Shelves from floor to ceiling on every wall. Each shelf filled with countless treasures–some placed there just this year, others first housed on these shelves decades ago. On the front of each treasure, a few words meant to reveal only the barest details of a deep mystery of joys, wonders, sights, smells, and tastes. But to truly experience these depths, you’ll need to pick one up, open it, and take a drink. But not before you pay. And not here. This is a liquor store, man; you can’t drink here. You’re legally obligated to place that classy bottle you just bought in a tiny black trash bag so you can go home.
The same feeling of awe that some people get in a library or a bookstore, I get in a liquor store. Let me set up some ground rules here, though. Not every liquor store gets me jazzed like this. There are plenty of liquor stores that I’ve walked out of and immediately booked myself for a hepatitis screening (I’m thinking of one in particular on 8th Avenue whose interior is constructed entirely of plywood. The proprietor sits behind the [plywood] counter on a metal folding chair with her feet on the counter. A metal folding chair? Seriously? You’re the owner, you know you’re committed to sitting in that seat for many hours a day, many days a week, and you voluntarily choose a metal folding chair? It’s unfathomable.)
But there are a lot of really wonderful, very classy liquor stores that I walk in and think, “man, I’m underdressed for this. Let me grab an ascot and come back.” And just like books, each bottle has its own story, its own history, and countless hours of hard work that made it possible. Hard work by people whom you are somehow magically connected to through this object, which they’ve given to you to tell you a story, a very delicious story. (A folding chair? She’s not running a banquet hall; the chair is staying in the. same. place. all. the. time. Does she take the chair home at night? Is this chair some sort of family heirloom that she carts back and forth every day from home to work so that she is never without this precious totem? I need to let this go. Moving on.)
I also love looking at the different bottles: the different shapes, the different labels. Each bottle is a piece of artistry. I love doing this because, let’s be honest, I usually end up buying something from the second-from-the-bottom shelf or nothing, depending on the recommendation (i.e., mandate) from the budget committee (i.e., my wife). I once had a protracted conversation with a liquor store owner about how rye whiskey was making an impressive and delicious resurgence in the market and then proceeded to buy the cheapest scotch sold at that establishment (it came in a plastic bottle, and its name rhymed with Shclan Shmacgregor). My wife actually had to stipulate a limit of two dragging-her-into-a-liquor-store detours per day when we’re out someplace because she “has things to do” and “stop it; you’re bugging me.”
But you can take the man out of the liquor store, but you can’t take the liquor store out of the man. I’ve started keeping a dossier (read: Google Doc) of all of the liquor stores I’ve been to, and if they are particularly notable for any reason. I make particular mention of whether the liquor store has especially good prices on any type of spirit. Saké is a particularly fickle one; the price of the same saké can vary by $10 or more depending on where you go. And since whiskey is my particular liquor of choice, my dossier even drills down to which liquor stores have below-average prices on particular brands of whiskey. Rittenhouse Rye is a fun one that can range from $25 to $40 depending on where you go.
“But Kevin,” you might say, “What about the possibility that this is a huge waste of time?” To you, I would say, “Beacon Wines and Spirits on 74th and Broadway is notable for its extensive selection of a variety of whiskey types, especially Irish. Prices are average.”
I would also say, “if that 8th Avenue lady’s metal folding chair breaks, do you think she’ll replace it with another metal folding chair?”