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  • Bourbon
  • Dash of bitters
  • Muddled cherry and orange
  • Serve on the rocks

Booze holds a storied place in the serious business of turning things unserious. As with everything, there’s a time and a place; specific situations complement the mood, desire, and taste of every individual.

Recently, I told a woman that our theme drink for the weekend would be the Old-Fashioned. I read her the recipe over the telephone:

Place a sugar cube in a lowball glass and dissolve the sugar with a wee dose of water.

Think of a lost love and a wavy sepia wheat field.

Add two dashes of Angostura bitters.

Notice the crisp feeling of your shirt.

Add one cube of ice and a lemon peel.

Understand that your problems will remain after the drink, but embrace this; it’s the human condition.

Add whiskey; in our case, bourbon.

Stir with a spoon you received as a gift and serve.

If you’ve ever had a mouthful of an Old-Fashioned made in this style, you’ve probably spit it right back out. Sugar, bitters, a lemon peel, and bourbon whiskey is about as close to a punch in the mouth as you can get outside a boxing gym. Which is one key reason you’ll never get a drink made from this recipe in any bar, anywhere. The Old-Fashioned evolved several decades ago, or maybe a hundred years ago, to include a maraschino cherry and club soda. There’s even a San Diego version that you’ll find at bars here, in which the lemon peel is abandoned in favor of an orange slice.

The girl and I made both variants of the drink. During games of backgammon, between our respective turns with the dice, and breaking up play only to chip more ice or slice and peel fruit, eventually, as the liquor buoyed our spirits and we laughed more at things that wouldn’t otherwise seem as funny, we splashed in more and more club soda, less and less bitters, and topped off our glasses with an arrangement of citrus and cherries.

Purists may decry the addition of soda, but I see no problem in the evolution of drink mixes. What matters — the main ingredients — are your time, place, mood, and company. Really, drinking an Old-Fashioned in this updated and fresh way (don’t forget the oranges, backgammon, and girl) is delightful.

The making of an Old-Fashioned lends itself to sprinkling sugar about the countertop in a festive manner, the lively squeezing of oranges onto the floor, dashing bitters onto the stove or fridge, and erupting club soda bottles over the whole affair. Looking at the soggy, silty, sticky mess in my kitchen, I made the executive decision, “We’re not making this shithole any worse; we’re going out to drink.”

Why, at the Turf Club, of course.

The Turf Club is actually named the Turf Supper Club, but everyone drops the “Supper” in favor of the shorter version of the name.

Ah, the Turf Club: where the drinks could fuel transcontinental flight, cartoon horses decorate everything, and everyone is overly tattooed and all incredibly nice and accommodating. The Turf Club looks as if Dwight Eisenhower is running for his 14th term as president, and the bar is known for its Old-Fashioned.

We arrive just after nine at night, and there are two burgundy Naugahyde stools left open at the bar; mostly people are standing up and crammed in tight, clutching Martini glasses and draped with vintage purses. Acapulco-patterned dresses and bowling shirts swish and slide against one another as San Diego’s waist-deep-in-hip leisure aristocracy jostle to sizzle their own steaks at the diminutive and crowded indoor grill.

“What can I get you?” the tender asks.

“Two Old-Fashioneds.”

With a nod, he’s off to pluck orange slices from a tub and find the little bottle of bitters. At seven bucks apiece, it’s a bargain to spare me from cleaning any more sugary gunk off my kitchen counter, walls, and cabinets.

Stacks of cash clutter the bar between pools of splashed liquor. Women apply makeup with the aid of pocket mirrors. Men drop hunks of their paychecks in exchange for icy glasses of liquor. The jukebox rattles. People shout and clamor.

The girl says, “This is perfect.”

The right place with the right drink, gold shimmers in the hearts of the people, me, and her.

Oh yes, takin’ it easy is serious business.

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