Distillations: Discovering a World of Pure Imagineering at Rickhouse

Rickhouse was packed when I walked in. We're never going to find a place to sit, I thought. But Lily had somehow preserved two seats at the bar.

We hugged in that awkward way of two people who aren't natural huggers from the West Coast and don't really have a protocol for incidental affection. We hadn't seen each other for maybe six months.

The bar is long and narrow and the bartenders were a blaze of motion behind it. “How do we get the bartender's attention?” she asked.

I made a gesture, caught an eye, and said, “When you're ready.” He nodded at me and got back to work, stirring two drinks at once.

“Do you ever do the thing where you hold money between three fingers and wave it at them?” Lily asked.

“No, that's an asshole move. It's not that anybody doesn't want you to get a drink, it's that they're busy and trying to make some kind of order out of 30 people shouting at them. They want us to get our drinks, so, let them do their job.”

Crowded bars can be surprisingly lonely places. It's easy to get lost in the throng. In a near-empty bar, there's no denying your presence.

We caught each other up. I hadn't been writing this column when we last hung out; I've had a book published; I caught a lucky break at my day job.

“Life is good for you,” she said.

“It is. Now, come on, what have you been doing?”

She held her hand out. She was wearing a ring. “Engaged!”

I laughed. “You've been hoarding that news all this time! For weeks, since we planned this, waiting to deploy it!”

“Yeah, I'm sorry. Was that an asshole move? I wanted to win.”

“No, that was masterful! I admire your cunning.”

Rickhouse is powered by cunning. Owned by the Imagineers who brought us Bourbon & Branch, it has found the formula for high-end success in San Francisco: Take superb mixology and put it in a gorgeously fake conceptual setting. The place is all smooth wood and gratuitous barrels meant to resemble an Old Western saloon of exactly the kind a high tech business crowd like this would never go to for fear they'd get their Google Glasses stolen. A “bar” theme park instead of an actual saloon.

The crowd was pressing hard — sitting at the bar meant people would constantly lean over us to try and connect with the bartenders, grabbing our menus, shouting between us.

“Macallan 12-year on the rocks!” a man with a blond beard called from right behind me.

I spun. “You're drinking a Macallan on the rocks?”

“Um … yes.”

“You're a terrible person! Watering down a spirit like that is just wrong!”

“Well … you can't stop me.”

“No, but some day … not today but some day … we will have a reckoning!”

“Um … well …” he said, trying to process this. I waved dismissively and turned back around.

“He's not kidding,” Lily warned him. “He's deadly. Watch your back.” For a moment it was like the old days.

I guess we all have our own asshole moves. Some are just more fun than others.

The drinks at Rickhouse are superb and strong — the Midnight City was so good we ordered three of them between us, and when I challenged the bartender to make me something special off menu he gave me a drink so tasty I had to shake his hand and learn his name (Justus).

A bar this good shouldn't have to put on a saloon-themed outfit — but the fact that it does explains why it's packed with people ordering great spirits and watering them down.

“Hey, are you still hanging out with that girl?” Lily asked me. “The one who came over while we were recording that podcast, and said she was happy to just listen because she'd brought a special mat that's supposed to reduce stress, and she could try it out?”

I laughed. “I'd forgotten all about that. Yeah.”

“I liked her a lot. She made me think everybody should have a special mat.”

That girl again — she's the one all my friends like, the one they're rooting for even if they barely know her. What's that about?

She and I have put some space between us. Maybe I should see her more. Perhaps somewhere in each of our lives is a spirit that we needlessly water down.

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