Even as restaurants and bars continue to shutter in this woeful economy, alcohol sales are buoyant. This seems to imply that people are still drinking; they just aren't going out to do it. After all, nobody cares about your empty glass more than you do, so sitting in your pajamas within inches of your refrigerator isn't such a bad way to spend an evening. But below, we toast a few of the folks who made us glad we ventured away from home during the past year — even if it did mean putting on pants.
Jayme at Bruno's American Grill
We were ready to throw in the towel after we'd had a blah experience at a different bar — we couldn't figure out how to wrest some 500 words from it that'd fill this space. A last-minute U-turn found us in Bruno's parking lot, and a dose of good fortune found Jayme as our bartender in this no-frills establishment. She boasts that she can make drinks that mimic the flavor of pretty much any candy, and from the few drinks we tasted, we believe she can. (Though Juicy Fruit remains her Holy Grail.) Plus, the staff let us hang out and watch The Office on an otherwise ho-hum weekday.
Chris at Highlander Pub & Grill
Chris has lived in more states than some people ever visit in a lifetime, dabbled in writing and acting in independent films, worked at a top-notch restaurant in Jersey where he learned bookfuls about wine: Dude's got some stories, and he'll listen to yours, too. He's attentive without being intrusive; honest and knowledgeable about drinks without coming off as a haughty know-it-all. On a night when we wanted nothing more than to stay home, thanks to Chris, we ended up staying till closing time. We've been back since then — sans notebook.
Cory at Hammerstone's
It was Cory who ordered Hammerstone's first bottle of absinthe after it was legalized in the United States back in 2007. Though she doubts its purported mysticism, she has bore witness to its power when taken as a shot. (Um, don't do it.) If it's available, order the Toulouse-Lautrec — it has absinthe's eerie tint of liquefied opals, and it's all the better when Cory's got a hold of the green fairy.
The Esparza family at Lily's
Ask someone if they've been to Lily's, and it's a toss-up as to what they'll rave about first: the genuine Mexican food or the genuine kindness of the family who serves it. The Esparza family is quick with a smile and, if you're stumped, a suggestion for a drink. Try their horchada on the weekends or close your eyes, point, and pick out any marg from their solid list.
Steve Hughes at Juniper Grill
Oh, Juniper Grill, we hardly knew thee: After having never before visited the Soulard nook, we became so enraptured by Steve Hughes and his wife, Shannon, that we returned the next night for more food, wine and knowledge about both. Steve explains winemaking in a way that helped us understand the heretofore mysterious process while piquing our interest to learn more on our own; there was a reason behind every vintage featured on his wine list, and he was loathe to raise the prices on any one of them. Sadly, the Juniper Grill closed in late November, but here's hoping the Hughes find another place to let their passion — for restaurants and food and drink they serve there — flow once again.
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