I came to Bemelmans to pay homage to Tommy, their long time bartender, who passed away at 78. Though retiring after 53 years in 2012, I always thought somehow he’d come back, like it was all a great mistake.
Wishful thinking on my part.
We met in the 80s when I drifted into Bemelmans because some actor stood me up, as crushed as the ice in my glass.
Tommy, having a daughter of his own, dried my tears with his hankie, administering advice and kindness through the healing powers of potato chips and soft Irish ballads, making us fast friends.
“There there Lassie, all will work out.”
I’d see him at least once a week when I’d sit at the bar while he regaled me with stories, how he shook hands with President Kennedy, and waited on Harry Truman, Bobby and Teddy. My favorite tale of course, was how he once helped Jackie into a cab.
“She was so polite, thanking me in but a whisper,” he’d say, every time I asked him to retell it.
There’s even a drink named after him that’s on the menu…A Tommy Rowles made with rum and cognac. “Has to be a good cognac,” Tommy would say with a wink. “Ya always want the real thing there Lassie, don’t forget that.”
As I sit here remembering him, despite, the new barmaid, who no doubt will become a Tommy in her own right, I can still feel his presence presiding with that eternal twinkle in his eye, his cocktail shaker purring over the prattle and grand piano.
I loved what he said when asked, how do you make the perfect martini? He said, just forget the vermouth.
“I don’t know why people put it in. A bottle of vermouth, you should just open it and look at it.” And you know, he was right. Who doesn’t just prefer ice cold gin in a chilled crystal glass.
“So it’s been a while,” said the barmaid when she came to take my order. “How come you’re not sitting at the bar in your usual place?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Just wanted to reflect a bit.”
“So what’ll it be?”
“How bout a Tommy Rowels, on ice, just make sure it’s a good cognac.”
She smiled, then said, “How bout we’ll both have one, on Tommy.”
Tommy Rowels (1940-2018)