Burning down the souse

Homer Simpson was betrayed over one, and Ford Fairlane was perpetually in search of one that would meet his exacting standards. I speak of the flaming cocktail -- that unique combination of liquid refreshment and pyrotechnic display that takes the concept of the novelty drink to new heights of thrills and danger.

On a recent fact-finding mission I discovered that the Orlando resident's chances of finding Waco in a glass are slim. Then again, what else should I have expected from a town that can't even commit itself to a decent Fourth of July fireworks show?

I had heard that Gina's on the Water (309 N. Northlake Blvd., Altamonte Springs; 834-5886) was my best bet for scoring a Dr. Pepper shot, an inflammatory concoction created by striking a match to a rum-filled shot glass, then dumping the whole mess into a mug of beer for instant quaffing. But my order was met with naught but suspicious stares.

"We don't serve anything on fire," the manager carefully asserted. "And we don't even have Dr. Pepper. It's for safety reasons." She seemed so spooked that I quickly abandoned my back-up plan: to ask for seltzer water with a side of Pop-Rocks.

The waitstaff at Harold & Maude's Espresso Bar (25 Wall Street Plaza; 422-4279) was more helpful, though lacking in materials. Its makeshift Dr. Pepper was a lit-up slug of 151 rum with a Heineken chaser.

I later learned that the 151 was supposed to be merely the flammable upper layer of a shot predominantly made up of the far tastier Myers brand. Maybe that's why my tongue turned to cotton after I had downed only half of the glass' contents. The fire did not help. Nor did the beer, for that matter.

It made sense that the "Flaming Hurricane" was the top-shelf drink at Apple Annie's Daiquiri Bar (Church Street Station; 422-2434). Why not serve a cocktail of ignited rums and fruit juices to Japanese tourists who are too polite to sue for damages?

The Hurricane burned beautifully but expired after a measly few minutes. I subtracted a few more points when I noticed that it wasn't the liquid that was on fire but the pineapple chips floating in it.

The day was saved by a trip to Monaco Cocktail Bar (56 E. Pine St.; 843-4410), whose staff displayed such mastery of pyro-mixology that I was tempted to report them all to Smokey the Bear.

The pièce de résistance was the "Flaming Lamborghini," a martini glass full of Myers, 151 and Kahlua that I was told to slurp up with twin straws -- while it was still ablaze! -- as my bartender poured blue Curaco and half & half into the sides. Why two straws? Because one might melt, silly.

The dictionary defines "helplessness" as "sticking your face into a raging inferno that you're counting on Nick the Barkeep to put out just in time." But braving the Lamborghini was a rush. The petite African-American woman seated next to me followed my example by sucking back one of her own.

"It was wonderful!" she exulted, throwing her arms around my neck in gratitude. I guess it's not about the fire, after all. It's about the trust. And it's about the love.

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