I asked whether any of his family would inherit any part of his collection.
The question occasioned a brief tangent about his son, a judge, who lives in Florida.
“Him? He’s not gonna get a damn thing.”
He’ll provide for her, he said, of course. But what the hell does the collection have to do with her? He has his money, she has hers. He has his things, and she has hers.
“Look, if I have a concern for some future generality, it’s that someone will inherit the collection who has the knowledge and the understanding of what this thing is and the passion to do right by it, and maybe that will be Jack Rose, but we’ll just have to see, okay?”
On the phone one night, Fry loses patience with my attempt to determine how many of his bottles will go into Jack Rose.
“Why are you so goddamn focused on numbers?” he screams. “All my life, it’s been this sort of shit! People relate everything to numbers. What difference does it make how many bottles?”
I’ve been thinking like a journalist when I ought to have been thinking like a poet.
As Fry began the transition from collector to curator, dispensing his knowledge to interested drinkers, Bill Thomas began his own transition. It was flattering that Fry had placed so much faith in him. But it was humbling, too, to realize that the whole thing might soon be Thomas’s to care for. He had just opened the greatest, most well-endowed bar the city had ever known, yet he still seemed in awe of what he stood to inherit.
“There’s a story with every bottle,” Thomas says. “I’m gonna get a plaque so people can understand just what this is, how special it is. To me, it’s like a living thing.”
This article appears in the June 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.
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