LOOKA! (Bia agus deoch, ceol agus craic)     Hot Sausage Seven Widow's Kisses Pete Fountain Tuba Fats' Jazz Funeral

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looka, <lʊ´-kə> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look"; in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans, it is usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something.  

2. --n. Chuck Taggart's weblog, hand-made and updated (almost) daily (except when it's not), focusing on food and drink, cocktails as cuisine, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news of the reality-based community ... and occasionally movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, travel, Macs, humor and amusements, reviews, complaints, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.

Please feel free to contribute a link if you think I'll find it interesting.   If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.

Page last tweaked @ 11:25am PDT, 8/29/2009

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Talesblog 2009

Buy my New Orleans music box set!

Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens

"Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" is a 4-CD box set celebrating the joy and diversity of the New Orleans music scene, from R&B to jazz to funk to Latin to blues to zydeco to klezmer (!) and more, including a full-size, 80-page book.

Produced, compiled and annotated by Chuck Taggart (hey, that's me!), liner notes by Mary Herczog (author of Frommer's New Orleans) and myself. Now for sale at your favorite independent record stores (such as the Louisiana Music Factory, because you should be supporting local New Orleans retailers) or via Amazon if you insist.

The box set was the subject of a 15-minute profile on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" on Feb. 6, 2005, and a segment on Wisconsin Public Radio's "To The Best of Our Knowledge" on Apr. 3, 2005. Here are some nice blurbs from the reviews (a tad immodest, I know; I'm not generally one to toot my own horn, but let's face it, I wanna sell some records here.)

*      *      *

"More successfully than any previous compilation, Doctors... captures the sprawling eclecticism, freewheeling fun and constant interplay of tradition and innovation that is at the heart of Crescent City music." -- Keith Spera, New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"... if you DO know someone who's unfortunate enough to have never heard these cuts, press this monumentally adventurous box and its attendant booklet upon them. It's never too late to learn" -- Robert Fontenot, OffBeat magazine, New Orleans

"... the best collection yet of Louisiana music." -- Scott Jordan, The Independent, Lafayette, Louisiana.

"[T]he year's single most awesome package" -- Buddy Blue, San Diego Union-Tribune

"This four-CD box set doesn't miss a Crescent City beat ... For anyone who has enjoyed the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, this is Jazz Fest in a box. ***1/2" -- Dave Hoekstra, Chicago Sun-Times

"... excellently compiled, wonderfully annotated ... New Orleans fans will know much of this by heart, though they may not remember it sounding so good; those who don't know what it's like to miss New Orleans will quickly understand." -- Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press.

"... a perfect storm when it comes to reissues. This box set is musically exciting, a complete representation of its subject matter, and just plain fun to listen." -- Charlie B. Dahan, AllAboutJazz.com

"... one of the best impressions of a city's musical blueprint that you're likely to ever find." -- Zeth Lundy, PopMatters.com

"... an unacademic, uncategorized album that suits the city's time-warped party spirit." -- Jon Pareles, The New York Times

How to donate to this site:

Your donations help keep this site going. PayPal's the best way -- just click the button below, and thanks!

You can also donate via the Amazon.com Honor System, if you wish (but they deduct a larger fee from your donation and I keep less).

(Also, here's a shameless link to my Amazon Wish List.)

Buy stuff (that nobody wants)!

You can get Gumbo Pages designs on T-shirts, mugs and mousepads at The Gumbo Pages Swag Shop!

Looka! Archive
(99 and 44/100% link rot)

2009:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug.

2008:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2007:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2006:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2005:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2004:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2003:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2002:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2001:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2000:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

1999:   Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

My Photos on Flickr

My Darlin' New Orleans...

The Flag of The City of New Orleans

Shop New Orleans! Visit the stores linked here to do your virtual online shopping in New Orleans. The city needs your money!

Greater N.O. Community Data Center
New Orleans Wiki

Gambit Weekly
NOLA.com & The Times-Picayune
Scat Magazine
WDSU-TV (Channel 6, NBC)
WGNO-TV (Channel 26, ABC)
WNOL-TV (Channel 38, WB)
WTUL-FM (91.5, Progressive radio)
WVUE-TV (Channel 8, FOX)
WWL-TV (Channel 4, CBS)
WWNO-FM (89.9, classical, jazz, NPR)
WWOZ-FM (90.7, Best Radio Station in the Universe)
WYES-TV (Channel 12, PBS)


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home.

2 Millionth Weblog
A Frolic of My Own
Ashley Morris (in memoriam)
Blogging New Orleans
Dispatches from Tanganyika
Home of the Groove
Humid City
Library Chronicles
Mellytawn Dreams
Metroblogging N.O.
People Get Ready
Da Po'Blog
Suspect Device Blog
The Third Battle of New Orleans
World Class New Orleans
The Yat Pundit
Your Right Hand Thief
Cocktail hour.

"We are still heartily of the opinion that decent libation supports as many million lives as it threatens; donates pleasure and sparkle to more lives than it shadows; inspires more brilliance in the world of art, music, letters, and common ordinary intelligent conversation, than it dims." -- Charles H. Baker, Jr.

   The Internet's most comprehensive
   and indispensible database of
   authenticated cocktail recipes,
   ingredients, reseearch and more.
   By Martin Doudoroff & Ted Haigh)

Museum of the American Cocktail
   Founded by Dale DeGroff and many
   other passionate spirits in Jan. 2005.
   Celebrating a true American cultural
   icon: the American Cocktail.
   (Their weblog.)

*     *     *

The Sazerac Cocktail
   (The sine qua non of cocktails,
   and the quintessential New Orleans
   cocktail. Learn to make it.)

The Footloose Cocktail
   (An original by Wes;
   "Wonderful!" - Gary Regan.
   "Very elegant, supremely
   sophisticated" - Daniel Reichert.)

The Hoskins Cocktail
   (An original by Chuck;
   "It's nothing short of a
   masterpiece." - Gary Regan)

*     *     *

Chuck & Wes' Liquor Cabinet
   (Frighteningly large, and would
   never fit in a cabinet)

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Book Collection
   (Constantly growing)

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Menu
   (A few things we like to
   drink at home, plus a couple
   we don't, just for fun.)

*     *     *

Peychaud's Bitters
   (Indispensible for Sazeracs
   and many other cocktails.
   Order them here.)

Angostura Bitters
   (The gold standard of bitters,
   fortunately available everywhere
   worldwide. Insist on it.)

Regans' Orange Bitters No. 6
   (Complex and spicy orange
   bitters for your Martinis,
   Old Fashioneds and many more.
   Order them here.)

Fee Brothers' Bitters
   (Classic orange bitters,
   peach bitters and a cinnamony
   "Old Fashion" aromatic bitters,
   plus new lemon & grapefruit bitters!)

The Bitter Truth
   (A new brand of bitters
   from Germany: orange, lemon,
   aromatic bitters and more!)

Bittermens Bitters
   (Fantastic new small-batch
   bitters company with forth-
   coming products including
   Xocolatl Mole Bitters,
   grapefruit, "tiki" spice,
   and sweet chocolate bitters, wow!    Due to launch 6/09)

*     *     *

   (Camper English)

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

The Art of Drink:
   An exploration of Spirits & Mixology.
   (Darcy O'Neil)

Bar Mix Master
   (Brad Ellis, New Orleans)

Beachbum Berry:
   (Jeff Berry, world-class expert
   on tropical drinks)

   (Seamus Harris, N.Z. & China)

The Chanticleer Society
   (A worldwide organization of
   cocktail enthusiasts.)

Charming Cocktails
   (Cheryl Charming)

The Cocktail Chronicles
   (Paul Clarke's weblog)

   (Group drinks blog by Vidiot,
   Mr. Bali Hai, Kosmonaut,
   Chico and me).

The Cocktail Circuit
   (Joseph Mailander)

Cocktail Nerd
   (Gabriel Szaszko)

Colonel Tiki's Drinks
   (Craig Hermann, Portland OR)

A Dash of Bitters
   (Michael Dietsch)

Dr. Bamboo
   (Craig Mrusek, bring art and
   alcohol together for a
   better tomorrow!)

Drink A Week
   (Alex and Ed)

   (Lauren Clark)

   (Robert Hess)

Drink Dogma
   (Bobby Heugel, Anvil Bar & Refuge,
   Houston, TX)

Drink Trader
   (Online magazine for the
   drink trade)

Esquire's Drinks Database
   (Dave Wondrich and
   his forbears)

An Exercise in Hospitality
   (Chris Stanley, Clover Club, Brooklyn)

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

Imbibe Magazine
   (Celebrating the world in a glass.    All-new site with recipes and back issues!)

In the Land of Cocktails
   (Ti Adelaide Martin & Lally Brennan,
   "The Cocktail Chicks," of Café Adelaide
   & Commander's Palace, New Orleans)

Jeff Morgenthaler
   (Bartender & mixologist, Portland, OR)

Jimmy's Cocktail Hour
   (Jimmy Patrick)

Kaiser Penguin
    (Rick Stutz, bringing us cocktails
    and great photographs)

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

La Fée Verte
   (All about absinthe
   from Kallisti et al.)

Liquid Architecture
   (Kim Haasarud)

The Liquid Muse
   (Natalie Bovis-Nelsen)

   (Ladies United for the
   Preservation of
   Endangered Cocktails)

The Ministry of Rum
   (Everything you always wanted to know)

Le Mixeur
   (The Munat Bros. host
   cocktail gatherings in
   Seattle, and write about them
   here. I'm jealous that I can't go.)

The Mixoloseum
   (Blog, cocktail chat online
   & Thursday Drink Night!)

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

A Mountain of Crushed Ice
   (Helena Tiare Olsen, Stockholm)

Moving at the Speed of Life
   (Keith Waldbauer, Vessel, Seattle WA)

Mr. Lucky's Cocktails
   (Sando, LaDove,
   Swanky et al.)

