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Distillations: Making Excuses at Tradition 

Tuesday, Aug 12 2014
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Tradition opened at 6, I'd made a reservation, and it made me feel like an idiot. Not only was it late opening, I was the only customer there. Across the corner at Bourbon & Branch's "super-secret" hideout, there was a line out the door.

"Same booze, different bottle," might apply here, as both bars are owned by the same company.

I walked in and the bartender, who was rocking suspenders and a mustache like he was born in a hip natal care unit that you have to know somebody to get into, gestured me to a seat at the bar. I sat, ordered a drink, and waited for Michael.

Tradition has a great set-up: spacious, with lots of wood and glass. Posters of antique advertisements for beer and spirits are framed across the walls and in the bathrooms. The bar itself is a rectangle in the center of the room, long and lovely with enough high shelves to require a pair of rolling ladders. I could watch the bartenders climb up and down them all day.

He gave me a one-page cocktail menu. To see the full menu, it said, I should make a reservation next time. Ah hah. Well. I had the secret password. I wasn't in a hurry.

I'd just ordered an Ardbeg Supremacy (Black Bottle, Ardbeg 10, Leopold's sour apple, maple, lemon) when Michael arrived. Michael is a recent transplant from Arizona ... yes, he's a tech worker ... and an artist friend out there asked me to look after him now that he's here. Michael is also an amazing troublemaker: Last year, after the Arizona regional Burning Man event sold out, a couple posted on the regional list that they had a spare ticket which they'd give away to whoever brought them 50 stuffed animals.

Michael (who had a ticket) immediately went out and bought 50 stuffed animals, ran over to their place, and collected. Then he went back on the list and announced that he would now scalp the ticket to whoever brought him 51 stuffed animals — and a picture of one of the animals being taken away from a crying child.

He got it all. I love that story. I'm happy to welcome him to town.

Michael spent a long time looking at the short menu, then ordered a Barrel Mule (Famous Grouse, Bowmore Legend, Calvados, Velvet Falenum, aromatic bitters, all spice dram, lime, mint). Since the kind of bitters weren't specified (just "aromatic") he asked to inspect them.

He'll get along in San Francisco just fine.

After we got our drinks I told the bartenders about our reservation, and they immediately offered us either a private room or a seat at the other side of the bar, where the chairs recline. We opted to go with the reclining chairs, and they brought us a massive tome of a drink menu, divided into historical sections as is in vogue these days.

Michael had recently come back from an out-of-town weekend event that I'd been supposed to attend — hell, I'd helped organize it — but that I'd skipped out on, for a number of terrible reasons. Do you really need good reasons not to have fun once in a while? Since then I'd had a whole bunch of people tell me about the amazing time I missed, and now he was one of them.

"What have you been up to since?" I asked, trying to change the subject.

"I got a massive sunburn that weekend," he said, "so now I've been using that as an excuse not to do anything. Just to sit around and be lonely like you get in a new city. I don't know why; it's a terrible excuse."

"That's actually a good sign," I said, and I think I meant it. "If you're going to find any happiness here at all, you've got to get over the fear of missing out. Somebody's always having more fun somewhere else, and you're not invited, and it's okay."

He agreed, and I ordered A Slow Comfortable Screw Against The Wall (bourbon, lemon, orange, vanilla syrup, sloe gin, peach, soda, absinthe).

"Reclining chairs in bars," Michael said. "This has to become a trend. It has to."

It was nice, and we spent the next few hours talking about parties we're probably not going to go to and events we might skip.

You can't always make trouble. Sometimes a bad excuse turns out to be the best offer.

About The Author

Benjamin Wachs

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