Distillations: Reaching a Final Restless Place at Presidio Social Club

Collette said she wanted to meet me at the Presidio Social Club. I didn't even know there was one.

“Perfect,” I said.

I'd met Collette when I'd attended a banquet at a high-end restaurant. She served us wine, and kept my glass filled with such extraordinary panache that we all began to comment on how artful it was.

“Well,” she said, “my father's a French chef, and he taught me service from when I was so high. I'd bring my mother breakfast in bed, and he'd critique my service.”

I stayed late that night, because dammit she kept coming up with excuses for me to drink what she poured. “Listen,” I said as I finally stood up, “I absolutely must write a profile of you. Can I have your number?”


“After I've written a profile I may use your number for illicit purposes,” I warned.

“Of course.”

It felt like we had momentum. But life gets in the way — there were family emergencies on her end and business trips on mine — and it was three months before we met again.

She thought the whole thing was pretense. “A profile?” she asked as we sat down. “What's that even supposed to be, anyway?”

I'm still not sure she believes me.

The bar and dining room were packed when we arrived at the 1930s building, but the Presidio Social Club has a heated back patio. We sat there, almost alone, surrounded by nature. “Are you a regular?” I asked.

“No, but I want to be,” she said. “This place is casual, but with class, it's in a gorgeous setting, I live nearby — why shouldn't I go here?”

“It's a bar you aspire to be a patron of?”


Collette is full of aspiration. She nearly joined the Army out of high school, just to prove she could. Instead she graduated top of her class at Cordon Bleu, and interned at Maxim's in Paris. Then she moved to San Francisco, knowing no one, and went to college to get a philosophy degree. Now she wonders, “How do I connect the dots? How do I explain who I am to the world?”

I ordered an Aged Reasons Rye (rye, Punt e Mes, Cointeau, orange bitters), and asked “What kind of philosophy do you prefer?”

“Existentialism!” she said, immediately.

“Of course.”

“I know I'm at a point where I have to make a choice,” she said. “I have to do something big again, change my life. But … the life I want to change is so wonderful right now! How do you strive for the next challenge when your Plan B is a glorious life?”

Looking around at the green hills of the Presidio from a heated patio, it was easy to understand the dilemma. She's dreaming big dreams: living at sea, becoming a director of corporate giving, opening her own restaurant, traveling the world again … or staying right here. Drinking fine wine and cocktails as the sun gradually sets on a national park.

Here seemed good.

But no “here” ever lasts too long — at some point we want to have done something, and be remembered as more than a charming character at the bar. Don't we?

Collette told me stories about her family far too private to repeat from the lips of someone who doesn't really believe I'm writing a profile. So instead I'll tell you a painful family story of mine, which I told her while drinking a Bluegrass Tea (bourbon, Combier Peche, lemon, iced tea).

My grandmother died this year, but she was dead to me three years ago. She was a remarkable woman who divorced her husband (for all the right reasons) in the early '60s, when such things weren't done. She worked as a secretary in a major ad agency — straight out of Mad Men — and made it in Manhattan without his money.

But at some point in her life the world became too complicated for her, too confusing, and so she started slipping backwards. Three years ago, when I last visited, she could not help but judge me by the standards of the 1950s — and find me terribly wanting. She was so cruel that I said, “We're done,” and left.

Now she's dead. And I feel nothing.

That is what we're struggling against. What we don't want to become. That is why Collette is not going to stay too long, even at a bar like the Presidio Social Club. The world moves on without you.


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