Mr. Mixer
   (Hundreds of cocktail recipes ...
   in Hungarian. Well, why not?
   Sajnos, nem beszélek magyarul.)

The Munat Bros.
   (Seattle-based brothers and
   ardent proponents of fine drinking.)

Off the Presses
   (Robert Simonson)

Oh, Gosh!
   (Jay Hepburn, London)

Rogue Cocktails
   (Kirk Estopinal & Maksym Pazuniak,
   Cure, New Orleans.

Rowley's Whiskey Forge
   (Matt Rowley)

   (Matt Robold, The Rum Dood)

Save the Drinkers
   (Kevin Kelpe, Boise, Idaho!)

Scofflaw's Den
   (SeanMike Whipkey & Marshall Fawley)

   (Marleigh Riggins & Dan Miller)

Spirit Journal
   (F. Paul Pacult)

Spirits and Cocktails
   (Jamie Boudreau)

Spirits Review
   (Chris Carlsson)

   (Beverage Tasting
   Institute journal)

Thinking of Drinking
   (Sonja Kassebaum, Chicago)

Trader Tiki's Booze Blog
   (Blair Reynolds, Portland OR)

Two at the Most
   (Stevi Deter, Seattle)

The Wormwood Society
   (Dedicated to promoting accurate,
   current information about absinthe)

*     *     *

The Tiki-licious Luau Spirited Dinner, July 17, 2008
   (Eleven dishes of wonder by Chef
   Chris DeBarr, with fabulous
   tropical cocktails by Jeff "Beachbum"
   Berry and Wayne Curtis. Full review
   of the 11-dish, 4-course meal, with
   photos and recipes for all 5 drinks.)

Let's eat!

New Orleans:
Culinary Concierge (N.O. food & wine magazine)
Mr. Lake's Non-Pompous New Orleans Food Forum
The New Orleans Menu
Notes from a New Orleans Foodie

Food-related weblogs:
Chocolate and Zucchini
Honest Cuisine
Il Forno
KIPlog's FOODblog
Mise en Place
Sauté Wednesday
Simmer Stock
Tasting Menu
Waiter Rant

More food!
à la carte
Chef Talk Café
Chowhound (L.A.)
Food Network
The Global Gourmet
The Hungry Passport site and weblog)
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Practically Edible
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
Southern Food & Beverages Museum
Southern Foodways Alliance
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
Zagat Guide

In vino veritas.

Nat Decants (Natalie Maclean)
The Oxford Companion to Wine
Wine Enthsiast
The Wine Spectator
Wine Today
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers

Wine/spirits shops in our 'hood:
Colorado Wine Co., Eagle Rock
Mission Liquors, Pasadena
Silverlake Wine, Silverlake
Chronicle Wine Cellar, Pasadena

Other wine/spirits shops we visit:
Beverage Warehouse, Mar Vista
Wally's Wine & Spirits, Westwood
The Wine House, West L.A.


Reading this month:

Lisey's Story, by Stephen King.

The Ghost Brigades, by John Scalzi.

In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan.

Listen to music!

Chuck's current album recommendations

Luka Bloom
La Bottine Souriante
Billy Bragg
Cordelia's Dad
Jay Farrar
The Frames
Sonny Landreth
Los Lobos
Christy Moore
Nickel Creek
The Old 97s
Anders Osborne
The Proclaimers
Professor Longhair
Red Meat
The Red Stick Ramblers
The Reivers
Zachary Richard
Paul Sanchez
Marc Savoy
Son Volt
Richard Thompson
Toasted Heretic
Uncle Tupelo

Tom Morgan's Jazz Roots

Miles of Music

New Orleans Bands.net

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

No Depression


Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV

Long Beach Bayou Festival

Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA

Talking furniture:

WWOZ (New Orleans)
   Broadcast schedule
   Live audio stream

Bob Walker's New Orleans Radio Shrine
   (A rich history of N.O. radio)

   (Comprehensive listings)

Air America Radio
   (Talk radio for the
   rest of us)
Joe Frank
Grateful Dead Radio
   (Streaming complete
KPIG, 107 Oink 5
   (Freedom, CA)
KRVS Radio Acadie
   (Lafayette, LA)
Mike Hodel's "Hour 25"
   (Science fiction radio)
Raidió Idirlíon
   (Irish language & music)
Raidió na Gaeltachta
   (Irish language)
RootsWorld's Rootsradio
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
   (Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)

Lookin' at da TV:

"Battlestar Galactica"
"One Tree Hill"
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
"The Simpsons"
"Top Chef"
"Father Ted"


A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans (Joshua Mann Pailet)
American Museum of Photography
California Museum of Photography, Riverside
International Center of Photography

Ansel Adams
Jonathan Fish
Noah Grey
Greg Guirard
Paul F. R. Hamilton
Clarence John Laughlin
Herman Leonard
Howard Roffman
J. T. Seaton
Jerry Uelsmann
Gareth Watkins
Brett Weston

The Mirror Project
(My pics therein: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.)

My photographs at Flickr


The Abominable Charles Christopher
by Karl Kerschl

The Amazing Adventures of Bill,
by Bill Roundy

Bloom County / Outland / Opus,
by Berkeley Breathed

Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley

The Boondocks,
by Aaron McGruder

Calvin and Hobbes,
by Bill Watterson

by Garry B. Trudeau

Electric Sheep Comix
by Patrick Farley

Get Your War On
by David Rees

by Jonathan Rosenberg

L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz

by Peter Blegvad

Lil' Abner,
by Al Capp

Lulu Eightball,
by Emily Flake

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,
by Eric Orner

by Walt Kelly

Suspect Device,
by Greg Peters

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak


Polly Ticks:
AlterNet.org (Progressive politics & news)
Daily Kos (My favorite political weblog)
Eschaton (The Mighty Atrios)
Hullaballoo (The Mighty Digby)
Media Matters for America (Debunking right-wing media lies)
Orcinus (David Neiwert)
PostSecret (Secrets sent in via postcards; astonishingly beautiful, funny and sad.)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
Think Progress
TruthOut (William Rivers Pitt & Co.)

Borowitz Report
(Political satire)
The Complete Bushisms (quotationable!)
The Fray (Your stories)
Landover Baptist (Better Christians than YOU!)
Maledicta (The International Journal of Verbal Aggression)
The Morning Fix from SF Gate (Opinions, extreme irreverence)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (Scarily funny news/satire)
"Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis", by David Neiwert. (Read this.)
Whitehouse.org (Not the actual White House, but it should be)

Weblogs I read:

American Leftist
The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Franklin Avenue
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
Jesus' General
Making Light
Neil Gaiman's Journal
Not Right About Anything
August J. Pollak
Sadly, No!
This Modern World
Your Right Hand Thief

L.A. Blogs

Friends with pages:

mary & rick
mary katherine
michael p.

The Final Frontier:

Astronomy Pic of the Day
ISS Alpha News
NASA Human Spaceflight
Spaceflight Now


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site

Made with Macintosh

Hosted by pair Networks

Déanta:  This page is coded by hand, with BBEdit 4.0.1 on an Apple iMac 24" and a G4 15" PowerBook running MacOS X 10.5 if I'm at home; occasionally with telnet and Pico on a FreeBSD Unix host running tcsh if I'm updating from work. (I never could get used to all those weblogging tools.)

 "Eating, drinking and carrying on..."  -- Adelaide Brennan

  Saturday, August 29, 2009

8 . 29 . 2005   Four years ago today, this was happening:

Hurricane Katrina
Click for archived page with animated image of Katrina's path

Flooding in New Orleans, courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Let them eat cake.

The population is back up to 75% of pre-Katrina levels, it's the fastest-growning city in the country and has the lowest unemployment rate. But New Orleans still has a long way to go. NPR did an excellent series of reports this week:

Four Years Later, New Orleans Still Recovering: How are New Orleans and its people faring, now that the national spotlight has moved on to other places? Host Scott Simon speaks with two New Orleanians: Chris Rose, columnist for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans and author of the book, One Dead in Attic, and Randy Adams, Weekend Edition's friend from the city.

La. Family Finishes Rebuilding, But Struggles Go On: Four years after Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana residents Donald and Colleen Bordelon say things are looking better. The construction on their house is finally complete. But their struggles aren't over -- and there are some things they'll never get back.

The Gulf Coast's Recovery: Uneven And Uneasy: Four years after Hurricane Katrina, housing is still elusive for some storm victims. In the small fishing villages along the Alabama Gulf Coast, the storm made a hardscrabble life even harder. One town is using federal money to move residents to higher ground, but not everyone wants to go.

Obama: No turf wars, red tape in Katrina recovery: President Barack Obama marked the fourth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina on Saturday by pledging to make sure that turf wars and red tape don't slow the pace of the continuing recovery. He also said he would visit New Orleans by years' end.

Reporter Examines Events At New Orleans Hospital: In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, more than a dozen people were found dead in New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center with morphine or the quick-acting sedative midazolam in their system, prompting allegations that they were euthanized by medical professionals. A news story by ProPublica reporter Sheri Fink details the events at the hospital.

Derelict Buildings House Thousands In New Orleans: Four years after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans has regained about 75 percent of its pre-storm population, and there are signs of economic progress. But although New Orleans is rebuilding its arts and tourism venues, including a $165 million theme park in New Orleans East, a shadowy second society exists. An estimated 6,000 homeless people squat in abandoned homes and office buildings in New Orleans. Since Hurricane Katrina four years ago, the homeless population in the city has doubled.

