Chow Town

Remembering the passing of a dear, sweet friend

Loretta Jenkins
Loretta Jenkins

Last week, one of the sweetest people in the world passed away.

It’s funny that Loretta Jenkins turned out to be such a sweet, unbelievably kind person, since when I first met her she seemed ornery as hell. She and my future wife — along with a few other friends — could really turn a bar upside-down.

To this day, I make no secret of the fact that one of the reasons I fell for my wife is that she had this hilarious, playful, mess-with-your-mind friend. But that turned out to be only a very small part of who Loretta was.

Loretta raised two wonderful kids. She was open and generous with everyone she met. She could kid you with wit and barb, but I never heard her speak a mean word about anyone or to anyone.

I think her time in bars was short-lived, whereas for me, booze is where I live and how I make my living.

Some people would find that a terrible confession. I’ll admit that it’s not what I set out to do. I had loftier ambitions, but life forces most of us to do whatever it takes to pay the bills.

I found restaurants. I liked the theater of those places. I liked the food and the drinks too. I kept working around drinks — wine, beer, cocktails, you name it — because it was fun and it paid the bills.

I’ve heard people say that nothing good happens in a bar. But when I’m in the Old World, I’m always taken aback by what a mix of people you’ll see at a bar, or at a street festival with drinking going on around them, or perhaps just with a glass of wine in their hands.

Young, old, rich, poor, everybody in-between. It’s part of the community — part of how the community gathers. I also don’t see many people who are visibly drunk. It’s as though people understand drink is supposed to make you happy. Drink too much and nobody’s happy.

So if you’re one of those people who drink too much, you’re missing the point. And if you’re one of those people who think bars are bad places, well, I’ll just have to respectfully disagree with you.

Instead, I think of the bar as a place where differing people gather, drink, eat too — you should, it’s good for you — and find out that they’re perhaps not so different after all.

That they experience the same thrills and disappointments, and that coming together gives us back our commonality. The lines we draw between us are imposed from outside; share a cup and we might forget that some are more equal than others. We might accept people just as they are, just as Loretta was always able to do.

I cannot forget meeting her, a crazy friend of this new girl I met who would become my wife, in a now-closed bar on Main Street. At her funeral, I thought about that bar and that night, and how I did not see who she was well enough.

Doug Frost is a Kansas City-based wine and spirits writer and consultant who for decades has happily educated the public about all things drink. He is one of only three people in the world to have earned the coveted titles of master sommelier and master of wine. He contributes a monthly wine column to The Star’s Food section.