James Beard Publication of the Year 2017

Locked Out of the Wine Party in the Garage Once Again

Locked Out of the Wine Party in the Garage Once Again

Vermouth in Palma

My wife and I passed La Sifoneria many times on the way to and from our accommodation in Palma’s Old City. It was always closed. For three days, we’d followed our host’s advice on where to eat and what to see in Majorca, with great success. A visit to the wine bar in a garage was the last box to tick, and we kept coming up short.

We left the house on our final night on the island and saw a dim light spilling from an open garage at the end of the street. We beelined for the entrance.

The ancient flagstone floor dropped into a low-ceilinged room. Chalk-scrawled barrels of vino tinto and cava were precariously stacked against the right-hand wall.

The owner turned out to be a middle-aged blond woman standing next to a battered vanity table, deep in conversation with an older German couple as my wife and I sat down amid a pile of empty Chianti jugs. When she eventually came over to us, she asked us in English what kind of wine we liked, and made recommendations. A younger, fruitier wine for my wife and an aged, dry one for myself. Both were excellent.

Other customers came and went around us. Most seemed to be regulars, because they were greeted enthusiastically with a brief kiss, and served right away. Some folks brought back glasses that they had liberated during previous visits, which were promptly replaced and refilled.

We had finished our first glass of wine long before we thought to ask for a second. It seemed rude to interrupt the owner in the middle of her conversations.

Two Spaniards came in and took seats near us. Without placing an order, they were served short glasses of brown liquid mixed with seltzer. I asked what they were having. It was vermouth, and the owner began to prepare the same mixture for us.

Light, sweet, and vaguely effervescent from the seltzer, the mixture was subtle and round. We lingered over our drinks and watched as the owner bounced from person to person, shifting seamlessly between Spanish, German, and English.

Two slowly sipped drinks were all we allowed ourselves. We had dinner reservations across the street, but we agreed to come back afterwards for a nightcap.

When we emerged from the restaurant into the evening air, the doors to La Sifoneria were closed. We saw light coming from beneath the door and heard voices inside, but the party wasn’t for us. The neighbors were enjoying themselves on their own terms—as well they should.

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