My buddy Gracie and I were sitting at the end of the bar, drinking whiskey and talking about Kurt Vonnegut. Gracie is a beer snob, a Rust Belt kid like me in town for some computer conference; he's also incredibly well-read and a Vonnegut fan. I'd made some passing mention of Mayor Hickenlooper -- bragging, no doubt, that my fair city is cooler than Gracie's fair city because my fair city has a former bar-and-restaurant guy in charge of things -- when Gracie stopped me.
"I know that name," he said.
"Well, he's pretty well-known."
"No, something to do with Vonnegut..."
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Timequake -- that's what Gracie was thinking of, one of Vonnegut's later books: a neat bit of metafiction combining some of the better parts of a failed attempt at a novel and a lot of personal reminiscences about his life. The way Gracie remembered it, there was a bit in there about how Vonnegut and Hickenlooper (before he was mayor) got to know each other over the brewing of a batch of "Kurt's Mile-High Malt," a beer based on a recipe by Vonnegut's grandfather. How did this happen? When Vonnegut was in college at Cornell University, he got to know Hickenlooper's dad, John Sr. And when Junior started getting all uppity with the family recipes? Well, Vonnegut just couldn't let that go. And in the end, Vonnegut ended up designing a label for Kurt's Mile-High Malt (a sketchy self-portrait) and went on to write a very, very short story that was printed on the label of the Denver Public Libation series of beers produced by the Wynkoop Brewing Co. to celebrate the opening of the new Denver Public Library.
Driving home that night, I heard the news that Vonnegut had died. It was a weird bit of coincidence, and I called Gracie at his hotel to share the news. In commemoration, we decided to spend the next afternoon at the Wynkoop -- raising a couple pints in memory of old, dead coots.
And that's just what we did. Though Kurt's Mile-High Malt is no longer available, we made do with Monkeyfist IPA and tall glasses of Patty's Chile Beer (my personal fave, and not because it's named after this newspaper's editor). We put the kitchen through its paces with a big round of surprisingly good bar grub -- nachos served with about eight different toppings all swirled together in one big bowl, sweet barbecued-pork sandwiches and thick burgers covered in bacon and cheese. The room was quiet on a snowy Thursday afternoon, the bar lightly populated. And thus did my friend and I mark the passing of a true giant the best way we knew how -- with beers and good talk, cheeseburgers, and cigarettes smoked on the street.
Happy trails, Kurt. And here's to ya...