Irene and I had never been to a yacht club before and didn't quite know what to
expect, but when we arrived at the Montauk Yacht Club Philip Seymour Hoffman was
picking up trash in the parking lot. That meant we weren't surprised the following night to
see Val Kilmer tending bar. Irene and I had gone to the bar with our daughter-in-law,
Deena, for a drink after dinner. I asked Val Kilmer for a bourbon, Knob Creek on the rocks,
and the ladies ordered cappuccinos.
(I say Val Kilmer was the bartender - well, it was a guy who looked like him and ran his
fingers through his hair constantly, as though he wished someone would volunteer to do
this for him. And it wasn’t really Philip Seymour Hoffman either, only a look-alike hunting
for stray pieces of paper.)
The three of us (Irene, Deena and I, not Val, Philip Seymour and I ) chatted while waiting
for our drinks. Our son, Jack, was upstairs with his two young daughters and planned to join
me when Grandma and Mommy finished their cappuccinos. A few minutes after ordering
I noticed Val was talking to his assistant, his thumbs and index fingers formed into a
rectangle, the shape of a bottle of Knob Creek. He had no Knob Creek on the liquor shelf.
I knew they stocked it because I had ordered it the night before when a different bartender
was on duty.
As the assistant headed for the storeroom to get the Knob Creek, Val said, “He’s new.
He’s learning.” Then Val asked me, “Do you know how to make a French martini?”
“I don’t drink martinis,” I said.
“I’ve made them before but I can’t remember what you put in them.”
I said “Why don’t you just make an ordinary martini and then say something
anti-American.” Presumably valuing his job, Val ignored my suggestion, and when I next
saw him he was on the other side of the bar rattling a martini shaker. He stopped, grabbed
a can of pineapple juice and added it to the mixture, apparently having found someone on
that side of the room smarter than the folks on my side.
We, by the way, were still without drinks of any kind. The assistant had returned from
the storeroom with nothing, so Val went to get the Knob Creek himself. He reappeared,
poured my bourbon and assured Irene and Deena that the cappuccinos were coming.
Coming from where was unclear. Massachusetts? Milan? Mars?
He kept his promise and the cappuccinos arrived and now spoons must be found. One
was located and Val rubbed it with a towel, examined it and rubbed it again. He put the
long-handled spoon on the bar and went searching for a mate. One was never found. Val
informed the ladies, “You are going to have to share one spoon. That’s the way things are
here. One napkin per customer, one spoon for two cappuccinos.” It was October and in a
few weeks the Montauk Yacht Club would close for the winter.
The ladies sipped their drinks, we talked and they left, but not before I urged Deena to
tell Jack that when he came in he should ask Val for a French martini and watch his reaction.
When Jack sat down, Val was busy - perhaps searching the premises for spoon number two -
and the assistant asked if he could help him.
“Yes, Drambuie on the rocks.”
Again puzzlement. The assistant had never heard of Drambuie. He went looking in the
cabinets below the bar. Jack told him where the Drambuie had been the night before, and
the assistant looked in that section. After Jack said it had a red top, the assistant started
grabbing any bottle with a trace of red on top. On the third or fourth try, the bottle retrieved
was indeed Drambuie.
After pouring the drink, the assistant asked Jack what he was doing in Montauk, what he
did for a living and then began to talk about himself. He had gone to school with a young
couple sitting to our left at the bar. “I’m not all there today,” he said, “I was out with them in
Manhattan last night drinking. Wasted.” He asked the couple to remind him of the names
of some of the places they had been. Down the Hatch was one, Off the Wagon another. I
don't want to be an elitist, but I suspect that the bartenders at those establishments might
also need some help if someone ordered a French martini.
“Would you like another drink? On the house?” the assistant asked Jack. As a second
Drambuie was served, he looked at me, “Do you want another drink?”
“Yes,” I said, “but I’m not going to have one. We old guys have to pace ourselves.”
If he offered every patron a "buy one, get one free" deal, he would be well-liked but
would have a very brief career as a bartender.
Before we left for home the next morning, I picked up a free newspaper, Dan’s Papers,
that had a special section, The Best Of The Best, listing the best bait and tackle shop in
Montauk, the best car repair place, the best charter boat service, the best boat rental place,
the best place for breakfast and so on. Val was not rated the best bartender. Nor was his
The winner was Dottie at a place called Nick’s. I don’t know Nicks, but I’d bet their drinks
are cheaper than at the Montauk Yacht Club and arrive quicker. Then again, Dottie and Nick's
probably are not nearly as much fun as Val and his assistant.
(Posted March 24, 2010)