New Orleans: A Day's Work Doesn't Mean A Day's Pay: Wage theft has become a large problem in New Orleans, where day laborers are integral to the rebuilding process. As many as 80 percent of Latinos interviewed in the city say they've been ripped off by employers, according to a recent survey. The City Council president plans to introduce legislation to make wage theft a crime. [What, it wasn't a crime before?! - CT]

The AP gives a dose of sober reality: "Hope, reality collide in post-Katrina New Orleans":

Shelia Phillips doesn't see the New Orleans that Mayor Ray Nagin talks about, the one on its way to having just as many people and a more diverse economy than it did before Hurricane Katrina. How could she?

From the front porch of her house in the devastated Lower 9th Ward, it's hard to see past the vegetation slowly swallowing the property across the way. Nearby homes are boarded up or still bear the fading tattoos left by search and rescue teams nearly four years ago. The fence around a playground a few blocks down is padlocked.

"I just want to see people again," she said recently, swatting bugs in the muggy heat.

There's plenty of good news, though. The charter schools are working well, a brand-new public/private teaching hospital is to go on the old site of Charity Hospital, things are very encouraging for small business development, the old flagship location of Ruth's Chris Steak House (who abandoned New Orleans and relocated their corporate offices after Katrina) is being turned into a community health center, and oddly enough New Orleans is on firmer footing than most of the rest of the nation during the recession. "Indeed, the construction boom spurred by massive federal and private investment has helped insulate the New Orleans area's economy as markets around the country have flagged." That boom can be seen throughout the city, and comes closest to my own history as we see my high school alma mater preparing to open their stunning new campus in Gentilly.

The best thing the city has going for it right now is its people. There's a deep sense of New Orleans pride among its residents, and a lot of great work is still done on a grassroots level.

As the city and the Gulf Coast continue their recovery, we must not let people (and especially the government) forget that in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina was not a natural disaster. Hold their feet to the fire. The Gulf Coast must have restoration of the wetlands (a natural hurricane barrier) and Category 5 flood protection for the city.

The Gambit's "Best of New Orleans.   The local weekly papuh's annual best-of is out.

To recap but a couple, Parkway Bakery and Tavern is named for Best Po-Boys ...

Roast Beef Poor Boy

And Cure was named Best Bar for Creative Cocktails:

Growing Old and Dying Happy is 
a Hope, Not an Inevitability

I know, big surprises there. :-)

The recovery of Parkway and the appearance of a new business like Cure (which is truly a world-class bar) say a lot about how the city is doing, and progressing.

"..."   That represents my general speechlessness about the forthcoming debut of this new "reality" series from A&E:


At first I thought, "This has to be a joke," then I remembered something about him actually having been deputized. (As if dealing with JP cops in general isn't enough.) Part of me says, "Gaaah, run away!" The other part says, "Oh, we must watch the insanity!" (Thanks, Tim!)

(My favorite comment in the spew that is most YouTube comments was, "Steven Seagal: Fatman." For lack of a better term ... LOL.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, August 28, 2009

Such a view.   Here was our view of the Angeles Crest fires last night, looking off our back porch.

Angeles Crest Fire, 8/27/09

That's about eight miles away. It's far, and we're not particularly worried so far, but it's scary and freaky and very disquieting to see sheets of flame coming off the top of that mountain. So, a sheet of flame that's about 3/8 inch tall from eight miles away is how tall exactly? 0.375" in degrees of arc, divided by .... uhh ... math geeks, feel free to chime in.

Cocktails of the day: Scotch.   Well, we figured that if the air was going to be full of smoke (oddly enough, we hardly smelled any last night, due to the lack of wind), we ought to drink some smoky drinks too. Scots whisky was appointed.

Copper Swan Cocktail
(Created by Gary Regan, 2000)

2-1/2 ounces Highland Park single malt Scotch whisky.
3/4 ounce apricot brandy (liqueur, not the eau-de-vie).
Lemon twist.

Stir with ice for 20 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and serve up with a twist or, if you prefer, into an Old Fashioned glass with fresh ice.

The name came from the swanlike copper neck of old copper pot stills, which are traditionally used to make single malt Scots whisky. This was one of a series of single malt Scotch cocktails Gaz created, resulting in aghast cries from those who assert that one should never mix a single malt Scotch. "Garbage in, garbage out!" he rightly replied. I chose to use Rothman & Winter's Orchard Apricot rather than Apry for its lower sugar content. We didn't have any Highland Park 12 in the house, so I went with the 18. Lest you gasp in horror ... this was a frakking fantastic drink.

Lucques Restaurant in West Hollywood, CA makes a variation of this that looks interesting, kind of a blend between this, a Rob Roy and a Breakfast Martini. It's sufficiently different such that it should have its own name, I think, although they still call it by the same name as the original. I think it deserves at least a numeric distinguishment.

Copper Swan Cocktail No. 2
(Adapted by Lucques Restaurant, West Hollywood, CA)

1-1/2 ounces Highland single malt Scotch.
1/2 ounce sweet vermouth.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1 tablespoon apricot preserves.
2 dashes Peychaud's bitters.

Combine with ice, shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange twist.

Given the proximity of the fires, and the "Oh, FECK!" factor, even though they weren't close enough to be really worrisome, we resolved to keep drinking, and stayed in the Scotch oeuvre. This next one is from Harry Craddock's Savoy Cocktail Book, yet in a Gargantuan quantity for six people. We adapted it thusly and found it to be delightful, like a Rob Roy but with near-equal proportions, far more bitters and a little more sweetening to offset the bitters. Lovely.

Flying Scotsman

1-1/2 ounces Famous Grouse Scotch.
1-1/4 ounces Carpano Antica sweet vermouth.
1 teaspoon Peychaud's bitters.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Lemon twist garnish.

We're still not getting much smoke tonight, although my eyes burned a bit this morning. The fire's moving toward Altadena, and we have good friends who are only about a mile away from its current position. Wish them, and everyone else in Altadena and La Cañada-Flintridge, the best of luck.

Pairing cocktails with food.   One of the better seminars at Tales of the Cocktail this year was by Melkon Khosrovian of Modern Spirits and TRU Organic Gin, called "The Science of Cocktails." Primarily it was about pairing cocktails with food and why it works so well (contrary to what some sommeliers, and egotistical chefs (*cough*CharlieTrotter*cough*) say). I'll write up something coherent from my notes soon (god, was that six weeks ago already?).

In the meantime, here's an excellent article from Epicurious called "Dare to Pair Cocktails and Food". Ryan Magarian (of Aviation Gin), and Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg (a husband-wife chef-writer team who have written some of the most amazing books on culinary arts -- The Flavor Bible is, well, my bible) comment on what works when pairing cocktails and food, and a lot of it is knowledge of flavors plus common sense.) Sample recipes for food and drinks are provided (yay!).

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The List.   Bobby Heugel of Anvil Bar and Refuge in Houston (one of my very favorite bars) has released "The List," which is one hundred "libations we feel you should try at least once in your life ... for better or worse."

The List
Click for larger, readable version

When I went through this list and counted, I found that I had had 89 of those libations. Last night, I decided to start for the finish line and raised the total to 90.

Fourth Degree
(as served by Harry Craddock, Savoy Hotel, London, 1930s)

3/4 ounce London dry gin.
3/4 ounce sweet vermouth.
3/4 ounce dry vermouth.
2 barspoons (1 tsp) absinthe.

Stir with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Erik, as part of his long exploration of the Savoy Cocktail Book, wrote about the Fourth Degree and said he'd enjoyed it more by drying it out a bit, upping the gin to 2 ounces (and using Junipero) and 1/2 ounce each of the vermouths. However, the original proportions worked out beautifully for him by using Tanqueray, Dolin Dry and Martini & Rossi Rosso. Last night we used Beefeater, Dolin Dry and Dolin Rouge (with PF 1901 as the absinthe), and it was pretty damn good. I'll try the drier version too, and see what I think.

Next, the Coffee Cocktail will make it 91.

Punch of the day: Cape Fear Punch.   I've mostly given up on the Food Network, because about 90% of their programming is crap (then again, as Sturgeon's Law is often cited, albeit slightly incorrecty, 90% of everything is crap). I do still watch "Good Eats" occasionally, because Alton Brown is one of the few remaining good things about FN. A recent edition of his show that's been sitting on our TiVo finally got watched last night, and it was about punch, a subject near and dear to our hearts 'round our house.

As usual, Alton has done his homework (which I suspect included reading David Wondrich's Imbibe!), and right off the bat taught the Teeming Masses the long-cherished basic formula for punch ... while dressed as a 17th Century buccaneer:

ONE of sour
TWO of sweet
THREE of strong
FOUR of weak, plus

(Alton, of course, being a fellow geek, had has deckhand recite, as he got to the fifth part, "He who controls the spice controls the Universe ... the spice must flow!" Heh.)

He started off with a very simple punch recipe, using pints as the measurement and making a rather huge batch. One of lime juice (with the spent hulls), two of Demerara sugar, three of Batavia Arrack (to my surprise and delight) and four of tea (warm, so as to help dissolve the sugar), with grated nutmeg. The arrack will likely be difficult for some folks to find, but a title card said that it's available "on the world wide web" (the source for all things).

The main punch recipe he dealt out, though, looked mighty good, and I'm looking forward to trying it:


For the base:
750ml rye whiskey.
750ml water.
1/2 cup Demerara sugar.
3 bags green tea (although I'd be tempted to substitute oolong).
375ml rum.
375ml Cognac.
4 whole lemons.

For the punch:
2 small oranges, thinly sliced.
4 small lemons, thinly sliced.
2 750ml bottles of sparkling wine.
1 liter sparkling water.
Large ice block.

For the base: Pour the rye whiskey into a 4-quart container. Fill the now empty rye whiskey bottle with water, pour into an electric kettle or saucepan, and bring to a boil. Add the sugar and stir until the temperature drops to 190 degrees F. Place the tea bags in the kettle and steep for 3 minutes.

