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New Kind of Kick

Our guide to the good, the bad and the ugly of the wildest drinks served up by local bartenders

By Mike Connor

THERE IS NO SHORTAGE of alcohol-related famous last words. The phrase "Hold my beer and watch this" is an obvious red flag, but nobody ever seems to bat an eyelash when, smiling breathlessly after taking a shot, their friend declares, "I didn't even taste the alcohol!" Cut to shot of a car speeding across town, vomit spewing like jet streams from both rear windows.

It's proof that skillful bartenders can be dangerous to know. But you'll most often find them to be wonderful, benevolent creatures who like nothing more than to please your palate with tasty alcoholic goodness. Here at Metro Santa Cruz, we've done some probing research to help you get a handle on some of the tastiest and most effective drinks served up by our local drink jockeys.

Without a moment's hesitation, I will tell you that, hands down, the "Stuntman" is the craziest drink I have ever heard of--and the only one I haven't had the guts to try. Nate at Brady's Yacht Club (we are on an exclusively first-name basis with our beloved local drinkmasters, as you should be) told me the recipe for this gem, and assured me that at least once every couple of weeks, a rowdy bunch of young 'uns comes in asking for it. Although we advise against it, you can even try this one at home. Just get yourself a shot of tequila, a lime and some salt. Ready? OK, now squirt the lime in your eye, snort the salt, shoot the tequila and UNGH BLAMO! You, my friend, are now a true Stuntman, just like a real Hollywood daredevil! With a stinging eye.

For those of you yearning for a bit more fire in your life, order a Prairie Fire from Charis at the 529. She also makes a nice Raspberry Lemon Drop and a gummy-bearish Shanghai Iced Tea, both of which I foolishly chugged in an effort to quench the hellish peppery flames on my lips and in my chest. It turns out that the Prairie Fire is just tequila, served with a big luvin' spoonful of Tabasco sauce. I felt the warm sensation of budding love in my chest, but with pitchforks and molten lava somehow in the mix.

Climb down the spice ladder a notch to the Red Room, where Judy serves up the best Bloody Mary known on the planet. No joke--this is one of the easiest drinks to totally botch, but Judy makes hers with plenty of celery salt and pepper, perfect Tabasco and horseradish, not too much Worcestershire (a common mistake) and a veritable salad of extra love on top.

Presumed Innocent

But the most dangerous cocktails are the ones that taste deceivingly weak. Don't trust these Bruce Banner drinks, because beneath their innocent fruit flavors waits a Hulk that will smash you right into the drunk tank. The Flaming Dr. Pepper is public enemy No. 1, because it tastes just like--wait for it--Dr. Pepper! Just like it. It's a relative of the Boilermaker, which Nate at Brady's calls "the root of all evil." And while a Boilermaker is just a mug 'o beer and a shot of whiskey, it has mutated like the Toxic Avenger into beverage madness like Sake Bombs (sake + beer = hammered) and Car Bombs (Guinness + booze = hammered). Adrian at Zelda's introduced me to the remarkably smooth Car Bomb equation, and also to the wonderful world of designer Red Bull drinks (Red Bull + booze = arrested). If you're shy like me and have never tried this combination, you'll be surprised at how quickly you'll be making new friends with barnyard animals.

For the frou-frou of heart and sweet of tooth, Clouds makes a mean bunch of specials worth savoring. The Caramel Apple is a sour apple martini with a caramel-coated rim that melts on the tongue. Wendy at Costa Brava makes a nice Mojito, but her true taste sensation is the Stockholm mystery drink ... perfect for spy parties. Fans of ginger should not miss out on Pearl Alley's Manhattan Iced Tea--a simpler version of the Long Island model--using ginger syrup, soda and only three kinds of booze instead of the standard (yet cruel and unusual) six.

Anyone at the Dakota can whip up a super fruity Divatini, but only Michael can show you the Kamell Toh (his diva name), a signature drink that tastes much more like a sweet cherry dessert than, er, anything else.

Oh, but you want chocolaty drinks, do you? Scott at Moe's serves up a velvety Chocolate Martini worth swishing around the mouth. A detour into the Garage Bar may put you face to face with the diabolical Mike and Andi, who were happy to send me quickly down a sloppy slope of drunkenness. Liquid Cocaine (Jagermeister, Goldschlager, 151 and Rumplemintz) tastes exactly like the sum of its parts, and produces an effect that a friend described as "a nice, warm sloppiness that overcame me after just one drink." For me, it was the Chicken Shot (Bacardi 151 and Wild Turkey 101) that did it. Then, they perplexed my palate with a Chocolate Cake, which is the last thing you expect to taste when you shoot vodka and Frangelico and then suck on a sugar-coated lemon wedge. But it really does taste just like chocolate cake. And to think of all those childhood birthday parties I wasted asking for real chocolate cake.

The gnarliest drink in all of Santa Cruz, though, must be the Gnarly--a drink so horrible, it's reserved only for belligerent customers who won't really realize that they're just getting the dredges from all of the bar's shakers. Let that be a lesson to us all: Relax, be patient and polite to your bartender, and enjoy your drinks.

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From the October 23-30, 2002 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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