At the Lucas Park Grille on a late Thursday night, the guitar duo is singing Bob Dylan's "If Not for You," and a customer is voicing her approval by tossing in a couple of disco whoot-whoots. It's a fitting introduction to the Grille, which marries semi-conservative urbanity with twentysomething glee. At the Grille, located at the heart of Washington Avenue, you can sing your mom's favorite song, but we reserve the right to ruin it.
There's little reaction at all, in fact, from the crowd. A song ends and a few claps trickle in, more out of habit than appreciation. The place is crowded. The vast majority of ladies wear their hair down; a few renegades wear it up. The man-locks are neatly trimmed. There's not a beard or mustache in the place.
"I'm going to south city tonight," says a young professional to a friend a few stools down. "She called." We're happy for him. She called. It's about time.
We're alone at the bar, and a simple, elegant Cîroc martini stands before us like the Eiffel Tower: majestic, structurally sound, indestructible. We have sullied it with two olives, perhaps representing Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, with the skewer representing love and/or Scientology. A flat-screen television lords above, enticing us with highlights from a dog show. A border collie named Juice has just leapt over many hurdles to win in the "large agility" category. Way to go, Juice.
The Cîroc, honestly, was a desperation move, the olives an afterthought; we figured we'd order from the Grille's cocktail menu, but it's not very inspired. First, it's listed on a table-tent, which is a petty annoyance of ours (a half-size menu is preferable). Second, the choices seem readymade: appletini (of course), espresso, mint-chocolate, mango.
So after a little deliberation, we opt for a straight Cîroc martini. Unlike most vodkas, which are distilled from grain, Cîroc is made from grapes, distilled and refined five times. Vodka geeks often speak of the "roundness" in their favorite brands, which we've never quite understood. Our buds have sensed depth below the spirit's flat surface, like the landscape beneath the ocean, but had never really experienced the circle.
Cîroc is made with Mauzac blanc grapes in the Gaillac region of France, and it's round as a cannonball. It runs an arc that begins at the lips with a whisper of fruit, passes over the gums with a subtle velvet confirmation, peaking at the heart of the tongue, and then, like sap down a maple, the sensation circles around and kisses the lips. Roundness.
On the television, a victorious terrier is licking its master's face. Victory! All's well in the televised world. But at the Grille, the guitar duo's gone south: "I feel like I'm knocking on Heaven's door." And the lucky man with the hook-up is still at the bar with his buddy, who's gulping the last of a Bud. "You wanna stay for a few more?" asks the friend. The man is quiet for a second, debating his next move. She did call, after all. Heaven awaits.
"Sure," he says, and the night moves on.