Add the tea, rum, and Cognac to the whiskey. Peel the zest from the lemons, being careful to get only the yellow zest and not the white pith. (A vegetable peeler works best.) Wrap the peeled lemons in plastic wrap and reserve in the refrigerator. Add the lemon zest to the mixture, and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

For the punch: Strain the base into a large punch bowl. Juice the reserved lemons and add to the punch bowl. When ready to serve, add the sliced oranges, lemons, sparkling wine, and seltzer water; stir to combine. Add the ice block and serve with freshly grated nutmeg per serving to taste.

You can do this in two batches, to keep the bubbles fresh. Add half of the base with one bottle of the sparkling wine and half the seltzer, and repeat when your guests have drained the bowl.

The Oldest Bartender takes a break.   Angelo Cammarata retired today. As far as we know, he was the world's oldest bartender:

"Camm," as people call him, started serving beer at his father's North Side grocery the moment Prohibition ended at midnight on April 7, 1933. The memory is as clear to him as the strike of the library clock that signaled it was time to start opening bottles of Fort Pitt. His immigrant father built a bar on that site in 1935 and Angelo kept working there, taking a break to serve in the Navy in World War II.

Enjoy your retirement, Camm!

Quote of the day: The Manhattan.   One of the best bits of cocktail writing I've seen.

"The hour arrives; we chill our cocktail glasses. Crisp, clean ice fills the tall tumbler where sweet sour mash and deep crimson vermouth tumble together over the cubes; liberal dashes of bitters fall into the fray. The long, slender bar spoon slowly enters the glass, gently easing its way between the slick cubes, turning slowly, introducing the threesome to one another. The ménage à trois indulges in prolonged foreplay, the ice melting, ever so slowly, over their bodies. They caress, probe, taste, and explore each other's desires. Time passes; they find their roles. Whiskey is a dominant soul, fiery yet gentle, gruff yet soulful, he wants to control the passion. But dear, sweet vermouth, her body slathered with rich, ripe fruits, tongue coated with sensuous spices, gently insists her whims be met. The struggle for power subsides into a blissful compromise; each has found its soul mate. The bitters slip in, out, and around the intertwined couple, softly nuzzling every nook and cranny, making the union complete. Passion is high as they leave the ice -- the time is very, very near. The glasses reach our lips. Oh God, that's good."

-- gaz regan, 1995.

I had read this one a while back, and had forgotten about it. Thanks to gaz and Angus Winchester for digging it back up again.

Harry Shearer at Rising Tide, New Orleans.   Here's a bit from the recent Rising Tide conference number 4, in which the New Orleans weblogging community gathers to put their heads together on rebuidling New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood. Harry, an adopted New Orleanian who divides his time between there and Los Angeles, was one of the main speakers at RT4 this year and related an anecdote about confronting Brian Williams of NBC News at a conference at Tulane, 9 months after the flood, and the question he asked him:

The entirety of Harry's 27-minute talk can be found here.

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  Friday, August 21, 2009

Tweedy and sons.   Wilco's Jeff Tweedy rocks out with his sons Spencer (13) and Sam (9), via Michael (thanks!), who says, "Remember when you were a kid, and you'd hang around the house jamming on Meters songs with your dad?"

Actually, my experience as a kid was more like hanging out by myself listening to my music, and then my dad shouting "Turn that crap DOWN!!" Then again, Dad did turn me on to Ella Fitzgerald and Dave Brubeck (but I was never able to turn him on to Neil Young or Bruce Springsteen, alas).

"Star Wars" FAIL.   AMC's "SciFi Scanner" weblog features sf author John Scalzi's Guide to the most epic FAILs in "Star Wars" design. "Between lightsabers that should be slicing off fingers and arthritic robots with exposed midriffs, the Star Wars universe is in desperate need of a new architect."

These aren't the droids you're looking for.

"'Star Trek' fans, don't get smug," he says. "I'm coming after it next." (Eep.)

Pie chart of the day.   Via Eliot Gelwan's Follow Me Here weblog, which I used to read frequently Back In The Day, but somehow got out of the habit. Fortunately, I got back into it.

Consequences of gay marriage

Mmmmm, pie.

Spam subject line of the day.   If spam is good for anything, it's for occasional bits of comedy gold.

Your shlong can be shlonger.

Via Wes, who swears, "I'm not making this up."

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cocktails of the day: An Evening at Copa d'Oro.   Dangerously close to work, so far from home ... but the cocktail menu is too good not to be tempted to head over. Copa d'Oro in Santa Monica, run by our friend Vincenzo Marianella, is a stupendously good bar with a world-class cocktail menu, including their 6-8pm Happy Hour Menu -- classic cocktails like Aviations, Daiquiris and Ward Eights are a whopping $5.

So yes, a Clover Club to start, please! I was considering continuing in that vein to save a little money, but the rest of the drinks on the regular menu are so damned good, and then of course I spied the bottle of housemade Pimento Dram behind the bar (Damian's recipe, I believe) ... well, that did it. I watched him make this one, so I'm pretty certain about the proportions.


1-3/4 ounces Courvoisier Exclusif Cognac.
1/2 ounce Apry.
3 barspoons Pimento Dram.
2 barspoons Cynar.
3 dashes Angostura Orange Bitters.
2 orange peels.

Spray the inside of a chilled cocktail glass with the oil from a large piece of orange peel. Discard the peel. Combine ingredients and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into the prepared cocktail glass, and garnish with another orange twist.

Lovely drink. The Apry, allspice and Cynar play together very nicely.

After that, in the section of the menu called "The Boys from Out of Town," featuring drinks by bartender friends from around the world, I spied one that made me go "Ooh!" It's yet another Manhattan variation, but man ... there's something about Manhattan variations that I just can't get enough of. Simple tweaking of the bitter component, or a small addition of another flavor, can transform it into such a new and wonderful drink. (The Manhattan itself might just end up being my favorite drink, period ... it regularly gets into a shoving match with the Sazerac for that position.)

I really like the bartender who came up with this one -- great guy, and a monstrous talent. I hope I finally get my procrastinatory behind to his city and into his bar sometime soon. You can use any good sweet vermouth for this, but Carpano Antica is specified (as it's the best). Use Laird's 100 proof bonded apple brandy for this, too. I think they had run out the other night and were using Laird's applejack, and the former is far superior. I decided to kick this up a notch and used Laird's 12 Year Old Apple Brandy the other night, as I was feeling extravagant. Hoo-boy ...

(by Jim Meehan, PDT, New York)

2 ounces Laird's bonded apple brandy.
1 ounce Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth.
1/4 ounce Maraschino liqueur.
2 barspoons Fernet Branca.

Combine with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. No garnish.

This drink is wonderful. The alchemy created brings notes that are chocolatey with even a hint of mint from the Fernet, the medicinality of which fades far into the background with the combined efforts of that beautiful, bright apple flavor and the deep, rich spiciness of the Carpano. Bravo, Jim! (And thanks to Roberto for making it for me, and for taking such good care of us last Wednesday night, and thanks to Joel for confirming the proportions for me.)

Eight steps to Meat Nirvana.   I'm not in the habit of posting press releases -- PR person's email -> Looka! is not something you'll usually see around here -- but when the press release is full of good cooking advice, that's a very good reason to pass it along.

Via Rick (thanks!), here's Executive Chef John Schenk of the Strip House Steakhouse in Las Vegas telling us how to achieve grilled meat perfection:

1. Make it Marbled
The best steaks for home grilling are perfectly marbled beef rib eye steaks or bone-in rib eye steaks (often called Cowboy Steaks). The marbling, flecks of fat shot through the meat, enhances the flavor of the steak while basting the meat to ensure a juicy end result.

2. Oil it
Use a canola/olive blended oil to coat the steak before seasoning it. By lightly coating the meat, you'll get a quick sear, ensuring a juicier final product as well as greatly aiding the charring. Save expensive olive oils for salads, where their subtle flavors will shine brightest.

3. Season Simply
A well-marbled steak needs only coarsely ground black pepper and kosher salt to bring flavor perfection. It really is a case of the sum being greater than the parts. Be sure to season a bit more than you might regularly season a sautéed item, as some of the steak's seasoning will be lost in the grilling process. You want to be sure to have enough on the steak to get the job done.

4. It's All About Heat
High heat sears the cooking surface of the meat, allowing for the perfect combination of charred outside and juicy inside. Keep two sides of the grill hot and move the steak to the second hot spot if the first grilling area is aggressively flaming up. Dousing with water is a last resort; you want to keep the grill as hot as possible, while keeping safety in mind.

5. Don't Flip Out
Flipping the steak too often can sabotage the charring of the meat and eliminate most of the seasoning on the steak. Don't drag the steak over the grill when turning. Pick it up in one motion and place it back with the same motion.

6. Rest and Relax
Once you have achieved the desired temperature, remove the steak from the heat and allow it to rest for at least 5 minutes on a grate over a pan before cutting it. Make sure there is air all around the steak to stop the cooking process. The internal juices will redistribute throughout the steak, which will relax and become tender. Cutting it too soon will allow the juices to spill out turning a medium rare steak into a medium plus steak.

7. Sizzle and Salt
After the steak has rested, return it to the grill for about 30 seconds on each side just before serving to get a surface sizzle going. A little sprinkle of a grey sea salt on the steak allows for a gentle and focused re-seasoning of the steak.

8. Spread the Magic
With the above tips, you'll quickly become known as a grill master. Buy a couple of steaks (make sure they are marbled), invite some friends over and impress them with your newly found grill skills. It's up to you if you want to share your secrets.

"How do you want that? Bloody, or burned to a crisp?" Just this side of bloody, thanks, a lovely medium rare, even a bit on the rarer side of medium rare. Mmmmm. Meat.

