When I was planning my first visit to the Cape, friends gushed about the abundance of theater productions in town. When I asked for clarification on what kind of shows I could see, their answers were unsatisfyingly vague: “Drag.” Living in New Orleans, I had seen plenty of drag shows featuring varying degrees of talent. I had also gotten to know Jeff Roberson, a.k.a. Varla Jean Merman, whose performances illustrated how polished and inventive drag could be.
Once in Provincetown, I was overwhelmed by the choices, so I asked my friend Mark Cortale, Varla’s manager, for some advice. He told me that after seeing Varla’s show (obviously), I must not miss Dina Martina. I bought my ticket.
Dina defied all my expectations of drag. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer describes her this way: “As graceful as a Coke machine moving about on a hand truck.” She didn’t try to be glamorous. She didn’t lip-synch, and, when she did sing, Dina was hardly on pitch.
She also wasn’t bitchy or clever. Instead, Dina seemed oddly innocent and at the same time absolutely demented. In spite of the fact that Dina does not have Varla’s stellar pipes, part of what I enjoy most about her shows is hearing her sing. Dina’s songs are satirical, but not in a Weird Al Yankovic way. Most of them begin “straight” and soon drive off a cliff. During an especially long guitar solo in Duran Duran’s “Rio,” she eats a plate of spaghetti. Now, when my husband, Lee, and I hear “Rio,” we shout Dina’s signature phrases: “Off the charts!” and “Check it!”
Her Christmas album features off-kilter songs about Presidents’ Day and St. Patrick. I play it every Christmas as I wrap each gift (a word Dina pronounces with a ‘J’ like the peanut butter). When I heard her sing the first few notes of “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks, I was ready. Then she sang “Try to be sober for part of October…” and I spat out my whiskey and soda, howling with laughter.
Since then, I’ve tried, but I can’t remember any of her other lyrics. Here’s the thing about a Dina Martina show: it’s a fever dream where we all took the same drug and, later, when you try and tell someone about it, the memory is just out of your grasp. But the sober October part stuck.
For a long time, talking about “going sober” meant you were a lush, maybe even an alcoholic. In the last few years, however, there has been an uptick in people exploring sobriety in a very public way. Some want to stop altogether. Others merely wish to cut back but still participate in celebrations. Drinks companies have responded, offering a better variety of nonalcoholic products. At Tales of the Cocktail, one of the largest international spirits conferences, I learned that nonalcoholic (in settings like that this gets the industry term “NA”) is the fastest growing category. Some products mimic typical spirits, while others offer wholly new products and flavors. Canned ready-to-drink (RTD) options of NA cocktails also abound, and my neighborhood bar keeps a few handy.
Two of my favorite brands are Ritual and Lyre’s. We use both in our household to make either NA drinks or “split-base” drinks, where a portion of the regular spirit is replaced with the NA one. It was a revelation to learn I could make a lower-proof drink with these rather than being limited to just NA recipes.
I believe the best NA options stand in for gin and tequila, followed dimly by those that replace rum. I have yet to find an NA whiskey that works. Additionally, very good NA sparkling wine, triple sec, and vermouth are now available, giving you plenty to work with.
One of the most satisfying NA cocktails we make at home is a margarita. Sometimes we split the base with tequila: we usually use one ounce of NA tequila (the Ritual is spicier than the Lyre’s) and a half ounce of real. If we use all NA spirits, we might use regular triple sec. If you use only NA Orange Sec, consider adding a barspoon of simple syrup to add a little body and sweetness to the cocktail. Play around and see what works for you.
Inspired by Dina, I now cut back on alcohol in October. In anticipation of the long holiday season ahead (mine goes well into February due to Mardi Gras) I think it’s a healthy choice for my body. One might even call it a “Jif.”
AN OCTOBER MARGARITA
1½ oz. Ritual tequila alternative or Lyre’s agave blanco spirit
1 oz. fresh lime juice
¾ oz. Lyre’s Orange Sec
1 barspoon of simple syrup, for body, optional
Shake all ingredients and strain over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.