A Black Russian is not a complicated drink: you put some ice in an old-fashioned glass and fill it at least three-quarters full of vodka. Then you gently ease in a minimal shot of Kahlua: enough to compose a layer, but not enough to sweeten the whole drink. If you (the bartender) know what you’re doing, you’ll put a couple of small straws into the glass before you serve it – and if you’re really classy, you’ll make sure the straws don’t taste of the sweat from your fingertips. If you’re distracted, you may have imagined that the customer actually asked for a White Russian, in which case you have been forced to look around for some pale milk product to lay onto the top. Then, if the customer insists that you fill his order, you make him another drink.
Your intrepid reporter investigated Black Russians in downtown of Fairfax on Sunday, September 12, on the second day of the Fairfax Classic Car Show. I’m happy to say that no one at the four central-Fairfax bars that we visited misheard us and constructed a White Russian. All of the bartenders were courteous and reasonably attentive – and each brought their personal style to the challenge. Here’s what we found.
At 19 Broadway, the first bar west of the iconic Fairfax Theater, the hip guys were in Hawaiian shirts and the women in leopard prints. Out on the patio, where the smokers hang – but where you get a primo view of the cars in the Parkade – there was plenty of talk how much work these classics need to keep them running. The bar’s Black Russian was dark from top to bottom – way stronger than we signed up for – with no straws to assist the customer in choosing a layer. But out in front was a 1957 Oldsmobile convertible, painted deep plum – as bad-ass an Oldsmobile as we will ever see. And across the street was a black ‘ 58 Corvette.
The potation at Peri’s, a few steps west, incorporated a familiar sweetness, although one not generally associated with a Black Russian. The friendly bartender acknowledged that in his universe the drink is made with Coke. Not what we asked for, but how much does it matter? Outside is a black 1956 Chevrolet Nomad wagon with dark-plum accents. You know the Nomad, right? A two-door wagon — built for cruising the drive-in, not for hauling a family around. Side-to-side creases in the top — supposedly to guide moisture toward the rain gutters, but actually just details to make it clear that this was one of a kind. Like the vertical chrome bars on the tailgate. Real chromed metal — not the chrome plastic that even a Cadillac Escallade tries to get away with these days. In ’56 there was nothing cooler.
Around the corner at Nave’s an off-duty cop was trading stories with a friend as the bartender poured me a generous drink; dark, but with the proportions in the right places. The guy had his work cut out for him, though: according to a customer (“a friend of the owner”) he should have saved the dregs left over from creating the customer’s two martinis. Nothing daunted, the publican created a fresh drink to incorporate what he may conceivably have thrown away.
The Deer Park Villa, a few blocks to the west on Bolinas-Fairfax Road, is primarily a dinner place, but they do have a bar. And the lady bartender knows how to make a Black Russian. Generous glass, mostly vodka, and a bit of a brown haze on top. No straws, but other than that a perfect drink. The TV’s were carrying the current game, but it didn’t interfere with the sound track. Since it was BB King, your reporter had no objections.