If You Like Pina Coladas
It was Thursday night at The Gatsby, a swanky night club downtown. It was named after The Great Gatsby, the 1925 novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald about a New Yorker named Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire who lived in a luxurious mansion where he would often host extravagant parties. The Gatsby, having been around just over a year, was one of the newer joints to get in on the speakeasy trend that was becoming more and more popular. Back in the 20s when booze was illegal, underground bars would operate in the shadows. A password or a secret knock or a combination of both were often required to gain access, a security measure to keep unwanted Flatfoots or “T-Men” from raiding the place. If the location of the bar was ever shared, it was only done so after looking both ways, leaning in close, and whispering in a soft voice to avoid disclosing the sensitive information to eavesdropping ears. Hence the name, speakeasy. The speakeasies were making a comeback. They provided a way to get a glimpse of what the scene used to look like back in the day, except, without the fear of getting raided by armed police and hauled off in a paddy wagon.
Michael was behind the bar, shaking martinis, pouring beers, keeping the patrons company who sat at his rail. He wore a black button-down shirt with a white collar, white tie and white suspenders. His sleeves were neatly rolled up to his elbows. Everyone knew Michael, unless they’d never been to The Gatsby before. And Michael knew everyone, unless they’d never been to The Gatsby before.
A four-piece band dressed in various colors of Zoot Suits recreated the hits from the Jazz Era. The pianist tickled the ivories, the trumpeter squealed and the bassist gaily plucked away as the crooner sang “Ain’t Misbehavin’” originally performed by Fats Waller. Everyone in the club was dressed to the nines. The dames in their dresses. The cats in their suits. It wasn’t mandatory to attire according to the theme, though many opted to do so. There were plenty of fedoras, two-tone Oxfords, flappers and feathered boas.
Randall sat at the bar. He was in a grey suit. It wasn’t flashy or a throwback to the 20s, just was what he wore to work that day. It was his first visit to The Gatsby. After a long day at the office, he was just looking for a good scene with some decent music, a stiff drink and possibly even meet a kitten to keep him company.
Randall was enjoying the music and nursing his second Sidecar when she walked in and made her way to the bar. She was a looker. Blonde hair just past her shoulders. Blue eyes that sparkled, full red lips, and a body perfectly silhouetted by a full length royal blue dress. Elizabeth was in her early 40s but could easily pass for 30 the way she took care of herself. She set her purse on the bar and started to remove her faux fur jacket. Randall quickly leapt to her aid. She smiled at the gesture and thanked him for his hospitality. She took her seat and Michael was right there to greet her.
“Name’s Michael, darlin’. What’s your pleasure?”
“Well, Michael, I’m Elizabeth. It’s my first time here. What would you recommend?”
This was Michael’s specialty. As good as he was with remembering everyone who had been in his bar more than once, he was even better at sizing up a customer and pairing them with the perfect drink. Before even making a recommendation, he got to work. He tossed a silver mixing tin into the air, catching it in one hand and using the other to throw in a scoop of ice. He flipped a bottle of gin that he caught and poured into the tin before returning it to the line of bottles in front of him. He squeezed a lemon and added some simple syrup to the mix before capping it and shaking it rigorously. The contents of the tin were strained into a champagne flute and topped with a bubbly champagne. He pulled out another lemon and a paring knife from his back pocket that he used to carve a perfect curly garnish that he set on the edge of the glass before placing it in front of Elizabeth.
“Quite the showman there, Michael. And what is this?”
“That, my dear Elizabeth, is a French 75. Enjoy.” He turned to Randall. “How are you doing on that Sidecar, Randall?”
“Oh, it’s just fine thank you.” Randall barely looked away from Elizabeth. “It’s my first time here as well.”
“You don’t say,” responded Elizabeth coyly.
“I believe I did just say.” His feeble attempt at humor yielded a gracious half-giggle from Elizabeth. “I’m Randall,” he said, extending his hand as a salutation.
“Elizabeth.” She shook his hand and went back to her drink.
