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There are many jokes about alcohol and its effects, but at the Sea Gull Cellar Bar we treated alcohol with the respect it deserved. The short video below depicts an actual scene that took place at the Cellar Bar before the fire in 1976.
The old Sea Gull Cellar Bar was a magic place. Some of that has been discussed in a few previous posts HERE and HERE and HERE. In the current post our intent is to focus on some of the mechanics involved in procuring and serving alcoholic beverages responsibly, something we tried to do with the best intentions.
When I arrived at the Sea Gull, there were two primary liquor distributors that served the Mendocino Coast, Trombetta represented by Lee Bertozzi and Rathjen represented by Lee’s cousin, Dennis. There were others that called less frequently and some of them had a special niche that required you to do some business with them. All the distributors wanted to get a lock on the well booze. The well is the lineup of booze—bourbon, scotch, vodka, gin, brandy, and tequila—used for all drinks unless a Name Brand (for example: Jack Daniels, Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, Tanqueray, Remy Martin, Cuervo Gold, etc) is requested. Because the well drinks are cheaper, the well booze has the highest sales volume by far.
Liquor salesmen would go through all sorts of contortions to get the well. They might book a room at the Inn and eat dinner at the restaurant to show their appreciation. They might offer a discount. They might offer to help with advertising or provide certain supplies and so forth. The previous owner told me he liked to sit all the distributors side by side at the bar and let them battle it out for the business. It was all in good fun, of course, but it was also business and everyone knew it.
There are as many kinds of drinkers as there are people: loners, social butterflies, introspective types, talkers, happy, morose …
The original Sea Gull Cellar Bar existed at a time when both drinking and smoking were in vogue. Neither is as politically correct today as they used to be. In an interview with one of my favorite new authors, Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli, I found this refreshing exchange:
Luiselli: “You don’t have a lighter, do you?”
Interviewer: “I don’t; I don’t smoke.
Liselli: “I’m sorry to hear that.”
There was live music in the old Cellar Bar on occasion, but most of the time we used an old-fashioned turn table. You might hear Miles Davis’s Sketches of Spain during a quiet day or Selling England by the Pound by Genesis. As the bar filled for happy hour or heated up on a busy night you might hear Jimmy Buffett’s Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw) or Tequila Sunrise by the Eagles. The latter gave rise to a popular drink of the same name.
We had our share of unusual drinks, some wildly popular, some for the refined taste. The Liver Destroyer was, as far as I know, invented by my friend Terry and consisted of Wild Turkey bourbon on the rocks with a splash of Green Chartreuse. Something I made only once was a Fleet Deck Landing. Hugh Flowers ordered it. He told me it consisted of 1/3 dark rum, 1/3 light rum, and 1/3 buttermilk. He swore by its medicinal properties, but I could never get anyone else to try it.
Our most famous drink was undoubtedly the Dirty Bird invented by dishwasher/bartender/contractor Dick Barham. It was vodka, tequila, Kahlua, and half&half blended with ice and poured into an 8 oz glass. We must have sold hundreds of those.
During the slow times when the bartenders were bored they would experiment with layered drinks. Different liquors and liqueurs and mixes have different specific gravities. By pouring the heaviest first and progressively moving toward the lightest, it’s possible to build a colorful group of layers. This can be impressive and tasty and a cure for barroom boredom.
For whatever reason the Old Cellar Bar went through a sustained Greek phase. Metaxa brandy was the most popular booze for several months running. I couldn’t keep it in stock. At the same time we also sold quite a bit of Ouzo. Another ethnic booze that was popular on the coast was Galliano. One designer drink from those days using Galliano was the Harvey Wallbanger.
For the lightweights there were Tom Collins, Vodka Tonics, and Wine Spritzers.
Liqueurs were in vogue but dangerous, for example Bailey’s Irish Cream, Amaretto, Drambuie, and Benedictine. One night I’ll admit to imbibing too much Tuaca with bartender Bob Avery and Hostess Julie Calouro. That’s one thing I never did again. One sweet drink at the time was particularly deadly, the Long Island Iced Tea: tequila, vodka, light rum, triple sec, gin and a splash of cola. And then there was the Kamikaze (vodka, triple sec, and lime juice) whose name says it all.
Bartender Jerry McIntyre was always amazed at the number of people who drank Irish coffees at night. He couldn’t imagine how they went to sleep after. Later coffee drinks exploded in number with every imaginable liqueur and liquor mix. On Sunday mornings we sold our share of gin fizzes and bloody Mary’s, and bloody beers sometimes with a raw egg to settle the stomach. For others, Fernet Branca was the sure cure for a hangover. Personally, I couldn’t stomach the stuff.
I look back on those early drinking days in the Sea Gull Cellar with fondness and nostalgia. I’ve never had a tendency to abuse alcohol. For anyone who does have this problem, I understand why it’s simply best to avoid it. I’ve learned to focus with age on those alcoholic beverages I most enjoy such as wine, MEZCAL and RAICILLA and to drink with pleasure in moderation.
Human beings have been boozers for thousands of years and there’s no shame in it. At least that’s what I tell myself. We all have stories we use to get through the absurdities of life. This is mine and I’m sticking to it.