"Gentlemen you will admit that, when arrived at a certain degree of fortune, the superfluities of life are all that can be desired; and the ladies will allow that, after having risen to a certain eminence of position, the ideal alone can be more exalted. Now, to follow out this reasoning, what is the marvelous? - that which we do not understand. What is it that we really desire? - that which we cannot obtain. Now, to see things which I cannot understand, to procure impossibilities, these are the study of my life. I gratify my wishes by two means - my will and my money." These are the words of the Count of Monte Cristo, spoken to his guests as they sat down to partake in the feast which he had prepared. These were the words that coursed through my mind as I entered the candlelit bar at the invitation of my gracious host, the proprietor of Hop Sing Laundromat known only as Lêe, a figure shrouded by nearly as much secrecy as the Count himself. Unbeknownst to me he was about to guide all of his eager patrons into a journey to enlighten us as to what was truly marvelous, and how things thought to be unobtainable were actually at our fingertips if we were motivated enough to strive for them.
We were ushered into the metal gate and into the reception area. This was the nigh mythic room of copper coined floors and tales of shoe-shines that the media has spent so much time writing about. Regretfully we could not take in the room for long as we were whisked away toward the bar. We entered the common room and were greeted by light from candles dripping wax onto their ornate wrought iron sconces and bronze candelabra. The magnificence of the room was almost shamefully understated due to the dim lighting, but it provided so pleasant an atmosphere. My eyes were greedy for more light so that I could admire the details, but it was not to be had. This provided a benefit though, in that every space in which you stand in the common room allowed you to discover new details that had previously been hidden in shadow. It may be that you could visit the bar every day for a month and notice a new detail simply by sitting in a different spot.
In the novel the Count continued to address his guests explaining that he took as much interest in the pursuit of a whim as his guests did in their most serious endeavors. As I sat down at the bar I saw the fruition of such a passion. The bartop consisted entirely of nickels, turned heads up, like an army of Jeffersons marching marching in step across its surface. If you quiz Lêe about it he will explain that using the nickels alone was not enough to fulfill the aesthetic, but that if he had not taken the time to order them so neatly he would in the future look back with regret at the missed opportunity. The bar was stocked with a dizzying array of bottles against a wonderful backdrop of mahogany paneling. It seemed like even the most esoteric of spirits was represented in the selection.
As the other guests found their seats the sharply dressed bartenders sprang into action. Cutting, peeling, juicing, pouring, shaking, serving. The first drink presented to us was a simple screwdriver, hardly what I expected to be served at a place billing itself as a haven for cocktail snobs. As I recollect Ultimat vodka was paired with the freshly squeezed orange juice. The drink was deceptively smooth and creamy, the vigorous shaking having given it a slight froth. I could not help but quickly quaff the delicious drink, only to stare dejectedly into a glass that contained only ice shortly thereafter. The bartender was happy to make me another serving while we waited for the next beverage on the tasting menu Lêe had prepared.
"It tastes like the Bahamas!," my wife and I exclaimed to each other simultaneously after sampling the next serving. A simple concoction of freshly juiced grapes and El Dorado 15 Year rum had taken us back to our second honeymoon. This drink, by far the best of the night, had made me taste a place and time of fond memory. I realized then that drinking at Hop Sing Laundromat is as much about the experience of drinking as it is about the drinks themselves. The key to the experience was the freshness of the ingredients and the quality of the spirit, and it made me appreciative that Lêe had chosen such quality to fill his wells of his bar. I mentioned before that he would show how things thought unobtainable were actually at our fingertips, and this drink was the essence of that. It was so simple--it only required the effort of execution.
As the night drew on I saw familiar faces and made the acquaintance of new ones. We were served a variation of a martini made using Smooth Ambler gin. As I talked to the bartenders and the guests I appreciated that the sound level in the bar maintained a level that made conversation comfortable to carry out. At that point I was so lost in mirth and good conversation that it seemed like time flew by quickly. We were served a drink of fresh pineapple juice, muddled strawberry, and Patron Anejo tequila. For me this was the drink that fell the most flat as the fresh fruit completely obscured the flavor of the tequila, but that is not to say it wasn't a delicious beverage. It went over extremely well on my wife who much prefers sweeter drinks, and I must admit that the chunks of strawberry in the pineapple juice were a real treat.
The night ended with bourbon. I did not catch the brand, but I did note bitters, and southern comfort in the concoction. By that time my wife had been plied with enough alcohol that she eschewed drinking anymore and let me finish her serving, much to my pleasure. We didn't want the experience to end, but we knew we would have to leave what almost seemed like a fantasy world. We had greatly enjoyed the experience, the company, and the charming and very personal service that Lêe had provided for us throughout the night. After saying our goodbyes we left into the cold rainy night, carrying with us the warmth of a wonderful night at Hop Sing Laundromat.
Disclaimer: All drinks at the tasting party were provided to us for free, but they really were so good I'd gladly have paid.