Current Issue #488

Beer and Other Sins:
There's an art to drinking at Finn McCools

Beer and Other Sins by Royce Kurmelovs

Every Saturday night the same ritual plays out among the regulars at the Norwood Hotel.

From seven o’clock they begin turning up to the kitsch Irish-themed pub at the corner of Norwood Parade and Osmond Terrace. They gather at the bottom of the u-shaped bar where they greet each other and sip beer.

Of them all, there’s one woman who staff know best. She has been coming to this place longer than most of them have been working here, and she’ll still be turning up long after they’ve gone.

Her Saturday night always begins the same way. She always dresses up for the occasion, but never wears anything too ostentatious. She puts on her nice jewellery and catches a taxi to the bar alone.

She may not be a local, but she doesn’t mind the expense. Finn McCool’s is her place and the staff there make her feel welcome. When she arrives on this night, she picks out a stool with a high-back and drags it by its hind legs to her usual place at the bar. From that vantage point she can survey the entire front bar, from the dance floor to the door.

As soon as he sees her, the bar tender leans over the counter. Raising his voice above the dim chatter, he asks whether she would like her usual. It’s a question that doesn’t need to be asked, but the bar tender does so anyway.  

“Yes, please,” the woman says, so the bar tender fetches her a bottle of red wine, a wine glass, a bottle of soda water, a short glass and two empty martini glasses.

Her order placed, the woman spends some time rummaging in her handbag, searching for something. A few moments later she pulls the first of two zip lock plastic bags from inside and drops it on the bar next to the martini glasses.

The bag hits the bar with an indifferent thud, and she goes back to look for the second. When she’s finds it, she drops it next to the first and climbs atop the stool.

She takes a moment to settle herself, hanging her handbag on a hook beneath the bar and drawing a breath. When she’s ready she pours herself a glass of wine and takes a sip.

After the wine, she pours herself a glass of soda water. After the soda water, she opens the first zip-lock bag, which is full of multi-coloured peanut M&Ms that she then pours into one of the martini glasses.

After the M&Ms, she opens the second zip-lock bag which holds strawberries and cream lollies into the second martini glass.

Next to her sits a middle-aged couple on a date. They’re not regulars, but strangers, and the little ritual playing out catches their attention. The woman notices. When she is done filling the martini glasses, she takes each glass by the stem, holding them between her thumb and forefinger, and offers them to the couple.

Her eyes light up as she asks the woman in the seat next to her whether she would like one. Around then, the band begins to play – three middle-aged dads playing under the name of Acoustic Fix. Their set is pure classic rock, a list of crowd pleasers composed of all the party hits.

On the dance floor, a man who looks to be in his 70s begins to wildly dance. He won’t stop all night. The woman at the bar doesn’t watch the band at first. Her eyes are fixed on the television. The pictures on the screen are playing a mute drama without subtitles.

Halfway through the band’s set, the woman manages to get a bar tender’s attention. She orders three whiskeys on the rocks, one for each member of the band. When the order comes, she asks they be placed on a tray and left on the part of the bar closest to the stage.

Gingerly, she climbs down off her stool and excuses her way through the crowd, pushing past two men in leather jackets leaning up against the wall and a woman with a rocker haircut and tight faux-leather jeans.

At the bar she carefully takes the tray in hand and skirts the edge of the dancefloor. Finding the stage, she places the three glasses on a speaker and glances up at the singer searching for a fleeting moment of recognition.

Finding it, she makes her way back to her chair, back to her wine and back to her familiar place at the bar.

Royce Kurmelovs

Royce Kurmelovs

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Royce Kurmelovs is an Australian freelance journalist and author of The Death of Holden (2016), Rogue Nation (2017) and Boom and Bust (2018).

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