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  Monday, August 17, 2009

FЯESH LEMONAID 10¢   Driving along through this or that neighborhood, you spot something on the sidewalk. A lemonade stand. Manned by couple of kids. Me, I always stop.

There's not much that's more refreshing than a nice, tall glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. It's easy peasy to make, too -- water, sugar and lemons. It's one of the things that absolutely makes summer.

And what's better than lemonade? Grown-up lemonade with booze in it! (We'll get back to that in a bit.)

You know how to make lemonade, right? I would imagine that you do, but let's assume that your mom always made it for you, and that hers was so good and so perfect that you never really got around to making any for yourself. It really couldn't be easier, but as with most drinks it helps to have a method. Before you start squeezing, though, here are some tips to maximize your juice output.

1. Don't use lemons right out of the fridge. Cold lemons yield less juice.

2. Even better than using room temperature lemons is putting your lemons in a hot water bath for several minutes.

3. Roll your lemons under the palm of your hand on the cutting board before squeezing. This helps to liberate the juice.

4. Oh, and don't pay 79¢ each for your lemons at a major chain supermarket. I see these prices and it makes me want to yell at someone. If you can, find a small, local, mom-and-pop produce market or Latin or other ethnic supermarket, where the lemons will likely be a more reasonable 99¢ a pound, or less.

Free lemons from your backyard!

Better yet, plant a lemon tree in your yard, and then they'll be free. (My favorite price!)

I also recommend straining the fresh-squeezed juice. You don't want seeds, of course, and lemon pulp tends to adhere to the glassware and makes it more difficult to clean.

I like to press some lemon zest (only the yellow zest, not the white pith) with a muddler to extract the lemon oils too, which gives an extra depth of flavor. This is an optional step if, like me, you occasionally are afflicted with laziness. A sharp vegetable peeler is ideal for removing the zest.


1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice.
3/4 to 1 cup rich (2:1) simple syrup, to taste.
Zest of 1 lemon.
3 cups water or sparkling water.

Combine the juice and syrup in a pitcher. Add the zest and press with your biggest muddler, getting as much oil out as you can. Add the water (or a bit more) to taste, depending on how concentrated you like it.

See? Easy peasy. (But you knew that.)

Now let's have a go at making a single serving of lemonade. Get a nice tall glass. Fill it with ice, preferably nice big cubes. Add an ounce of lemon juice and 3/4 ounce of simple syrup (as above, a whole ounce if you like it sweeter). Fill it with fizzy water and you have a lovely, summery fizzy lemonade, but ... hmm. This also sounds like ... wait a minute, it's missing something ... oh yeah! Two ounces of gin. (London dry, Plymouth or Old Tom, like the drink's namesake.) Then that glass of fizzy lemonade becomes a Tom Collins. Well, heck-ola. Now it's a cocktail! (Hold that thought.)

Let's start playing around with this basic lemonade. I've been attending the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans for many years, and perhaps the single tastiest and most refreshing beverage on the entire Fair Grounds is Strawberry Lemonade. The weather tends to be hot and humid, and this drink is bright, sweet, tart, fruity and oh-so-wonderful. As you'll notice, the technique is very similar to what I described above.

I never managed to get the exact recipe from the folks who make it at Jazzfest but again, it's pretty easy stuff and yields spectacular results. Here's Emeril Lagasse's recipe (the man knows New Orleans).

Strawberry Lemonade


2 cups sugar.
1 cup water.
1 tablespoon finely chopped lemon zest.
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice.
1 pint strawberries, hulled and halved.
2 cups cold water or sparkling water.

Bring the water and sugar to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the zest and juice, stir the mixture and remove from heat. Let cool, then strain into a pitcher.

Puree the strawberries in a blender then add to the pitcher with the lemon juice mixture. Stir to combine and chill thoroughly.

To serve, add the water or sparkling water and stir well. Pour over ice into tall glasses and garnish with a whole strawberry and a mint sprig.

Did I say that there's not much that's better than lemonade? Well, one of those things would be strawberry lemonade. Now ... think about adding a shot of reposado tequila to that. Limonada por mi Amante, anyone? Use this as a launching point -- you can use raspberries, blackberries or pretty much any fruit that tastes good with lemons (which would be almost all of them). Also, that aforementioned Tom Collins? Instead of building it in the Collins glass start it out in a mixing glass, throw in a few raspberries, muddle them with the gin, lemon juice and simple, then double-strain that into your ice-filled Collins glass and fill with soda. Nice berry garnish. Ta-daa! Raspberry Collins. Or any other Somethingberry Collins you care to make. So simple, but believe me, your guests will rave about it.

Let's take another direction -- instead of adding fruit, let's start experimenting with the syrup. For another dimension of flavor, try making a lemongrass syrup instead of simple. Take a cup of water and a cup of sugar (two if you want it rich), plus two sliced lemongrass stalks (center only), bruised slightly. Bring to a simmer for 10 minutes, then let cool. Strain and bottle -- it's helpful to add a splash of vodka as a preservative. Make your lemonade with this as the sweetener, maybe muddling a few kaffir lime leaves or some Thai basil or cilantro, and you've got some nicely exotic southeast Asian flavors going too. (The syrup also makes delicious iced tea sweetener, an idea I stole from Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, NC.)

I suspect you see where we're going with this. By taking a basic lemonade recipe, varying it by adding booze and/or fruit and/or flavored sugar syrups, you have a range of cocktail before you that's limited only by your imagination, and what's in season.

Here's one I really like -- sophisticated, herbal, floral, yummy.

Lavender Lemonade


1-1/2 ounces Plymouth gin.
1 ounce lavender syrup (see below).
1 to 1-1/2 ounces lemon juice (to taste, as to your tartness preference).
Sparkling water.
In a tall Collins glass filled with ice cubes, build first three ingredients, add fizzy water and stir. Garnish with a sprig of fresh lavender if you have it, a lemon slice if you don't.

To make the lavender syrup bring 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and the zest of one lemon to a boil, then lower to a simmer and stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat, then add 1 cup lavender blossoms. Let steep overnight, then strain and bottle.

I'm sure you've noticed that this is basically a Tom Collins, but with a flavored syrup instead of muddled fruit. Try a syrup with basil, lemon verbena, thyme ... go to the herb section of your local farmer's market and go nuts.

Now let's do something unusual with the basic lemonade recipe. I came across this a while back and although I don't make it as often as I'd like (due to my aforementioned lazy bastardness), it is filled with deliciousness and in its way reminds me of the beloved sno-balls I grew up with in New Orleans, thanks to a Secret Ingredient.

In Brazil they take a different approach toward making lemonade, whizzing together not only juice but skin and even pith. (Plus, there's that Secret Ingredient.) Brazilian lemons are also quite a lot like limes, so for this recipe we'll be using the largest limes we can find. I usually have an easy time finding them in local Latin or other ethnic markets or supermarkets; otherwise use one-and-a-half to two smaller limes for one big one.

Brazilian Lemonade


4 large or 6-8 small limes.
1 cup simple syrup.
5 cups cold water.
3 ounces sweetened condensed milk (i.e., The Secret Ingredient).

Unless you have a really huge blender, you'll need do this first step in two batches as described.

Wash the limes well. Trim the ends off the limes, then cut into eighths. Place half of the limes, simple syrup and water into the blender and give it five one-second pulses. Pour into a large fine-mesh strainer over a pitcher and strain the mixture, stirring and pressing with a wooden spoon to squeeze all the liquid out of the resulting pulp. (Discard the pulp.) Repeat wtih the other half.

Add the sweetened condensed milk, stir well and serve in tall glasses over ice.

You won't believe how good this is. Now ... add a jigger of good cachaça or white rum to that. Oba!

You can also make your lemonades into more complex cocktails by adding more ingredients, such as liqueurs or bitters. Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh, who is a not-so-mild-mannered graphic designer for movies when he's not in his not-so-secret identity as our planet's pre-eminent cocktail archaeologist, has created a number of superb cocktails in his day. One of these was in honor of the author Daniel Handler, specifically in his guise as Lemony Snicket, creator of the series of children's books A Series of Unfortunate Events. Doc was the graphic designer on the film version of the first couple of books, and created the Lemony Snicket Cocktail using gin, lemon juice, limoncello and yellow Chartreuse. While cogitating over my lemonade article, I thought this powerful but tasty cocktail might make a nice lemonade-based tall drink too.

(unfortunately adapted by Chuck from Ted's original)

1-1/2 ounces Beefeater gin.
1 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce limoncello.
1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
1/4 ounce simple syrup (optional, if you like it sweeter).
Sparkling water.

Build in a Collins glass over ice, adding the soda last. Give it a brief stir and garnish with a shrunken head, or a lemon slice if the former is not handy.

(By the way, to make Ted's original Lemony Snicket cocktail, up the gin to 2-1/2 ounces, lower the lemon juice to 1/2 ounce and omit the simple and fizzy water. Garnish with a curly lemon twist.)

I think by now you've got a good idea where you can go with this, which is almost anywhere. Before we finish I'll toss out one more lemonade (actually, technically a limeade) that I came up with a few years ago, with two slightly different versions.

You put de lime in de coconut an' drink 'em both up ...


2 ounces white rum or cachaça.
1 ounce fresh lime juice.
3/4 ounce rich Demerara syrup.
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters.
3 ounces coconut water.

Build in a Collins glass over ice and stir.

Or, if you don't have coconut water handy ...


2 ounces white rum or cachaça.
1 ounce fresh lime juice.
1 ounce coconut syrup.
2-3 dashes Angostura bitters.
Sparkling water.

Build first four ingredients in a Collins glass over ice, top with fizzy water and stir.

