Welcome back to the penultimate edition of Brother Cleve's Tall Cocktail Tale of the Day. Brother Cleve, a musician and a cocktail consultant, spent years on the road touring with the band Combustible Edison, among others, and had a few drinks along the way. This time Cleve takes us across the pond to a misguided bar in Northern Ireland and a hopeless Mai Tai maker in Germany.
I was in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, on tour with the band around 1990. The promoter took us to a restaurant for dinner, and when I opened up the menu there was a page on the inside of the cover that said "We're thrilled to offer that latest American invention... the cocktail!" Yup, latest. (It's only 200 years old.) They have like five drinks on there. There was a Manhattan, and maybe an Old Fashioned, a Whiskey Sour probably, and a Martini. These were the new American inventions.
The waiter comes and I say 'I'd like to have one of these cocktails here.' I ordered the Manhattan: my go-to, my litmus test drink. The waiter goes back and he's talking to the bartender and I see them kind of huddling, and the bartender's turning around and looking at me and looking at the table, and they start whispering back and forth, and a couple of minutes later the waiter comes back and says "Sir, this is kind of embarrassing, but I have something to ask you. Do you know how to make the drink? Because nobody's ever ordered one here and the bartender's never done it."
I said yeah, as a matter of fact I do. I went behind the bar and showed the guy how to make it, and I made my own drink. They didn't charge me for it, they were just too embarrassed. And I found it very humorous. The bartender was nice, and he wasn't too sure if anybody was ever going to order one, but at least he gained a little bit of knowledge that day. I've never made it back to Londonderry, so I don't know if they've ever made another cocktail there or not in the last 20 years. One could hope.
One of the reasons Europe never embraced the cocktail is that they didn't have ice: ice is still to this day kind of a foreign commodity there. I remember when we were doing a show in Germany with Combustible Edison, and the deal was if you came to the show you got a Mai Tai that was complimentary. I remember seeing the bartender making Mai Tais for people, and he had like two ice cubes. He just kept reshaking and reshaking. Finally, there was really no ice left in the thing, and I looked at him and said 'You know, you need more ice.' And he said "Ice? Where would I get ice?"
And I was like oh, right. Never mind. You don't have an ice machine in your hotel, you don't have bags of ice at your supermarket, you don't even have ice cubes in your refrigerator, do you? So people were really enjoying those warm Mai Tais. Of course they had no dilution at all.
That was one of the only times I skipped a drink. I said that's okay, I'll have a hefeweizen.
Brother Cleve is currently bartending at the "Speakeasy to Repeal" parties at Noir, in the Charles Hotel, on Wednesdays from 6pm to 8pm. He also plays the monthly Jive Party at An Tua Nua on the first Friday of every month, featuring Electro Swing music and classic-influenced cocktails.