Give me clear liquor or give me death

It took me a long time to have a drink that was “my drink”. A drink that I could order in any bar, anywhere, without a menu. At some point in time, I told myself I would be a real adult when I had a cocktail to call my own and not a moment before. Once I had “my drink” I would instantly be sophisticated, worldly and able to afford more than the happy hour beer that was on special. So imagine my surprise when I discovered “my drink” at the Mall of America, during happy hour. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

When I started drinking (at age 21 and not a moment before, of course), I was basically at the mercy of whomever was procuring the alcohol. Warmish keg beer, jungle juice served out of a large Rubbermaid container, Arbor Mist (if my friends were feeling classy). When I went out to the bars in Iowa City, I ordered whatever was cheapest – domestic beer, dollar-you-call-its, anything free that a guy was buying for me.

When Chef Boyfriend and I started dating, I was still relatively naive when it came to alcohol. I knew I liked white wine, mostly sweet white wine (which I now refer to as “gateway wine”). I would drink beer if he was drinking beer, typically ordering the same thing right after him.

After dating for a few months, he took me to his favorite dive bar in South Minneapolis, The Hexagon. If you know me and know The Hexagon you’ll know this is a ridiculous premise. I’m not what you would call a dive bar girl. The Hex, as Chef Boyfriend calls it, is dark, dank, and smells vaguely of cigarettes even though no one’s been allowed to smoke in bars in Minneapolis since 2004. They have live bands on Saturday nights and show Vikings games on Sunday and always have PBR tall boys. And toaster oven pizza. The floor always seems sticky and there’s always a drunk regular at the table in the corner. It’s a place for whiskey drinkers, not girls who like fruity drinks with umbrellas (guilty!).

And when we sat at the bar and I was expected to order, I blurted out the first drink that came to mind: an amaretto sour.

The grizzly bartender chortled and nodded and said, “Ok, sweetheart”. I’m assuming he knew everything about me from this one drink order. Or at least he thought he did. I wish I could remember what I was wearing because I think that detail would help illustrate the fish-out-of-water feeling I felt in that moment. Out of embarrassment, I drank 4 amaretto sours figuring I had to stand by my order and be proud.

Months later, I was shopping with a friend at the Mall of America. We walked by a restaurant with a happy hour sign outside and stopped. I quickly scanned the menu and calculated how much was left in my bank account after our stop at J.Crew and impulsively ordered the second cheapest drink: a gin and tonic.

I was nervous. I had never had a gin and tonic before, I don’t think I had ever had gin at all. When our waitress served us, my drink was everything I hoped it would be. It was clear and garnished with a lime wedge, which is more than likely obvious to anyone who knows anything about gin but not to sweet little 21-year-old Sarah. I sipped cautiously and was pleasantly rewarded. It tasted fresh, clean, nothing like that amaretto sour and everything like adulthood. So I had three more.

My world was opened by a simple gin and tonic. I was armed with confidence. I was a modern woman who knew what to order without looking silly or trendy or like she was trying to hard. It’s amazing how a beverage could alter my life so completely.

And I didn’t just feel confident in bars and restaurants. My newfound love of the G&T inspired me to set up a home bar so when I had people over I wouldn’t have to scramble to serve them something other than soy milk. I could mix myself a drink at the end of the day and kick back and feel like I maybe had my shit together (I didn’t).

My cocktail repertoire has expanded since then. I sometimes get fancy with cranberry juice or elderflower liqueur in my gin and tonic. I’ve switched things up with tequila and rum and briefly vodka in the summer of 2009. But the gin and tonic is always there for me like that friend of your mom’s you haven’t seen in years but run into at HyVee when you’re home for Christmas. She hasn’t changed and always makes you feel good about yourself.


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