Berwyn’s Fitzgerald’s Night Club hosted a Gumbo Cook-Off in Sweet Home Chicago style where the band, the bouillon, and the bartender combined to cook up some serious Monday night magic.
On stage Paul Cebar & Tomorrow Sound played their Caribbean flavored, New Orleans sound flavored with midwestern bones in the sauce.
It’s easy to think Paul Cebar is just a boogie boy flashing his dimples and keeping time to the tap of his white patent leather shoes. And he is. But he is also a well trained musician and songwriter who has cultivated some serious dedication to musicianship. More importantly, he will implore you to the dance floor. I dare you to keep your feet still when Paul Cebar is at the mic.
Paul and his well chosen musicians have simmer their spicy strings and sweet beats through years of experience and exposure. Drummer Reggie Bordeaux (who has toured with Prince) keeps his heart in the rhythm, his brain on the beat, and still sneaks sly wink to his adoring fans. As if that wasn’t enough, a friend of Paul’s showed up to serve as one of the judges of the Gumbo Contest: Caesar Rosas from Los Lobos!
Between songs, I wandered into the little bar adjoining the main stage, a quiet little island which would be worth the trip to Berwyn itself. I have always loved a quirky, quiet spot, though I know for a fact the place was packed the weekend before with its own cover band playing to a small cluster of dancing fools.
I snuck over to the aptly named “The Side Bar” to see what was cooking. The last time I was there, the bartender made the most delicious Bourbon Manhattan I have ever tasted.
Dim lights reflected a mahogany bar that beckoned me in that steady Chicago voice,
“Come on in, sit down, let me tell ya a little story.”
So I did. But it turns out, the bar let the bartender do the talking. (It’s no wonder I couldn’t settle in England forever. The bars didn’t seem to talk to me there.)
“I don’t know if every Manhattan has bourbon in it, but can I please have a bourbon Manhattan?” I asked Marcus the bartender, who was chatting with a few of his regulars. I know his name because Chicago has a heart, and the people aren’t afraid to share their names.
Like most people from the Great City of Chicago, speakin’ comes easy, especially when liquor is involved. It didn’t take long before several of us at the bar were mesmerized by the lesson we were about to get from what seemed like our old friend Marcus telling us his mom’s secret recipe.
I told Marcus my stomach was a bit sore, and I heard bitters were a cure. He assured me that he would add an extra splash to ease my pain.
“But normally the recipe calls for two dashes of angostura bitters,” he said, showing me a beautiful bottle of Carpano Antica Formula. Then he added,
“That’s why they call this drink a Manhattan. Two ounces of bourbon, one ounce of sweet vermouth, and two dashes of angostura bitters. 2-1-2; the area code for Manhattan” he said. The lights ricocheted off that tawny nectar before my pal shifted that recipe to the Chicago code, which changes the rules for a friend.
That drink was out of this world. My stomach ache went away in five minutes. I’m not sure if it was the extra bitters, or the special care that went into making that drink.
212 became 312 for a friend in need at The Side Bar on a Monday night.
I went back to that Gumbo Contest and begged for a sample, long after the winners put away their trophies. But I still managed to sneak a little taste from another generous soul.
So that’s the story on a Monday night near the great city of Chicago in Berwyn.
I gave the gumbo, the guys and the gig one big Renata’s Kitchen slurp from the bottom of my bitterless heart.