the myriad places we once gathered and soon will again—are where, for a few moments, we can exhale. Because at present, it feels like we’re all constantly holding our breath.

“Let’s get together for a drink” is my default way of saying goodbye. I have at least three such invitations outstanding, and I intend to honor them all. In the meantime, I am reacting and doing the best I can. What the hell, hit me up on Zoom for a virtual happy hour and I’ll be there. Mixing apple brandy and calvados, trying to approximate the perfection I tasted only blocks from here not so long ago.