Big Decisions in the Hotel Bar
Posted on July 23, 2013
This is a reposting of a piece I wrote for the Southern Food and Beverage Museum’s blog, OKRA. It is part of a series of drinking advice I’ve received over the years from my mother, Carolyn Pearce.
When you’re faced with a big decision and you’re not sure what to do, go have a drink in the bar of an old hotel.
More than once I have found myself on the wrong end of a hard decision, pacing the floor, but not actually getting anywhere close to making up my mind. At these moments, I listen to my mother and head to a hotel bar. Whether I’ve done this in New Orleans, New York, Memphis, Chicago orVenice, it’s always helped.
Why change venues? Why not just drink at home? Getting away from your regular haunts and habits allows you to see those parts of your life more clearly. Nothing impedes your ability to focus on a big decision like staring at the pile of laundry you’ve been meaning to fold or at the stack of bills you can’t pay. Abandoning your normal path is a step in the right direction, and heading somewhere to get a drink is even better.
Our culture of “instant everything” dictates immediate action and reaction. Every tweet, post, email, voice mail, and phone call requires speedy response. Get married or break up? Relocate or take the pay-cut? Confess or hide from the law? Best to avoid hasty action. Big decisions need a place where you can unfold them and take the long view, both of which are provided by getting a drink at a bar.
After Hurricane Katrina hit and the levees in New Orleans failed, great swaths of people, including myself, were in exile. I was lucky to return after two months and soon ran into a neighbor, Pat. We counted dozens of people we knew who, within a week of the storm, had announced they had no plans to ever return to New Orleans. We thought it was awfully quick after that traumatic event to make such a life changing decision. Instead, Pat felt all New Orleanians should adopt the mantra “No sudden moves.” Pausing for a drink in a bar may seem a small gesture against larger forces insisting that you decide something before you are ready, but it helps.
Why the drink? When the decision is big, it can be overwhelming. You shut down. You don’t move. Heading out to get a drink is a an easy, achievable task. Even deciding what to drink is something you know you can get right. Notice the advice is to have “a drink,” not two and certainly not ten. The booze from that one beverage is usually enough to relax you without impairing your judgement. Let the alcohol do its work, as you slowly slide into the place of slow contemplation.
Initially, it seems any bar should do and to a degree, that’s true. But my mom is specific in her suggestion of the hotel bar, and here’s why. Drinking in a hotel bar is unhurried and full of comfort. You take your time choosing your spot: by the lamp, the window, the mural. You settle into something plush and tufted: the leopard print love seat, the chair with the ottoman, the chaise lounge. A well-dressed server discreetly arrives, ideally with a bowl of bar snacks, and a menu of specialty cocktails, single malt whiskeys, or aged bourbons to choose from. These pleasantries take time and firmly plant you here in the present, away from the past, the future, and the outside, where your big decision awaits with its nose pressed against the glass.
While you wait for your drink, take in the surroundings. All bars are great for people watching, but hotel bars offer beautiful settings as well. The bar itself is up for appreciation. Lovely polished wood, echoed in the mirror behind it. The bartender is snappily dressed. The lighting is kind. Hard decisions can make your life feel a mess, skewed and ugly. Here there is order, tranquility and beauty.
Good hotel bars have talented bartenders, so your drink should be stellar, the treat you need. Some women get manicures, I get a Sidecar. Once your drink arrives, you can confront the decision. Hotel bars are friendly to those who sit alone. You can stare into space, even close your eyes, and no one will bother you, except your server who will deftly fill your snack bowl or inquire if you need another round. This is the time to nurse your drink and listen to your own good counsel.
The last part of my mother’s advice lies in not merely steering you to a hotel bar, but in particular an “old hotel.” When you are in crisis, new is not what you need. Old hotels offer a stability that can anchor you, if only for as long as it takes to finish your drink. The setting also places you and your dilemma in the continuum of time reassuring you that no matter what you decide,even if your life is about to take a radical new path, this bar will still be here, offering at least one constant in your new life. No matter what you do, you can still probably come back here and have a drink.
When only the ice remains, you can go home refreshed. Whether you know what to do or not, you can always return to this place of peace, what some might even call a sanctuary, for one more drink.