HomeCity NewsThe Hilltop Cocktail Party

The Hilltop Cocktail Party

First published in the Sept. 8 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

My pal Lucy is explaining how she makes her own Fireball popsicles, mixing the peppery bourbon with cream soda, and passing them out at concerts in the park.
When a mitzvah meets a miracle …
What’s the investment in a set of Fireball popsicles? Forty bucks? That’s not too much to pay. I mean, consider the possibilities.
Someone else was noting the other day that by replacing your morning coffee with green tea, you can lose up to 87% of what little joy you have left in your life.
Point is, you can line up a lot of little joys to sub for the Maserati that’s missing in your driveway, or the sexy little sloop, or the misty-bluff beach house.
Instead, I line up little joys: a Kenny Rankin album, a Clapton guitar riff, a scoop of the world’s-best artichoke dip (more on that in a moment).
As you may have noticed, my new sidekick Suzanne has moonlight for hair — it’s almost spooky. And there’s something in the way she moves. She claims to not like attention, yet …
“You can’t have it both ways,” I assure her.
When she was behind the bar with her beautiful pal, Lydia, the other night, serving up gin and tonics to the summer crowd, fireworks going off in the distance, the air cooling the sweat from our skin, it was kind of a perfect moment. Another tiny mitzvah. Another tiny miracle.
We had such a blast. Lynn hosted the Gin & Tonic Society at her hilltop home overlooking the Rose Bowl. When day turned to night and L.A.’s candelabra flashed on … well, there aren’t too many venues in America like this. Not at all. When Disneyland closed for the day, you could see the fireworks show 40 miles away.
Favorite footnote: Lynn and her late husband, Chris, spent two decades atop this gorgeous hill. Every Friday night they would share oysters and martinis. My takeaway is that if every Friday night, all couples had oysters and martinis, the world would be a far happier place.
So, within these swanky little events, sponsored by the Gin & Tonic Society of Los Angeles, are these little bookmarks that remind us why we get off the couch and venture forth, into a sea of 40 strangers, and come away with 40 fresh and saucy friends.
That’s not to say cocktail party banter is automatically good. Sometimes, it’s just the worst kind of chit-chat — awkward pauses and laughs that are too big for the joke.
Other times, a cocktail party is just kickin’.
In this case …
Forrest and Marlene come all the way from North County San Diego. The Drysdales come up from Dana Point. Lindy drives from Redondo. Check out the purple drinks Lynnmaria brought …
I kept thinking: I should keep a contact list of all these folks and invite them over to the house every three weeks. Three-quarters of them are strangers, with a mix of older friends: Jeff, Charlie, Steve, Kate. As always, the party benefits from the L.A. mix of teachers, lawyers, special effects artists and aging ingenues.
Put them in a glass. Stir.
In honor of the gin theme, Lynn and I spread juniper branches over the tables, and I urge guests to squeeze the berries for a whiff of the flavors that go into a good bottle.
And we have a blind gin tasting, to see what people prefer. Final score: Bombay Sapphire 1st, Tanqueray 2nd, and Nolet’s Silver 3rd.
Note that the more-prestigious Nolet’s is probably 10 bucks a bottle more. Note also that one contestant, John, actually named all three gins just from tasting them.
Meanwhile, in one of the night’s more-bittersweet bookmarks, a small cluster of us had all lost our spouses, in various ways.
One of them, Kate, is one of the dearest people ever. She also had a martinis-and-oysters kind of marriage with my best buddy, Don. Kate says I’ve become a bit of a poster boy for “life goes on.” Hardly. My son, Smartacus, is the poster boy for that.
But 10 months ago, I was able to lasso the woman behind the bar, the one with the lunar hair.
Just a lucky break, really. Second acts are out there, though, in the afterglow of an L.A. day: laughing, goofing, stirring, smiling …
Consider the possibilities.

Judy Friedman’s artichoke dip: Two cans artichoke hearts in water. 4-ounce can of mild chopped green chiles, 1 cup mayonnaise, 1 cup grated parmesan cheese. Drain and chop artichokes. Add chiles, mayo, parm cheese. Put in fridge for about 30 minutes so it sets. Preheat oven to 350. Bake uncovered for 45-60 minutes.


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