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martinis at Rolf's-3

It’s 5 o’clock stemware! Photo by Julie Seyler.


I’m noticing among my fellow “fifties,” as our families morph into new patterns, that 5 o’clock is our happy hour; our Early Bird Special. There seems to be an unspoken, and early-onset vibe at my local bar: times are tough, the world is messy – let’s share a drink. Let’s go early. We don’t even have to know each other’s names.

I’ve always enjoyed drinking early. These days, I’ve found, I’ve comfortably fit into a new pattern of pushing the workday back, sliding the mealtimes forward, so I can slip into the sip about two hours after my last meal. I work at home for the most part. I get up at 5, have breakfast by 11, lunch around 3:30, (my dinner is often at the eleventh hour), and I don’t need bells nor whistles to herald: it’s 5 o’clock, who wants to go out for a drink?

There’s something about that first sip. The palette is primed. The lips greet the glass with precognitive delight (that premiere swig always delivers), and all the day’s duties are backstroking, thanks to the clink, the sip, the swallow. And at 5 o’clock, chances are the pressures of the day are still whooshing within. This timely trek down to your local tavern goes hand-in-hand with no pressure. No pressure to hurry, no pressure to move. No pressure to have more than one. And it’s early enough to get a seat at the bar (even the much-desired corner).

It’s different from going out to dinner – which has a turnover timetable as restaurants limit your time at the table. It’s different from the cocktail before dinner – which is also on a schedule. Often, that cocktail takes a back seat once the food comes. And often, the food comes too early. I don’t appreciate my half-sipped martini being usurped by a salad. (My dirty martini comes with its own olive salad, thank you.)

I’ve always bucked the pre-50 credo that labels early as un-cool. I’m damned with being both a morning person, and a night owl. I’ve always liked to start early, but have suffered through years of cajoling and prodding to get anyone to join me before 8 or 9. And I don’t like drinking alone, and since I’m pretty much living alone these days, I prefer not to drink at home. So this new fraternity of imbibing is working for me.

And 5 o’clock as a bellwether is nothing new. Factory laborers toiled away until the 5 o’clock whistle, it’s been prime time for Wall Streeters to work the room, and of course, there’s the Flintstones. And for the less-secure among us that need to justify, there’s the overused excuse, “it’s five o’clock somewhere.