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Distillations: Cheers to Bad Ideas 

Tuesday, Sep 30 2014
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"Whoa!" said Alaric, looking up at the ceiling of Eclipse. "I just got vertigo."

It is a pretty great view. Nestled in the second floor of downtown's Hyatt Regency, the Eclipse Lounge features strings of white lights dangling from a ceiling maybe 15 floors up. It's a good look and probably the best reason to go there.

It's not the reason we were there, though. We were looking for a downtown bar convenient to transit that had a kitchen open after 10 and that we could count on to be quiet enough to hold a conversation. It wasn't that someone said, "Oh, I love Eclipse!" Our top choices were noisy or their kitchens were closed.

Despite the décor, Eclipse is not a bar that's anyone's first choice: It's a bar that, for whatever reason, meets your minimum criteria.

After a turbulent year with a lot of loss, Alaric's life is looking up. She had a long period of hopping from apartment to apartment and now lives on her own boat, docked in Alameda. After a long period of job-hopping, she's got a steady gig as a bartender, where she's discovered the age-old truth that you get better tips when you abuse the customers.

"I couldn't believe it, but it's a fact," she said.

It wasn't the life she dreamed of, but she thinks living on a boat is great, and she sails it to interesting places; she's got the makings of a good bartender, and she's making money. All the boxes are checked off. She can enjoy this life for a while.

She's also very bullish on Alameda. Bars there, she points out, often have $3 well drinks. "My slogan is, 'Alameda is adequate,'" she says. But she says it in a way that's really exciting.

I'm drinking a Paradise Sunset (mango vodka, orange and pineapple juices, grenadine, Sierra Mist), which is ... adequate. Nothing wrong with it, could drink another — it's just overpriced.

When Alaric has patrons who particularly annoy her, she asks them if they want a special drink called "A Terrible Idea." It's the worst well vodka she can find ("it was in the back of a closet, covered in dust"), mixed with grenadine and "whatever green liquor I have handy."

Even being told the name, even being told what's in it, she finds that more people than not say they'll pay $12 for A Terrible Idea. And then leave a big tip.

I believe her. Not long ago a friend gave me a jar of homemade absinthe ... and it was horrible. So I started taking the jar around with me and asking people "Would you like some really terrible absinthe? You'll hate it!" But I did it with a big smile and an adventurous lilt in my voice. And more people than not said yes. People are crazy. Or bored.

We were just starting our overpriced meals when the news came through that Scotland had rejected independence. Both Alaric and I can name our clan heritage at the drop of a hat, and so we loudly expressed our disappointment. We wanted Scotland to be free! Even though if I were a Scottish voter I probably would have voted against it in the end. Too many big risks.

Independence is expensive. Independence is risky. Most of the people I know who really followed their dreams ended up clinging to the wreckage and taking what they could get. That doesn't mean they're unhappy — often they're grateful. I'm living a life I never once wanted, but that I think is far better than anything I ever dreamed up. My dreams were trite, while the detours I took were amazing, and the things I gave up were generally worth letting go. But from the perspective of someone determined to beat the world and live the dream, I'm an abject failure. I'm not even internet famous. But I'm probably both wiser and happier, and who gets that?

Did I give up? Or was I smart enough not to drink the terrible absinthe?

"Adequate is good," says Alaric, talking about Alameda again. And in general I agree, but tonight — this bar — I'm thinking that even though we got everything we set out for, we should have searched for better. Should have said "screw it," gone out into the night and been confident that, if we just looked hard enough, the right bar would come.

It would probably have been a terrible idea.

About The Author

Benjamin Wachs

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