Sweet Things

Believe us, we've been involved in some pretty despicable acts.

There was the night we convinced a noted chef to chug wine straight from the bottle. The day we filled our editor's vial of miracle hair-restorer with Nair. The time we slipped several $18 hamburgers onto a friend's bar tab. Or the not-so-memorable evening our lawyers won't allow us to discuss even if we could remember what we did and whose Mercedes we used to do it.

Yeah, all of that sounds bad. But what would our alleged misdeeds have cost us? Jobs? Friendships? Hard time? That's nothing compared with the dreadful consequences when guys order colorful, fruity drinks.

You see, men live according to an unwritten code proscribing certain behaviors. Such things as pedicures, HGTV and sour apple martinis are off-limits. To rave about Designing for the Sexes or to order a so-called woman's drink is to risk all attributes of manhood. It's a nuts on a platter, ass-whupped by a Frenchman, governor of California calling a press conference to discuss your status kind of thing.

Um...our editor told us about that designing show, by the way.

Even Matthew, poet laureate of Dallas nightlife and doorman at Lush, a man unbound by convention, backed away in fear from the bright, frozen drinks we ordered one evening at Republic. "I want one more than anything," he said at the time, "but I'm not going to try one."

Just so you know, the Burning Question crew ordered the raspberry drinks only because this week's story required it. We didn't enjoy them...uh, the sip or two we tried.

Simply put, men are keenly aware of challenges to their masculinity. That makes them particularly susceptible to peer pressure. "You get some guys who order those drinks," says Danny Versfelt, bartender at Al Biernat's. "Of course, I glare at them with a manly look."

He's kidding, we think. Yet any glint from a bartender or drinking buddy is enough to force most men to cancel the piña colada and call for a stiff shot of bourbon. "They're worried that they're not going to look cool--not what women think, but they won't look hip," adds Jennifer Bryan, bartender at The Idle Rich. "And in Dallas, drinking is a status thing."

In other words, men enforce the fruity-drink taboo in order to maintain their rank within an imagined social order. It's part of the same impulse that causes Uptown types to dress alike, Oklahomans to forgo reading and other highfalutin things, NASCAR fans to pack on extra pounds.

Nobody wants to stand out.

Case in point: Jimmy Hall of Martini Ranch advises that men imagine themselves surrounded by college buddies when ordering a drink, just to clear up any uncertainty as to what's acceptable and what's not.

"I like sherry," he admits, "but I'm not gonna sit and drink it with the guys."

Yet in our travels this week, as we sampled forbidden fruits at various Dallas bars, we discovered that women enforced the rules with greater harshness. Sharon, hanging out at Al Biernat's bar, shot us down with "a pussy drink?" when we placed our order. Rebecca, whom we met at Dragonfly, asked, "Are you trying to see what it's like to swing from the other side?" And a woman at Sense--can't remember her name after all those cosmopolitans--also resorted to stereotypes.

"We want a man to be masculine," she informed us. "A fruity drink brings out the bisexual side."

Women romanticize the bad-boy character, the rugged, unruly sort. They deny him, however, the rights of individual choice. Bad boys don't sit down to a tossed salad chased by a dainty glass of Tequila Rose, apparently.

Proponents of cultural materialism recognize this sort of behavior. They argue that external forces, such as cost and social hierarchy, shape our taste in all things, including food and alcohol. Drinkers rate Grey Goose a superior vodka because of context more than anything else. Thus, while people may assume men simply prefer the smokiness of a good scotch or the bitter sting of top-notch vodka over something cloyingly sweet, certain schools of anthropological thought interpret choices according to the ebb and flow of a culture. After all, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with bright red drinks. It's the thought of a guy sitting down after dinner to smoke a fat cigar and sip strawberry daiquiris that makes us cringe.

Fortunately, not everyone buys into this stuff. Novice drinkers generally start their slide into debauchery with flavored malt beverages or other sickeningly sweet drinks, before peer pressure drives them to more masculine options. The emergence of stylish martini concoctions, such as the Turkish coffee version available at Kismet, also opens the door for men--nothing wimpy about a solid belt of caffeine and a wallop of alcohol. Meanwhile, bartenders and distillers have learned to produce clear versions of popular "women's drinks," which allow men to disguise their preferences.

So to speak.

Besides, some of those fruity drinks are potent as hell. Bartenders at Sense mixed up a cocktail (and garnished with flowers, the smart-ass bastards) with 151 and several other alcohols that sent even veteran Burning Question crew members reeling. In fact, we blame that drink for pretty much everything that occurred afterward, including the alleged serenading of several homes in Carrollton.

And we ran into a few people who really don't care what a guy orders. "Depending somewhat on his physical appearance, his mannerisms and the company he keeps, I see a guy who has guts, is self-assured, confident in his masculinity and doesn't really give a rat's ass what anybody thinks about his drink--or anything else about him, for that matter," says Linda, whom we encountered at The Grape. And Paula, drinking across the street at Mick's Bar, echoes those thoughts: "I don't label anybody by what they drink," she says. "That would be pretty damn superficial."

So there. A man can order a fruity drink and be proud--if he has the guts.

Or, as the ever-sensitive Sharon points out, "I'd think he's a little bit of a fag, but that's OK."


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