The bar was in a red brick building that took up half a city block. Long ago, before becoming a place where people came together to eat and drink, it had been the headquarters of the Southern Bell Telephone & Telegraph Company. The letters were chiseled in granite below the soffits. I could read them from across the street—and from that angle, the building looked like a chess piece, the castle, but flattened. It had rounded windows spanning the second story, most of which was abandoned.
It was easy to venture up there: The stairs were sturdy; the door, while heavy, lacked hinges and was easy to slip behind. The large rooms felt apocalyptic yet born of former glory. The ocean-foam corridor was chipped in places and revealed yellow plaster. The windows were all intact, but there were holes in the scabby floors and walls. A bald tire sat in one corner, which was where some of us came to sit and smoke during breaks. I followed the sous chef up there one afternoon and never said a word about it to anyone. Eventually, there was no stopping the whispermill and it became a sort of speakeasy after hours.
Before long there were random people who didn’t even work there that would show up with six-packs and mezzrows. It went that way for a few months (back before Princess Street was as well-lit and polished as it is today). One night I overheard a conversation between three guys and a girl they all liked. The four probably didn’t even realize I was paying attention because I was sitting on the floor, resting my legs. It was easy to hide in shadows up there. Only a few bulbs lit the space, and to replace them would have given us all away. The conversation was between a server, Annabelle, from across the street, and the harem of guys hovering around her like moths. Let’s call them Tall Guy, Shorter Guy and Tattooed Guy.
“Can you believe this room was full of people taping messages?” Tall Guy asked.
“How is that different than today?” Tattooed Guy mocked.
“Yeah right,” Tall Guy laughed. “If telegraphers could see us now with our smartphones, they would freak!”
“Just think about how much energy has passed through here,” Annabelle said. She was sipping an Aviation out of a mason jar. I had written the recipe down on a napkin for her a few nights earlier after making her one at the bar downstairs. She had taken to mixing up her own at home before going out.
“Yeah,” Tall Guy said, “back when it was the only way, especially. Now, even my grandmother Skypes.”
Tattooed Guy cracked open a fresh can. “In the future,” he said, “I bet we’ll all have contact lenses that tell us stuff about the people we see, like ‘The Terminator.’ I can’t imagine waiting for a telegraph!”
Annabelle stared straight ahead. “I’m not just talking about calls,” she said. “I’m talking about actual electricity. If energy can’t be created or destroyed, where the hell did it all go? And is any of it still up here?”
Tall Guy looked down. “Do you mean like ghosts?” he asked.
Shorter Guy ducked around Tattooed Guy to connect with Annabelle’s eyes. “Only if you’re not afraid to see them,” he said.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
She turned a smile toward him.
“That’s why we never see them,” he continued, “because they don’t want to freak us out.”
She pecked a quick kiss on his cheek.
Beaming, he moved in for a real one. Still smiling, she met his lips fully with her own.
The rest of us kept on as though nothing had happened, but we all felt something, like someone flipped a switch and we’d all gotten zapped. The new couple’s third and fourth wheels shook their heads and eventually backed down. By the time the kiss finally ended, the conversation between the two became so close and quiet, I could no longer make it out. They eventually slipped away. One of the others came back a few minutes later and made a lap around, to peek in on what the various circles were up to in different corners. Wrinkling his brows, he soon left again without a word.
¾ oz Crème de violette (or Creme Yvette)
½ oz Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
1.5 oz Gin
½ oz Lemon juice
Chill the crème de violette separately. Add all other ingredients into a mixing glass filled with ice. Shake the gin, lemon juice, and maraschino liqueur for 15 seconds, then strain into a cocktail glass. Lastly, float the chilled crème de violette around the rim, layering the colors to create the kind of sunset you might dare to fly off into someday. Garnish with a Luxardo cherry.
Veteran bartender Joel Finsel is the author of “Cocktails and Conversations from the Astral Plane.” Feel free to send questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.