—Friday, January 27, 2012—
Valerie was supposed to go out with me months before this date and by that I mean, I was supposed to ask her out months earlier but I never did. I was also supposed to ask her on this date because she worked for a vodka company, so it seemed like she would be best suited for a date where the only drinks we’d be having were shots.
The only reason I say I was “supposed” to do these things is because Valerie and I were essentially set up, though we knew each other before I started OHD. We were introduced by my friend Phil’s girlfriend, Monica, at some social outing when I first moved to NYC — this was the same connection responsible for my Ice Skating Date.
When I began the project, Monica kept telling me to ask Valerie out and had even confirmed that she would be down for going on a date, suggesting Nothing But Shots Date from the list. Finally, after months of delaying, I took her up on the offer.
I reached out to Valerie earlier in the week and found that she was was free that Friday night. I asked if she had for any recommendations, based on her client list from work and she suggested Yerba Buena in the West Village. I was more than happy to check out a Latin kitchen in one of my favorite neighborhoods. and made a reservations for 7 p.m. I was excited to kick off my weekend with a potentially risky date.
Why was this date potentially risky? Oh, sorry…did you not read the title? Nothing but shots?! I was 140 pounds of pure bird-man and had less than four years of drinking experience under my tightly notched belt. The number of shots I had taken in my lifetime had to total less than 20 and I was about to do a bunch of them. Granted, there were no real rules for how many we had to do — the only guideline we had to follow was that every alcoholic drink we ordered needed to be in the form of a shot — but I predicted it would be well beyond my capacity.
This date had a lot of potential to spiral out of control and though I was nervous that I might really embarrass myself, I felt like embracing the chaos. It wouldn’t hurt to forget myself for an evening.
I waited outside of the restaurant, as it was atypically pleasant weather for January, and Valerie arrived not long after me. We greeted each other with a hug and I thanked her for going on this crazy date with me.
We were seated quickly and, as soon as our server greeted us, found out that it was Restaurant Week. It was a pleasant surprise to me. Though I recalled someone mentioning it earlier that week, I had totally forgotten. Yerba Buena had an additional Restaurant Week pre-fixe menu with three courses for $35 — not a bad price.
Our server asked us what kind of water we wanted and we opted for the tap variety. If there was one thing that might save our lives this night, it was going to be water, and lots of it. I know that I often stress the importance of staying well hydrated while dating, but this time, it was serious. We needed to stay well hydrated to keep from getting cray cray drunk and so that we wouldn’t feel like Dementors the next day.
Normally, deciding on our drink order would be a casual affair of simply selecting individual beverages, but for this date, we needed to talk about each round we ordered. We both agreed that tequila seemed appropriate given that we were eating at a Latin themed restaurant, but neither of us knew enough about tequilas to place an educated order. I’d always taken whatever tequila the bartender wanted to pour me.
As such, we asked the waitress for a recommendation of something in the mid-level price range, as they had many tequilas to choose from, and settled on something decent (I have no idea what it was, but it sure sounded Spanish). We then took a few more minutes and placed our food orders. Valerie got empanadas with rice and beans, and I sprung for the pre-fixe menu of tamale, roasted pork and apple tart à la mode.
Our “shots” arrived and they looked huge — small tumblers of tequila with a slice of lime on the side. They were definitely double shots and I covered up my worry that I might die that night with veiled excitement. Valerie also ordered a ginger ale as a chaser, which was smart. I didn’t have enough experience with shots to even think about ordering a chaser.
We toasted to the first shot of many and took them down. It was enough tequila such that I could barely drink it in one go. As soon as I’d swallowed though, I realized how pleasant it had been. I’d never had quality tequila before, certainly never had it chilled, and it was really great. Valerie liked it too. I felt like people didn’t generally branch out enough with tequila, at least not in our age group — it was pretty much just get-me-drunk-now shots and margaritas. I guess cost was a barrier, but I could have gotten used to chilled shots of the delicious agave booze.
Though we hadn’t ordered any of the vodka, Valerie noted that a bottle of her company’s vodka displayed behind of the bar, up on a high shelf, was filled with a brown liquid. It was most definitely not their vodka in there and she said that was a big no-no, to refill a bottle of theirs with anything else and display it. It was interesting to see the business side of Valerie spill out for a moment.
We did that twenty-something thing where we talked a lot about careers and where we hoped to take our lives, as if we had any clue. The food was quite good and I enjoyed the vibe of the place. About half-way through our meal, we each got another round of tequila shots.
Valerie was from close to Buffalo, NY and grew up right next to Monica, who still rode her bike over when they were both home. She told me about her move to NYC, and also, about her family. I’d actually met her sister once before, some time that she’d visited NYC in the year prior. We also talked a lot about travel. The stamps on Valerie’s passport made me look like a homebody and she was going to India very soon for two weeks. The trip was for a wedding, which sounded like a blast. I split my dessert with her and we wrapped up our meal.
