An Old Fashioned Snow

28 Jan

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Elizabethan black suede heels were entirely inappropriate, and as I stood outside on my mother’s carport surveying the inch or so of freshly fallen snow in 20 degree weather, I thought to myself, You knew it was going to snow, seriously Cyndi. What were you thinking? Ready to venture down to First and Sixth at the Patrick Henry Hotel for dinner, I tied my ankle bows tight, took it slow out of the neighborhood’s unscraped roads, and prayed for clear side walks. The drive was pretty uneventful at a mere five minutes; seemingly everyone else had heeded media warnings to stay in unless one really needed to venture out.

Almost empty streets glistened in the muted grey twilight as I began to make my way from the car down the sidewalk toward a classic Roanoke hotel now turned apartment building on South Jefferson downtown. The snow crunched under the tips of my black suede toes and I stuffed my leather gloved hands farther into my pockets. It was bitter cold and the warm light of the hotel lobby spilled out onto the sidewalk only a block away. I expected to see a doorman, his breath a white cloud into the fast dying light. Not here any longer, only a nostalgic notion linked to stories of a downtown from my grandmother’s era. One filled with shops that packaged one’s purchases in boxes with tissue, and ladies in hats and gloves passing the tipped fedora or two upon approach to this grand hotel.

I grew up in Roanoke, but left for college at the time when I would be of an exploratory age. Downtown went through a tremendous urban renewal during those years and after my schooling, I never spent much time here to really become a part of the scene. As a visitor now, I see downtown Roanoke from a different light. The streets are easy enough to navigate and the city revival has mellowed into what I might call a second age. New restaurants, cafes and shops have sprung up between old favorites that were trendy just a decade or two back. It reminds me of a mini Richmond in its peppering of restaurants and off shoot hip-urban neighborhoods. On this night though, the snow quieted the streets quite absent of Friday evening traffic.

I entered the Patrick Henry through the main lobby, a classic marble and chandelier lit space including the quiet and formal, Penn Y Deux lounge to the right side. I quickly saw an entry to First and Sixth down a dark wood paneled side staircase. Making my way through a small modern dining room decorated in beautiful warm gold and chocolate brown, I reached the short intimate bar at the front. The bartender Corinne greeted me and directed the hostess to take my coat and check it. Ah, yes…old school. This was the beginning of some of the best service and ultimately one of the best experiences in dining solo I have had yet.

Usually, I order a glass of wine, but tonight’s chill and the mood of the place pushed me to order retro: an Old Fashioned. I’m not a big cocktail person. I have probably ordered three mixed drinks in the last fifteen years, but this place spoke of tradition: Martinis and Manhattans, Gin Rickeys and Cosmopolitans. While Sinatra and Benny Goodman floated out across the bar and candlelit dining space, I watched the snowy city street from a comfortable bar chair, Old Fashioned in hand, its slightly woody sweet orange edge yielded to a tiny touch of flame. Funny thing about bourbon, from the second sip, a warmth tends to begin to radiate from the core outward, like a little internal fireplace. I began to feel quite comfortable and only twenty minutes into my experience I decided, this would definitely be a regular spot for me if I lived in Roanoke, a home bar, one in which I could write.

Corinne and I began to chat a bit about the snow, recalling the big storms of 2010. Working at another restaurant at the time, she and a coworker were the only employees able to make it in during one of the big snows since they lived close by. We talked of how people seem to change during snowfall, gathering closer. Their shared world becomes a bright place against the soft cold outside. As the evening darkened more folks began to arrive in coats and hats. I began to think of snowy streets in New York, traffic lights blinking against the silvery white sky, no sound except for the muffled fall of flakes. Only the occasional rush of voices, piano music, and golden light spill from restaurant doors breaking the quiet as people brave the streets to walk  arm in arm in the pause of a great white blanket.

Soon though, Corinne eased through my thoughts to bring me a first course, a salad of thinly sliced roast beets and goat cheese with balsamic dressing which balanced against the sweet smokey orange of the Old Fashioned. The warm goat cheese croquette, crusted with panko, perched atop wild baby greens and julienne carrots. As an entree, I enjoyed another small plate, crawfish pie. Fresh baked puff pastry was filled with a hot crawfish newberg which wasn’t overly cream laden or rich, but savory with a lobster like sweetness that shrimp just doesn’t provide. As I ate and gazed out of the window, I thought about how snowfall creates a peacefulness that stops time, a moment of stillness. This is what a great place does; it suspends time so that we can connect or reflect, as if we need a reason to pause our lives for such necessities. But they are necessities, perhaps that’s why we love a good snow. It gives us permission to stop and enjoy the world in the moment as we used to decades ago. A great restaurant or bar provides the closest place to inner stillness many people can get in a fast world that tends to neglect the small details of the past, like a hat and gloves, a fur muff, a cigarette holder, a topcoat, a doorman’s greeting, a coat check girl, a well made cocktail from a barkeep who knows you by name. And a pure tenor voice in the quiet of a snowy night.

The snow is snowing
The wind is blowing
But I can weather the storm
Why do I care how much it may storm
I’ve got my love to keep me warm

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