There are two words in the English language that are guaranteed to bring a huge smile to my face: OPEN BAR. When I hear that rallying call, my mind instantly swirls with all the possibilities! A much younger me dreamed about being a kid in a candy store. Mid-thirty me dreams of free appetizers, beer, wine, and cocktails. Mid-thirty me relishes nights where I can get full on food and drinks and not spend a dime of my own money or any of my precious time entertaining assholes (AKA dates).
Last night was the Chicago Now holiday party and I was not disappointed. Being a blogger is not for the faint of heart. You have to dig deep to find topics of interest, jokes of funny, and/or moments of sincerity. Then you wait for people to like your posts and maybe even leave a comment. You read other bloggers and wonder why the hell you aren’t as clever or why they have so many likes because you totally don’t get her sense of humor. Nevertheless, you type and you post. You read and you wait. You spell check and you share. It’s often a thankless job until, in those rare moments, your fearless leader organizes a get-together for your motley community. When I saw the “holiday party” post, I held my breath until I spotted those fateful words “OPEN BAR.” RSVP, hell yeah!
I decided to go solo. Sometimes I like to challenge myself to make new friends and not depend on a +1 crutch. After I hung up my coat, I launch into my Jack Nicholson/As Good As It Gets/Do they have hard shells? routine by asking random people who don't work there if it was an open bar. I wanted to check in case something got changed at the last minute. Nothing wipes that “yes, I scored a free glass of Pinot Grigio” smile off your face faster than the bartender calling you back to the bar and telling you that you owe $7. Five people confirmed it’s an open bar and I watched a couple of people get drinks and not be asked for money, so I think I'm good.
Just as I'm feeling confident about the drinks of free, the smell of sliders catches in my nose. In the far corner, I spy salad, quesadillas, buffalo chicken wings, mini-burgers, and fries…food of the late-night Gods. There’s a line for the food, but I don’t see anyone collecting money or tickets...FREE FOOD. I decide to eat first. This is a strategic move. A novice would drink first, but an old pro like myself knows that if I lay a base of carbs, I can drink more later. Since the party started at 6pm and I arrived at 630pm, I feel assured that I’ve got some time before the open bar is over which reminds me that I need to ask five more people when the open bar ends.
While in the food line, I make my first friends. It’s a nice couple whose names I can’t remember because I’m terrible at names. I pile my plate with food, get a glass of red wine, and go sit with my new party-friends and their crew. I talk. I eat. I sip. I’m happy. The DJ fires up the karaoke and I excuse myself for more wine and a close up view of the comedy. I’m kinda in the mood for a Jack and coke, but I’m too afraid to ask if call liquor is included. Nothing ruins free wine faster than the knowledge that you don’t have any other choice. I’m not a beer drinker and I never touch well liquor. I don’t see anyone with highball glasses so I decide to be happy with wine all night; which is just fine with me.
I laugh at the karaoke and table hop around. I introduce myself to new people and remember how much I hate shaking hands. I’m a closet germaphobe. I try to keep it under wraps, but nothing freaks me out more than a roomful of hand-shaking strangers especially right before I want to get another plate of food. I’m trying to focus on the conversation and not run away to the bathroom to wash my hands. I think that’s why I forgot to ask what time the open bar was over. Nevertheless, I keep meeting cool people and secretly squiring hand sanitizer on my hands.
I end up sitting with a group female bloggers some of whom I’ve met before and some I’ve just met. We take turns getting rounds of wine. We laugh. We exchange tips and topics. I’m so happy I came. It’s getting late, but I just need one more glass of wine...a night cap if you will. I stand to go to the bar and hear someone say there’s only one more minute left for the open bar. SHIT. Panic seizes my heart. I rush to the bartender I’ve been giving $2 tips to for every glass, but she’s already helping a couple. I wait hoping she’ll hear the screaming in my head or see the desperation in my eyes and hurry up. She hands them their drinks, types into the computer, and turns to gives me that look. It’s the same look your mother gave you before she told you your fish died or your dog ran away. I already know. She doesn’t have to say it. In fact, I would prefer she didn’t. I raise my hand to silence her. The open bar is over and I go back to my seat deflated. One of my new blogger friends notices my altered state and offers me one of her two glasses of wine. She was double fisted all night. She’s my new hero. My smile reappears as I accept this early Christmas present. The tangy grapes dance on my tongue. Nothing says Happy Holidays like Free Wine and an Open Bar!
Happy Holiday to all the Chicago Now Bloggers and our Fearless Leader and Party Organizer, Jimmy Greenfield!