Monday, November 29, 2010

what remains of our first month

thanksgiving bloody mary morning

We woke with a late start on Thanksgiving morning. Minds foggy with hangovers. Bodies weary from the odd hours we keep these days. The bloody mary morning started without us. Seems we weren't missed, however, as the bloody mary mix was flowing well before we arrived and there was only a gallon or so left of the six (or so) gallons of mix PerryA had whipped up.

thanksgiving bloody mary morning

Phew. That morning was the true test of the mix recipe we'd devised. Seems it's here to stay. That's one concoction down.

thanksgiving telly

The Bartender and I are accustomed to awkward Thanksgivings. When playing a part in this industry, it's more than likely that you will be working on this holiday. Previous years, I spent the meal with my family and drove tepid leftovers home for him to eat after his shift ended. This year, my siblings have moved states away and my parents met with other family members at their cabin, a few hours travel from here.

thanksgiving nightfall

Up until the afternoon of, we couldn't say until what time we'd keep the bar open. Or, if we chose to pause for the meal, what time we'd reopen for the post-meal crowd. As the room mellowed mid-afternoon, we locked up for a few hours. Spent the remaining moments before his night shift between his brother's house and his dad's, where he fell asleep from pure exhaustion.

We headed back home (together!) at around 3:00 AM. Waking for work the next day was brutal. The desolate roads and almost empty parking lot were not encouraging. An early release allowed for a lunch spent together on the couch, followed by yet another nap (noticing the trend here?) before he left for work. Again.

With crossed fingers (and toes) I tell you that we are starting to surface from the maze of this beginning. Days shy from the first month marker, the paint has dried around chatting patrons. The mammoth jukebox is replaced by a smaller wall-mounted cousin. The new bar sink is being set in place by The Bartender. He is finishing the sign with a friend. We are selecting a draft tower to replace the crooked basketball tower that currently resides there. (I never would have thought so much goes into picking a draft tower.) I've replaced the 4-pack wines with a house red and white that I may feel somewhat proud of.

We are nudging our way into a new routine. Cherishing the few moments we share each week. Growing used to being at the bar on "nights off" because that's where we now find our friends. We have added a new member to the bar family. And, yes, we are starting to feel like a family. Delving into this business together, with care, has done that to us all.

our table

On Saturday night, we were seated at the farthest end of the bar. Friends he'd grown up with but hadn't seen in many years were surrounding him with talk of what's new and memories of what once was. I was focused on devising a few holiday-themed cocktails with PerryA. During a moment's pause, I caught sight of: a woman grooving her shoulders and swaying her hips with eyes closed in sync with a song she clearly had chosen; our newest member dancing along with a regular between shots of pool; our dear painter lad intently discussing life since high school with another friend; and, PerryA sashaying behind the bar between servings. While musing internally about these coinciding moments, I felt content.

hey neighbor

I realized then that I enjoy being on "this side" of the bar more so than in the mix of the drinking. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a night out just as much as most in this bar. This moment was the first time that I took to stop, pull myself away from the thinking/worrying to simply look around at what this bar is right now. The change is already set in motion. The lot of us are creating this room. This scene. And, we have much more to offer. In time.

The moment passed quickly. Was memorable just the same. After a bit more time, I put the work away, grabbed a glass of red and got to mingling.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

week 2 recipe: the bitter end bloody mary

Let's take a break from the daily grind and get down to the real reason we're here. The sauce.

PerryA and I need to develop a drink menu. First up and most important? The Bloody Mary. I may not know everything about the bar business. What I do know is this: regulars are born of a consistently good bloody mary.

our signature bloody mary blend

Feels so wrong to admit that soon after we knew the bar was set to be in our future I began obsessing about crafting a signature blend. While The Bartender calculated his mind dizzy with figures and facade changes, I mindfully sifted through ingredients--the must-haves and the have-nots--wondering how we could make ours stand out. I'm sure there was a twinge of selfishness in this mind-play. I rarely suffer through a Sunday hangover without this remedy.

