In small places all over the world, when a new bar or club opens, everybody praises it and then they all proceed to go crowd it. For weeks people had been telling me to try the new Scarabbeo bar and the local listings magazine agreed. After theatre (Mc Donagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which was ok) and dinner at a newly-opened American diner (very good burgers but a tiny menu and, eventually, more of a glorified overpriced fast food place than a diner) we eventually headed straight there last Saturday.
The place had a veneer of swankiness and taste. The music was unnecessarily noisy from a jumbled up playlist, whereas the place was irrationally organised, with overcrowed rooms next to empty unfurnished ones (no, the latter are not dancefloors). pH and me went to the bar. I asked for an “extra dry martini” (verbatim). “You’ll regret it”, said pH. I should have heeded his wise words. The bartender indeed asked me: “Ice?”. Perplexed, I answered “er, no”. I should have known right at that point, but then I looked up and at the other end of the bar was someone I know waving at me with her boyfriend. I waved back. Looking down at the bar I found my drink in a whisky glass and full of ice. I should have known right at that point. pH was in the process of paying, so I told the bartender she got it wrong. She gave me a ‘be damned, you creep’ look, shouted that she had never heard my answer, proceeded to take a new whisky glass and pour from a bottle of Martini Bianco, you know, the vermouth, passed it to me and sneeringly informed me it was on the house. I stood there agape, dumbstruck. Not wanting to make a fuss, I decided to once more bear it with a smile, grabbed the glassful of ice and Martini Bianco, leaving the complimentary one at the bar with the rude bartender, and joined the others at out prized table.
The poor thing did not know what a martini is. Sure, where I come from bartenders sometimes do not know (exactly) how to mix a drink, either because you are a weird customer or because they just don’t. So, they ask you. Not here. I sat down. I took a sip of the aperitif, for the first time in 15 years. I recalled immediately, in this cliched by now Proustian fashion, how vile Martini Bianco tastes straight. Only then did I erupt in fury. I severely and patronisingly scolded the hapless waiter who came over to furnish us with carrots and nuts and crisps and asked him to tell the bartender to come over to our table so that she can be told how to make an extra dry martini — I was out of control. Of course nobody ever came over, so I spent the next half hour sulking and in furious silence. Then Jod got angry at my behaviour and we had one of our quiet rows which involves exchanging stares and making carefully nasty comments to others in a contrived mock-carefree way.
Why does a drink matter that much? I am not an alcohol connoisseur, I am not bar savvy. I had no business ruining the good time of others and making a working person’s life hard (I mean the waiter). But I am so tired of having to choose among, say, the same six bars to have a drink in and two clubs to go dance to — none of which I would really hang out in, if I had a real choice. Especially given that we spend most of our weekend time working at home, so going out is precious. Especially given that it’s all a bloody lottery: if you are lucky, it might just happen the right crowd gathers in one of the few places you have a limited choice among — and you are there, too. So, given we already have to settle for less, rudely being given the wrong drink can make me feel really miserable and retrospectively angry. (Plato’s Bar in the Old City make very good martinis, exactly as ordered. I may give Scarabbeo a second chance but next time I will order a Carlsberg. Bottled.)
Today it was Jod’s turn. We were driven to the mountains through a downpour by NewYorker (she is one of our three Outposter friends) to this “wonderful rustic taverna”. Now, this is a national sport here: going to fairly inaccessible places to eat on Sunday lunchtime. The food was mediocre (well, worse than that, by Outpost standards) and there was no real service: people would just go to the kitchen and pick up what they were tired of waiting to get at their table. A woman going in and out of the kitchen carrying dishes all the time told us she did not work there. A large group next to us cleared their own table, as they made the mistake of asking for doggy bags. This is not some kind of ‘special’ traditional self-service place or an arcane local practice: it was just untypical and very very frustrating, not to mention that the prices were like those you get in restaurants in the Capital. This, in combination with the place being overcrowded and packed with screaming kids nudging us all while passing through… well.