The new restaurant on the block had not yet had its grand opening. It had not had a soft opening, either. In fact, it had had no sort of opening whatsoever, save for a small sign in 1950s-esque print that announced ‘Open for Happy Hour. 5pm to 7pm, Monday to Friday.’
The tiny sign did not garner much in the way of ‘traffic’ or ‘customers,’ but then again, that was not the point. The bar was not quite ready to open; there was still staff to train, staff to hire, even. As such, it was not an imposition – and perhaps was even helpful – to allow the few daredevils who met the sign with intrigue a stiff drink.
There were not many who entered the dark bar between the hours of 5pm and 7pm. It did not look as inviting as the high end sushi restaurant next door, or as filling as the stand-by steak joint. But to some, it did look like a good deal, and if they could stand the fumbling no waitstaff or the awkward bar-tenders in training who lined the gleaming mahogany-and-bronze counter top, they would get there first taste of what was about to become one of the hottest spots in town.
This was the case for the two young women who had gone out for a mid-week girls night out, in search of something new. Their hair had been teased up and smoothed down. Skirts had been hemmed and tucked to the shortest they could get away with, and the heels had been raised a solid two inches from what they might try to get away with during the work day. They had been drawn to the new bar – with it’s gleaming bronze sign that read Ducante’s – because it was something new. One of the women – the one with the sparkly head band holding up her bangs – had insisted they go in. The other had complained at the lack of suitable men, but had agreed to a single drink.
When the ocean in their cups had been reduced to a puddle and the ice was left rattling against the glass, the two consented to a second drink for one reason and one reason only: the attractive bartender lounging behind the counter.
He was not what they had been expecting to find when they left their homes for mid-week manhunting. His brown hair was peppered with grey despite his youthful appearance, and his stature was not the especially tall one that the girl without a headband so preferred. He looked neither especially strong nor especially emaciated, but there was just something about the way he talked to them as they ordered their drinks:
“Two vodka-cranberries, please.”
“Vodka-cranberry. What an excellent choice, my dear, quite excellent indeed.”
And then that little half smile that tugged just the corner of his mouth – that was to die for.
When the ice cubes clinked against the empty glass, it was the headband girl that bound out of her seat to get refills. She didn’t bother waiting for the waitress – a tiny waif of a thing with limp hair named ‘Molly’ to even check on how they were doing. Instead, she bounced straight to the counter, ignoring the group of trainees who were eagerly watching a short haired girl mix a Manhattan.
“This is quite the bar,” the girl said flirtatiously, leaning her elbows against the polished brass edge of the counter. “We’ll take two more, by the way.”
It was at this point she noticed the man’s deep chocolate eyes. They slid from her face to her elbows resting on the metal, and then his little half smile seemed to deepen to a grin as he turned to rest two high ball glasses from the shelf behind the bar. “It is one of the better ones, to be sure. This location is a particular favorite of mine.”
“Oh. I didn’t realize it was a chain,” she said nonchalantly, watching as the man scooped the ice, selected a vodka. The short haired girl behind the counter was sipping her Manhattan and watching as her students tried to mimic her mixture.
“‘Chain’ is such a nasty, pejorative word,” the man said, grabbing the cranberry juice. “I prefer ‘piece of the empire.'”
Giving her a hair a toss, the girl felt her own lips pulling a playful little half smile. Absolutely to die for. “Are you the owner, then?”
“Gregory Ducante, at your service,” he said with a mock bow.
The girl fidgeted, trying to keep the smile in place. Well off and attractive. And the attitude he gave – this man, this Gregory Ducante, was so self assured that she was unsure what to do with herself. She had rarely met men who acted this way, especially on nights that entailed skirts hemmed and tucked and heels raised a full two inches. “Well, Mr. Ducante. How much for the drinks?”
“These, my dear, are on the house,” he answered, pushing them towards her. “Happy hour, you know,” he added with a wink.
The girl felt herself blush as she accepted the drinks, shuffling back to her table in her too-high heels. Behind the bar, Gregory Ducante chuckled to himself.
“Alright, you all can make a drink, congratulations,” the short haired girl was saying to her students. “Now go memorize where all the ingredients are in the stock room. I’m quizzing you when you get back,” she said sharply, watching as they all scuttled off before turning to the man behind the counter with her. “What was that?”
“What was what?” He asked innocently, grabbing a rag to wipe a smudge left by the girl’s elbows.
“Your shameless flirting,” the girl accused. “You know you’re not interested in them.”
“Maya, Maya, Maya,” Ducante tutted, snatching up one of the drinks the trainee bartenders had left behind. “I’m not really interested in anyone. But that shouldn’t stop me from using it for my own gain, should it?” And, laughing, he knocked back the entire drink in one swallow, scowling as he added, “Could use less bitters. Make sure they do better, next time.”