Clockwise from top left, Bar Guide writer Angie Bryan, Amy and Kristen Gwinn-Becker, Aaron Morris and Sue MacArthur in a virtual happy hour. Photo courtesy of Amy and Kristen Gwinn-Becker

With social distancing and “safer at home” principles in play, people are finding creative ways to connect. Book clubs and dinner parties take place online, Quarantine Karaoke is all the rage, and more – including the virtual happy hour (VHH). Not wanting to be left out, I had to host one and see for myself.

I reached out to four of my drinking companions and, surprise, they were all free! It’s much easier to coordinate calendars when everything’s canceled. We each chose a favorite cocktail and then logged into Zoom, which was super simple to use. You’re limited to 40 minutes unless you pay to upgrade, but that’s enough time to have a cocktail (or two, depending on how advanced you are) and catch up before going back to binge-watching TV and cringing when the characters touch each other.

A Manhattan at home comes with free refills but you have to wash the glass. Photo by Sue MacArthur

My friend, Sue, showed up with a Manhattan, the first cocktail she ever tasted. It’s her father’s favorite cocktail, too, but she liked it a lot more once she upgraded from his cheap Canadian whisky to Bulleit rye. My friend, Aaron, appeared with a Lemon Drip (as in IV Drip), a glass of ice cold vodka with a splash of fresh lemon juice.

Married couple Amy and Kristen were sporting a Cosmo (made with Absolut Citron) and a Pineapple World Upside Down Cake, a drink introduced to them by Phil, their favorite Chicago bartender. Not surprisingly, it tastes exactly like the liquid version of a pineapple upside down cake. I know this because I once made a pilgrimage to Phil’s now-closed bar (sniff) to taste it. Four parts pineapple juice, two parts Licor 43, one part unflavored vodka and a light splash of grenadine. If you don’t have Licor 43, a vanilla-flavored Spanish liqueur, just use three parts vanilla vodka instead of the two parts Licor 43 and one part unflavored vodka. Shake it over ice until really cold and then strain into a glass.

A cosmo and a Pineapple World Upside Down Cake was created by a favorite bartender and recreated at home. Amy and Kristen Gwinn-Becker

As for me, I enjoyed a drink I invented: The Chipmonk (spelled that way). What better drink to enjoy in isolation than one based on a monk, as in Frangelico, the hazelnut liqueur in a monk-shaped bottle? One part Frangelico, one part chocolate liqueur, and one part heavy cream, half and half, or milk.

We compared cocktails and anxiety levels, and it was nice not to have to flag down a bartender when we needed refills. Other advantages of a VHH? No need for purse hooks, no awkward moment when splitting the bill, you can eat the entire cheese platter yourself, and you can include friends who live elsewhere. Nobody judges you if your version of a G&T involves pouring a glass of gin while an open can of tonic water sits on the counter next to a lime, you can pretend to lose your internet connection if the conversation gets boring, and you can bring your dog, cat or emotional support peacock.

That said, VHHs have several disadvantages. For starters, you’re depleting your own toilet paper stash instead of a bar’s. You have to wash your own glass (unless you’re drinking straight from the bottle), you risk spilling your drink on your laptop, nobody ever buys you a drink, and the camera adds 10 pounds (or maybe the quarantine snacks did that). Worst of all, you miss out on Portland’s fabulous bartenders. Speaking of which: Winnie at Katahdin, Bob at Sur Lie, Caleb at Blyth & Burrows, Ben and Simone at The Armory Lounge and Jim at The Bar of Chocolate, the folks in this VHH are counting the days until they can be back on your barstools!

Angie Bryan is a former diplomat who is enjoying getting acquainted with her new home in Portland, one cocktail at a time.

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