If only they made sparkling coconut water. I'm tempted by put some into my soda siphon and charge it up and see how that works, using the first recipe, and then we'd have just one Nilsson Fizz. Both of these drinks are named for that great singer and songwriter who put de lime in de coconut and drank 'em both up. (It relieve de bellyache.)

Enjoy! And have a bitchin' summer!

[Reposted from the Mixoloseum Weblog ... come by and see what everyone else is writing about!]

Wow.   In 2004, astronomers pointed the Hubble Space Telescope into a patch of sky that appeared to be utterly empty -- no planets, stars or galaxies, just black. Turns out that that patch of nothing contained 10,000 galaxies, each one containing hundreds of billions of stars.

I feel so small.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Concert of the day.   Having been a huge fan of The Frames for going on 20 years now (eep), of course I look forward with great anticipation to any and all news from Frames leadman Glen Hansard and his non-Frame musical partner Markéta Irglová, also known as The Swell Season.

Their new album, Strict Joy, is coming out in late October (in which they're backed by The Frames!), and they previewed six songs from it on NPR's "All Songs Considered" the other day, plus one we know well.

From NPR:

Fans of the musical Once will recognize its stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, in this enormously charming Tiny Desk Concert straight from NPR Music, in which they showed off six new songs before finishing up with "When Your Mind's Made Up." It's impossible to convey how lovely -- how warm and genuine -- this performance was in person, but seeing the video, which really does show them sitting behind Bob Boilen's real desk surrounded by Bob Boilen's real stuff, is really stunning. More about the show here.


Cocktail of the day: Rittenhouse Daisy.   Our friend John served these at Seven Grand the other night. I didn't get the exact description from him before leaving the bar, but decided to give it my interpretation. As John noted later in the comments, I didn't get it quite right -- unsurprisingly, after having tasted four whiskies at the first gathering of the Seven Grand Whiskey Society and then trying to rely on my unreliable memory as to what flavors I noted in the drink. I was pretty happy with my version, though, so I'll leave it up -- first though, here's the one John made for us:

Rittenhouse Daisy
(by John Coltharp, Seven Grand, Los Angeles)

1-3/4 ounces Rittenhouse 100 bonded rye whiskey.
1 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier.
1/2 ounce simple syrup.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.
2 small splashes soda.

Combine with ice in a shaker and shake for at least 10 seconds. Strain into a Delmonico glass or an Old Fashioned glass.

That was mighty good. Now, my rather liberal, memory-marinated-in-whiskey version that I came up with the next day, which isn't bad if'n I do say so myself.

Rittenhouse Daisy No. 2

2 ounces Rittenhouse bonded rye whiskey.
1 ounce fresh lemon juice.
1/2 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
1 teaspoon simple syrup.
1 dash Angostura bitters.

Combine with ice in a shaker and shake for at least 10 seconds. Strain into a Delmonico glass or an Old Fashioned glass.

Back in the old days, a Daisy cocktail was spirit (brandy, rum, whiskey, gin, etc.) with lemon juice and sugar (differing from a sour in that there was usually only 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sugar) plus a few barspoons of grenadine. To a lesser extent then, and far more often now, I see herbal liqueurs like Bénédictine, Grand Marnier or yellow Chartreuse being used instead of grenadine. This is A Good Thing.

Why? Speaking of grenadine ... as you know, it's easy peasy to make at home with real pomegranate juice. This grenadine works beautifully in countless classic cocktails that callf or that ingredient. Sadly, what you see in bars these days is more often than not red-dyed sugar syrup with artificial flavoring of some kind, which hasn't been within five miles of an actual pomegranate. This does not work well in cocktails. At all.

Last night I was served the most execrable Mai Tai ever (in a place which shall remain nameless, from a bartender who was later described to me as being at the bottom of the talent scale at this particular establishment). It was described on their menu quite nicely, with the proper classic recipe: two rums, orange Curaçao, fresh lime juice, orgeat and simple syrup. That sounded good enough for me. A tall glass was filled with ice (okay, tall rather than short, that's OK too), some premix was added (uh oh ... well, maybe it was a housemade Mai Tai mix with the lime and syrups). Rums were added (Myers's Dark and ... Bacardi, sigh. Then just as I was about to think I'd be satisfied the bartender added what looked like a full jigger of grenadine, turning the entire drink beet red. One sip revealed that it also rendered the drink undrinkable. Sigh.

I returned it, politely and apologetically, saying "I'm so sorry, but this is so sweet I can't drink it. I wasn't expecting all that grenadine, as the menu didn't specify it," and politely asked if I could exchange it for something else. It was exchanged, but the waves of attitude signifed that that bartender now hated me. Oh well. What's a guy to do? I'm not paying $10 for an undrinkable cocktail, especially when it's not made the way that the establishment's menu (which even described the history of the drink and touted that this was the original, proper recipe) specifically says it's made.

Just say no to fake grenadine, and to grenadine abuse!

MxMo XLI: Vodka - Roundup is up!   A whole lot of vodka drinks (c'mon, don't cringe) are now up at Felicia's Speakeasy. You might even want to try some of them! (I kid, I kid.) Thanks a million to Alicia Sauter for hosting this month.

The chicken foot that ate New York City.   Okay, it was a chicken heart, but I still think of that Bill Cosby routine whenever I think of eating unconventional chicken parts.

I'm a fan of what some might consider to be unconventional chicken parts. The hearts and gizzards are used in Louisiana's beloved dirty rice. Fried chicken livers with pepper jelly are one of my very favorite things. I think lots of folks, especially Louisianians, would agree with me ... but I think they might draw the line with this:

Chicken feet, aiee!

Mmm. (Umm.)

Okay, here's the thing ... I like the idea of eating chicken feet. It's seem to me that they'd be nice and crispy if you deep-fried them, but every time I see them at dim sum places they're in some sauce and soft and not-crispy, and the one time I tried them I didn't care for the consistency and texture. Why, I asked, can they not just deep-fry them?! Well, a Chinese friend of mine recently said that they usually are deep-fried, but then stewed. The dish in this fascinating article from Serious Eats gives a recipe in which the feet are deep-fried for several minutes, then indeed stewed, but the marinade and sauce (Cantonese black bean sauce with chile) look so good that I'm tempted to give it a try.

The part about having to clip the nails still kinda makes me shudder a bit, though.

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  Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Happiness Machine.   Here's a wonderful video, produced for an article in The Gambit, New Orleans' alternative weekly newspaper. It's a visit to the Hubig's Pies factory in the Faubourg Marigny in New Orleans. I love them, I grew up with them, and I don't care how many goddamn points are in a single pie. They are wax paper-wrapped wonderfulness for under a dollar, and they haven't changed the recipe or piemaking process since they opened in 1922.

It may not exactly be good for you, but it's good:

Many pre-packaged snacks are an assortment of trans fats baked in the shape of a pastry, iced with chemicals, shipped from a faraway factory on an 18-wheeler and have a baked-in-a-factory taste. But when you tear open the opaque white Hubig's package emblazoned with the pudgy, elated baker Savory Simon holding a steaming pie, the contents are different. Fried crusts are glazed with sweet confectioner's-sugar frosting and pipeded with one of the numerous fillings. The pies are probably the closest thing to homemade you can get in a convenience store.

At Hubig's, "sustainable" is not a corporate buzzword, and the pies are not branded so the all-natural set can feel better about eating them. But unlike most items available at grocery and convenience stores, Hubig's Pies have traveled less than an hour to reach the consumer. The company makes pie filling with strawberries, sweet potatoes and other fruit from local farmers, depending on when fresh produce is available. Whenever possible, the company buys flour and shortening from local vendors. The recipes haven't changed in decades; only four ingredients are preservatives, two of which are considered natural. This has nothing to do with ecological footprints; it's the way Hubig's has always operated.

There's also a photo tour on Hubig's site, but it's so much nicer to see it in motion.

The accompanying article is fascinating and informative. For instance, I had no idea that Hubig's had once been a nationwide operation, and the Depression killed off every one of Simon Hubig's factories save for the one in New Orleans. It always just seemed so ... ours.

Long live Savory Simon!

Stan the Man.   I confess I have been remiss by not having mentioned this before, but cocktail historian, educator and Renaissance man Dave Wondrich has a new column in The Faster Times called Annals of the Bar. Make it a regular stop.

In his most recent column, Dave pays tribute to one of the unsung heroes of the bar, a 1970s-era bartender named Stan Jones. Stan took some of the first steps out of the dark ages into which bartending had fallen to get us where we are today, although sadly not many were listening at the time.

In 1977, the 34-year-old bar manager did something nobody had done in 30-odd years, and put out an accurate, comprehensive bartender's guide, one aimed not at transients or home hobbyists, but at real bartenders who wanted to master their job. With a history of cocktails, detailed historical and production notes on all the major spirits categories (and not a few of the minor ones) and a whopping 4000 cocktail recipes, all wrapped in a quintessential slab of 1970s design, Jones' Complete Bar Guide is a testament to the power of hope.

By 1977, you see, the damage had been done, and Jones knew it. A generation and more of bad bartending had fatally dumbed the customers down (or perhaps it was the other way around; it scarcely matters). "The new generation of drinkers have inexperienced palates and do not like the taste of liquor," Jones told the local paper when his book came out. "They want it to taste like soda pop, malts, you name it, anything so it doesn't taste like liquor."

Many of us revere Stan to this day, so much so that during the recent Drink.Write conference the Cocktail and Spirits Online Writers' Group have adopted him as our patron saint for the Mixoloseum:

Jones, Patron Saint of the Mixoloseum
Photo by Rumdood, illustration by Dr. Bamboo

Stan, you're the man.

Are some things really meant to be?   A few of my friend who are familiar with my bacon obsession (and who gleefully take part in it given the opportunity) have been sending me a link from the Huffington Post that's been making the rounds, "Things Made of Bacon that Shouldn't Be", featuring photos of silly, jokey stuff that was never really meant to be consumed: the bacon bra, the bacon Hitler hairdo and mustache, etc.

