ASSIGNMENT: Drink Manhattans at variety of Seattle bars and think poignant, erudite thoughts about 9/11 tragedy in New York.
First stop: the Cloud Room (1619 Ninth, 982-0100).
Have had no lunch. Am, of course, very late to meet drink partner, therefore forced to take bus through tunnel to arrive vaguely close to on time. Think about how horrible it would be if bombing, earthquake, anthrax outbreak led to being trapped underground in tunnel. Notice street signs and speed limits posted in tunnel. Someone planning to drive down here? Arrive at charming historic Camlin Hotel and realize must take creaky elevator to 11th floor to find bar. Feel brave; push button. Nothing. Try again. Assume it's broken and step out to wait for second elevator that won't come because other one is there. Honeymoony couple arrives; helpfully tell them elevator is broken. They give you-are-deranged look and step into the elevator. Doors shut. It works. Maybe 11th floor is off-limits. Stupid second elevator still won't come, so try first one again. Realize button was stuck. Haven't had one drink yet.
Order Manhattan. Receive look from waitress as if one should be cigar-chomping, blubbery Rush Limbaugh-type to order this (think: soooo bizarre that he's gone deaf). But drink arrives. Fish out disgusting cherry. Try to remember from teen years how to tie stem in mouth. Fail. Whiff of drink makes head wooze immediately, but must do one's part. Tastes a bit warm but not too sweet. Date arrives, later than me, said he predicted I'd be late. Annoying. But view is lovely, and watchable crowd looks like members of second-string touring acts from nearby Paramount: Quincy Jones roadies, opening magicians for David Copperfield, cast of Sesame Street Live. Briefly consider career as life-sized, singing-and-dancing Elmo puppet. Reject.
Now to the Baltic Room (1207 Pine, 625-4444). It's not dark yet and thus too early for much swankiness, groovy sounds, and skilled dancers that normally fill this brilliant place. Still haven't thought of anything interesting, but drinking drinks makes thinking about thinking about it less sad and tragic. Have done advance research and learned the best story about Manhattan's origin. In about 1890, cigar-chomping, blubbery Supreme Court judge Charles Henry Truax was told by his doctor to lay off martinis to lose weight (lovely, if strange, advice). Truax headed right down to his club, which was the Manhattan Club, and told bartender he needed new drink. Ta da—the Manhattan. Feel reassured by America's long-standing ability to overcome obstacles. And by drinking gorgeously amber Manhattan. Resolve to return under darker skies.
Now must head to large building: W Hotel (1112 Fourth, 264-6187).
It's the most boring night of the week (Monday), chosen since smaller crowds precipitate quiet reflection. This place is normally excellent for such pious behavior accompanied by delicious snacks and oversized cocktails. Shocked to find it bursting with loud traveling-salespeople types in "office" clothing. Guess Midwest wedding, but the waiter whispers "white trash convention." Imagine subject matter for lectures: "Avoid Paying for Garbage Service: The Gullies, Yards, and Empty Fields Near You"; "Trailer Decorating: From Velvet Paintings to Carnival Toys." Realize am being awful. Further realize they're all wearing American flag pins or ribbons. Realize that rest of country is bonding over tragedy and only self (and, thankfully, companion) still thinking mean thoughts about anyone but terrorists. Order Manhattan with special Maker's Mark to cheer up. Excellent idea. Resist strong urge to stand on chair and sing "God Bless America."
Final stop: the Bookstore in the Alexis Hotel (1007 First, 382-1506). Filled with cigar chomping and excessive puffing. Perch on stool at elegant tall table. Hungry and aware of appealing, if expensive, bar menu, but can't eat in smoke. Feel old and driplike to be bothered by smell and possibility of cancer. Run into friend who, when told of mission and asked for thoughts on tragedy, confesses thinks Osama bin Laden is cute. Unhelpful. Strangely, after all the drinks, don't feel terribly drunk or witty—more serious and weighted down (these must be more fattening than martinis, Charles Henry Truax). Consider that fundamentalist Muslims don't drink. Wonder how world would be if they did. Consider how many people have drinking problems. Wonder how world would be if they didn't. Wonder why drinking serious grown-up drinks makes one feel like Bridget Jones or Candace Bushnell. Does it destine drinker to lonely middle-aged singleness? Abandon train of thought immediately. Realize own happily-married-for-37-years father drinks Manhattans nearly every night—maybe drinking these in his honor. Have thought plenty of warm thoughts about father and reflected at length on how lucky to be born with nice, fun, supportive parents who one likes to be with and drink with. Resolve to show more appreciation for them and everyday life. Realize that's best thought about tragedy, too.