Dec. 30, 2008
"You're going to be at the Beard Off, right?" Don Lee asked me on Facebook. Of course I was! I would be lying if I were to say that the Papa Doble Beard Off wasn't the event of the year that I was looking forward to. If there was any better way to close out 2008, I wanna hear it. It was like a Christmas present to me. I spent an evening surrounded "The Three Bs of Great Fun": booze, bartenders and beard. That's right, beards...Man, I love facial hair.
But enough about me and my kind of creepy affinity for beards and mustaches.
I wasn't sure if I was late or early when I got to Death and Company. Sometimes it's hard to tell with events. You might show up on time only to wait about 30 minutes as you wait for more people to show up, and sometimes you show up inarguably late only to realize you're STILL one of the (only) early birds. So I was happy to see that there were some confused people being turned away from the door since they didn't a private event was taking place. No, no, not happy, because I mean, sucks to be them and all...wait, no, that came out wrong. I mean, I wasn't glad people were being turned away. I was glad because it meant I arrived pretty much in good time.
It was weird being in a lit up Death and Co. Usually when it's that bright while I'm in there I'm the only person remaining besides staff because I'm polishing off an ill-advised drink I probably should not have ordered ten minutes after last call and most probably I'm getting just a tad bit mouthy to whoever is behind the bar (usually, a very patient Alex Day because I know he'll put up with me for some unknown reason) as everyone's trying to pack up and go home. And thanks to the fortifying powers of alcohol, my quiet drinking become punctuated with unexpected bits of verbal buckshot that sounded perfectly OK in my head but come out really wrong. So this was a little different.
The official judging and competition part wasn't taking place yet and it was official mill about and talk to folks time, so I walked around and bumped into Allen Katz. I asked him which competing categories he felt confident in since he was clearly a crowd favorite. He was looking delightfully old-timey with his beard and outfit combo.
I spotted Phil Ward who seemed to be going for a sort of Warriors or biker gang type thing with his caramel-colored leather vest and hair pulled back in a ponytail. Little did I know he'd go through two more costume changes in the course of the evening.
Don Lee showed up in what looked like a leisure suit and Daniel Eun in a tracksuit and a headband.
My expectations were now quite high.
Jim Ryan, who was not participating in the Beard Off, but still gets mention because of the petit handlebars he always sports, was looking unusually laid back in jeans and a sweater. I asked him what was up with this since I'm used to seeing him in some variation of this, and he answered that it was just him toned down. Maybe I just don't hang out with the guy often enough outside of work-related gatherings but it was a glimpse into the casual side of Jim Ryan.
I even met some guys from the group Branded by Beards, who gave me a flyer for an upcoming event of theirs. The 2009 NYC Beard and Moustache Championships. I had to stop myself from shouting, "Dudes, seriously??"
As my friend Alexis later told me, "It's like your whole life was building up to this moment. Little did you know that when you started working for NRN, you'd be put on this path...writing about bartenders so you could go to this bartender beard thing and then finding out about this?"
"I know, right?!" I exclaimed in response. But once again, enough about my weird admiration of facial hair.
For those of you who don't know the story behind the Beard-Off, his is its second annual incarnation. The first year it was simply a friendly(?) wager between Brian Miller and Ty Baker. Beard Off commissioner Ty Baker said that this year 20 contestants started out in August, shaving their chins (and in some cases heads) clean, but only eight survived all the way to the Dec. 30 beard off date. Brian Miller said that he would like to thank all the girlfriends who put up with the facial hair madness and there some harumphs and "mm-hmms" of agreement from the crowd. For those who did drop out before the beard off date, a hundred dollar fine was collected from each. The event was also a charity event so these fees went towards the event's charity of choice, the American Nicaraguan Foundation.
The judges of this event were Gary Regan, Dave Wondrich and Julie Reiner. Mr. Thorn commented on how serious the judges were during their judging, and not to mention, the event managed to get some cocktailians of renown to judge not drinks, but beards.
For those who've seen Dave Wondrich in person, his qualifications for beard judging are plainly on his face since he's curator of a pretty sizable beard. And Mr. Regan? Well, just pick up a bottle of Regan's Orange Bitters. Or even better, check out this photo we used to run back in the day when he wrote a regular column for Nation's Restaurant News:
We updated to a more recent photo of him later on, but for a while, that was the face of Gary Regan that stared back at you from the pages of NRN.
The event was sponsored by Flor de Caña, and it was a bartender event, so of course there was drinking to be had. Contestants created recipes for the event using Flor de Caña. I'm pretty sure I tried most, if not all, of them. I definitely remember having Joaquin's Latin Quarter and Brian's My Oh My Ty. And I most definitely remember Allen Katz's Beaver Puss because he was talking about how he made his own apple liqueur for it and, really, the name reverted me back to middle school. I'm sorry if any of you thought I was better than that. Allen feigned ignorance in response to the giggles and said that it's an old way of referring to a bearded man, and what was wrong with that?
To be continued...