Yesterday when I picked up the paper I was reminded of two things. One, that cookie-cutter bars and restaurants are actually seen for what they are: Washington Post food critic obliterated the District's new franchise of Buddha Bar, giving it a half star and comparing it to The Real Housewives of DC. And, secondly, that I hadn't drank enough that day.
The latter was due to Barbara Holland, who passed away at age of 77 on September 7, 2010. Her obituary appears in both The Washington Post and The New York Times. Holland's passionate defense of life's little vices provided me with both great enjoyment and inspiration. With her breezy but informed style of writing and prolific catalogue of subjects, she taught me that there's a place in the world for the everyday scholar, the writer who finds meaning in our simple rituals.
I had lost touch with Holland's writing after I devoured her 2007 book, The Joy of Drinking—150 pages that I read in the course of a few hours—but hadn't forgotten her rejoinder that it's okay to drink, and drink real booze. As much as I'm guilty of flavoring Scotch (I know, it even makes me shudder) and perhaps donning a priestly air when it comes to conjuring a cocktail, her warning on the contemporary state of strong spirits and ties resonates greatly with me:
In the metropolitan haunts of the highly sophisticated, the cocktail is no longer an instrument of friendship but a competitive fashion statement, or one-upmanship.
That's because I know—as did Holland—that what we do as bartenders is make people happy, and nothing makes a person happier than a well-made spirit shared among well-besotted "spirits," absent of pretension and unquestioned virtue (which isn't really a virtue in the end, is it?). Knowing the value of a drinking community, Holland even links the founding of our republic to a merry group of imbibers and, to some degree, the origins of civilization.
Holland's voice is one that will be sorely missed by her devoted fans, but fortunately she left so many books to remember her with. In the meantime, there's no better tribute than sitting down with close friends and bottle, which is what I intend to do right now. This one's for you, Ms. Holland.
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