prior to visiting portugal, the only cultural references i could make were those of portugese water dogs and linguiça. however, maritime exploration in the 15th and 16th centuries earned this western-most european country the honour of first and longest-lived global empire in the world. portugal’s international powerhouse status may have tempered since its glory days, but a happenstance of flight routing brought me to lisbon for a short vacay. my first misconception upon arrival into the city was that you can get by in portugal by speaking some basic spanish. so not true. be that as it may, we eventually found our sea legs, ate our fair share of bacalhau, and in no time, were in pursuit of my first international taste of fernet. research resulting from wide-eyed jetlag led me down lisbon’s narrow cobblestone streets to bar snob in the bairro alto district. after ringing a buzzer for entrance (american speakeasys ain’t got nothin’ on the euros), we were led into a dimly lit parlour of velvet-upholstered antique furnishings that felt more like an estate library than a bar. the concept of mixing fernet with coke must not have caught on in europe yet, because only after much questioning did i received a mini-bottle of coke and and glass of ice to accompany my apertif. at that point, the bar owner of 43 years disappeared into the woodwork of this un-pretentious establishment, providing quiet solace from a busy tourism whirlwind and my first real sense of home in one of the oldest cities in the world.
on the eve of my first day off for the christmas holiday, my friend and i decided to grab a drink at the sister restaurant of one of my capitol hill favourites. newly opened in the heart of bellevue, barrio is physically connected like a siamese twin to partner wine bar, purple cafe. boasting a great happy hour menu and luxuries like mexican coke, the bar also specializes in house-made elixirs including made fresh daily aqua fresca and 21 day strawberry infused tequila. and if all that wasn’t enough, our scandanavian mixologist kaj proved to be wealth of spirited information, and will be a worthy replacement for our MIA eastside bartender @ pearl. added bonus – kaj is a law school graduate, and who couldn’t use a little legal assistance now and again?
to continue my bridesmaid weekend in the oc, i was delighted to receive an invite to my euro friend’s house for a designer shrimp party down in huntington beach. “designer shrimp” you ask? i first heard of these little buggers about five years ago, when my then manager was telling me about how he missed the shrimp he grew up eating in brussels and had finally found a distributor that could ship these north sea shrimp all the way from amsterdam to cali. when i get to his house with bottles of fernet and coke in hand, not only do i fall in love again with the ligne roset togo set, i also get scoffed at for bringing american coke (faux pas, for there is euro coke in the fridge). and the best part? he’s already got fernet stocked at the bar, though it’s a different brand than the branca im used to. luxardo is best known for their maraschino liqueur (distilled from the marasca, a sour cherry variety exclusively cultivated for luxardo), but evidently, they’ve also managed to dabble in the fernet market. i have to admit that knowing i was drinking something un-branca felt wrong, but in a pinch, it’ll do (with tomates crevettes, of course).
a friend of mine suggested we do a mixer of some sort to cross-pollinate our friends. a few logistical emails later, we arrive at john howie steak in bellevue. located in the new bravern building, this restaurant has a swanky bar with an illuminated marble counter, live piano, and the most extensive drink list ive seen to date in seattle. and hallelujah, they have fernet. but wait, it gets better….they also have MEXICAN COKE! nothing, and i mean NOTHING, beats fernet and pure cane sugar (corn syrup is so 1999). of course, due to the high rent location, my drink ends up costing ~$15, but hey, its all about supply and demand when it comes to the bougie eastside.