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X-Factor April 23, 2008

Posted by Alex Sawit in Stuff in General.

By Alex Sawit

23 April 2008


According to a famous globe-trotting food traveler, one of the essential elements of a great bar is the presence of what our authority calls a “maniacal bartender.” Unlike the typical bar operator, who merely passes booze around and for whom small talk with customers is an inconvenience that comes with the job, a passionate barkeeper is a fluent, convivial host and iron fisted enforcer all rolled into one. Step out of line and you’re out the door with your tail tucked in. Embrace the ways of camaraderie, on the other hand, and you’ve found yourself a home. Mi casa, su casa.

I have to agree. But allow me to amend this a bit. In light of my recent experience, I have to say that a great bar works even better when the barkeeper also has a mutually maniacal customer as a partner in crime. That’s how I would describe one of our faithful Cyrano friends, whom I shall refer to as X.

For those not acquainted with her, X is a free-spirited character with a predisposition for making herself at home in our wine shop. On any given day, here she is, her classic Italian scooter stylishly parked out front while she uses our premises as her personal living room, pseudo law office and makeshift internet café (the comfy Ottoman couch by the window is her territory, by the way). She’s an Artemis archetype, which explains why she can’t resist hunting down intellectual conversation at our place. Guys beware, however, lest you get fresh talking to her. X may be a carefree spirit, but she’s an opinionated young lady who speaks her mind with an unfair combination of sweet feminine ease and chirpy below-the-belt bluntness. I’ve seen her making fun of the opposite sex on many occasions, so let me just say that it’s entertaining to watch and listen whenever hapless fellows of all ages and nationalities are obliged, as gentlemen, to let her get away with asking them the most outrageously impolite questions about their presumed masculinity. The girl’s got moxie and Cyrano is all the better for it.

But if you ever needed proof of her value to us as a winsomely maniacal patron, you only had to have been here recently to have seen X at her shining best.

Well, actually, it started at the Belgian ambassador’s residence in Forbes Park, where X was attending the official celebration of International Francophonie Week 2008. This big ticket event in the diplomatic calendar drew hundreds of guests from the Belgian, Canadian, French and Swiss expatriate communities, who gathered for an evening of food and wine as a tribute to French culture and language around the world (sadly, the organizers failed to serve Belgian beer, prompting a disappointed X to cheerfully admonish no less than Ambassador Grégoire Vardakis for the omission). Now I rarely skip out of the shop for social events, but X was hoping to interest me in the wines being served. So we agreed to rendezvous.

Wouldn’t you know it, by the time I showed up the best wines and Champagne were all gone? Not to worry, I told X. We proceeded to the beverage table and set up camp, happy to content ourselves with the vin de pays that was left. No sooner had we gotten comfortable when, amazingly, Cyrano friends converged from both sides. On our left, we bumped into the gracious Cathy Siapno and her Belgian hubby, the now bona fide chocolatier Benoit Nicolay, gregarious folks who used to drop by our shop almost daily when they lived across the street. The reunion had barely started when, on our right, we were greeted by our new neighbor, Nicolaos Verghis, who despite the sweat pouring from his brow was upholding his dignity in a fully-buttoned business suit on this sweltering night. As First Secretary of the Greek Embassy, Nicos can not only give Filipino listeners a lyrical perspective of Greek civilization but is also enthusiastic about the Philippines, smitten as he is by the stunning destinations our country has to offer. Soon, Cathy and Ben were introducing us to their Belgian friends and Nicos was doing the same with his diplomat buddies.

I don’t remember exactly how, but it was at this point that something switched on inside of X. Maybe it was the lawyer in her, but she suddenly began fervently lobbying this host of diplomats and other expatriates, who were now listening to her voice intently. Before I knew it, they were all buying into X’s endearing sales pitch.

“What? You’ve never been to Cyrano? It’s just the best place ever! You have to go! You have to go to Cyrano! You have to go to Cyrano tonight!!!”

That was fast. Even I was stunned. Just like that, X was driving traffic to our little wine shop and selling it as the greatest thing since supermarket baguettes and SPAM® (kidding of course). There wasn’t even any debate. For some timely reason, everyone fell into lock step with X, who decided that the group must pack up immediately and drive to Cyrano right now.

Arriving at the wine shop with her expat crowd in tow, my partner in crime instantly felt at home. Instinctively and without hesitation, our de facto co-host leisurely stepped behind the bar, black party dress and pointy-heeled shoes and all, and stationed herself at the cashier’s chair. I opened bottles and poured wine; she entertained guests from behind the counter. Needless to say, X was enjoying herself.

Admittedly, there were a few minor bumps the rest of the way. Ben got a little rowdy, which I’ve learned to expect when he’s had too much of a good thing; at least he stayed within a manageable degree of excess even as he was complaining about me to his Belgian friend, saying, “This guy has the best wines, but he’s #@$&!” His friend, however, was preoccupied with hitting on X, which was why the fellow kept asking her to absolutely verify that she and I were not in any way an item (apparently, the fact that this fellow’s wife was in the room wasn’t a deterrent). In the end, everything turned out just cool. When we all parted at night’s end, we made each other promises to get together again at Cyrano and hopefully more often.

As I closed shop in the wee hours of the morning, I did so with a new found appreciation for X. She had, after all, just reaffirmed my long-standing belief that Cyrano doesn’t actually have customers. We just have friends.

I couldn’t ask for a better ally, right?

Fast-forward just a few hours later. It’s around half-past five on a hot, muggy summer morning and I’m standing on the sidewalk like a clueless lost tourist along Ayala Avenue, staring in front of a brand new Krispy Kreme outlet and bloody crowded by hundreds of call center folks massed in queue, all because of a word-of-mouth promo offering the first customer in line a year’s supply of free donuts. Wouldn’t you know, it was X who suggested… no, insisted, that I be here?

“It’s a whole year’s supply of Krispy Kreme for Cyrano! Please, you can get there ahead of everybody. You have to! You have to win this! You have to win this for Cyrano!”

Ah, well, I guess there are things a wine shop just has to live with when it has a great X-Factor.





1. wysgal - April 23, 2008

Wine and donuts? Could work … in a completely bizarre way I suppose.

Do you have free wi-fi in your store?

2. Alexander Sawit - April 23, 2008

Hi wysgal and thanks for stopping by.

As a postscript, I should mention that I didn’t bother getting in line at Krispy Kreme; once I saw someone with a tag that read “Customer #187” or something like that, I walked away and decided to enjoy some Illy coffee back at the wine shop. Actually, it was our espresso-based coffee (we’re very proud of our caffe crema) that X was hoping to pair with the donuts. Do try our coffee next time you get a chance to visit.

As for wi-fi, our wireless router has been busted for a while now. We really should attend to this, considering the number of laptop users who hang out here (the majority are Mac users). In the meantime, we’re perfectly okay with allowing Cyrano friends to plug our DSL cable directly to their laptops one at a time.

3. wysgal - April 24, 2008

And as an aside, I think I know who this X you’re talking about is. Say hi from WYSGAL. I’ll be sure to stop by your store (one of my favorite wine shops in Manila) when I back in the country this summer. =)

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