When I sit down at the last free seat along the bar at Downing Street, David Mascari wins me over immediately by getting my name and shaking my hand after he takes my drink order. It's obvious he's comfortable behind the bar, and soon I find out why. "I've been here almost 11 years," he says. "We've had a few changes, but overall it's pretty much the same. It's worked for 11 years, so nothing wrong with that."
Speaking of cigars, it seems like everyone but David and me have one lit up. "I'm not too much of a cigar aficionado myself; I don't know nearly as much as I should. But I've got a good handle on a few of them that I like, and you know, you push the stuff that you like," Mascari says. "It's nice, but we've got a hell of a selection in there. I try to learn about it as much as I can, but at the end of the day I know a lot more about whiskey than I do about cigars."
And well, he should know a thing or two about it, since the wall behind him is covered in bottles of the stuff -- Mascari says Downing Street carries about 90 single-malts and 40 bourbons. He's kind enough to give this clear-alcohol girl a mini-tutorial. "When you pour a Scotch, you pour it in a craft, a craft of Scotch and a craft of water. The old-timers will say the only way to drink it is neat. But drink it the way you like it, that's the way I am. But the rule of thumb is whatever the amount of scotch you put in the glass, you put in a third the amount of water in to open up the flavor, so we serve all our single malts in crafts."
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As for the clientele, I ask Mascari if there's been a difference since the smoking ban went into effect. "We don't necessarily see an up-tick in smokers generally, because people are gonna go where they want to go. With the weather being nice, they'll step outside and have their cigarettes. If it's cold and rainy, then we see some more people in here," says Mascari. "Sometimes happy hour is very good, sometimes it's like this, steady but not packed. We get mostly upper-end people, a lot of lawyers, doctors. A lot of students come in later at night. We have people coming in during the daytime to do a little business -- it's a nice atmosphere with the leather couches up front, very relaxing for them." Between the whiskey and the stogies, it's safe to say relaxation is on the menu.