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Brown Squirrel 

Venice Café, 1901 Pestalozzi Street, 314-772-5994

If you've got any dignity whatsoever, don't order drinks served in buckets, especially blue plastic buckets, and especially not at the Venice Café on a Friday at dusk. Instantly you're down a notch on the IQ scale (there goes Mensa) and pegged as a South County tourist by the legion of locals who love the classic reggae Papa Ray's spinning. It'll be an uphill battle from there, regaining your dignity -- even armed with your oh-so-sharp repartee. You ever see buckets dangling from the arms of well-coifed tux-and-gowned couples nibbling foie gras? No, and there's a reason: You look ridiculous, even if you're drinking through a bendy straw. Rule one: If it's got a handle, don't drink from it (caveat: unless, of course, you're frolicking in the woods and stumble across a rustic well).

This heartfelt advice arrives the result of a request we made of a Venice Café bartender to suggest a good drink to highlight so that we might direct our gaze at the glorious Venice. This bucket drink was suggested, and -- typically -- we dived in without thinking. A blue barrel was thrust at us, and from there a tiny self-conscious panic set in that we never overcame. We sophisticates hate certain signifiers, one of which is this sort of Big Gulp monstrosity (our upturned noses prefer carafes).

But that's all there is to say about that, because it's not the Venice Café's fault that we couldn't say no. It wasn't even a bad drink, in fact, but we don't want to confuse you by mentioning it. So instead, our nod as best drink to sip while enjoying the vibrations (from 5:30-8:30 p.m., no cover) is a simple, classic Bacardi and Coke. Or, as at least one South City gay hoosier (we use the term affectionately) calls it, a Brown Squirrel. Add the juice of half a lime, and you've just concocted a Cuba Libre, a total winner of a drink as well.

The basis of both rum and Coke is sugar. The former arrives as fermented pure cane-sugar molasses, the latter as Lord knows what. Combined, they produce a sweetness as consistently glorious as the Jamaican vocal harmonies the Papa is dredging up from the depths of his amazing collection of classic Jamaican rocksteady, dub and reggae 45s (Lee Perry, the Mighty Diamonds and the Wailers, among others). Add to this our fondness for caffeinated depressants -- espresso martinis, Red Bull and Jägermeister, crystal meth and Demerol (just kidding) -- and it's kind of a no-brainer: You're sitting in the Venice Café's courtyard, a plethora of trees provide a natural umbrella against the receding sun, a color-wheel wonder of mosaics, found art and divine inspiration surrounds you and you're grooving to the sounds of some of the most purely beautiful recordings ever made anywhere. Where's the problem? Gone is where, subsumed by wonder.

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September 23, 2020

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