We passed through Parliament’s busy patio and pushed our way inside. The tables brushing the perimeter of the room were all occupied, and the well-dressed young professionals packing the bar showed no signs of surrendering their spots. We stood awkwardly by the door until I noticed a loner in the corner holding two booths. We forced him to surrender one of them and settled in.
I’d barely had time to crack open the menu before the waitress showed up. Karlita wore a black jumper and a bracelet with skull-shaped beads.
“This menu is overwhelming,” I complained, far from a decision.
But my blond friend had a liquor-hungry look: “I’ll take a Sazerac.”
“That’s only on the second page,” my bearded friend said. “You didn’t even look at the whole menu!”
“I’m really thirsty, okay?”
After several minutes of indecision and furious menu-flipping, I took a look around the bar. Eddie “Lucky” Campbell, the fedora-wearing barman known for his killer cocktails, opened Parliament last August. The place has red brocade-style wallpaper, a stamped-tin ceiling, and swan-shaped doorknobs. The bar area is expansive, with huge backlit shelves of booze—and a ladder to reach the good stuff. While I was examining the glittering chandeliers, our waitress returned.
“What do you feel like?” she asked when I admitted I still hadn’t decided on a drink. “I’ve tried them all.”
“At least 80 percent. I don’t like absinthe. I used a straw to sample those.”
On a page titled “Forbidden,” I found the absinthe cocktails, including Death in the Afternoon, a drink composed per Hemingway’s instructions. I opted for the Monkey Gland, a concoction made of gin, orange juice, grenadine, and absinthe.
In a nearby booth, three guys had amassed a sizable collection of empty glasses. “You’re already on drink No. 5, and it’s only 8, bro,” one of them told another.
I felt we had some catching up to do, so I turned back to the menu. It’s 30 pages long, with more than 130 drinks. (Bartender Charlie keeps two notepads in his apron pockets in case he forgets how to make any of them.) There’s a section of rotating seasonal drinks. One of them—OMG #PSL, a pumpkin spice latte gin fizz—caught my eye because its description consisted only of amusingly condescending hash tags: “#uggs,” “#totesadorbs,” etc. There are classics, Southern-inspired drinks, and martinis. The “London Roads” page lists a cocktail called Jack the Ripper. There are two pages celebrating whiskey, including a drink named for Maeve, the Celtic goddess-queen, and one called Jing, made with deer antler extract.
Now the guys beside us were shouting at a nearby bleach-blonde. “I’m a $250-per-hour consultant,” one of them called.
“I’m cash-poor and booze-rich,” she replied.
That’s when Karlita returned with our libations. My bearded friend, usually difficult to please, relished his Barrel-Aged Old Fashioned. My fruity absinthe drink was awesome, and even the hastily selected Sazerac was a winner. After emptying my glass, I decided to see what other folks were drinking. At the bar, the bleach-blonde was reciting Dixon Lanier Merritt’s pelican limerick as a pre-Fireball toast. When her friends applauded, she said, “I’m here all night.”
Two young women with pretty drinks caught my eye. I asked what they’d ordered.
“I got the Corpse Reviver based on the name alone,” the brunette said.
Her friend sipped a bright red cocktail. “Every so often I crave a Manhattan, but it has to be perfect.”
“It’s strong,” the brunette warned. “We’re going to be here awhile.”
When I returned to my companions, I found their glasses empty.
“Let’s order another round,” I said, grabbing the gigantic menu and preparing to read through it again. I had a feeling we were going to be here awhile, too.