After weeks of wonderment and verbal strategy sessions with PerryA, we dive into an impromptu crafting session after The Bartender and I return from a date night spent rushing from restaurant to movie theater in hopes of relieving our minds of the bar, if only for a few hours. The distraction fails. We talk about the bar throughout dinner and zoom back immediately after the movie lets out, with a new register and a feeling relief at being back in the room.

PerryA gets to mixing our calculated measures. I jot down the recipe. Photograph the three rounds it takes to reach the right texture and spiced heat.

The recipe is crafted just in time. Soon after we concoct the mix, whispers about a tradition the previous owners put in play begin filling in the pauses of our conversations.

A "bloody mary bar" in the early morn of Thanksgiving. There are tales of lobster and shrimp garnishes.

An 8:00 AM opening. As a bloody mary fiend, this tradition I can get behind.

the bitter end bloody mary
We aim for a bloody mary that kicks your hangover to the curb while reviving your senses with slight heat, lots of flavor and a smooth body. A mini dill pickle is an irresistible garnish. Fancify with shrimp even! This recipe is for a single serving in a frosty pint glass. Multiply as needed or just whip up a pitcher portion and enjoy your day off. Cheers!

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 heaping teaspoon horseradish
1/4 teaspoon sriracha sauce
1/8 teaspoon wasabi powder
2 teaspoons worchestire sauce
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
Juice from a quarter of a lime, reserve the wedge
1-1.5 cups V8 tomato juice
1.5 shots vodka
2 mini dill pickles, 1 in the mix, 1 for garnish
3 olives
a glass rimmer of a few pinches of ground pepper and a pinch of salt

Fill a shaker with ice. Shower the ice with pepper, horseradish, sriracha sauce, wasabi, worchestire sauce and celery salt. Pour the lime juice, tomato juice and vodka over the mixture. Toss in a pickle. Seal the shaker with its cover and shake vigorously for a minute, until your hands feel the achy chill of the ice. Rub the lime wedge around the rim of a pint glass. Run the rim through the pepper and salt blend to coat. Pour the bloody mary into the glass and garnish with the other pickle and a few olives.

Monday, November 15, 2010

notes on week 2

I'd be remiss not to mention the hardships that tag along with starting a bar.

Before I do so, however, I want to thank our amazing family and friends:
To all who have offered assistance from afar,
Those who have lifted paint brushes and scrubbers,
All who listen to our rants and worry,
And, to those who simply admit, "I have no idea what you're going through,"
thank you so very much.
We are grateful each day (and night) for your effort and care.

Now, on to the dirt...

When an existing bar is purchased, there are many bones to contend with. First, there are the expectations of the patrons who came before---for this bar to be as familiar to them as the other bar was, despite our best efforts to make it something new---dare I say, better? There are just as many complaints about the changes as there are compliments. Daily, we listen, defend our choices, grin with relief when told we've done something right, and always quench their thirst.

When the bar was neglected, there is sooooo much to do. There's an ice machine to order. Bags of ice to keep cold until its arrival. There is a new sink needed to replace the one with a leg so bent it resembles a horse begrudgingly kneeling, ever slowly, to the ground. A quirky dishwasher with which to contend. Draft lines to install. Soda lines to flush out.

And, cleaning. Ohhhh, what a the thick layer of grime. I thought I knew the meaning of that word. Grime. I did not. Dust so thick it resembles mossy hair. Dirt caked on with a stronghold only a putty knife and a bleachy soak may render loose. A basement cluttered with forgotten remnants of years passed. Many hours and four daring people huffing against a thick cloud of astringent air is what it took to get this joint to sparkle.

There is envy. I envy those who are able to drop former professions and delve together into the business. Some friends say, oh, I'd never be able to work with [my partner]! Yet, The Bartender and I are compatible in this sense. We admire, discover and feed our own strengths while equalizing weaknesses.

