by Martin Fleming
“No Blue Label. What kinda place you think this is? We got Red, Black or Double Black.” I had obviously set my expectations too high and settled on Black. The oak finish was sensitive to my throat but I enjoyed it. It was a sign of life. I tossed it back and made eye contact with one of the old guys at another table. His filthy blazer made me realise that I had to find a better bar if I was to make the most of, what could be my last night relatively fit.
Even before they said it was lung cancer, I knew I was fucked. If the bloody coughing and weight loss weren’t obvious symptoms then the chest pains were. A diagnosis of death was difficult to comprehend. Tonight, I wanted to put it on hold - I really needed a drink. I hadn’t been out drinking in a year or two, preferring to drink at home. Doing that now was just depressing.
I settled on a dead sports bar I passed a few times before. The barman and only two customers judged me as they watched me sit at a booth in the corner. Often, I wondered if people could tell I was dying based off my appearance. My leather jacket used to be a snug fit, now it dropped off my shoulders. I set it next to me and approached the bar to order a Johnnie Walker or whatever could pass as a decent imitation. If I didn’t have long to live, I was going to spend my remaining cash correctly.
Most of the bars on this street were nothing more than the locals of the aging alcoholics of a wasted city. Just ahead, outside one of those exact bars, a young couple were arguing with an older couple. It was becoming gradually more aggressive, the closer I got. I slowed my pace, hoping to not get too near to the drama, after all, in this condition, a light breeze could probably knock me over. The older man caught me staring just as I noticed a glint of something silver in his hand and I decided to get out of dodge by slinking down an alley.
Slowly, the arguing ceased as I heard the couples move away from the bar. The alleyway was long and bare. I’d expected garbage everywhere but there was actually a pleasant aroma coming from somewhere nearby. The small path connected two streets with various bars so I thought I’d chance it for a new bar on the next street. As I slowly walked down, the scent got stronger – it was almost, like sweet tobacco. It reminded of Chinese tobacco that I used to smoke years ago. Halfway down, light began to illuminate from a doorway and smooth jazz resonated softly. The sounds and smells were so inviting, I had to know where it was coming from. A door lay ajar and I put my hand on the gold knob, when suddenly, a huge burly man in a three-piece suit appeared. I was preparing to apologise when he smiled and spoke up.
“Welcome. Come on in, sir. No entry charge tonight.”
His smile was perfect – white veneers and one shiny gold tooth. I walked ahead into a corridor lined with glossy cabaret photographs in golden frames. The jazz got louder and the scent was now one of sweet tobacco and honey beer. I turned the corner and what lay before me was the most beautiful bar I had ever seen; black leather booths against a mirrored wall on one side with gold rims and a massive bar along the other. Three barmen stood in pristine suits and aprons and roses from their breast pockets. The place was packed with all kinds of people – different races, genders, class, and each and every one smiling from ear to ear chatting to each other. One barman motioned me over to a stool. I took a seat, still taking in this fantastic atmosphere.
“What’ll it’ll be, sir? We have only the finest spirits from around the world.”
“Johnnie Walker Blue Label, please.”
“Right away, sir, would you care for a smoke?”
I was about to say no, when I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirrored bar behind the bartender. My face was full and colourful; my jacket fit perfectly, my lungs felt full of air. I accepted an American Spirit and the barman lit me up with a gold-plated zippo.
“Thank you. What is this place? It’s incredible.”
The barman smiled. “This is the greatest bar in the world, sir. Relax and enjoy your night.”
I fully inhaled my cigarette for the first time in months. I had never felt this good. The barman returned with my scotch in a perfect crystal whiskey glass. It was exactly as I’d been craving.
I looked at the bartender and laughed. “I don’t ever want to leave this place.”
He poured himself a Blue Label and toasted it in my direction. The other bartenders followed him in the action, before the rest of the bar began doing the same. My barman drank his scotch. “You can stay for as long as you want, sir.”