Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Learning how to drink.

The very first time I drank too much, I told the people I was with that I needed to be taken to the hospital.

"No, you don't," they said.

"But this is serious," I explained. "I feel like I am going to die."

I was 20, and unlike many 20-year-olds, I didn't really know how to consume alcohol yet.  I was out of the country, and also, I didn't know these people. These heartless, terrible people.

"You're not going to die," one of them said. "What you need to do is chill the fuck out."

It was the first weekend of my study abroad semester in college. I was in Italy. Prior to that, I had hardly stepped foot outside of Texas.

Three days into our orientation, at a quaint, sequestered nunnery-turned-vineyard in Tuscany, someone proposed taking a train to Cinque Terre that weekend. If you've never been to Cinque Terre, it's kind of like Italy's version of Cancun.

At the time, I thought it sounded like a great idea.

"Please, someone, just carry me to a bed," I whimpered, very near tears.

It was during a phase in my life when I was particularly carbo-phobic, and moreover, food-phobic. I don't even remember dinner that night, but miraculously, I do remember drinking three margaritas exactly.

I remember because I was so pleased with myself for holding my liquor.

After dinner, then drinks, at the Italian version of a Carlos N' Charlies bar, we stood up to walk from the bar down to the beach. As it turned out, I was not holding my liquor.

"Just play it cool," I thought to myself, head swaying. "Pretend you are a normal college student and you drink ALL THE TIME. You totally have this."

That's the tidied-up version of my thoughts, anyway. Something closer to the actual, internal dialogue was probably:

"Cool you must playing very.  Student TIME THE ALL drink so much.  Totally. This. Have."


We walked a short distance, and soon, plopped down on the beach, facing the ocean.  Everyone else talked and laughed, the lilt in their voices indicating general enjoyment of the evening.

That was when I, like a miserable buzzkill, brought up hospitals.

Shockingly enough, no one took me.

Eventually, I stumbled my way to bed.  I didn't die on the way there.  In fact I felt perfectly fine the next morning.

But I had just learned a very significant lesson of my 20s.  And that was: I was a pathetic drinker.

Over the next few months, Italy taught me how to drink wine.  Because of course it did.  As one might suspect, "margarita" is not a part of the Italians' everyday lexicon.

But it would be Austin that taught me about drinking spirits, and that education didn't happen until very recently.

Ladies, do any of you think you are a "vodka girl?"  I've got news for you.  You can handle more spirits than vodka. It's not a matter of mixing down a rum, or a tequila, or a whiskey until you can't taste it anymore - it's a matter of exposing your tongue to that alcohol with complementary flavors.

(It's also a matter of soldiering through straight spirits, until you get to know the nuances of your palate.  My favorites: Bourbon, cognac, malty aged rums.  I prefer rich, but that's because I'm a young drinker.  There are some scotches I can appreciate, and some aged tequilas.  But typically, the more advanced your palate, the more you can handle the sharp bite of non-aged spirits.)

Last year, I started writing a column for Austinist called The Informed Drinker. It was terribly fun to write, especially since Austin is rather having a mixology moment right now. Think East Side Show Room, FINO, The Good Knight.  Through that column, I got to meet David Alan, the man behind Tipsy Texan, and through his spirit classes last spring at Twin Liquors, I met Pam Pritchard, who handed me a card for The Tigress at our first meeting.

"What's this?" I asked.

"It's my future pub, on North Loop," said Pam. "But instead of just beers, it's cocktails, too."

The Tigress is a candle-lit matchbox of a bar. My friend Addie and I tried it out last week. It's tiny, with one single, high-backed wooden booth, and a patterned tin ceiling. The drink menu is an education in Prohibition-era cocktails, and those cocktails - for which we're accustomed to paying as much as meals elsewhere - are just $7 a pop.

The Ward Eight, pictured above, is lemony and tart.  And girls, it's a whiskey drink.

North Loop is kind of magical to me.  Such a nondescript street name, non?  But my beloved Ararat used to be there (where Phara's is now), with Room Service Vintage next door (which furnished my first Austin apartment), and a handful of other vintage, coffee, and food shops scattered along the block.

Why don't more people frequent North Loop?  Maybe it's because of the cemetery.

But I like that every time I visit, it feels like a little secret.


GARY! said...

