A bar is a bar — but it becomes something special when there’s a talented bartender behind the bar. Then it’s the place everybody wants to be. We’ve all been to that place. It’s nice when you find it.
We found such a place in the lobby bar in the Riverside Hotel in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Twice. On Los Olas Boulevard, there are plenty of drinking establishments, but we liked the cool, old-fashioned elegance at Preston’s.
Ryan runs the place — even quipping he was going to change his name to Preston. It ought to be called Ryan’s since he owns the place, in every sense of the word. Moving smoothly from person to person, he takes an order, hoists a liquor bottle and keeps the conversation going around the place.
Pay attention as he gently swirls the ingredients and ice for that perfect Manhattan. Ask for something unusual and he’ll put it together for you.
There’s not a frou-frou drink anywhere — no blended daiquiris or layered pousse-cafés here. Mixed drinks, cocktails and wine were what the clientele were ordering on our visits.
But if you’re curious, ask Ryan about his own concoctions and he might whip you up a Ry-Tai, his own version of the classic Hawaiian favorite, the Mai-Tai. Now we’ve had the best Mai-Tai ever. My brother-in-law’s brother-in-law knows how to mix the perfect drink and dress it up with the perfect toys. But since we were a long way from Oahu, Ryan’s sounded pretty good. And it was very good. Icy cold, pink but potent, a hint of the hula in a Mason jar. It was even topped with fruit and a little umbrella.
So I raise my glass to the bartender, the gracious host at a party of strangers, the center of attention who’s making sure no one is thirsty. Thanks for being there. At Preston’s and at all the other great bars, too.
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman
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