Jan 23, 2010 | Munich, Germany
Jan 23, 2010

Whenever I find myself in a serious bar on special occasions, I try to order an Aviation, which is made of gin, lemon juice, and maraschino liqueur. It is shaken violently so that flecks of ice rise to the surface of the martini glass when it is poured, which makes it clean and cold and very delicious. In the Great Depression it was considered the prince of cocktails, but maraschino liqueur is hard to find, so these days most bars can't make it.

But tonight we were at Schumann's, which people were calling the best bar in Munich, and the barman was impeccably groomed, with a neat beard, perfect posture, and that special kind of intensity you only ever find in the face of a German.

His name, "Mario", was embroidered in red thread on his starched white apron, and he was shaking out drinks into chilled glasses lined up on the bar. All around him whizzed a crew of assistants, passing along orders and bottles. When Mario shook out a drink, he did it slowly, using both hands and holding the container close to his ear, like an inquisitive kid trying to guess a birthday present. It was hard to know what he was listening for, but easy to know it was some kind of secret, and you knew you'd never know it.

When it was finally done, he would walk over to where you were standing and present you your cocktail with both of his hands. He'd look you right in the eye and dip his head ever so slightly, but wouldn't speak. You'd thank him for the drink like you'd thank the Pope for his blessing, and then he'd go back to the bar and mix up another, passing through a phalanx of gaping Germans who just couldn't wait for their turn at communion.