“So what’s a dame like you doin’ in a joint like this?” He attempted a very poor Bogart impression.
“I’m actually meeting someone here.”
“Thanks. You’re sweet. I hope he thinks so.”
“Well, if he doesn’t, good old Randall is sitting right here.” They both turned to their drinks realizing how desperate that came across.
A minute later, what seemed like thirty minutes after that awkward exchange, a gentleman approached Elizabeth at the bar. He wore a black pinstripe suit with a blue button-down shirt and a dark gray tie with a blue and white design printed on it. “Is this seat taken, miss?” he asked motioning to the stool beside her.
“Actually, I’m waiting for someone.”
“Well, how about I keep the stool warm until he arrives?”
Randall thought this new guy sounded even more ridiculous than he did. He waited for the inevitable rejection that he suffered just minutes earlier. To Randall’s shock and dismay, Elizabeth allowed the man to sit. Once again, Michael was there in a beat to greet the stranger who promptly ordered a Pina Colada. A little unusual for this kind of a joint. Michael paused for half a second before getting to work on the drink. Elizabeth and Randall paused slightly longer and the stranger picked up on their judgment but said nothing.
A white blended Pina Colada garnished with a pineapple wedge and a cherry in a rounded glass was set in front of the man. He took a swig from the straw and smiled with satisfaction, Elizabeth and Randall still eyeing him.
“I like Pina Coladas. I don’t care.” And he took another straw full.
Just then, the band started in with an upbeat tune. “You’d be Surprised!” originally performed by Eddie Cantor.
The stranger stood up. “That sounds like a fun tune. Let’s give it a whirl.” He extended his hand to Elizabeth.
“Excuse me, sir,” she said, quite surprised at his audacity. “I told you I’m waiting for someone.”
Randall chuckled as he overheard. The stranger was not dissuaded and he took her hand. Before Randall knew what happened, they were trotting off to the dance floor. He watched as the two began to dance. They danced the Charleston, the Peabody and the Turkey Trot, flawlessly executed as though it had been choreographed. Randall looked to Michael with an expression of, “What is going on?” Michael just shrugged his shoulders.
The two of them nearly galloped back to the bar, laughing, holding hands. Randall was still shocked and confused. The stranger, who seemed not so much a stranger anymore, asked Michael for the tab for the Pina Colada and the French 75. Randall couldn’t keep his tongue anymore as it was clear they were about to leave together.
“What about the man you’ve been waiting for?” he asked Elizabeth.
“Oh don’t be such a fuddy duddy. I’m having such a great time with . . .” she paused and giggled embarrassed. “I don’t even know your name.”
“Thomas. Thomas Kincaide,” he introduced himself and bent forward to kiss the back of her hand. She giggled again.
Thomas paid the bill and they left arm-in-arm together. Michael cleared the drinks they left behind and wiped down the bar. Randall ordered another Sidecar still not sure what just happened.
“Does that sort of thing happen here a lot?” he asked as Michael replaced his empty drink with the one he just made.
“About once a month,” was the response.
Randall looked even more confused.
“We call them the Jimmy Buffetts. About once a month, they come in, pretend it’s their first time here, pretend they’re meeting randomly for the first time, then leave together after a drink and a dance. I guess they’ve been married for about 15 years now and they do this at restaurants, movie theatres, parks all over town. I guess it just keeps the spark going. And we all just play along.”
A beautiful red-head walked up to Randall. Her red dress and red lipstick made her long hair seem even more fiery. He looked up from his Sidecar and his jaw dropped like when Eddie Valiant got a glimpse of Jessica Rabbit for the first time.
“Is this seat taken?” she asked in a soft and sultry voice.
Randall looked at the seat, looked at her, looked at the door where Elizabeth ran off with Thomas just moments earlier, then looked at Michael for reassurance. Michael just shrugged.
“I’m not sure,” Randall said with a sigh.
Just another Thursday at The Gatsby. Michael laughed to himself and went to attend others at the bar.