Ralph Gardner Jr: Cocktails In The Age Of Coronavirus | WAMC

Ralph Gardner Jr: Cocktails In The Age Of Coronavirus

Mar 28, 2020

We’ve held four cocktail parties this week and counting. Don’t panic. These aren’t in-person events. They’ve been conducted from the safety of our living room over the Zoom video-conferencing app.

I’ve always thought there’s nothing, or almost nothing, more civilized than a cocktail party. Think about it. Unless the motivation is some sort of professional, social networking opportunity the main reason to gather over drinks and hors d’oeuvres is because we’re social animals. What other purpose does this seemingly frivolous endeavor serve other than to reinforce our common humanity? That and getting a pleasant buzz on.

Of course, they’re taken on a more valuable, perhaps even indispensible role in the face of the current pandemic. They’re a release valve as well as opportunity safely to connect with the outside world. No matter how swimmingly you’re co-existing with your spouse, children, Andrew Cuomo during his daily press conferences, or various and sundry housemates it helps to see a new face every once in a while.

We’ve designated 6:30 pm as the start of our cocktail hour, if for no other reason than because that’s when civilized cocktail parties often start and it doesn’t get in the way of my bath. Baths, by the way, can also be a reassuring ritual when your day risks descending into a formless blob.

We – and by we I mean my wife and I – gather in front of the computer (it helps to place it on a stationary surface) and at the appointed hour the screen lights up with the faces and living rooms of far-flung friends.

I’m not sure whether there’s a maximum allowable number of participants. If so it’s probably only because the enterprise risks erupting in chaos if too many people are trying to talk at once.

My younger daughter Gracie told me she recently had a delightful get-together on Zoom with seven of her closest girlfriends. However, a subsequent gathering with fifteen guests proved too crowded.

We kicked off the Zoom coronavirus cocktail party season last Sunday night with our daughters and son-in-law. Lucy and Malcolm are hold up in their Brooklyn apartment. Gracie came to us from Canada where she’s staying at her boyfriend Henry’s house on an island off British Columbia.

This presented something of a conundrum cocktail-wise because Gracie was three hours behind us. So while the rest of us consumed alcoholic beverages – I’ve been toggling, depending on the evening and my mood, between vodka and single malt scotch – Gracie was sipping herbal tea.

She’d just arrived on Salt Spring Island after traversing the entirety of Canada in seven days so cocktails served a double purpose. We got to hear about her trip while drawing reassurance that she was safe and sound. This wasn’t an ill-timed joyride by the way; Gracie was on her way to help open a restaurant in Washington State’s San Juan Islands, obviously temporarily delayed, and wanted to reach the West Coast while she still could.

The previous night we’d shared cocktails on FaceTime with Debbie’s sister Dee, sequestered at her house on Long Island, nicely located on a scenic inlet of Long Island Sound. Zoom turns you into a student of other people’s views.

The following evening our friends Angela and Rust joined us from Consider Bardwell Farm, their prize-winning cheesemaking operation in Vermont, but from their kitchen, not from the barn or any of their six climate-controlled cheese caves.

By the way, these cocktail hours promote togetherness, not just because contact, whether real or virtual, is the milk of human interaction but also because you need to sit really close to each other if hope to fit onto the screen so that your friends can see both of you at the same time.

A neat feature of Zoom is that it highlights the screen of the person speaking at that instant. That minimizes confusion as to where the voice is coming from and reduces the risk of talking over people, unless that’s your style. Some habits die hard.

Perhaps our most ambitious blowout thus far – I use the term advisedly – occurred Wednesday night when you joined friends in three locations. There was Beth, an artist, at her house in New Jersey; Pamela, a Hudson, NY gallery owner coming to us live from her front porch and then her living room in Kinderhook; and Eric and Constance – two new friends hold up at their house on the Maine coast.

An hour seems about the right amount of time for an online cocktail party. What they lack in drama -- the sweet tumult of a well-attended bricks and mortar gathering -- they more than compensate in intimacy and the satisfaction that you’re defying the virus one glass of Sancerre or vodka tonic at a time.

We have two more events scheduled for this week. Another round with our daughters and an intimate get-together with our friends the Levis, isolating in their Upper West Side apartment. We’re thinking of taking Sunday night off. All this socializing can get exhausting.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.