Punch Drunk 

Summer Doldrums: a Rant, plus Jack's Top Shelf

click to enlarge punch_drunk.jpg

Doldrums: 1. A state of inactivity or stagnation, as in business or art: August is a time of doldrums for many enterprises. 2. The weather prevailing in this area. 3. A dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits.

Richmond is burning and there is no love in the heart of this city.

As it happens every year, and frequently in this column, my frustration and in many instances, complete and unabashed anger with the seasons, tends to rear its ugly, pockmarked head. The initial bloom of excitement about the onset of summer, of time spent by the water, of previously unnoticed women in sundresses and short shorts is gone. Long gone. It's a distant, horrible memory of better times.

I can't curse this goddamned heat with any more violence or disgust — my pits stained, my forehead beaded up, red-faced, hair-trigger temper on high alert.

The Richmond Summer Doldrums have firmly ensconced themselves. People magically disappear from the streets, work, society — either washing up in the Outer Banks or found immobile and catatonic in a darkened, air-conditioned room watching daytime television, only to venture out at dusk in search of food and libations.

People who say they prefer this to the depths of winter have been stricken insane by heatstroke, like some white-collar, cubicle-manacled Colonel Walter Kurtz, cracking up under the hot duress. Their babble isn't to be trusted. Even normally affable NBC-12 weather bard Andrew Freiden seems a bit off-kilter, slightly grumpy from reporting the endless sauna.

And you know what's even worse than the heat? People talking about the stupid heat.

Like the paragraphs above. This sort of horseshit small talk is the worst and I hate myself for every word, for contributing to the misery, the malaise. If my mind could function correctly, perhaps if the cool, crisp breeze of autumn replaced the humid, muddy-crotch-inducing air of my discomfort, perhaps then I would discuss something more agreeable, more entertaining. Until that lovely day comes, I'll continue to bitch and complain, sweat mingling with every hair on my body, my hangovers intensified by a million.

The things that people claim are fun during a Richmond summer — like rock hopping on Belle Isle or Texas Beach, hitting Kings Dominion, exploring Maymont, window shopping in Carytown — all cease to be enjoyable, made agonizing by the incessant heat.

The only industry that doesn't seem stagnant is the restaurant industry. New places are opening and closing, yet mostly multiplying like relentless mosquitoes. It's remarkable the pluck and gumption of these bold operators. It appears that there's no over-saturation point in this market. The most surprising aspect of it all is that more often than not, the places have, recently, at least, been really, really good. Well-thought-out ventures seeing early success, as anyone even remotely associated with the industry knows, are extremely difficult to accomplish.

I commend people like the Richmond Restaurant Group, FWS Group (one of my employers) and others flying solo who continue to attack and expand. Win or lose, it's good for the city. Good for the people they employ. Good for the economy.

Bright spots aside, I still find absolutely nothing positive with July and August. Like an elderly hermit, fearful of the outside world and its dangers, I prefer to cower inside, staring out a cracked blind with disdain at the foolish youth enjoying this inferno. I wish to, and often do, shirk my bar-work responsibilities, sitting in a beer cooler, staring at the clock and daydreaming during these doldrum days.

That obscenely rich, older widowed lady is out there waiting to whisk me away to a place with low humidity, a place where I need only to sip on mojitos and occasionally have sex with my benefactor.

Ah, my happy place.

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click to enlarge Owner John Maher and bar manager Eric Fortin of Rogue Gentleman, which plans to open in late September or early October. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Owner John Maher and bar manager Eric Fortin of Rogue Gentleman, which plans to open in late September or early October.

Jack's Top Shelf

John Maher, 31
Owner, Rogue Gentleman

Fernetaboutit
3/4 ounce Fernet
3/4 ounce Luxardo Maraschino
3/4 ounce Green Chartreuse
3/4 ounce lime juice
Shake ingredients until frosty. Strain into chilled cocktail or coupe glass. No garnish.

I'm known in Richmond for my love of Fernet Branca, the dark and super bitter Italian digestif that resides in the amaro family of liqueurs. I'm not angry or militant about it, as some have said, but I just want people to try different things, especially in this town. I want to open their eyes to different liqueurs in the cocktail game. I picked up this wonderful Fernet habit while living and cooking in San Francisco several years ago and it's stuck with me ever since. It's become ingrained in who I am.

It was at one of my favorite San Francisco bars, 15 Romolo, that I first encountered the Fernetaboutit. It's a variation on a classic cocktail from the '30s called the last word, which consists of equal parts gin, Luxardo, Green Chartreuse and lime juice. If you sub Fernet for gin, you get a Fernetaboutit. It's a drink that I've carried with me for years and every time I ask a bartender for it, they usually hit me with an "eww" face. But then they taste it and immediately get it. Fast-forward a few years and I can honestly say that I probably drink more Fernet than anyone below Washington, D.C.

At the Rogue Gentlemen, we focus on classic cocktails, as well as slight variations of them. Eric Fortin, our bar genius, and I are huge fans of bitter amaris and we do our best to preach about its curing abilities. We're trying something different — going rogue.

Basically, you're either going to love or hate Fernet, and that's it. But you can't say that it's not interesting. — as told to Jack Lauterback

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Connect with Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback at bartender@styleweekly.com. Lauterback also is co-host of 103.7-FM's "River Mornings with Melissa and Jack," weekdays from 6-9 a.m. On Twitter @jackgoesforth.

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