But then there's stuff that is indeed meant to be consumed, and we're in a whole other world.

I'm actually a fan of the Justin and Dave, the Bacon Salt guys. By all rights and by my usual standards and causes for ranting, you'd think I'd never touch a product like Bacon Salt. It's not made of bacon. It contains no bacon whatsoever. It contains no pork. It contains no meat. In fact, it's not only vegetarian, it's vegan, and kosher. But ... dammit, it tastes good. It's wrong, but it tastes good, and I use it.

Then came Baconnaise. Again, I was skeptical. Again, contains no bacon. (I had considered trying to make a mayonnaise using all or part bacon fat instead of oil, but my little mini-conscience appeared over my right shoulder and began bludgeoning me with a little two-by-four.) But, y'know, dammit ... it's pretty good too. Subtle if you're not eating it out of the jar or dipping vegetables in it, but it gives you a nice hint of bacony flavor on a sandwich. I even liked the "Lite" version, although it's got an unpleasant, spongy-gummy consistency as you spoon it or spread it due to the gums and fillers that replaced the fat (but once it's on the sandwich you can't really tell).

We're even a fan of their Bacon Lip Balm. It doesn't taste like bacon so much, but it's got a really bacony aroma that wafts up from your lips right into your nose. I like it. If it had SPF in it it'd be perfect.

So what are the Bacon Salt folks up to now? Um ...

Yes, it's Bacon Flavored Lube

Yes folks, it's bacon-flavored lube.

Here are the intrepid pioneers at J&D trying out the first samples that came from their manufacturer, and the even more intrepid intern -- you'll see how he ends up at the end of the video.

Quote of the day: "That could really make someone's genitals taste like bacon."

Cocktail-Related, non-WTF Quote of the Day.   Via Mary, from one of the Thin Man movies (neither of us remembers which one, but it was one of the later ones after Nick and Nora had a kid, which kinda took the wind out of the series' sails). Nick's out in a nearby park playing with their little boy, and Nora wants to call him home:

NORA: [leans out window, shaking cocktail shaker]
MAID: What are you doing?
NORA: Is that Mr. Charles?
MAID: Yes.
NORA: Is this a cocktail?
MAID: Yes.
NORA: They'll get together.
[Cut to: Nick's head going up like a retriever who has just caught a scent.]

Well ... sure, I'd come running too.

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  Monday, August 10, 2009

Mixology Monday XLI: Vodka.   Vodka. The Rodney Dangerfield of spirits.

That's our theme this month for Mixology Monday XLI, hosted by Amelia at Felicia's Speakeasy. Actually, to be specific, the theme is ... "Vodka is Your Friend."

What? C'mon, let's not get hasty here. Then again, as she said, "The recent high profile bashings of vodka interspersed with a few weak "yeah, buts..." left me wondering, is vodka the axis of evil, our most dangerous enemy? While it may not be the life of the party, experts agree: Vodka's obituary does not have to be written just yet. Vodka can be a "safer" spirit for those who can't be convinced to take risks. Vodka also offers a Zen-like simplicity. Because it is relatively flavorless, using vodka as a base of a cocktail means you get to start with a blank chalkboard. Beginner's mind. What flavor would you like to be today?"

Sure, good points all. Haven't we made progress, though, in getting the public to drink more adventurous spirits? Yes, but it's still the best-selling spirit in the United States, although its hold on the market isn't as strong as it once was. Perhaps the "I don't get no respect, no respect at all" attitude from multitudes of bartenders and cocktail geeks for the last several years might have made an impact. There is the little detail that it doesn't really taste like anything, and quotes like the one from Audrey Saunders I've always liked: "A vodka cocktail is a cocktail with a hole in it."

But true confessions time ... I had my vodka period. I had my infused vodka period. I had my time back in the '90s when I drank ... Cosmopolitans. I've come a long way since then -- so have many of us. We scoff at the vodka & tonic drinkers who drink it just to get a buzz, and specifically because it doesn't taste like anything (leaving less telltale traces on their breath). We scoff, we snort, we p'shaw.

But vodka has its uses, and we all know it.

Okay, there's the "I only use vodka for making tinctures and preserving syrups," which I admit saying. Then again, there's ... Moscow Mules! C'mon! Who doesn't love a Moscow Mule? It's summery, it's refreshing, and you get to drink out of those cool copper mugs, if you have any (vintage ones are usually readily available on eBay). One of the first vodka cocktails I thought of when I started to think about this topic was one I had learned from Dave Wondrich in his book Esquire Drinks, which is the Gypsy cocktail. Paul Clarke wrote about that one at length for his MxMo post today, how vodka can be used to soften and stretch a liqueur as the primary flavor component of a cocktail (and the Gypsy's a damned fine one).

Although some of us may look down at flavored vodkas or cocktails based on them, there are lots of excellent flavored vodkas out there. (Lots of crappy ones too, so caveat emptor.) To name two, the products from Hangar One and Modern Spirits are outstanding. Flavored vodkas have a long tradition in eastern Europe, from homemade infusions to more commercialized products like the Stolichnaya line. My absolute favorite of those, though, my favorite vodka and perhaps one of my favorite spirits, is Żubrówka.


Or "bison grass vodka", which is perhaps a bit easier to pronounce than "zhu-BROOV-ka". I had first heard about it from Dr. Cocktail about six years ago, and although I'd been meaning to try it for a while I'd never quite gotten around to it. Then our good friends Gregg and Mike had brought us some back from Paris, but the bottle sat there for a while. It's the classic traditional Polish vodka, infused with native bison grass, which gives it an extremely distinctive flavor and straw-green color. Doc had been singing the praises of it for ages, while telling us the American brands have been artificially flavored for a while. Bison grass contains coumarin, a substance with anticoagulant properties that's also responsible for much of its flavor, but the FDA bans it as a food additive in this country, and it hasn't been legally imported since 1978. There was no Żubrówka at all in this country for two decades, until it was allowed back in 1999 when Polish producers figured out a way to come close to the flavor of the real thing while "neutralizing" the coumarin in the bison grass.

Waiting for an occasion, I suppose, we still hadn't cracked open the bottle of Żubrówka that had been in our freezer since the boys brought it from Paris, but opportunity presented itself for a taste in November of '04. We had dinner at Warszawa, the excellent Polish restaurant in Santa Monica, before heading to McCabe's to see the Savoy Family Band play. It had been years since I'd been, and it was even better than I remember -- bacon wrapped plums, crispy potato pancakes, grilled kielbasa sausages, pierogis of every description, beef stroganoff, thick pea soup with smoked ham and marjoram, smoked fish salad with dill ... and Żubrówka! There it was, listed on the spirits menu, and what better time to try it than before a Polish meal. It arrived in a little vodka glass, ice cold right from the freezer.

I know a true Pole would scoff at me, but instead of knocking the whole thing back, I took a healthy sip first, as I wanted to savor it and get the entirety of the aroma and flavor.

Oh, my.

I instantly fell in love with this stuff. Spicy, yet almost sweet but not syrupy like a liqueur; paradoxically, it was dry yet reminded me of candy -- traces of caramel and nougat and vanilla. It also tasted like green herbs, but not medicinal. I tasted flowers, and lemon, and even coconut (!), and so many things going on in there. This stuff's dangerous. I immediately wanted more.

I've never read Somerset Maugham's The Razor's Edge, but in it one character describes the flavor of Żubrówka as smelling of "freshly mown hay and spring flowers, of thyme and lavender, and it's soft on the palate and so comfortable, it's like listening to music by moonlight." I can dig it.

After enjoying our Polish meal and two-plus hours of the finest Cajun music to be heard, the very first thing we did when we got home was to crack open our bottle of authentic Polish Żubrówka. The difference between the domestic Polish and European version and the type produced for export to America is that the most authentic Żubrówka has a long blade of bison grass in the bottle, and some American versions don't due to USDA regulations. There's a bit of artificial coloring and probably at least some artificial flavoring in the form of neutralized extracts to avoid the coumarin problem (at least one website claims that "true" bison grass vodka is now legal in all 50 states). The French bottling, which we had, looked like this.

It was goooooood. It was ... well, it was like the stuff we had at the restaurant, only a bit more complex, certainly subtler. It was great. Unfortunately we ran out of that stuff pretty quickly once it was opened, and barring more trips to Paris or expensive shipping from Europe I think that for the time being I'll still be happy with the American-export version.

They say that if you travel to Poland and start drinking with the locals, don't ever try to outdrink them (unless you're Russian, and then only maybe). I'd better be very careful. If I'm in Warszawa or Cracow, drinking with locals, and they bring this stuff out, I'm a dead man ... 'cause it's so good I would have no incentive to stop unless I become unconscious.

From what I understand, most if not all Poles would consider the consumption of Żubrówka in a cocktail as being a crime, an offence against decency, utter blasphemy. It's to be consumed ice-cold, alone and quickly. However, there is one major exception ...

This drink, which translates from Polish as "apple tart" or "apple pie" and is also sometimes called "Tatanka", appears to be the one exception to the prohibition against mixing Żubrówka with anything else, and seems to be looked upon fondly.

(pronounced "shar-WOT-ka", I think)

1 ounce Żubrówka (Polish bison grass vodka).
3-4 ounces apple juice.
Lemon wedge.

In a heavy rocks glass, build over ice and stir.
Garnish with the lemon wedge.

This is a fantastic drink. It's sweet, because it's mostly juice, but if you use a good unsweetened one like Martinelli's (or a good fresh-pressed cider, even) you won't mind that a bit. Not only do our friends go mad with joy when they taste Żubrówka, they go even madder when they taste this drink. The flavor combination is wonderful. ("Can I have a pitcher of these?" our friend Gregory asked after his first taste.)