The fabulous staff, a very personable date and two huge doses of tequila had me feelings great by the time our bill arrived. This was one of those checks that was large enough to where I’d have felt guilty asking her to split it. What with the $48 of tequila on there. I’d invited her to this particular date, after all, and I’d ordered a more expensive entree, so it seemed logical that I might pay for it. Plus, Valerie was a friend at this point, and though she made sure to ask if she could contribute, and I was happy to pick up the tab.
We left Yerba Buena in search of a bar, and though I had already been there for Dive Bar Date, I suggested Johnny’s Bar, just up Greenwich Avenue. It was a favorite of mine and right nearby, so it seemed like a prime option. Plus, we could stop in for a shot and then carry on somewhere else if we wanted.
In the end, we stayed at Johnny’s for five rounds of shots.
Our initial bartender was very friendly and helpful in our quest to drink only shots. I didn’t know many shots to order, but I knew I liked somewhat fruity ones, so he gave us some old standbys and made sure our water glasses stayed full. We started with SoCo & Lime at it was pretty good. Valerie and I talked for a while about our mutual friends Phil and Monica before moving onto Johnny’s shot of the night, Whiskey & Lime. Despite my disdain for whiskey, it wasn’t bad. The first two rounds at Johnny’s were pretty standard shot combinations but I’d never had either, so they were news to me.
We broke our seals and took our first pee breaks of the night, of which there were many. The thing about only drinking shots for alcohol was that all the in-between time was spent drinking water, so we consumed our fair share of the stuff.
My friend Katie had commented on my Instagram photo from the beginning of the night, saying that we had to try Mind Erasers, so we ordered a pair of them after some more water and some more conversation. The Mind Eraser looked like a regular 6-8 ounce drink, on rocks in a tumbler, but the trick was that it was served with several straws and we were instructed to suck it all down as fast as possible. In a way, it was kind of like a mega-shot. I was a bit intimidated, but within a moment, we toasted to the adventure and drained our glasses.
The Mind Eraser was sweet, tasted of Kahlua and was pretty damn good. Though it had been intimidating, it was my favorite of the night. It tasted good and it was somewhat exciting to drink.
Not long after, Valerie needed a bathroom break and I talked to the guy next to me for a bit about his fairly shitty jukebox requests. He was a character.
By this time, our bartender had changed over and the woman who was now taking care of us seemed nervous and a bit on edge. Maybe she’d had a tough day. It wasn’t like stepping in to serve at a packed bar on a Friday night was going to relax her. But maybe a shot would.
When we were ready to order our next round, we asked our bartender what she would recommend in the vein of stupidly sexual or girlie drinks, like a Redheaded Slut, Slippery Nipple, etcetera. She asked us if we’d ever tried a Citron My Face. Neither of us had, and I loved the name, so we took the recommendation. While our bartender went to work making the shots, Valerie and I agreed that she looked like she could use a shot herself, so we offered to buy her one when she returned with our drinks.
She politely declined, telling us that she drank “like a 14 year old asian girl” despite spending so many nights behind a bar. She seemed to warm up to us a little bit though, so I guess we had achieved our goal. She was really cute too, so it was probably a slip of the tongue when I commented to Valerie, minutes later, that I still needed a Bartender Date.
Upon my mention of this, Valerie motioned to the bartender who had just served us. Realizing that I had fucked up on the thing where I was supposed to make my date the most important person in the room, I immediately condemned her suggestion saying, “No! I’m on a date! I can’t do that.” The whole thing gave us both a chuckle though, so I don’t think I messed up too badly. We tried our shots and concluded that Citron My Face was the worst shot of the night thus far. It was kind of gross.
Valerie and I sat for a while longer, talking, drinking water and generally getting along well. As I got more and more drunk, I though more and more about making out with her. I had always thought she was cute, and though it wasn’t a goal of mine when the evening had begun, it was starting to sound like a great idea after eight units of alcohol. I told Valerie that Monica had urged me to ask her out about a year earlier, before I’d even started the project. She thought that we would get along well, and clearly, she was right. Valerie laughed, saying, “Well, we’re getting to it now.” Indeed, we were.
As these more romantic, or perhaps baseline sexual, thoughts ran through my mind, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Julie. Things between us had been laid to rest earlier in the week as Julie had confirmed that she was back together with her ex-boyfriend. I had been so upset about her even before that and she’d been on my mind the entire week. But there I was — emotionally wrapped up in Julie — trying to get into a position where I could be wrapped up physically in Valerie.
