Nautilus

The Best Little Bar in Manhattan

Let me take you, dear boy,” said McHintry, “to the best little bar in Manhattan.”

I could have told him Donna was expecting me home in good time to find out how my first day in the new job had gone. I could have told him that anyway I never drank much, not just because Donna disapproved of it but because after only a couple of beers my skull begins to feel like a street riot’s in progress within, complete with Molotov cocktails. I could have told him that I hadn’t eaten since my breakfast Cheerios.

I could have told him I’d taken a pledge of abstinence as part of my seminary training many years ago, which would have been a lie on several different levels but a dishonesty that might have been regarded as justifiable by many—Donna, for example.

Instead, I considered for a fraction of a second that this man was my boss and this was my first job since leaving college, and I said, “Sure thing. Just let me put on my coat.”

Rencourt & Blitzen was a medium-sized literary publishing house that had just been swallowed up by a conglomerate, years before this had become the fashion. As a result, the company consisted of a residual dozen staff—plus me, although I didn’t yet realize it—who were waiting for their jobs to be “rationalized” into vacuum. If you Google very carefully today you’ll eventually find RencourtBlitzenMcPhail, a division reporting to a Copenhagen-based CEO and publishing books about sailing ships.

Back when McHintry was inviting me out for a drink, Google hadn’t been invented yet. As a new-fledged editorial assistant, I’d spent all day on slush-pile duty, reading the first two pages of typescripts sent by aspiring authors and mailing them letters telling them their work was wonderful but just not quite suitable for our current requirements. A few were sufficiently ahead of the technological curve that I was able to fax them the bad news.

I’m not going to tell you what it was called, because later McHintry swore me to silence.

“This, ah, bar,” I said as we waited for the elevator, “it, ah, sells food?”

“It doesn’t need to,” said McHintry mysteriously.

The elevator arrived, chugged downward reluctantly in the way elevators did in those days, and debouched us at ground level.

“I think I’d better phone Donna,” I said belatedly.

“Don’t worry,” replied McHintry, charging across

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