As each week passes, our time together dwindles and with it my exposure to the daily goings on at the bar. Sure, we catch up over many telephone chats. By not actually being there, I kind of feel left out. Then, I worry that I'm not fulfilling some unmentioned task that I should just know to complete, instinctively.

The Bartender has always shielded me from the bar business. Somehow, I feel like the guard remains strong even though I want to get my hands dirty.

Even if I don't play a daily part in this production, this bar is consuming our lives. There's no time for affection. No time for dates. Our free time is spent at the bar with our friends, since they all go out to the bar now. All we talk about is the bar. All anyone asks about is the bar.

Since the shifts are only split between two, I attend my brother's dual birthday and sendoff alone. Maintain upkeep of our urban abode.

Lack of sleep and days apart render us out-of-sync. Memory is immediate and slight. Keys are forgotten. Alarms are set incorrectly. Opportunities for exercise are slim. Weight is gained. Worry is thick. We grow grumpy. Bitter. These emotions encourage minor spats, which serve as a guarantee that we soon will talk at length about us, reassuring each other that yes, we're okay.

Every little decision seems to hold the weight of the future. We contemplate all of the what ifs. At the same time, we can't plan too far ahead. Any decision seems too final when in the thick of the business obsessing---when all also appears unstable enough to be up-in-the-air.

The frenzy is starting to subside. When most is set into place, we will officially unveil this baby to the neighborhood with a grand opening. There is much more to accomplish until then.

Friday, November 12, 2010

week 1 recipe: chicken "lasagna"


"These days are getting long," The Bartender complains over the phone, moments before his second shift is to begin. He's been at the bar all day, painting, cleaning, arranging, meeting sales reps, cleaning, and pouring a few drinks to curious passersby, now patrons. The usual bravado in his voice is missing. He's gone soft. All is almost intimate whispers.

He lays out his day to me through an audible check list of chores accomplished, those that have been added unexpectedly and those he figured on that still need a good tackle. Then, he asks me what's new.

"Well, I'm creating a blog to share our bar goings on...Oh hey, as I was going through the photos I shot over the weekend, I noticed one of wine glasses. They are in the basement. Did you see them?" I ask because his mum had visited and told him that she'd be back next week and that he better have better wine (my task to select) and wine glasses. All we have on hand is what the previous owners left behind. Think, Sutter Home 4-pack. As a professional wino, I cringe to even type these words.

I walk to the kitchen, phone in hand, hunger surfacing. Open the fridge, eye the chicken breasts he set to thaw before this whole thing got started. "And, I'm gonna do something with this chicken...these almost empty jars of pasta sauce...oh, and the remaining ricotta cheese."

"And, I'll eat some of your cooking when I get back," he intercedes. Somewhat dreamily. Only moments before, he had shared that he missed Cambridge. I assured him, he wasn't missing anything as I reflected in mind on my commute to and from work. The utter chaos on the roads right now while they seemingly repair every route I venture to travel.

"Well, I miss my home. My stuff. It's not fun sleeping with Chocolaty (one of many of our pup's nicknames)."

"I can't imagine it is," I muse, full well knowing how our 85-pound mutt loves to sleep across the bed, taking up, frankly, all of it. I often accommodate him and tuck myself into a very snug fetal position.

When he mentions looking forward to my cooking, I know he's homesick. He's not one for commenting on recipes or cooking. He eats. It's as simple as that. And, that's when it truly sinks in. This distance between.

I should be there with him to nudge him out of stress. I should be there to serve patrons so he can organize the cooler and dry storage. I'm not. The scheduled meeting with my manager to discuss telecommuting part of the week, never came to fruition. I complain and Nils now is comforting me with the all popular phrase we utter a lot these days: We'll figure it out.

For now, as in all times of unrest, I comfort myself through cooking. Now, for one. Soon again, for two. Of late, while in this state of being, I've been crafting recipes that serve well for one immediately and two at a later sitting. As a bartender's lady, such culinary habits become ritual.

