Learning how to drink.

The very first time I drank too much, I told the people I was with that I needed to be taken to the hospital.

“No, you don’t,” they said.

“But this is serious,” I explained. “I feel like I am going to die.”

I was 20, and unlike many 20-year-olds, I didn’t really know how to consume alcohol yet.  I was out of the country, and also, I didn’t know these people. These heartless, terrible people.

“You’re not going to die,” one of them said. “What you need to do is chill the fuck out.”

It was the first weekend of my study abroad semester in college. I was in Italy. Prior to that, I had hardly stepped foot outside of Texas.

Three days into our orientation, at a quaint, sequestered nunnery-turned-vineyard in Tuscany, someone proposed taking a train to Cinque Terre that weekend. If you’ve never been to Cinque Terre, it’s kind of like Italy’s version of Cancun.

At the time, I thought it sounded like a great idea.

“Please, someone, just carry me to a bed,” I whimpered, very near tears.

It was during a phase in my life when I was particularly carbo-phobic, and moreover, food-phobic. I don’t even remember dinner that night, but miraculously, I do remember drinking three margaritas exactly.

I remember because I was so pleased with myself for holding my liquor.

After dinner, then drinks, at the Italian version of a Carlos N’ Charlies bar, we stood up to walk from the bar down to the beach. As it turned out, I was not holding my liquor.

“Just play it cool,” I thought to myself, head swaying. “Pretend you are a normal college student and you drink ALL THE TIME. You totally have this.”

That’s the tidied-up version of my thoughts, anyway. Something closer to the actual, internal dialogue was probably:

Cool you must playing very.  Student TIME THE ALL drink so much.  Totally. This. Have.”

So.

We walked a short distance, and soon, plopped down on the beach, facing the ocean.  Everyone else talked and laughed, the lilt in their voices indicating general enjoyment of the evening.

That was when I, like a miserable buzzkill, brought up hospitals.

Shockingly enough, no one took me.

Eventually, I stumbled my way to bed.  I didn’t die on the way there.  In fact I felt perfectly fine the next morning.

But I had just learned a very significant lesson of my 20s.  And that was: I was a pathetic drinker.

Over the next few months, Italy taught me how to drink wine.  Because of course it did.  As one might suspect, “margarita” is not a part of the Italians’ everyday lexicon.

But it would be Austin that taught me about drinking spirits, and that education didn’t happen until very recently.

Ladies, do any of you think you are a “vodka girl?”  I’ve got news for you.  You can handle more spirits than vodka. It’s not a matter of mixing down a rum, or a tequila, or a whiskey until you can’t taste it anymore – it’s a matter of exposing your tongue to that alcohol with complementary flavors.

(It’s also a matter of soldiering through straight spirits, until you get to know the nuances of your palate.  My favorites: Bourbon, cognac, malty aged rums.  I prefer rich, but that’s because I’m a young drinker.  There are some scotches I can appreciate, and some aged tequilas.  But typically, the more advanced your palate, the more you can handle the sharp bite of non-aged spirits.)

Last year, I started writing a column for Austinist called The Informed Drinker. It was terribly fun to write, especially since Austin is rather having a mixology moment right now. Think East Side Show Room, FINO, The Good Knight.  Through that column, I got to meet David Alan, the man behind Tipsy Texan, and through his spirit classes last spring at Twin Liquors, I met Pam Pritchard, who handed me a card for The Tigress at our first meeting.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“It’s my future pub, on North Loop,” said Pam. “But instead of just beers, it’s cocktails, too.”

The Tigress is a candle-lit matchbox of a bar. My friend Addie and I tried it out last week. It’s tiny, with one single, high-backed wooden booth, and a patterned tin ceiling. The drink menu is an education in Prohibition-era cocktails, and those cocktails – for which we’re accustomed to paying as much as meals elsewhere – are just $7 a pop.

The Ward Eight, pictured above, is lemony and tart.  And girls, it’s a whiskey drink.

North Loop is kind of magical to me.  Such a nondescript street name, non?  But my beloved Ararat used to be there (where Phara’s is now), with Room Service Vintage next door (which furnished my first Austin apartment), and a handful of other vintage, coffee, and food shops scattered along the block.

Why don’t more people frequent North Loop?  Maybe it’s because of the cemetery.

But I like that every time I visit, it feels like a little secret.