Heartattack And Vine


It's a sunny afternoon but I'm already planning a visit to my local in the evening. Emily, her partner, and four others own the establishment. Two out of the five have just set up 'The Bedford' near Smith St. One of them is involved in Wide Open Road coffee somehow, which is why the bar is stacked to the ceiling with gorgeously printed, coffee bean packs.

Matt works behind the bar and made me a brandy and whiskey hot toddy with a fresh, fat wedge of ginger and a slice of lemon, where each carpel was perforated with its own, individual clove. He's worked at a few very reputable venues in the city and is often hired as a consultant (clearly, he has a gift). He's been with his partner for 6 years and went to Builders Arms for dinner with her folks last weekend. They're foodies, so he was stressing a little about picking the perfect place to eat at.

Lucy is maybe my favourite, works behind the bar too, and gave me a serving of their rosemary olives on the house when I had had a long, long day at work. She's only rostered in on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights as she's an actor. She graduated with a journalism degree but is not sure what kind of writing to pursue.

When I'm going out for drinks with my friend Fran, she asks bartenders how their day has been. When I used to live in Tasmania, my aunt would start chatting to the staff behind the register about a new bakery that had opened around the corner, or "I find this cut of lamb is best for stews - what do you use it for?" I used to stand patiently beside them, finding these lines of questioning a little odd.

In Dubai we grew up with a 'working class' - bar and restaurant staff, cab drivers, retail assistants and ushers were nameless, friendly people whose stories often stopped after we had given our orders or our requests were seen to. They didn't live in the same part of town as we did - they probably lived in Deira, or Bur Dubai, in the older, more dilapidated apartment blocks, right? Even though they always had smiles on their faces for us, I never stopped to think about where they were from.

In Sri Lanka, we'd stay at my Archie and Seeya's place (my mum's parents) and visit my dad's parents (who were affectionately called Loku Archie and Loku Seeya, or "big grandma and big grandpa". They were all the same size so I have no idea where this naming convention came from). They generously welcomed us into their homes, and their servants did too, fondly adding 'baby' to the ends of our names and keeping a close eye as we tumbled through the house.

Yes, I said servants. I notice I am gritting my teeth as I read over the sentence again. It's a word I am overwhelmingly uncomfortable using, let alone typing into a journal I love and respect, but this was the collective name for the help in Sri Lanka when we were growing up.

I was never sure what to make of it. I was always shooed away when I tried to wash my own dishes. We didn't help ourselves to the fridge because the kitchen was a 'working space' and consequently out of bounds for us. Worst of all - I didn't speak the language - so I couldn't muddle my way through this divide even when I wanted to.

The unrealistic teen lifestyle in Dubai didn't help. Kids didn't get part-time jobs when they legally became responsible, they got to drive their dad's Mercedes jeeps to school instead. Those people behind the bars in Dubai were hard-working adults trying to make their way to support themselves and their families back home too, and we expat brats couldn't hope to relate.

Looking back now I remember, with some relief, that I often questioned the whole system while I was studying there (looking back now, I remember trying to escape in Year 10 by begging my folks to send me to boarding school - I became disillusioned with Dubai very quickly). I found out more about the inhumanity in my old city as I grew up and travelled, but I only figured out I needed to learn how to speak to bartenders this year.

I'm still morbidly awkward about it. I would say I'm a very friendly, personable (some may even say likeable) lady who can string a substantial conversation together with just about anyone, but the shame of my years of ignorance always catches me out after I've asked for 'a regular latte please' and I am left fumbling around in my head with what I'm supposed to chat about next. Thank god for Uber trapping you in a car with someone so you can really give it a fair go.

The liquor licence expires at 11PM. Although it's late, (Chad wraps up the last two apricot cakes, promising they will be perfect for breakfast) I'm glad I am better.