We still need to go checkout BlackBird (I smell a fashion montage!) and Foreign and Domestic. ;)

Breanna said...

Next week. You. Me. Megan. At the Tigress. Let's do it.

And I kind of love the cemetery.

shefskitchen said...

I have been wanting to check out this place--thanks for posting pics of it!

joanna said...

I agree that North Loop is magical. It's one of my favorite streets and it baffles me every time when the person I am talking to knows nothing about this street or about Room Service. I'll have to go check out the Tigress soon because I have never been there. Great post!

P.S. the whole drinking and thinking you need to go to the hospital thing happened to me once too. I also remember laying on the floor in my college apartment the day AFTER drinking and thinking I needed to go to the hospital. I had a dialogue with my roommate about whether or not I should call UT Health Services :P

Anonymous said...

Very cool place but if it's busy be prepared to wait FOREVER to get your drink. Slowest bartender in the world.

Jodi said...

I love North Loop, and Tigress, and Blackbird, and even that little old cemetery.

Amanda said...

I live on North Loop! Does that make me magical by proxy?? You don't have to answer.

Also, two things:

1) any tips for teaching yoga to kids? I'm going to run out of animal noises they can make soon

2) If you have anyone on your waiting list who still wants a mother, I think I have one to spare that's about to be finished

3) ok - this is more than two - I find your opinion of whiskey suspect. I may need to give it another try.

bsimms8907 said...

I love North Loop! I discovered one day when I was driving all around Austin visiting any vintage and antique store I could find on a quest to add more cameras to my antique camera collection. I try to find any excuse I can to visit North Loop.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

@GARY! - Foreign & Domestic! Yes please. I have been creepily stalking their drinks menu online for a good 3 weeks now.

@Breanna - I'm in. I really, really like The Tigress. It's special. And, I know you and M would dig it too. Weds/Thurs?

@Shefskitchen - No problem! Love your blog commenter handle. :)

@Joanna - Haha. We've all been there! No one is born (thank God?) knowing, instinctively, how to drink. The discovery for me was that spirits weren't simply a means to an end - but could be appreciated for their character, quality, and taste, the way you would with, say, coffee.

@Anonymous - THAT BARTENDER WAS ME. Just kidding. I don't work there. But should we ever enter a swimming race together, I AM the slowest swimmer in the world, and then, you'll beat me and feel really great!

@Jodi - Right? The whole strip. It's a contradiction, North Loop: In the middle of everything, and path? It feels like both at once.

@Amanda - What age? If tiny, I eventually turned yoga into "movement games," where they didn't have to be SO still. :) If older, we once choreographed / performed a modern dance, kind of, showcasing our yoga moves. So you could try that: Launching a big project, and working together toward a goal, like a performance. Both of those are very un-yoga, though.

@BSimms8907 - Me too! When I first drove down it, I was like..wha? What the huh? And instantly fell in love.

In all of this North Loop love, I failed to mention Blue Velvet Vintage. Guys: Have y'all been there? Too damn delightful.

Megan said...

Breanna and Tolly, yes yes yes! How about next Thurrrrrsday? xoxo

Dad said...

You drank MARGARITAS!!!! in Italy? In Cinque Terre? That's a sin. And for that you got sick. God works in mysterious ways. Sooooooo.... Tell your blog mob about the tall glass of white Zinfindel you swilled in Paris in the airport when you missed your flight to Milan. As I recall you chatted up a little old French lady who didn't speak a lick of English. And you were just as non-proficient in French. But you both got along beautifully in Spanish!

Beth H said...

North Loop IS quite magical! I love love love Phara's; it's one of my absolute favorite restaurants in this town. In fact, I'm planning to meet up with friends there tomorrow night. : ) and I like whiskey too, because it makes me feel like an old-fashioned gal in a speakeasy who's classy but a little bit wild (ha! not that i am at all wild, but it makes me *feel* that way, which is nice).

Kristen said...

ooh... I've been wanting to give Tigress a try. These pictures make me want to go even more!

North Loop is magical... it's my 'hood!! When I first moved to Austin and went to Room Service Vintage, I was like "holy crap, I want to move into this neighborhood and furnish my entire apartment with this store". Flash forward two years: I only have a couple things from Room Service (oddly, more from Hog Wild) but I'm still THAT in love w/ that little strip.