The contradiction of it all really started to get to me as I took a bathroom break and reflected on what I was doing. Despite the pangs of guilt I felt, the frustration actually made me want to kiss Valerie more. I knew I couldn’t have Julie, so the second best option was to distract myself with someone else.
Man. How drunk was I?
Apparently, not all that drunk. When I returned from the bathroom, Valerie and I talked about how we were actually feeling pretty good considering the number of drinks we’d had. It hadn’t turned into a disaster at all. We reasoned that all the water we’d been drinking, aside from making us pee, had helped to keep us clear-headed.
Before we left Johnny’s, we decided to get one more round of shots and went back to Mind Erasers again. They were just as good as the first time around. We settled up with our bartender and she didn’t even charge us for the last round. What a sweetheart. She told us that we were her “best water drinkers” before we said farewell and exited the bar.
Since we were still feeling so great, we decided to continue the adventure, landing at Corner Bistro, only a block away. Corner Bistro was a great old bar with an equally great, similarly antiqued, bartender. He was an older gentleman with wily, white hair and I doubted that he knew how to make a Citron My Face. Since we knew it was a standard shot, and we’d enjoyed it, we asked him if we could have two SoCo & Limes. “Sure!” he said and poured us a round.
Valerie and I talked about our work environments and she told me how working where she did was like working with a family. I could relate, as my company felt similar at times. More so, what I related to was not necessarily loving your job but sticking around because of the intangible elements that were so difficult to find elsewhere.
A patron offered to buy the bartender a beer and I heard him tell the guy that he didn’t drink. It was funny — two non-drinking bartenders at back-to-back bars.
There was a lonesome investment banker [I’m typecasting] sitting next to us, packing a lip and waiting on a burger. He told us that this place had awesome burgers. He loved Corner Bistro. It was after 11:30 p.m. and this guy had only recently gotten off from work and was waiting on his dinner at a [local?] bar. I wondered about these guys. Were they happy? Could they be happy? I could understand the overworked folks at a place like where Valerie worked, or where I worked, or any number of other businesses that might be interesting or have an amazing staff, but banking didn’t seem to have those advantages. There was nothing cool about banking aside from the money. Money could be cool, but it was only so satisfying.
We agreed that we needed another shot, but didn’t know what to order. We were also curious as to what our old school bartender would suggest if we asked him. Calling him over, we explained that we could only order shots tonight and he replied, “Shots?! Sounds like you’re asking for trouble.” He listed a few liquors and when he hit Jägermeister, I suggested we go with that.
I’d had shots of Jäger before and never thought it was bad, but these hit us in an unpleasant way. For some reason, it seemed like a lot more flavor than I was ready for and the sweetness was overpowering. Not the best choice, in retrospect.
Eventually, I got the balls to tell Valerie that I had thought about kissing her for the last year, since Monica had first planted the idea of asking her out in my head. This statement was true — I did occasionally think about kissing Valerie, usually when I was hanging out with her — but it wasn’t like I thought about it constantly, though I could understand if that was how it sounded to her. That would have made me sound super weird. Admittedly though, I did think about kissing Julie pretty much all the time.
Valerie blushed and told me I was cute. I leaned in and we kissed. It was a pretty normal kiss and it happened one or two more times before we left Corner Bistro. Along the way though, I got the sense that she wasn’t really feeling it. I might have taken the “You’re cute” thing the wrong way. Sometimes that meant, “You’re endearing, sort of, but this isn’t going to happen.” This was probably one of those times.
We nearly ordered a tenth round of shots, but Valerie wisely tapped out and announced that she was drunk. I had been too proud to give in, but I was drunk too and concurred with her that the night needed to end. Thanking our bartender and paying our tab, we left Corner Bistro in less horrible shape than I might have guessed at the beginning of the night.
There was no direct train home for me from the West Village, and Valerie needed to swing by her office near Union Square, so I split a cab with her in that direction. She showed me her offices, which were super cool, and then we went to catch our respective trains home.
Valerie and I hugged goodbye. There was no kiss. It was one of the quickest and most casual goodbyes I had experienced thus far in the project. She was great, and we’d had a good time, but she just wasn’t into me. Or, maybe she saw through my bullshit and knew that I was faking it. I was attracted her, absolutely, but Julie was front and center in my mind and anyone else would have been nothing more than a distraction that night.
If Valerie sensed even one bit of that distraction, she was smart for turning me away.
In the end, if we were counting those first two rounds of tequila as doubles, we each had 11 shots that night. It was by far the most shots I’d ever had in a night and by any standard of drinking, an extremely heavy night of alcohol use for me. But I didn’t get super drunk. I didn’t throw up. And I only had the faintest resemblance of a hangover the next day. Overall, I had come out of it unscathed.
Oh, the glory of staying well hydrated on a date.