The Sultan

Aya Sofia, 6671 Chippewa Street, St. Louis; 314-645-9919.

There are some things that we're resigned to not fully understanding. Why we get really nervous leaving voicemails is one; the Valerie Plame case is another. (We hear the words New York Times, CIA operative, leak...and completely lose interest in about six seconds.) Conversely, some questions continually flip through our heads: Does the world get bigger or smaller the more you travel? Whenever maps show the proliferation of the Mongolian Empire, it's a black blob that's spread over Asia like an oil spill, like the more of the world you've conquered, the smaller it gets. Yet simultaneously, each discovery suggests there's more to know about this Earth. What's the sound of one hand clapping?

Drink of the Week is all for exploring our slice of the planet, and naturally we figure the best way to do that is to find bars within stumbling distance from home. We pass Aya Sofia, the city's most heralded Turkish restaurant, at least twice a day. Aya Sofia's received big smooches from every publication that's reviewed it, which initially makes us think the place is far too hip for the likes of us. Neighborhood bars should involve suspect bowls of free snacks and rickety jukeboxes, not belly dancers and sigara boregi, right? But when we found out that the latter is fried feta, we felt a refreshing sense of unity in the realization that all cultures have their own version of mozzarella sticks. Mmmmm...cheesy worldwide harmony.

Our bartender, Scott, has worked at Aya Sofia since it first opened its doors ten months ago, and you can tell it in every drink he pours. We opt for the Sultan, made with raki, Chambord, Grand Marnier and a slice of orange. Raki's essentially a Turkish sambuca; the kind served here is Arak Razzouk, which is technically a Lebanese product as state law won't allow the "real" raki to be imported. But really, it's 100 proof, fantastic, and we're in no mood to split hairs.

And, apparently, neither is Scott. When we mention that we're bummed to have missed happy hour by 30 minutes, he gives a dismissive wave that tells us not to worry about it. We don't. Instead, we enjoy our drinks and gorgeous plates of food, our world and stomachs expanding by the minute. Eventually, we end up chatting with a trio of guys who've left the dining room and come to the bar for cigarettes; Scott graciously lights one for us. What transpires next is like the setup to a bawdy joke: So a woman walks into a bar with a three-foot sword. One guy says, "Whoa. Is that the belly dancer?" Another guy crosses his legs and says, "Man, it'd better be!" We think this is hilarious and laugh so hard that we forget we aren't in some shoddy shotgun tavern.

And as it sometimes happens at neighborhood bars, we stayed longer than we'd intended and had (at least) a drink too many for a worknight. Grudgingly, we began the short stumble home through our newly widened universe, one of our vexing questions finally answered.

 
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