The Global Barfly’s Companion #11 by Caitlin Doyle

Bar: The Imperial at Washburn Imports in Sanford

Location: 116 1st St., Sanford, FL 32771

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Book To Bring With You: Henny Youngman’s Bar Bets, Bar Jokes, Bar Tricks.

While attending a literary event at the Imperial in Sanford, it’s hard not to think of Henny Youngman’s famous quip: “When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.” Visitors to the Imperial, Youngman would have been happy to know, need not give up either vice. They can enjoy lit and libations in equal measure, and when it comes to the latter, the measure is sure to satisfy even those with Youngman-size thirst. The bartenders serve up generous pours from a distinctive menu of craft beers, specialty drinks, and boutique wines.

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I started with a Mixed Berry Bramble, comprised of gin, berries, liqueur, and lemon, and watched the bartender squeeze and muddle the fruit right in front of me – a refreshing emphasis on natural ingredients in lieu of the sweet mixers and packaged juices common at so many other bars. As the evening unfolded, I relished looking on while the bartenders made it clear that the written word wasn’t the only art form in practice. They created an array of handcrafted and innovative cocktails from the night’s roster of featured drinks, which included the popular Sir Knight (scotch, Cointreau, yellow chartreuse, Angostura, and lemon) and the intriguing Death Fizz (gin, Lillet Blanc, Solerno, egg whites, bitters, lemon, and seltzer).

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What better way to compliment the night than with a drink named for one of literature’s most enduring themes? I ordered a delicious Death of my own and let the fizz carry me as I walked around and took in the place.

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Because the Imperial shares its location with a store named Washburn Imports, the tables, chairs, and home accessories for sale during the day do double work at night in service of the bar’s customers. People sip their drinks amidst furnishings from Southeast Asia, India, and China, and they can choose from a variety of capacious seating areas and more intimate nooks spread throughout the two-story space.

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If you fall in love with a piece of furniture or an exotic object, you can come back during daylight hours and buy it for your home. For all of the modish eclecticism bursting from the drinks and the décor, you’ll be relieved to discover that the Imperial gives off a snobbery-free vibe and the atmosphere lacks any hint of a cooler-than-thou hipster-style affectation.

If literary readings aren’t your intoxicant of choice, you can enjoy plenty of other cultural happenings at the Imperial throughout the year, including live music and art shows. But the main event is always the bar itself, where you may find yourself perpetually unable to resist sampling just one more cocktail (who could go home without trying the Bacon Old-Fashioned made with Smith’s bacon whiskey?).

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As Henny Youngman said, “if you’re going to do something tonight that you’ll be sorry for tomorrow morning, sleep late.” For barflies seeking a spot closer to Orlando, there’s also an Imperial at Washburn Imports in College Park. Though the two Imperials differ in size and drink offerings, both make it hard to deny Henny’s hard-won wisdom. Pull up a bar stool, and prepare to sleep late.

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Caitlin Doyle

Caitlin Doyle’s work has appeared in The Threepenny Review, The Atlantic, Boston ReviewBlack Warrior Review, and others. Her poems have also been published in a variety of anthologies, including The Best Emerging Poets of 2013The Southern Poetry Anthology, and Best New Poets 2009. She has held Writer-In-Residence teaching positions at Penn State, St. Albans School, and Interlochen Arts Academy. Her awards and fellowships include the Margaret Bridgman Scholarship through the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a MacDowell Colony fellowship, the Amy Award through Poets & Writers, and fellowships at the Jack Kerouac House and the James Merrill House. Caitlin earned her MFA at Boston University as the George Starbuck Fellow in Poetry, and she is currently at work on her debut poetry collection.

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