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At 8:09 p.m. on Tuesday, Casillo returns with Jalisco agave, a mysterious brand housed in a cute little oak barrel the size and shape of a Nerf football, with a cork in the top and a spigot on the end. Adorning the area surrounding the spigot is a crudely carved sun, and a few stars. Jalisco, in fact, is the state in Mexico where the world's supply of tequila is produced -- most of it in the farmlands surrounding the city of Tequila. Toss half into your mouth (there's no reason to waste this in one gulp when you can appreciate it better in two or three), and it hits like a water balloon, then that distinctive tingle-tang.
Casillo -- who peppers interactions with his American customers with a heartfelt "my friend," his Hispanic customers with "mi amigo" -- then returns with another blend, this one a tequila liqueur called Agavero. The ladies like the Agavero, he says, offering a glass. It's softer, with a smoky finish and very little of that distinctive tequila kick. It's buttery and warms your gullet, then your tummy and ultimately your heart. It is as far removed from your basic Cuervo Gold as Mad Dog Plum is from Dom Perignon.
Casillo, who collects tequila bottles as a hobby, fetches a few others, which he uncorks and hands to you to sniff; nicer varieties often have the nose of fine colognes. The excellent Del Dueño arrives in a sturdy cylinder. Yet another is stored in a bottle shaped like a log, with a couple branches jutting out. One is capped with a mini-sombrero lid.
Tequila's just different, a truly unique drunken experience. Each word you utter ends with an exclamation point! Everything's a little more exciting! A little more intense! When Casillo's out at La Onda, a Hispanic club at Hampton and I-44, he and his compadres couple their tequila with grapefruit soda, and the Mexican music booms even louder." Beer will make you full," he says. "You drink two beers, and your stomach is pushed out. With tequila, you can get just as drunk on two or three shots as you can with beer, but your stomach stays the same."
J. Buck's, 101 South Hanley Road, Clayton
The three young ladies across the room keep looking at you and smiling, but you're not sure whether they're smiling with you or at you, probably the latter, because you're hair's looking pretty Sideshow Bob at this point and you probably have guacamole smeared on your cheek. Who cares? The agave juice has successfully diluted your blood, so, my friend, you may as well keep riding the Tequila Express. It's 9:39 p.m.
Oh so pretty-pretty, the tequila sunrise. Next to you, a man eating a salad smacks his lips and slurps his water. "Jack's dead, right?" he asks, referring to the Buck family patriarch. This guy's obviously not from St. Louis. On the stool to your right, a man knocks a pack of menthols against his wrist. Further down, three perfectly reasonable-looking men seem to be enjoying Mich Ultras. They're beaming as they talk about office adventures and fiduciary gymnastics, acquisitions and bastard branch managers.
Honestly, you don't feel particularly at home here. Nobody knows your name, and you don't work in Clayton. You don't wear a tie. You are an outsider, and so, being insecure, you feel compelled to judge, to reveal your shallowness. J. Buck's is best described as a yuppie frou-frou restaurant/bar. Shirts are heavily starched here. By evening, they're crinkled.
At J. Buck's, a Patrón tequila sunrise will set you back a hefty $11 -- which is ridiculous -- so think twice, big spender. But then again, this is on the company dime, so go for it, stud. Just don't make the mistake of asking for Patrón tequila, because it's pointless to sully Patrón with orange juice and grenadine -- especially when the O.J. arrives via spigot and kills the distinctive qualities of the tequila. With the red of the grenadine rolling below the orange juice, a tequila sunrise is the most beautiful of drinks; it indeed does resemble its namesake -- or a homemade hippie candle.
The Shanti, 825 Allen Avenue, Soulard
The Shanti opens at 10 a.m. Outside, harsh late-winter light. On the way, two cars collided in slow motion in a hardware store parking lot, and the sound of impact, approximately that of a dozen 25-ounce Colt 45 cans collapsing in on themselves, will recur in your head until dusk, when it is eclipsed by the poomph of your car battery exploding.
At 10:14 a.m. most stools are occupied. It is dark, stuffy, and the rays that sneak in intensify the smoke rolling somersaults through the air. Patrons are grumbling, smoking like fiends, and occasionally erupting into laughter.
The chorus of the Handsome Family's classic "Drunk by Noon" is running through your head: "If my life was as long as the moon's/I'd still be jealous of the sun/If my life lasted only one day/I'd still be drunk by noon." People drink in the morning, too, which has just got to be hell on the liver. Inside, a mingling of graveyard shifters and a few unapologetic Bukowskis sucking Luckies like lollipops. Where other establishments in this entertainment district are "blues bars," the Shanti seems to actually havethe blues.
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