The bar was full before 5 p.m. with people anxiously lined up on their stools and one thing on their mind.
I was obviously not the first to order the Pappy van Winkle.
“I’ll get that for you as soon as we get it up here,” said the bartender patiently.
Char No. 4 had sent an email that they would be serving 13-year Pappy van Winkle rye starting at 5 p.m. on Friday the 13th. It was two minutes to 5. We were counting.
Pappy van Winkle, also known as “Pappy” in the whiskey world, is not just a whiskey. It is THE American whiskey, and bottles of any kind and year are difficult to come by. People share memories of it like a good first kiss. They talk about sightings and upcoming appearances in hushed voices so too many people won’t hear. And I had yet to try it.
When the bottle did arrive, the entire bar leaned forward. People got out cameras and strained to get a better view. The bartender lined up glasses and started carefully pouring it out. We were allowed one ounce each.
“Over here!” “I’d like one.” “I don’t have mine yet.”
As the contents of the bottle quickly diminished, people vocally worried about friends stuck on trains or still at work. While also visibly glad they did get to the bar on time.
“I just walked out of work,” one said.
“They miss out,” said another.
The woman next to me had texted her fiancé several times while staring longingly at her glass. She left at 3:50 from Fort Greene just to account for possible delays on the G train and made it with almost an hour to spare.
“I’ll wait,” she said resolutely. But it was getting harder.
Someone asked if they could order one for a friend on their way.
“Sorry,” said the bartender. “First come, first served.”
The bar was quiet now as everyone had a glass. I have never seen so many people with a shot of whiskey in front of them have so much restraint. People smelled. They swirled. They savored. Then they started taking sips – enough to enjoy but small enough to make it last as long as humanly possible.
“It’s pretty good,” someone said. And everyone laughed.
Because it was not just pretty good. It was incredible. It is hands-down the smoothest rye I have ever had and probably the smoothest drink I have ever had. I slipped into my happy place, bathed in the amber light of Char No. 4 holding my Pappy. Smelling it. Caressing it. Taking precious drinks. I could feel the golden goodness sliding down the inside of my cheeks. It doesn’t burn the throat – it lightly flows down and lingers on the tongue like the best tasting piece of candy ever.
In 12 minutes, the bottle was gone. We watched the bartender drip out the last drop just as the fiancé of the woman next to me arrived. We groaned at the cruel irony. But she had very, very kindly saved her glass to share. I wondered if I could ever be that nice.
“Should we have a memorial?” asked the bartender as the empty bottle was passed around for people to hold one last time.
It’s very final, the last drop of a Pappy bottle. You can’t just get another one. I wanted to stay at the bar, to hold on to the moment, but couldn’t think of anything I wanted to drink after that. I just wanted the taste to linger as long as possible. My memory of my first kiss of Pappy.