Thick as Grenadine

When I was a kid, we had a restaurant in my hometown of Whitehorse, Yukon called Mr Mikes. It was a family fast-casual place that claimed to be a national chain despite the fact that no one else I’ve ever met remembers it. Maybe I made it all up, maybe I dreamt the thrill of walking through the entryway that was off to the side of what is now the Royal Bank on second avenue. But it was our place, a little treat to our family on the rare occasion that my parents opted to take my sister and I out to a nice meal.

Mr Mikes had it all. Salad bar, sundae bar. Regular bar. A smoking section that wasn’t separated by a wall or a door but the booths had higher backs and a little piece of white lattice stained faintly yellow sitting atop the wooden frame of the booth. If indeed I dreamt it, the dream is surreal. I can hear the sound of the red leather seats as we slid into our booth on the non-smoking side, far away from the sins of the habitual chain smokers and their kin tapping their vice into gorgeous amber-hued ashtrays, carefully molded with a little slot to lay your cigarette down for a moment if you had to grab a drink or make an emphatic point with a wild hand gesture.

Going out for dinner meant we were living, like really living. I knew we weren’t a rich family, I knew the reason why my dad worked all day and all night was because it was the only way we got by, so going out for dinner was a little treat for us all. When you’re getting a treat, you lean into it, you know? Go all out, live a little. I liked the drink section, the back side of page three of the menu, full of tastes I had yet to develop. Wine and rum and scotch of all kinds. Cocktails with names like Greyhound, Old Fashioned and Sex On The Beach all called to me, as if to say soon, but not yet. Like the cigarettes on the other side of the room.

I distinctly remember the first time I made a public error so grievous it haunted me every day. When I came out as transgender to my mother, she reminded me of this moment and said that’s when I should have known! When the server came round to ask what our particular poison would be that evening, I mustered all my strength to speak my desires aloud and simply: I will have a Shirley Temple.

The world stopped in an instant.

Cigarette smoke lingered in the air. My mother put her hand on my shoulder and laughed and said, boys don’t order that, they get a Roy Rogers. Shirley Temple is a girl.

I knew that, of course. But I wanted a Shirley Temple all the same. The ginger ale and the grenadine of it all called to a part of me I couldn’t place. I just knew that in my heart a Shirley Temple was my drink, and I didn’t think it odd to order a drink I felt would give my spirit the push it needed to dance on the wind for all time. I didn’t even know who Roy Rogers was. Shirley Temple was at least a name I recognized, the cute girl who danced and sang and smiled in movies at my grandparents place. Roy Rogers, I would later learn, was just some old cowboy guy my grandfather liked. He talked about him in the room with all the guns on the wall, talked about the way men should act and how we’re all too soft. Then he would aim a gun at me, as a joke, and ask if I thought it was loaded.

Boys order a Roy Rogers lived in my head for decades. The first time gender was imposed on me to such a degree that it controlled what I ordered from a place that let you take whatever you wanted from the sundae bar for $11.99 per person. Boys have to act a certain way, grow up tough and strong and order the right non-alcoholic beverage from page three if they’re to grow up right. Grow up to raise their families and work until they bleed, take their family to the smoking section, tap their ash into an amber ashtray, and order a rum and coke, the adult Roy Rogers.

Not long after that day — when I was 13 — I had my first drink of alcohol. A quarter of a bottle of red wine I stole from my friend’s alcoholic mother. I drank from then until I quit for good when I was 36. I started smoking when I was 16, out back behind the grocery store when we were shotgunning cans of beer before we had to go back out and replenish the produce. Just trying to fit in, be like the boys, order a Roy Rogers.

I quit smoking for good when I was 39, and my doctor asked me if I smoked before I went into surgery. I said “no”, which was a lie, but I felt bad for lying to a doctor, so I quit then and there.

When I got sober, I found going out to be a little less fun. Page three of the menu shrinks when you don’t drink anything on it anymore, when even an accidental slip in menu decision would send me into a blackout I may never return from. But I remembered the Shirley Temple I never got, and one afternoon on a patio with a friend, I asked for one. No one batted an eye, no shocked gasp or careful hand on my shoulder to guide me toward the right drink for who everyone thought I should be. Just a server that said oh my god I love those, and promptly delivered my rose-tinted treat in a Collins glass. The sweet taste of the grenadine and the lemon-lime (or Ginger Ale, if you’re so inclined) with a little cherry on top.

The sweet taste of freedom.


Shirley Temple recipe:
Pour 1 ounce grenadine over ice in a glass.
Top with 4 ounces lemon-lime soda and 4 ounces ginger ale. Stir gently to combine. (I like a combination of the two sodas, but you can also just use 8 ounces of one or the other.)
Garnish with a maraschino cherry and enjoy!

Roy Rogers recipe:
6 ounces cola
½ ounce grenadine
Squeeze of lemon
Soda water
Cocktail cherry, to garnish


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Niko Stratis

Niko Stratis is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in outlets like SPIN, Bitch, Xtra, Catapult and more. Her work primarily focuses on culture, the 1990s, queer/trans topics and as often as possible where all those ideas intersect. 

She wrote that piece about Jackass that you liked and also the Gin Blossoms one. 

She is also the creator and host of V/A Club, a podcast about movie soundtracks.

Niko lives in downtown Toronto with her fiancé and their dog and 2 cats. She is a cancer.

Niko has written 23 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. Love this. I could 100% see, feel, and smell the local Bennigans that my mom would take me to after softball games. I’m sure we ate, but I just remember the Shirley Temples.

    So glad you rediscovered it in a more supportive environment 💕

  2. Niko – I love everything you’ve written lately. A “vivid specificity” as Cassie described it above is accurate. I feel like I know you on some level simply because in your writing you have so gloriously shared so many pieces of yourself. I can’t get enough, I’m so glad you’re writing for Autostraddle! <3

  3. for real though. I don’t drink, and I go out to fancy restaurants and half the time there’s something fun, but half the time my options are coke, sprite, or orange juice. I recently went to a place that had alcoholic kombucha and no non alcoholic kombucha which ??????

    • it is a CONSTANT complaint for me as an alcoholic! I want to be able to go out and have something nice but i can’t/don’t drink alcohol anymore! Some places will have nice mocktails and other stuff, but i miss the culture of “oh that looks nice/fun” when i’m out with friends for sure. It’s always “i guess i’ll get…” which just doesn’t have the same feeling

  4. Glad that you can now have all the Shirley Temple‘s you want. I used to love those, my family would go to Bennigan’s when I was young.
    Also, I agree with the specificity of your writing. I love your descriptions of coffees and Coke machines to

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