Drinks of the Year

Mirasol, 6144 Delmar Boulevard, 314-721-6909; Arthur Clay's, 7266 Manchester Road, Maplewood, 314-645-0300; Meshuggah, 6269 Delmar Boulevard, University City, 314-726-5662

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In 2004 Drink of the Week enjoyed at least 100 different concoctions in and around the Gateway to the West, and for the first year ever (we think), we did not throw up. Not even once. Aside from the occasional spit or slobber, our mouth was a one-way hole. What went down stayed down.

In the spirit of the year-end wrap-up, here are our three favorite fluids consumed in 2004.

The lemongrass mojito at Mirasol

We were peeved a number of times this year by nice restaurants that dismissed the notion of a drink menu. Too many times did we approach the bartender, open to suggestions or recommendations, only to be met with, "We don't have a cocktail menu -- but I can make anything." Well, no. We're looking for a surprise, a labor of love, a concoction that illustrates that the bartender understands the fine art and science of mixing flavors. We want you to tell us what you do well. It's your job.

Mirasol, which opened this year in the Loop, is hopping -- and deservedly so. Their menu is impressive (especially the ceviche) and is made even more so by the creative drink menu, which offers mojitos, caipirinhas, an excellent prickly-pear margarita and our favorite, which isn't on the menu but is available to those in the know, the lemongrass mojito.

Here's how we described our favorite: "The lemongrass mojito, a gem of a drink, is simply a mojito multiplied by ten; it is its namesake with an exclamation point at the end. A mojito, you may recall, consists of rum, mint, lime and sugar. And the result is crisp, light and stimulating. Truth be told, Mirasol's standard mojito is a tad on the sweet side, but the lemongrass version corrects this. To prepare the variation, Mirasol warms a bottle of Bacardi and steeps it with eight bags of Numi-brand lemongrass tea -- a shortcut infusion. This changes the essence of the rum, adds a touch of tang to it, which then transforms the entire drink by bringing a hefty dose of flavor." We've enjoyed the drink a few more times since then -- each occasion, exquisite.

The Whiskey-Ouzo Fix at Arthur Clay's

No single meal this year was as memorable as our second visit to Arthur Clay's in Maplewood. We dropped a wad of cash, and it was totally worth it for all the memories it has stirred since. In addition to the excellent food, Arthur Clay's has a truly visionary drink menu. The Maplewood Manhattan substitutes -- get this -- maple syrup for the sweet vermouth. The Three Streets Over combines oatmeal stout with Amaretto di Saronno. Our favorite (which has disappeared from their drink menu, perhaps because it's a summertime drink) is the Whiskey-Ouzo Fix.

We described it thusly: "The Whiskey-Ouzo Fix is one of the best drinks we've ever had. Seagram's 7 Crown whiskey is poured with fresh lemon juice and sugar over cracked ice. On top is a shot of ouzo, the excellent, anise-flavored Greek liqueur. Taken straight, ouzo's been the precursor to many whacked-out nights. As a complement to a refreshing, sour lemonade-whiskey concoction, ouzo's licorice accent perfectly jumbles, and cools, the taste buds."

A cup of coffee at Meshuggah

First and foremost, we drank an estimated 500 cups of coffee, though our conscience forces us to admit that these were usually the jumbo size, so therefore the equivalent of (gasp!) 1,000 servings. We're somewhat horrified to acknowledge that we probably drank more coffee than water in 2004. Perhaps we have a drinking problem. The one day of 2004 when we were faced with the specter of no coffee was on a tugboat, pushing barges down the Mississippi. It was a rough day, and eventually we had to hold our nose and drink barge coffee, which nearly caused us the only vomit of the year.

But faced with a life minus the heaven that is a Meshuggah cup of coffee, we choose addiction.

Their java, basically an Americano, is made to order. Baristas pull a double shot of espresso, then add to it steamed water, and the result is as rich and flavorful as anything on the planet. Especially right now -- when it feels like snow, and we're on the cusp of anticipating an avalanche of gifts -- nothing augments this perfect life like a cup of coffee. Or a glass of port. Or a nice martini. Or a glass of Côtes du Rhône. Or a shot of tequila. Or a new favorite thing: fancy sipping rum (to be featured in 2005).

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