Friday, February 26, 2010

Alex Day's last shift at Death and Co.

It was last call at Death and Co. on a Thursday night/Friday morning. I'd come in and stayed all throughout the evening because I was trying to get my fill of drinks made by Alex Day before he left for the West Coast (after a slight detour in Asia). Earlier in the evening I told Joaquin Simo that I was getting some drinking done.

"You know you really should tell us things like that," Joaquin said. "That just sounds like a challenge."

Next thing you know there was an amply filled shot glass in front of me. It was emerald green, which narrowed it down to what it could be. Nonetheless, everything from the pool of guesses pointed towards consequences dire.

"...what is this?" I asked suspiciously.

"Oh, you'll know," he answered.

Down the hatch and as soon as it hit my stomach a reactive cloud of herby, minty, Winter Green, Doublemint power attack of green chartreuse wafted its way back up into my olfactory system. I wish I could tell you that was my only shot of green chartreuse that night.

Joaquin was working with Alex on his last shift. It was just a couple of days ago at Alex's going away party at Huckleberry Bar when Joaquin had joked that maybe D&C's no-standing rule would need to be lifted for Alex's last shift. While the crowd inside didn't seem too overwhelming in numbers, the friends and colleagues left at the end of the evening at last call proved to be persistent.

People continued to jokingly (and half seriously) ask for drinks, Alex refused them with a triumphant feigned petulance that can only be afforded to those working the last day of their job.

"You're all just getting beer," he defiantly stated. "I'm not making another drink."

I'm always up for a game of "Beat This Dead Horse" so as I settled my check, I asked, "Hey, could I get some Parfait Amour?"

After a split-second pause, he answered, "I will stab you with this bar spoon," as I cackled away at my own lame joke.

When the iPod Alex Day plugged in to the sound system at Death and Company started playing "New Slang" by the Shins, it became a losing battle against the sentimental. On top of that, with the snow falling outside, I looked around to make sure we weren't just characters playing out an Adrian Tomine comic or something.

Phil Ward, one of many to stop by during the evening, to wish Mr. Day off hopped behind the bar at one point during Alex's protestations, and poured a shot for Alex and himself. As the two took the shook hand and took the shot, the entire bar let out a half-sober "Aaaaaaaaaaaaaawww..." and cheered since we were definitely witnessing what could be described as A Moment.

Other moments of the evening was when Enzo Lim and Abigail Gullo came in and presented Alex with a snowball for a drink. Alex put the snowball in a glass and served them an Old Fashioned and all three declared coming of the age of Snowballogy in cocktail making.

I had my own moment at the end of the evening. Before leaving, I gave Alex one last hug and blurted out, "I'm losing my Bertie!" regardless if anyone would get the reference or not.

Probably not because it was more my own private reference. I've always joked that this blog was more of a social history of bartenders rather than anything useful, and in a way Wodehouse was an inspiration. When covering the idiosyncratic world of cocktail bartenders with its recurring cast of "characters" who more often than not dressed up in their dandified fashion, it wasn't too far off to make a connection the world of Bertie, Jeeves and the Drones Club.

First Daniel Eun, then Mr. Freeman heads out to Asia (he's back in the city now and then, but it's not the same when you can't just stop by Tailor and bug him about what he's got up his sleeve at the moment), and now, Mr. Day.

Alex was one of the first bartenders (1, 2) I built a rapport with who convinced me that despite my issues with social awkwardness, bartenders are totally not scary and you can talk to them and stuff (along with folks like Joaquin Simo, Jim Meehan, Eben Freeman and Damon Dyer). It was these first couple of blog entries talking and frequenting these bars that helped to set up my modus operandi with bartenders as well as the general tone of the blog. (Oh, man, reading earlier blog entries is mortifying).

I know, it sounds a bit weird, but come on, when it's snowing and The Shins are playing, you get a little weird like that. This is why you don't do shots of green chartreuse.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Stopping by for a dram or two at Dram in Brooklyn

I stopped by Dram on Sunday night. It wasn't open yet, but the birthday of Thomas Chadwick's wife brought about a reason to have a friends and family gather in the space.

With the an opening date somewhere soonish on the horizon, I could help but ask Thomas about what Dram was going to be like. I don't know if I've ever had anybody explain plans for a drink menu using the words "Venn diagram" before.

You can trace back the ideas and plans for Dram to Thomas' experience with supper clubs and doing a resident pop-up cocktail program at neighborhood dive bar Bushwick Country Club. At the same time there's a method to the controlled chaos. He said he figured that the informal format of rotating guest bartenders (there will be staff, but also expect people to drop in from time to time) will work in a place like New York, where nowadays having cocktail program with some measure of thoughtfulness almost seems like a given and most consumers are pretty educated about what they want.

"It's good for the bartenders because they don't have to learn a menu and customers get what they want."

Beer and wine on the other hand will be "curated." I immensely enjoyed his use of the word curated because it was pretty evocative of how the wine and beer selection would be treated. Cataloged, updated and maintained.

The off-the-cuff and experimental style for cocktails will carry over to food, with a food station that Thomas described as being like an indoor food truck. Guest food persons will come in and serve their fare from a concessions style counter (food paid for at counter, separate from the drink check), and there are plans not only to invite established chefs and cooks, but also possible encourage participation from well-known or passionate non-pros.

It was all starting to sound like a food and drink think tank, if that think tank was like one of those jam band sessions where you all sit around doing your own thing, maybe have some other artistically inclined friends stop by. Some start taking pictures of you guys, maybe others are drawing up poster or mixed tape/CD cover ideas and yet another is recording the sound to try out their new sound equipment...and the whole thing takes place in a setting highly reminescent of a polished version of someone's parents' rec room (with all the wood paneling, and cozy storage units hanging up on the wall filled with not just glasses and booze, but with books and records).

And speaking of records, if I wasn't already beating the jam session analogy to death, they aren't just for decoration. The plan is to have all ambient music supplied by a record player in a corner behind the bar.

I looked at the drink menu for the party, I went ahead and decided to just try the George Washington Punch (Applejack, whiskey, tea, spices, sparkling cider), simply because if there's punch at a party, you're kind of obligated to try it. Yea, I just made that rule up, but it makes sense, doesn't it? It's like going to a birthday party and not singing along to the birthday song.

However, since the evening was basically cocktails made with whatever is behind the bar by whoever was behind the bar, I had to wing it. Mayur Subbarao and Nicholas Jarrett were behind the bar. I asked Nick for something with whiskey and Nick answered, "How about rum?" I was down with this.

The resulting drink (exact measurements thanks to Nick handwriting it on a piece of paper for me) was made with 1/2 oz. St. James Royal Ambre, 1/2 oz. Tariquel Bas-Armagnac, 3/4 oz. Sandeman's Rainwater Madeira, 1/2 oz. Del Capo Amaro and a teaspoon of Luxardo Maraschino. Oddly enough, the whole thing reminded me of pears. To get even more specific, Shingo pears, when you get down to that big close to the core. A kind of fruity, woody thing.

I kept myself to three for the evening and had just one more drink, but I said I'd stop by once again after the place was open to see how this food and beverage jam session works live.