As a bartender, I was mean to vermouth, dismissing it as something to be swished in and out of a martini glass, before the real power brokers (gin, mostly) showed up.
How could we have overlooked vermouth's complex, herbal anger?
No more. Bartenders are rediscovering it as a base spirit, keeping it in the drink at places like Bouligny Tavern. Their Chambéry Tonic blends white vermouth with bronze Bonal (a fortified wine) that pools prettily in the glass, lengthened with tonic water and an expressed grapefruit peel.
The doubled bitterness on the palate dissolves into a bristly wine, with a lingering plump raisin finish. It's sparkling and soothing, and while I'm enjoying it, I notice the tousled blond guy to my left, wearing a thick school ring on one knuckle.
Even in Bouligny's low light, I can see he's in pain, one leg dangling from the bar stool. His knee, he said, cracked open when he was in college, in the first moments of a football game played in the rain.
He played running back for a Midwestern school on scholarship, and was already fielding agents and making his fiancée promise to move wherever the NFL put him.
"And then - ". Then life as you know it stops. The woman you think you'll marry, the potential you've been promised, the years put into a dream that will, with a wink, vanish.
"Eh," he grunts at my distress. "I was bored with football, anyway." And as he steps away he hauls up a leather guitar case; his talent, repurposed.
Chambéry Tonic, written by Cary Palmer, made for me by Michael Yusko at Bouligny Tavern, 3641 Magazine Street, 891.1810
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