Despite the downpour, I was inclined to seek different sources of water: small indoor pools, fountains, and cascades. I needed to believe the magic sounds of running water could still transport me to places other than below Duane Reade awnings. I wanted to flow into a different reality. I knew that another liquid elixir could also get me there—the almighty cocktail.
As I walk through the dark corridor at GALAPAGOS (70 North 6th Street, Brooklyn, 718-782-5188), raindrops stream down my face, blurring my glasses, impeding my vision. I know she is here to calm me, soothe my heart, and stop my cold hands from trembling. There’s not a crowd, and I’m grateful. I just want some peace of mind. By the time I’ve wiped my lenses, there’s a tart cosmopolitan ($7) in my hands and I’m seated at a table before her. Still and composed, the dark pool is the place to begin a journey, give fuel to the imagination. I sip some of the drink and imagine Esther Williams might emerge from the waters in fanfare and glory. Another swig, magic! The glass is suddenly full, and by now Esther is in pink feathers, her eyes shaped like stars. The more I swig, the more extravagant her outfit. Am I really in Williamsburg or on the set of Million Dollar Mermaid? I take leave and continue the quest for escape.
I pass through the wooden door at VERA CRUZ (195 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-599-7914) and snap, it all comes back! The exposed brick, burned yellow walls, sprawling mirrors, and glimmering candles. I’m home. Ceramic street signs announce exotic addresses I seemed to have visited many years ago. My favorite is “El Murmullo” (“the whisper”). I want to live there. At this hour no one is whispering, and it’s driving me crazy. I walk past the chattering clientele, already sugared up on the restaurant’s famous margaritas ($5). Red Christmas lights decorate the wall above a small door. With a wonderment like Alice’s, I push it open and find myself in a typical Latin American colonial patio. A small round fountain—much like the one we used to have in the backyard when I was growing up—crowns the center. A few tables covered in plastic tablecloths surround the place, which is slightly illuminated by blue bulbs. The moon feels just an arm’s length away. I order a corn on the cob dabbed with mayo and sprinkled with lime ($3.25) and a Corona ($4). In the distance, old Cuban son is playing, and the drumbeat merges perfectly with the water’s music. I’m so content I order a Grand Marnier margarita ($6), a bitter concoction that makes the surroundings hazy.
What’s this purple potion in my hand? Cassis, Sauza Hornitos, fresh lime juice, and ginger ale—a/k/a a Panty Snatcher ($6). I slam down the drink and realize I’ve been sitting in this blue leather-covered booth for a few hours. A huge sign above the bar at UNION POOL (484 Union Avenue, Brooklyn 718-609-0484) reads, “Swimming Pool Needs Chemical Balancing.” The room begins to smell like chlorine, and I expect to see patrons in swim trunks and flip-flops. How many Panty Snatchers have I had? I dimly remember this same venue used to sell swimming-pool supplies back in the day. Anxious to see the “pool” in the back, I follow a trail of droplets that lead me there. I see her, just as I expected her to be: posing in the water. Esther. This time she’s wearing a gold bathing suit, a sparkly turban, lips flashing a full smile. I don’t care anymore. I plunge in and join her in her dance.