I think the proportions in that drink are pretty flexible -- we've had success with 2 parts juice to 1 part vodka. As for other drinks ... I've found a few web pages here and there with some other Żubrówka recipes, but most if not all of them look too liqueur-heavy and pretty unappealing. CocktailDB only had two, and one of them looked icky (3/10 Goldschlager, gaah). Contrary to what seems to be Polish popular opinion, I think that Żubrówka would make an excellent cocktail ingredient if used judiciously and carefully. The first one I decided to try is simply a takeoff on the above drink, only made drier and with a little bit more seasoning.

I reduced the juice content and added a complementary-flavored dry spirit, plus two other ingredients that lent some allspice and cinnamon to the flavor profile -- they are apple pie spices, after all. It's still a bit on the sweet side, but as all that comes from the juice it's not cloying at all. If you want it drier (and stronger), cut the juice back to 1 ounce and up the brandy a bit. The proportions on this drink are very pliable -- tweak them as you will.

I decided not to use a garnish but changed my mind after taking the picture and putting the lights away. I was too lazy to get them out again, so please do add the garnish.

Tatanka No. 2

Tatanka No. 2

1-1/4 ounces pure unsweetened apple juice.
3/4 ounce Żubrówka.
3/4 ounce Laird's Bonded Apple Brandy.
1/4 ounce St. Elizabeth's Allspice Dram.
1 dash Fee's Old Fashion Aromatic Bitters.

Combine in a mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds. If you're using unfiltered apple juice that's not clear, feel free to shake instead (10-12 seconds). Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a curly lemon twist.

Na zdrowie!

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  Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wondrich in the Colbert Nation.   The great Stephen Colbert had the good taste to invite author, cocktail historian and all-around good guy Dave Wondrich onto his program last night, where Dave made him some tough-times cocktails and invented a new one ... The Colbert Bump!

Hmm, we'll have to see about that new drink. Colbert Bumps for cocktail hour tonight!

(by Dave Wondrich, created for Stephen Colbert)

1-1/2 ounces gin.
1 ounce Cherry Heering.
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice.
Soda water.

In a Collins glass, build over ice: gin, Heering, lemon juice, then top with soda and stir.

Contrary to stated instructions, feel free to use Democratic gin.

The Bittersweet Truth of Starting a Bar.   My coverage of Tales of the Cocktail '09's been a little spotty and haphazard, and shall continue to be because, as Uncle Walter said, that's the way it is. Let's toss in a bit more coverage, though, with an account of the first seminar I attended at Tales about three weeks ago.

It's the dream of every cocktail nerd. A way to make money from our passion. We've all thought about it, for at least a few minutes, haven't we? "How cool would it be to have my own bar?" It'd be very cool indeed. It'd also be more work than you could possibly have imagined. Could you survive it?

Some friends of ours, longtime professional bartenders all, have done it and lived to tell the tale. Other successful businesspeople we know have done it as well. Some of them were the panelists in Wednesday's excellent seminar, "The Bittersweet Truth of Starting a Bar." We saw our friend Eric Alperin of The Varnish in Los Angeles (one of our very favorite bars) before the session started, and he gave us the gist of what their session featuring advice about starting a bar would be:


He was only half-kidding. Part of what they were trying to accomplish was to discourage would-be bar owners a little bit, if only for the reason that it's likely far more daunting, far more work, involving far more knowledge than you ever imagined. This was the first of the sessions aimed at professionals rather than enthusiasts, and I think it was one of the most valuable that Tales has ever offered.

All of our panelists are well-versed in the monumental work of starting a bar. Moderator H. Joseph Ehrmann is the owner of Elixir on San Francisco, and rounding out the panel were Cedd Moses and his partner Ricki Kline of 213 Ventures in Los Angeles, who own 14 bars in the downtown area. They were all in agreement on one thing -- the truth of starting a bar really is bittersweet.

First off, being knowledgeable about cocktails and being a skilled bartender is only the tip of the iceberg. The most important set of knowledge you can have is business skills, and the more business experience and training you have the better. Take some accounting and management classes at the very least -- H. went to school and got an MBA. Cedd and H. both spoke about the enormous importance of writing your business plan, which is vital to the entire operation. If you're from a bartending background, you might not know about this, and you need to. It's key. You need to go into great depth and create an amazing business plan with every aspect of your business, projections, cost points, liquor cost, staffing costs, etc. laid out ahead of time, in great detail, and with constant updating. When you open you have your guidelines and you know you can hit a home run and have your business be successful both financially and in creating something you believe in.

Eric emphasized the importance of a bartending background as well, what he called "the kung fu of bartending," which is basically hard work at everything you do. It's taking that metaphor and knowing that hard work and specificity, making a system for every tiny aspect of the operation, is going to become a kind of magic.

Eric's background was in New York restaurants (the Batali/Bastianich operations Lupa and Vinoteca) and in bars like Milk & Honey and Little Branch. "All those experiences compelled me to make the machine run more efficiently," he said. "I'm there constantly tweaking and making the environment for my bartenders, staff and customers to be a paradigm for where I want to work. If you're specific about what you want, and it's going to blossom. People who come to your bar are going to see and feel that." He emphasized the importance of getting to the level when you can walk away from behind the bar, even having your first vacation, is all about the first three years put in being there every single day, tweaking and setting up systems.

How do you do the little things? "There's nothing that annoys me more than when a system isn't adhered to," Eric said. Every detail, from how the ashtrays are put out to whether a napkin goes down when a drink is served, is part of your system, exactly how you want your operation to work. "If you're opening a bar, it's your bar -- build it and run it the way YOU want it. Be specific in what you want, and it will allow your staff to shine. I want them to buy into my system too. Make that happen on a daily basis and use that to figure out a way to inspire your staff."

Ricki spoke at length about his role in 213 Ventures as the designer and being in charge of construction, how having someone skilled at this in your operation can make or break it. "So many people have a particular architectural ax to grind, to achieve something for themselves. Their interests are not your interests. Choosing the right person to do this kind of work is essential -- before anyone else arrives on the first day, this is the first person who'll be there. Make sure they're working for YOU. If you're the owner and not the bartender, don't leave it up to me to design your underbar and back bar -- everyone has their own specific way of working. Eric knew what he wanted from day one. It wasn't always easy to give it to him, but we did, and now he's a very happy client."

It might sound dry to someone who only thinks about how much he or she loves to make cocktails and work with people to show them a good time, but what we learned, just scratching the surface of what one needs to learn, is that it's all about the numbers -- those of you who hate math ... sorry. "Owning a bar is different from being a bartender. You have to understand the numbers, the business. You have to take a finance or accounting class if you have no background. It's a very difficult business to make money in. You have to get your finances in order, and have somebody really good with it at the masthead. Have a love affair with Excel."

They talked about raising money from investors too, which is pretty much the only way you're going to be able to go forward. "The banks are not going to lend you money to start a bar," said H. "They're not. They're too risky." You also have to make sure you protect yourself from your investors too, keeping them silent for the most part, and H. emphasized the importance of keeping control over at least 51% of your business.

The session could easily have taken up two full days, as we didn't have time even to get into liquor ordering, inventory maintenance, hiring and training of staff. There was so much information it made your head spin -- I had seven pages of notes -- and they were only scratching the surface. It was daunting, because it was meant to be. If you don't have a handle on this, if you want to open a bar because you think it's cool, you'll almost certainly be out of business in less than six months.

Winter Sour

We tasted a lovely cocktail called the Winter Sour, mixed by Chris Ojeda of The Varnish. It's a simple but tasty Campari sour with a rosemary syrup, both bitter and sweet, which was a metaphor for the business -- bitter and sweet with a successful balance. The yin and yang. The finance and math are the bitter, the profits are the sweet. You won.t get the sweet unless you focus on the bitter!

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  Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Chimes on CNN.   Our friends Jill and Charles Abbyad, owners of the Chimes B&B in New Orleans, are two of the best, nicest and most hospitable hosts on the planet, and their house is one of THE best places to stay in New Orleans. We were delighted to see a little bit about them and their business on CNN's Money section.

Do stay there when you visit the city. It's a short walk to the St. Charles streetcar line, which'll have you downtown and in the Quarter in 15 minutes.

Chilling Effects: The Intellectual Property of Booze.   Vidiot over at the Cocktailians weblog has a great post today about boozy intellectual property and the trademarking of drinks. Seems he had a MxMo cocktail rub someone the wrong way a while back, and got a lawyerly slap. This prompted him to take a look at past and current attempts, successful and otherwise, to trademark a drink. It's beginning to happen more and more these days, and if things keep going like this it'll get ridiculous.

Law student Julian Russo makes the best point, and one that I'm concerned with, at his blog Public Knowledge:

Extend these kinds of trademarks to cover more drinks and dishes and you can pretty quickly end up with an absurd little scenario where you know what you want to order, the server knows how to make it, but it's verboten to call it by the usual name (or at least advertise it as such on the menu):

"Hi, I'd like a Cosmopolitan."

"I'm sorry, we don't serve those ... Smirnoff bought the rights. But may I suggest a one of our famous World-Travelers? It's basically the same thing."

What's truly vexing is the thought that this kind of trademark-protection could prevent innovation in mixology or a wider range of cuisine. Imagine telling a chef she has to come up with a new name for a dish, because she added her own personal flair to it.

Sometimes this stuff does get out of hand. I had an unpleasant encounter with an expletive-deleted, overly-eager intellectual property attorney last year. Turns out he was acting on his own, apparently looking for fodder for billable hours and not at the specific behest of the spirits company, who were mortified when they found out and apologized sincerely.

As for my recipes, I give 'em away for free. Drink an Animalito today!

July Looka! entries have been permanentlyarchived.

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