You know these people. If not firsthand, then from their work. Surely you've heard Joni Mitchell -- Court and Spark, perhaps? -- over there in the corner collecting spent glasses. And God bless Gary Busey! What a lost talent. He's sauced -- and should be wearing a helmet -- and dancing with the dude screaming, "It's my birthday!" as if that can come anywhere close to justifying his silly behavior. Well, it can't. There's a guy who's the spittin' image of Jesse Ventura, with the chin dent, the chrome dome and the in-yer-face 'stache, the one that screams, "I kinda look like Jesse Ventura, don't I?" Then there's the dame sitting across from you, who, it has been whispered in walnut rooms, resembles a younger, Y-chromosomier Matthew Broderick -- although we say Katharine Hepburn in her prime.
Who else, on a Tuesday, in the same space as you, the Fresh Prince of the Lou, enjoying your basic fallback drink, a Knob Creek and water? Oh, look, there's Bob Vila, formerly of This Old House! Wonder what he's up to these days? Hanging with a Margot Kidder lookalike, that's what. On the corner of the bar is that guy who has been following you around town, your accidental commiserate, who, if push came to shove, might resemble a taller, skinnier Joe Strummer. There's a young Martin Landau. Look: a bearded Bruce Dern! And, oh! There's Gloria Vanderbilt, dancing to the jazz band, which is playing "I Get a Kick Out of You."
Café Balaban, Central West End, is where. Knob Creek and water is what. Dirty brown is its color, and if we thought anyone would obey, we'd demand a new descriptive, because "Knob Creek and water" is an insult to your supple tongue. Creek and creek is what we'd call it, because a creek, like, consists of water, and if you're lucky, in the dream this drink will inevitably eventually conjure, a gushing river will push through the forest of your childhood, washing everything as shiny as a ladybug's back, and the raccoons, squirrels and muskrats will emerge wet and wide awake, rubbing their eyes with their cute little paws, and they will return to their charmed lives feeling so fresh, so clean.
Creek and creek, at about 70 percent Creek and 30 percent creek, is a workhorse concoction, a utilitarian's wet dream. If this Kentucky bourbon and water were a piece of furniture, it would be a Shaker cabinet. If it were a president, it would Abe Lincoln, which is quite a coincidence because Knob Creek is named after the Great Emancipator's boyhood home, Knob Creek, Kentucky.
Yes, you can drink it straight, and it is fantastic: It's got a nutty buttery aroma, but the same could be said about any bourbon; with bourbon, the expanse between bouquet and flavor is sometimes vast. Knob Creek shines as it passes over your buds. It's got a rustic sweetness, and there are no rough edges to its taste; no jolt, just a warm caress, which massages your lips, then tongue, then tonsils, then Adam's apple, then vocal cords, then esophagus, then whatever's between it and the stomach, then your blood and, ultimately, your noggin. Served with creek and ice in a highball, the flavor's mediated; the Creek morphs into a taste so subtle, so deep, so peaceful easy. One of these is perfect late at night. Your grandmother wouldn't lie.