There’s a saying in the restaurant business: “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” It basically means if you’re not busy with customers, you should think of yourself as a house-keeper. Leave no stool, mirror or baseboard unpolished. Something always needs to be scrubbed or wiped, at least until the first man or woman walks through the door, which is another good reason why slow nights are the best for making friends with bartenders.
Last week started out at a glacial pace. Weather forecasters predicted fierce winds and possible tornadoes. No one was to drive unless absolutely necessary. I was starting to wonder if anyone would show. Then a man and woman ducked in, just as the dark sky was at its brightest.
“Wow, what a moon!” he said, and pulled the door closed behind her. “The way the clouds race past it, it’s incredible…”
“Looks angry,” she said, while shaking the chill from her arms. They each wore long coats and carried umbrellas.
“Welcome,” I said. “How’s it looking out there?”
“No people anywhere,” she said. “It’s eerie.” She held up her arm, and he helped her out of her coat and hung it on the rack.
“Yeah,” he said. “I kept expecting to see tumbleweeds. We saw your light on. Is it too late for a drink?”
“Please, make yourselves comfortable.”
“Do you have Chartreuse?” she asked.
“Just the green right now,” I said. “Our pastry chef used the last of the yellow.”
“How is the yellow different?” she asked.
“Sweeter,” I said. “Less potent, too. It’s only 80 proof, compared to 110.”
“I’ll take it,” she said, and set her purse on the bar. “Neat, please, with a bottle of still water on the side.”
“I’ll have a glass of Chardonnay,” he said.
“Coming right up.”
“Thanks,” they said.
I took my time pouring their drinks, two of the easiest orders imaginable. I made a point of opening a fresh bottle of wine before pouring his glass. And I was careful to measure out her pour with a jigger right in front of her and to top it off with an extra splash while they watched.
Her nose hovered above her cup when I set the green liqueur down on her napkin.
“Try a sip,” she said, and slid the whole tableau a few inches closer to him. “For health.”
He wet his lips, sniffed the glass again, then tilted it back against his lips. Holding off a cough, he swallowed, his fist balled up against her chest. “I can feel it snaking its way down, like liquid heat.”
Her mouth puckered.
“What is it again?” he asked.
“Pure herbaceousness,” she said, and downed a healthy dram.
Her husband laughed.
“It’s made in France,” she said, while pointing to the bottle. “By monks.”
I noticed one of the hotel tourist maps of town folded up against her purse.
He turned to look at me. “Is she crazy or what?”
“She’s right,” I said. “The name comes from the monastery where they live, Le Grande Chartreuse, up some long windy road deep in the Alps where they all live in silence.”
“Silence?” he asked.
“Makes them good at keeping secrets,” she said.
“They’ve been there for a thousand years,” I said, paraphrasing the description from the back of the bottle. “But they’ve only been making this stuff for the past 400 or so.”
She took a sip of water, then dropped a dollop of it on top of her drink. “Do they say God gave them the recipe?” She looked at me.
“No, says here it was a military officer. An artilleryman.”
“400 years!” he groaned.
“They considered the recipe old even back then,” I said. “It was part of an illuminated manuscript, made with gold and silver leaf. Who knows where the officer found it. They called it an ‘Elixir of Longevity.’”
Veteran bartender Joel Finsel is the author of “Cocktails and Conversations from the Astral Plane.” Feel free to send questions or comments to email@example.com.