As such, I have been jotting down each recipe along with notes of that day. Most of the recipes were knee-jerk reactions to our daily fretting over the bar purchase. If I came home from work and he was lounging, watching TV with that blank stare--the one that says, I'm shutting down because I can't absorb any more aggravation--I'd scurry to the kitchen to heal the only way I know how. Rustling skillets and bowls toward something of comfort.

These recipes and memories are scribbled on paper scraps, e-mails to myself and as notes on my phone. The most recent is the one I developed on the same night I launched this blog. (What a relief it was to make this space available for immediate writing!)

I will sculpt the other recipes as time wears on. I like to share decent photos and to do so, I must rework them on the weekends, when I may encounter the most spare time (for now) and beautiful light. I will, however, share this most recent dish with you. How cruel of me would it be to keep you waiting?!


These recipes will not claim to be exquisite. As our focus and funds are being transitioned "elsewhere," I use the odds and ends on hand. They do come together in a jiff and quench the kind of hunger that resides in times of fret and strategy. Culinary therapy at its best.


chicken "lasagna"
I made this recipe twice in the last week. Both times, I nibbled at the dish immediately after it'd fled the oven. Hours later, The Bartender has his answer when he asks, "Wanna feed a guy?"

I played around with baking the eggs on top in the last few minutes of cooking and each time they seemed too tough. Therefore, if you, like me, think oozy eggs lingering in a pool of pasta sauce is something special, I'd suggest frying an egg a few minutes before the timer goes off for the chicken dish and topping each serving with a personal egg. Please refrain from inserting the joke most obvious in this instance...

2 cups ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 avocado, split in half, pit removed
2 cups pasta sauce
5 thin, skinless breasts of chicken
1 heaping handful of baby arugula (or baby spinach)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
optional: 3 fried eggs

Place the rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees.

To a small bowl add the ricotta and garlic. Scoop spoonfuls avocado from their leathery shells into the bowl. Mush together until almost blended and a bit smoother. You want the avocado to offer chunk and texture, however, so don't overdue the mashing.

Pour 1/3 cup of pasta sauce into an 8x8-inch glass baking dish. Tilt the dish back-and-forth until a see-through coating of sauce covers the bottom.

Rest two chicken breasts, side-by-side in the dish. Carefully spread a blanket of 1/3 of the downy ricotta upon the chicken. Scatter the arugula over mixture. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of mozzarella over the greens. Layer the remaining chicken over the cheese. Spread the rest of the ricotta mixture over the chicken followed by the sauce and cheese.

Bake for 45 minutes, until the mozzarella cheese is golden. Top each serving with a fried egg, for added soppy deliciousness.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

notes on week 1

week 1: painting

"How did you sleep," I ask quietly, as I'm at work and our office has no semblance of privacy.

"Fine, until I woke up an hour before my alarm, to major anxiety," as has been the case every morning this week.

After pulling through doubles everyday, I know he's mentally and physically beat. He sounds rattled and worn. Assures that he's not down but that the numbers--the cash flow--needs to pick up. Like, now.

"But, you get to come home today!"

"Yeah, for like 14 minutes, then I have to go back to work here and return to open this bar tomorrow morning...But, you'll be here with me and that will be good."

"Yes," I grin, "It will."

week 1: window tint removed

This week, our first as parents of this bar, has worn on us both, in different measure. He wakes to the actual workload. It is, as our friend, Maple Scone Girl suggests, "his thing" after all. Although I'm as hands on as I may be, the truth of the matter is that I'm the lady behind the man behind the bar...

He rings the register. Greets everyone. Cleans. And, today, will be removing the sign from atop a lift, to make room for the new sign--the true indicator that this place speaks no longer of its former self. We both hope that a new facade will grasp attention of drivers. Spark an a-ha moment that encourages them not to pass by, but to come in.

