Whiskey, You're The Devil

A Lockhart's Bar Story
 

K. S. Anthony
 

Copyright 2003 by K. S. Anthony

Photo of a John Power & Son Irish Whiskey label.

John Powers Irish Whiskey was introduced to me one afternoon by Paddy Doolan after some fellow or another was buying a round of shots for the house at Lockhart's. That was a common occurrence at the bar, and it puzzled me when, years later, I bought the house a round of drinks at another bar and everyone looked at me like I had gone mad. I was even more disturbed when I found that no one else was doing it and the bastard ingrates wouldn't even buy me a drink after they had accepted my hospitality. No manners. (A lesson to all who read this: mind you manners and buy your rounds like you were raised properly, lest you bring shame upon your family's name forever.) In any case, whenever the buying of shots was announced, usually by the bartender, I'd generally choke down Canadian whisky with the only other person who drank it: Merremont, a fat bearded cab driver who fancied himself a science-fiction writer. Canadian whisky is really only fit for mixing with ginger ale in a highball and degenerate alcoholics, but what the Hell did I know. I knew tequila was the lot of madmen, university students (whom I detested) and girls from the suburbs who didn't know any better. I knew that rum was to be mixed, vodka was an inherently bad idea, gin was for the old folks who couldn't drink anymore, and that brandy was mixed with Paddy's Ensure and had a wicked smell to it. I knew that shots equaled whiskey. On that fair day, my attempt to drink Seagram's Seven (a beverage I am now convinced was named after the Seven Gates Of Canadian Hell) was thwarted by Paddy, who instead said, "Naw, Jimmy's drinkin' Powers" after Merremont--that hack--yelled our preference out. I was surpised, but game. Paddy then grabbed a rocks glass, set it down in front of me and then filled it with a mysterious golden liquid from a gold labeled and somewhat quaint looking clear glass bottle from behind the bar. This was not a "shot" glass. This was a full rocks glass. A triple shot, if not more, of the amber anaesthetic. "You'll like this, Jim," Paddy said, with a flicker of mischief in his eye. Now, I had never seen anyone drink the stuff before, and was soon to learn that it's consumption instantly earned respect, praise and feelings of brotherhood and camaraderie from professional drinkers everywhere. The only other drinks I've found that command such awe are Potcheen and Absinthe. But back to my story:

Everyone else had drunk their shots. I had barely lifted mine when the heady, buttery-sweet smell filled my nostrils with such an overpowering fragrance, that I swear I nearly fell over. I did the right thing and threw it back. Very bad idea. Any teenager who has ever tried to drink grain alcohol straight with no chaser for the first time will be able to relate. Fire. The strange honeyed smell suddenly became an amazingly smoky, sweet, very alcoholic flame in my throat and chest. I bit my tongue and closed my eyes hard to fight the gag reflex, which came anyway, along with half the shot.

Now, I was not about to be shamed by my weak composition. It would have been incredibly bad form to vomit up a shot of Ireland's finest water of life and I was not about to suffer that indignity. I swallowed, choking down bile and the scorching alchemical acid. Then I chased it with Guinness and lots of it. Then I made a toast, probably, "up the rebels" and bought the next round, like a proper drinker. Paddy smiled and I never drank anything but Irish whiskey again...no matter what I tried to order. Paddy drank it on rare occasion, but generally stuck to his brandy and Ensure concoction. He later banned me from drinking Irish ("don't give Jimmy any whiskey, he gets mean and nasty") after I had caused one too many, er, incidents. He rescinded the ban, but only after I started tricking the new bartenders into serving me, much to their later dismay. Once, upon visiting him in the hospital, he wrote a note to the bartender, Karen, telling her to give me 5 pints of Guinness and 5 shots of Powers. It was like a prescription and it was filled like one. I think I drank most of it that day--it was a short day--and finished the rest the next. Paddy would have another stay in the hospital after that and then would die soon after. Cancer. He had beaten it countless times before, but it finally took him from us so that God could have someone to keep the drunks in Heaven in line. I cried and cried when I found out that I had missed his funeral, and drowned my tears in Irish whiskey, in a fitting mourning. I am, of course, indebted to the man for the remainder of my natural life, and pay my respects to his memory whenever I am in the city. I buy a shot of brandy for him and a shot of Powers for me and drink them both for us and for the rest of the ones who can no longer drink among the living.
 
 

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