I’m standing at the bar with my friend, Amy, and she’s just about to order a cocktail. We’re in Paris for a year of studying abroad. It’s our third week. The bar is called Wanderlust and we’ve heard it’s great.
In England, cocktail making is theatre. My Dad works for an alcoholic drinks company and he once told me that every £8/£9 cocktail a bar sells has actually only cost them £1 to make. There’s a ridiculous profit to be made from selling cocktails. The thing you’re actually paying for is the theatre – the guy wearing the waistcoat and bow tie, the funny-shaped glass that is probably going to be hell to drink out of. It’s all drivel of course, but it’s a comforting kind of drivel. Sometimes, it feels right to spend too much on a drink and sit at the bar feeling like Carrie Bradshaw/James Bond. Sometimes a little theatre is what we all need.
No one seems to have told the French.
The Bartender is wearing a football shirt that is a bit too big for him.
“Avez-vous une carte de cocktails?” Amy asks. In England, there are often menus with nonsensical but nevertheless pleasing descriptions of the drink, its conception and the supposed effect it will have on the consumer.
“No,” replies the Bartender, in English. “But tell me what you want and I’ll make it.”
Immediately I am stunned. Can it be true that this man standing in front of me has a transcendent knowledge of every cocktail known to humankind? But then, as I look at him – at his football shirt, at the hand casually resting on the trigger of the lemonade dispenser – I realize he’s just a man with a lot of liquor, crushed ice and straws. She’ll ask for something and he’ll make something. But it’s not necessarily going to be the same something. It’s also probably going to involve lemonade.
Luckily, Amy has seems to have made this mental leap faster than I have and orders a Mojito (pictured) – an impressive but simple cocktail comprising of only five ingredients. All is going to be well.
And then he reaches for the stack of plastic cups. He takes one and scoops crushed ice into it until it’s three quarters of the way full and then plonks it on the bar. A squirt of soda water, a splash of rum and two unenthusiastic black straws, inserted into the ice at begrudgingly jaunty angles, later and the process is complete.
“12 euros,” he says. For twelve euros I would ask him to faff about a bit more – to at least roll a glass down his arm or something – but, from the cold, dead look in his eyes, I sense that this conversation is over. Amy pays for her cocktail and I pay for my wine (I’ve realized I’m not going to feel like Carrie Bradshaw this evening, cocktail or not) and we join our friends out on the terrace.