Would You Like It On The Rocks Or Neat?

College Street / Little Italy

In the 70’s when I was a kid growing up in Victoria we lived across the street from the Murray’s. The Murray’s had four daughters, one a little later in life who happened to also be ten years old like me. In fact, on the first day we moved into our house their daughter Beth came up to me on her bike and introduced herself. Still friends today, whenever we catch up we giggle about our first meeting. I thought I was super cool by saying “Howdy” like my big brother said when he answered the phone. Plus I was wearing, much to my delight and fashion-forward (Not!) sensibility, beige pants with purple pockets. It’s a surprise she even talked to Dorky Ole Me.

Mr. Murray was a very important banker in town and Mrs. Murray was an artist like my dad. Most days after school we’d walk Beth’s gay Miniature Schnauzers (who knew?) and then make chocolate chip cookies, usually eating most of the cookie dough raw while Mrs. Murray painted in her studio. I loved Mrs. Murray. She always made the effort to make us laugh and make me feel comfortable. I still smile at the memories of her joining us hands swaying while we practiced our disco routines in the living room.

Mr. Murray was everything you might expect a stereotypical banker to be. He was reserved, stoic, and had a wry sense of humour. Most of the time I didn’t understand him as he never veered from his very adult banker sensibilities, though occasionally on nights when I’d stay over to watch TV he’d make a special effort to relate to me by telling me he was glad I was a good friend to his daughter Beth.

Every year The Murray’s would have a Holiday Party and invite their social world over. It was always a fancy affair and the nicest event in the neighbourhood. Mr. Murray would prepare his classic Yuletide Egg Nog which was basically a concoction of booze, booze and more booze topped with whipped egg whites and grated nutmeg. It was horrific to a child but the adults lapped it up and danced like idiots.

However, it wasn’t the Egg Nog that left a lasting impression. It was Mr. Murray’s sophistication tending and stocking his bar. Although my parents weren’t tea totallers they didn’t really drink much, beyond the occasional bottle of Mateus Rose, Chianti or, oh dear, Blue Nun. I still remember being allowed to stick a multi-coloured candle into the Chianti bottle with its raffia wrapping and watch the wax wick wonders. I know what you’re thinking…I had a riveting childhood!

Anyway, one Holiday Party I was standing at the bar watching Mr. Murray work his magic and I’ll never forget what transpired. Mr. Murray asked his guest what he’d like to drink and the guest said “I’d love a Scotch!”, to which Mr. Murray replied “What kind? Would you like it on the rocks or neat?”. In that moment I realized I was in the presence of true sophistication, for here was someone who not only had Scotch but several brands with multiple options. Even though I didn’t know what Scotch really was, I knew I was in the presence of a consummate host. That moment would never leave me.

Years have passed and today I have a glorious bar that is filled with all sorts of wonderful libations, most of which I never drink given my allergy to alcohol. But nothing reassures me that I, too, can be a consummate host by replying to my guests who request a Scotch (or Vodka, Rum, or Gin) by saying “What kind? Would you like it on the rocks or neat?”

Here’s a snap of my bar and fridge today (with every conceivable mix and most every booze from champagne to ice wine, beer to the hard stuff!). It’s what I always dreamed I’d have as a kid.



Stay tuned for more Rejuvenating The Button Factory, about the renovation of my unique urban space in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

~ Steven and the urbaneer team

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