Drinking stories

By LIZA WEISSTUCH  |  August 11, 2010

She's accustomed to the 12-hour shifts of physical work without a snack or a cigarette, but this is another level. "You run on little sleep and food and you couldn't drink enough water if you tried. You just have to put your brain on the shelf."

'Honey, we can do that'
On Friday, I find Gold in a white collared shirt and a black-and-white pinstriped apron, ready for action at what will turn out to be Boston's triumphant New Orleans moment: the Grand Marnier Bar Room Brawl. "I'm so excited I can't stand still," she says.

John Gertsen, Drink's general manager, has closed down the bar for a week. He drove to New Orleans in Dodge Caravan loaded with enough gear to recreate his Fort Point space in an event hall, where Drink had been selected to go up against top-rate establishments from LA, San Francisco, New York, Miami and Chicago. A squadron of judges composed of celebrated bar owners, mixologists, and cocktail historians make the rounds to each station, treated as a party of guests at each stop.

When I arrive, the team has been diligently setting up for hours.

Bartenders polish glasses, fold napkins, and stack limes into pyramids. Maitre d' Rebekah Powers tinkers with 300 small animal-shaped squirt guns full of strawberry-infused mezcal.

Gertsen crouches and peers down the bar, making sure the stirring pitchers and glassware was aligned. He whirls and nods, pleased.

"You want a story? Here's the story. I went across the street to a place called Corp 931. I asked the guy if we could come in for dinner around six and he said they stop serving at five. Then his wife comes out and says, 'Honey, we can do that.' "

Gertsen shakes his head. "We can be hospitality experts in our zone, but places like that help me learn how to be better."

Sated with New Orleans delicacies, the Drink team winds up winning the Brawl, and is awarded the title "Best Bar in America." Gold can barely speak. Someone picks up a hippopotamus-shaped squirt gun and shoots strawberry-infused mezcal into her mouth.

'The meaning of life'
Amid the mayhem of the week, there is time for quiet contemplation. April Wachtel of the Bar at the Gallows is explaining her philosophy of bartending to a film crew: "The meaning of life is connections and relationships. When you strip life down to its bare bones, that's what's left. That's why experiences at the bar are so meaningful."

On Sunday, a text message arrives from Brynn Tattan, another apprentice at Drink, who is flustered over having missed a morning seminar. I invite her to meet me and a friend for lunch and receive this in return: "I don't know what I'm doing . . . I'm just on a bench."

I head to the hotel to find Tattan's bench, but spot her on line for a mezcal tasting. We wait together and when we get to the room, we are practically embraced by air that hangs heavy with the sweet, smoky agave smell.

Drink bartender Misty Kalkofen is shaking drinks and looks at us with vacant eyes.

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