Food & Drink

Double or Nothing

Weak drinks and hospitality don’t mix

photo: Johnny Autry

One of my earliest memories of growing up in New Orleans is of my mom and dad coming in after a night out with friends and kissing my brother and me good night before they went to sleep. It isn’t the beauty of the act that I remember so much as the smell of whiskey still sweet on their breath. I loved things boozy from a young age.

When I was a teenager, bars became a focal point of weekend free time. It was the late seventies and early eighties, and “learning to drink” and “handling your alcohol” were part of growing up. At the dinner table we had wine with our parents. When fishing, we drank beer, years before we were legal. By the time I arrived at college, I was light-years ahead of my peers, most of whom had had their first glasses of champagne at graduation and found themselves paralyzed by the sudden freedom to consume.

College bars could, as a result, get by with serving short pours and watered-down drinks, hoodwinking the rookie drinkers by giving them less while keeping their tabs open longer. To me it was a caustic insult. I was raised by a man of principle. Dick Currence made a solid pour of Johnnie Walker Black in a giant old-fashioned tumbler every night I remember him coming home from the office. He extolled the virtues of (and spent his money at) restaurants and bars that poured a good drink. To him it was a measure of respect and a totem of value. His sermonizing stuck.

The bartenders at City Grocery and our other restaurants in Oxford, Mississippi, pour drinks for grown-ups because I like to create a place where folks can come to enjoy their drinks the way my dad did his vessel of scotch every night. And then return, the way he insisted on returning to the original Ruth’s Chris every Sunday night, for that very reason. I insist on a heavy pour, in spite of what it may do to our bottom line. It reinforces that respect meant for our seasoned guests and keeps the rookies at bay. And that’s the way I like it.