If there is one thing more down-to-earth than a neighborhood bar, it is a neighborhood bar on Saturday afternoon. While the rest of Ventura is off populating the malls or skipping from shop to shop on Main Street, the diehards are firmly attached to the barstool of their favorite watering hole, embracing their own unique community. Small talk turns from casual banter to intense debates, strangers quickly become friends, and a home run elevates everyone from their stools, no matter what their team affiliation.
Such was the case last Saturday afternoon when I decided to escape the shrill of Main Street by taking refuge in the Star Lounge. As billiard balls cracked and my fellow patrons embraced their bottles or pitchers of Bud, I opted for a cocktail. While my request of a vodka martini might have seemed a little out of the ordinary to my fellow patrons, cocktails are more intrinsic to bars like this than they are to the glittering nightclubs and restaurants that have so wittingly embraced them, as of late.
Although the long aging process of making whiskey proved somewhat cumbersome during Prohibition, the more straightforward process of creating gin ensured a ready supply of the latter to speakeasies. And flavoring was the perfect way to mask the taste of the bootlegged alcohol. A martini, thus, became the drink of choice. The drink has come a long way since the days of Prohibition. My association with the martini was born via a dinner-suited Sean Connery as the suave James Bond when he nonchalantly ordered one “shaken, not stirred,” a request that perfectly symbolizes the drink’s elevated social status.
The Star Lounge martini
With the Star Lounge proudly proclaiming its own status as the county’s No. 2 dive-bar (as voted by the VC Reporter’s readership) there was little chance of Connery’s Bond joining me at the local hangout. And with everyone else happily nursing beers, the martini and I were seemingly on our own.
The drink arrived fittingly chilled in the traditional cocktail glass with a purposeful twist to its stem. As it was laid to rest on the napkin bearing the label of a corporate beer company, both vessel and its delivery were a fitting reflection of the bar’s no-nonsense atmosphere.
The thing I appreciate most about the martini is its flexibility. Its base can be either gin or vodka, and it can be garnished with lemon or olives or even onions. It can also host a range of flavorings that extend far beyond the traditional vermouth. I left the variation up to the bartender, a move that proved ingenious.
What arrived was easily one of the finest offerings of this relatively simple concoction that I have ever enjoyed. The drink held the traditional astringency, but also offered a delectable tang.
The appeal of this martini came via a mix of Absolut Pear with a dash of Puckers. This was not the earnest mix that James Bond would embrace, but then again this is the Star Lounge, not Casino Montecarlo. And while it might be a stretch to imagine Connery’s Bond planting himself upon a stool and joining in on a Star Lounge martini, I think that Daniel Craig’s less pretentious version of the character would sit right here with me.