100 Cocktails Later

Entry by: jaguar

17th August 2015
The Dream Team

‘Do you realise,’ Jason said as we sat ourselves down, ‘that will be the 99th cocktail downed at our Barmaids’ Reunion?’ He nodded at my drink.

I creased my brow, trying to work out the dates. Back in the day, 1988 to be precise, Jason, Marnie, Sally and I all started work behind this bar. Every year since I quit in 1990, we’ve got together to gossip, remember and try not to notice what time has done to us all. We called it the Barmaids’ Reunion because Jason was a honorary girl.

We usually have one cocktail each and we’re not allowed the same one twice. Jason keeps notes of who’s had what. Tonight I’m reduced to a Sazerac, even though I loathe whisky. Sally said I'd love it but it's horrible. Truth be told, there other things I’m not liking about tonight.

Hugo’s sold this bar and the new guy has no idea. We used to be greeted by Hugo’s belly laugh while he insisted on telling his current staff that we were the original dream team, the ones he still misses. Our cocktails at the reunion were always on the house. I can’t believe how much the new guy’s put the prices up and he’s only mixing a measly choice of twenty cocktails when we used to do a hundred. We’ll be hard put not to repeat one next year.

It feels sad that we failed to make our way through the whole cocktail menu. One drink short after twenty-five years. An evening of missing things. This is the first time one of us isn’t here, two if you count Hugo. Stupid Sally’s just upped and married some bloke. We meet on the same date every year. She could have got married some other day. We used to be her closest friends. Why hasn't she invited us to her wedding?

Without Sally, it’s all a bit flat. Jason’s laugh is snivelly, not hysterically funny. Marnie’s self-obsession isn’t diluted by Sally’s interest in the rest of us. It’s like we’re a cocktail without our base spirit. A sour cocktail, like this Sazerac. Is that because we’ve all realised the Barmaids’ Reunion is long past its sell-by date?

I have nothing to replace it with. I can't afford to lose the only friends I've got. Maybe it's just my mod that's at fault. ‘Taste this.’ I shove my drink at Marnie who has the best palate. She takes a clean straw and a small shoot of brown liquid races up it. It looks as disgusting as it tastes.

‘Just ghastly,’ she says, wiping her precise little mouth on a serviette. ‘They’ve forgotten the sugar cube. It’s awful without sugar. You should ask them to make it again.’

But I can’t be bothered. Cocktails are stupid, over-rated, teeth-rottingly horrible things. They’re too strong and too sweet and I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to be sat here in ten years time when Jason has even less hair and Marnie less charm. I want something to change, however frightening that might be. I don't belong in a cocktail bar anymore, I can't make myself fit in with them.

There’s only one official reunion a year but we used to meet every few weeks. Maybe not all of us all of the time but we met. It’s been months since I’ve seen any of them. I mean to go along but work dominates my time. Even if I’m not working late I’m usually too tired to go out.

Tonight I'm sorry I bothered but it's rudely early to leave. I get up, go to the bar where no one knows who I am and order a beer. In the mirror I can see Jason and Marnie raise their eyebrows at each other. I don’t care. I don’t have to abide by their idiot rules as if I was still twenty-one. I’m not a barmaid anymore, I’m a lawyer.

Jason is still an on/off bartender, no closer to movie stardom. Marnie got her dream job. She’s a gossip columnist, paid to be cattier and cattier until there's only herself left to turn on. Lovely, creative Sally has a rundown restaurant. We’re all muddled and unhappy. We come to these reunions looking for something that we’ve lost. Usually I find it, just for a night. People who know me, warts and all, and still care.

‘My Dream Team,’ Hugo comes down the steps the way he always has, as if he owns the place. Behind him, Sally’s wearing what should be a hippyish disaster of a wedding dress. She looks amazing in it, grinning fit to bust. ‘Sally and I got ourselves married. The cocktails are on us. We’ve got a new joint, round the corner. Are you coming?’

The new place is smaller, more intimate but it has the same feel. Jason consults his notes and tells Hugo what we’re all allowed. Hugo asks Jason to take his rightful place, behind the bar, to mix our drinks.

I get an Old-Fashioned which makes me smile even more. The 100th cocktail later is Sally’s, another Sazerac, because Jason has decided a badly mixed cocktail doesn’t count. We made a promise to ourselves we have to keep.

'Here, taste it,' Sally says, 'trust me it’s a different drink with a sugar cube.' I use her straw while Marnie makes a disgusted face in the background. I take a long, confident slug. There's a curious balance to it now that’s actually rather nice.