Feb 12, 2016

It's a great bartender who makes a bar great, as one shows again in a visit to Lucky's and the Westown

Amber behind the bar at Lucky's
Doc’s Report:

A recurring observation of this blog, now in its third year, is the importance of a good bartender.

Nothing else -- not location, atmosphere, food, entertainment, culture, the make-up of the crowd -- is as decisive to the bar experience as the bartender’s competence and personality.

So Harry and I were the lucky ones when we visited Lucky’s Pub on a recent weekday afternoon --  thanks to Amber, a veteran of bars from Bay City to Port Huron. Along with a pleasant insurance sales rep, we had Amber’s undivided attention for two hours.

We got off on the right foot when I asked Amber to show me something in a mid-body, locally-brewed pilsner, and, after an informative tour on Lucky’s offerings, I settled on a Stella Artois. It’s a real value at $2.50 and it’s locally brewed, if you live in Belgium.

Next, I thought I’d challenge Harry and Amber with some of the tougher questions from the previous week’s trivia night at the Bell Bar. I went for the jugular, in the category of “sexual positions”: “In this position, the woman is on top, with her back to the man.”

Faster than you could say “Alex Trebek,” Amber nailed it: “reverse cowgirl.”         

Amber loves her job. She must. She drives an hour to Lucky’s from her farm, where she raises free-range chickens. And she loves old movies. She’s named her chickens after classic movie stars -- e.g., Fred and Ginger, Audrey Hepburn, Bridget Fonda. Selling her movie star chickens’ eggs at 12 for a dollar, she should probably name her enterprise Cheaper By the Dozen.

Amber loves classic movies so much she generously offered to take Harry and me on a tour of Bay City’s classic Westown Theater, which is next door to and accessible from Lucky’s. More than a century old, the landmark is in good repair, though seldom used.

Amber’s tour took us to the steep balcony, triggering a half-century old memory. My high school English class was piled into a bus and driven to the West Side to see the 1965 film version of
Inside the Westown, empty on a weekday
Shakespeare’s “Othello.” Laurence Olivier played the title role in blackface, and all the principal actors were nominated for Oscars, including a 31-year-old Maggie Smith in her break-out role as the doomed Desdemona.

I don’t think today’s students would sit still for it. As someone already has, you’d have to call it "O,” and set it in a contemporary American high school with Julia Stiles as “Desi.”

“Taming of the Shrew”? It was set in a contemporary American high school with the ubiquitous Stiles as the shrew and called “10 Things I Hate About You.”

“Romeo and Juliet”? Only the most famous scenes, shoehorned into a larger, Oscar-bound movie, and you get “Shakespeare in Love.” This time, Gwyneth Paltrow gets the nod as a transgender Romeo. (Stiles must have been busy. Too bad: Paltrow took home the Oscar.)

Even Shakespeare’s most difficult play, “Hamlet,” can be made accessible to a contemporary audience. Just let Disney make it a full-length animated feature, turn the characters into jungle animals, get Elton John to write some catchy tunes, and voila! “The Lion King.”

The reason I go on at some length here is that tastes in alcohol consumption seem to track, or at
Lucky's logo
least run parallel with, tastes in movies: You have to smooth off the rough parts, make it new, and sweeten it up to make it palatable to a contemporary audience.

The classics are history -- the dry martini, the Manhattan, two fingers of bourbon and branch, scotch neat.

To serve the millennials who crowd into Lucky’s on late weekend nights, Amber tells us she has had to master all of the following -- and more:

  • Green apple or red berry CĂ®roc (vodka) and Red Bull.
  • The Johnny Vega: Watermelon schnapps, tequila and Red Bull. (Red Bull being the mixed drink equivalent of Julia Stiles in a Shakespeare rip-off: the universal donor.)
  • The Key Lime Pie: Lime juice, coconut milk, coconut rum and Licor 43, a Spanish liqueur.
  • Three whiskeys, tapped and upside down in chilled and branded dispensers for quick shots: Crown Royal Regal Apple, Fireball and Red Stag.
Thinking about how tough it must be for someone who loves the classics as much as Amber does,
A WTF still life at Lucky's
while concocting these faddish drinks, I was reminded of a joke Woody Allen tells at the end of his Oscar winning movie “Annie Hall” to rationalize the craziness people endure for the sake of what they need:.

“This guy goes into a psychiatrist and says, ‘Doc, my brother’s crazy; he thinks he’s a chicken.’ The doctor says, ‘Well, why don’t you turn him in?’ The guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ “

Amber must be a little crazy to drive an hour each way to make these drinks, leaving her beloved chickens behind. But I hope she doesn’t change.

We need the eggs.

See the hairy guy’s report on Lucky's: Lucky's Pub on Midland Street, where you can get a Train Wreck, foosball or some kind of screwdriver

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