Dedicated to Les Gents Que J’Aime

Finding a little perspective in bars far from home


Saturday, May 30, 2009

After a traditional tapas dinner of indistinguishable fish sandwiches and petit croquettes eaten standing at the counter, we moved on to Gimlet, a Barcelona mixology bar with enough buzz to get a recommendation from both Downtown Cocktail Room owner Michael Cornthwaite and my father’s guide book. There, amid the Spartan blond-wood paneling and American jazz records we sipped Manhattans and Negronis, and after my parents retired to their hotel, a Pisco Sour, Daiquiri Clásico and the bar’s namesake Gimlet, all from classic cocktail coupes.

For Michael and his girlfriend, Henri & Odette gallery owner Jennifer Harrington, it was their final night in Barcelona after a long week of dining, drinking, museum-hopping and getting engaged. For me, it was the embarkation point for two blissful weeks traveling with my family, a yearly event that usually remains blissful until the first e-mail catastrophe or hotel without wi-fi. At the prospect of two weeks without so much as setting foot in a club or lounge, I inhaled the tiny cocktails like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter.

Our second stop, Les Gents Que J’Aime (“the people I love”), also came by recommendation, this one from Andrew, a DCR regular who shares my taste for Negronis and bohemia. After locating the address, the next challenge was to locate the door. “I got it!” I said, pointing down at the half-doorway and narrow, uneven stairs. Inside the dark cellar bar, ancient wicker couches were occupied by Spaniards and locals, just as Andrew said they would be. Dust coated neglected antiquary, but the bar itself was steadily humming, churning out delicious-looking cocktails on voluptuous European ice.

Entirely unable to communicate except in the language of liquor, I ordered a Johnny Walker Black and later, boldly, a cava with Grand Marnier, bitters and a glacé cherry entombed at the bottom. But Scotch is a truth serum, and for a few moments, the conversation got heavy. Then all of a sudden, in a move rarely seen—though not unheard of—my emotions came unpinned from the neat little places I’d carved out for them, and it all clicked.

As soon as I got home I would be celebrating, on June 18, my eight-year anniversary in Las Vegas—traditionally a happy occasion, but this time it comes with an excess of baggage. Eight years of making friends only to watch them get laid off and move on to new cities. Or move on to new friends. Or die. Eight years of goodbyes. We rattled off the names of some of nightlife’s fallen soldiers and got a little teary-eyed into our drinks. I instantly dreaded my return and started looking around for a potential husband and EU passport-holder. “Just wait until about Day 5 here,” Michael said. “Right, hun?” Jennifer nodded deeply. “Around Day 5 you will find perspective.”

Ah, perspective. Funny thing about perspective: To see the Big Picture and where you fit into it, sometimes you have to back away from it. Perspective is an impressionist painting. And I’m in the land of Picasso and Gaudi looking for a Renoir. Luckily, on Day 5, I’ll be in France.

Thanks in part to a wicked perennial case of jet lag, I was wide awake at 8:30 a.m., the word “perspective” ringing as loudly in my ears as my impending hangover, but feeling lighter for having gotten to the root of a nagging issue: It’s hard to get past being acquaintances when everyone seems to have one foot out the door. So we don’t bond, not deeply, not I. With no way to thank Jennifer and Michael for their hospitality or to share this interesting development with them, I got on with my trip, still waiting for my perspective to come. Of course, it would be nice if perspective could be sensitive to the Woodman family summer vacation itinerary and just get here already.

In the end, it didn’t come in a flash, but more like a whine, my whine on June 11 as I hauled two weeks of dirty clothes and one-too-many carry-ons the 23 hours it took to get from Leon, Spain’s toy airport to good ol’ McCarran. I couldn’t wait to see Michael and Jennifer. Buoyed by my new self-awareness, I felt the importance of their friendships—and true friendships overall—wash over me. I will admit, it did cross my mind for one brief second to crawl into bed instead of the shower and skip their engagement party that very night. But only for a second.


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