I really hoped to photograph the removal of the sign. Have I mentioned that it still needs to be built? The Bartender, this man of mine, loves to tackle it all with his own hands. Luckily, he knows a few friends whose woodworking skills are, frankly, amazing. And, I hope he's able to team up with one of them to craft the sign he has in mind. Soon.

week 1: painting

While he's been at the bar, I'm 90 miles away in the city. My job keeps me here while he's there. Why is our bar so far from where we live now? Well, that's where opportunity came about. It's where he grew up and is well known. And, it's shaping up to be our now home-away-from-home and sometime later, home. We will make do, somehow. It's only week one.

week 1: red walls

He's been staying at his Pa's house and I've been at our urban dwelling. The things I notice/mutter about just for voice play aloud, when alone for days in this home I usually share with him, are the best stream of consciousness has to offer:

His eyeglasses resting on a table. Less laundry. An almost empty toilet paper roll lasting for days. My PM teacup empty and left on the table overnight just so I may fulfill a portion of my usual morning routine of cleaning remnants of our yesterday. His work clothes and socks not strewn in their usual spot. Stored television shows we may never have a chance of watching together. His untouched snacks.

I wonder what it'll be like when he returns. Feel guilty about lounging in our home while he is works another shift. Fall asleep on the couch to sounds uttered from the same episode of In Treatment that's been on at this time each night this week. The hum of the same dialogue a sure thing to put me to rest without care of missing something.

week 1: getting closer

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

the beginning of the bitter end

It feels peculiar to rise hours before the sun. To begin a day when the remains of the night cloak the scenery and the new day is on the cusp of the lighted hours. Time, however, is a fickle ruler. Steadfast in its tick, tick, ticking. Shouldn't the day truly begin with the new sunrise? Why adhere to the resolution of stiff numbers held forever accountable to the notation of a day's passing when the hour isn't portrayed through truths visible to the eye?

There is something about this time of day, 4:00 AM in particular, on a crisp autumn morning, that encourages somewhat stagnant traits of my personality to surface:

Resentment. After only a slim few hours of dreaming, leaving behind my slumbering gentleman and pup in a warm, dark bedroom in his Pa's house by the sea, to return to a dusty, heaving city. Headlights of my thawing car beaming a path otherwise too dark for telling---so much so that deer may only be noticed when their eyes are set in a bright glow as they capture and hold still a gaze dead set on my car. They are still perhaps in wonderment as to why you are awake during their designated wandering time.

Impatient. My usual calm acceleration quickens pace, striving toward a couple of more hours of sleep before work.

Singer. Acceptance of musical offerings at this hour, I sing a duet with Bonnie Raitt. Yes, her. Stave off quiet with my scratchy, almost husky morning voice.

Hopeful. Wet my eyes with slight tears of joy when the song I aim to cherish on our wedding day, unbeknownst to The Bartender, croons, conjuring in mind a dance shared after our nuptials.

Focus. A mind usually tender and foggy before a cup of coffee is somehow more focused on true goals of my heart. So easily. All seems obtainable when the road is dim and stretching forth for miles into a vacant slate of morning.

Perhaps I am overly pensive on this particular morning because I am leaving a bit more behind than simply a resting lot of those loved.

I am driving farther from a new beginning.

And, after I find my way home, sleep through the sunrise then resume a usual work week, I can't help but feel that I'm moving backwards.

You see, we've gone and done it.


The bartender and I went and bought a bar. Somehow I have...


discovered my supporting role in this amazing endeavor.

basement glassware

I am numb.

bar top


bar stools

Scared out of my wits by this...

first shift

BAR. And, as I while away the week in my usual way, I am miles away from him,

behind the bar

this venture,

beneath the bar

and my new sense of self. It's perplexing. Annoying. Heart-wrenching. And, so much more. We know not of how to adjust.


Somehow, we just...DO, without pondering too much.


Coat-by-coat we're adding touches of a new identity to this room we're well too familiar with.

We plan. We hope. We care. We worry.
I promise to share. Everything.
I do hope you'll come along.
And, maybe when all is just so,
you may visit.
Until then, my words and photos will lead the way.

Welcome, my friends, to the next phase.
Welcome to The Bitter End Lounge.