Those of us now floating aimlessly in the existential ocean after losing our anchor, Johnny Cash, will have to find some other rock to tether our ropes to, some other metaphorical shoulder to lay our head upon when we're lost and, in his immortal words, "time keeps dragging on." Our general malaise will have to cope knowing that We Are Lost Without Him, and move on from there.
"Cures what ails you," says bartender Josh Grigaitis, whose pop, Terry, owns Pop's Blue Moon, one of the nicest little bars in the city, when offering up a Pop's Special, a magic elixir that has been served here since way before Josh was born. Pop's is a Hill landmark, a sleepy little room just north of Interstate 44 that houses one of the prettiest Deco bars in the city, and by far the best bathrooms, tiled masterpieces that make the oft-taken-for-granted duty of urination a sheer joy.
Pop's used to be called Papa Proust's, and it was an institution until Papa passed. The bar was handed down to Papa's son, and then sold to Grigaitis, who, while not related to the original owners, is carrying on the tradition of offering drinks for the weary. Specifically, Pop's Special, which, says Grigaitis the Younger, will make you feel better when you're sick. The Special has two ingredients: E&J brandy and Leroux Rock & Rye. Josh pours half of one, then half of the other, into a rocks glass filled with ice and, presto, the kind of medicine that Grammy used to sneak to you when Mama wasn't looking, because Grammy knew that a little alcohol when you're feeling ragged around the edges does, indeed, serve a medicinal purpose.
The drink is sweet, and it should be, owing to the presence of the low-grade, high-octane E&J brandy, offered from the Gallo family of products. This is their cheapest brandy, not something you'd necessarily want to savor in a snifter. Cut with the equally overwhelming Rock & Rye -- a mix of rye whiskey, rock candy syrup and fruit juice -- the result is a drink that lacks any subtlety whatsoever but gets to work on your malaise- or germ-infested body pronto. It clears the head within two minutes, clears the heart within ten, clears the air after you summon the guts to tell the truth after swigging this here liquid courage, and clears the path toward an uncertain future when you realize that Johnny may be gone but he will never be forgotten, and that the spirit with which he tackled life, and his guitar, and an avalanche of amphetamines, lives on, never to burn away.
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