Jim & Rocky’s Barback Pro-Am, Part 1: Jim’s Martini

“Hey! I wanna recruit you for something!”

It was back in January. I was at Rob Roy in Seattle, one of my favorite bars anywhere. My friend Jim Romdall, bartender extraordinaire at Vessel (which closed after it lost its lease, to reopen in a better location this summer) was guest-bartending. My friend Rocky Yeh, bon vivant and force of nature, was barbacking with him (as was the usual team effort on Mondays at Vessel). Jim had been making us fantastic drinks all night until closing, and at one point Rocky approached me with a proposal.

“Sure, what did you have in mind?” I said.

“Jim and I are going to be doing a little tour down the West Coast, stopping in bars and doing a little competition. We want knowledgeable booze people who aren’t professional bartenders to barback for us, and we want you. What do you say?”

What else could I say? “I’m in!” This sounded like a lot of fun.

Word of advice, though — be careful what you agree to after six cocktails!

A barback, in case someone you aren’t aware of the term, is a bartender’s assistant. Making sure the bartender has everything he or she needs, keeping the ice bin filled, keeping fresh bottles of booze coming, washing barware, fetching eggs, cleaning, helping with taking orders … whatever needs to be done to make the bartender’s job easier, and making sure he or she doesn’t have to take more than one step away from their station to get a drink made. Speed is of the essence, especially on a busy night. This is what the participants in the Pro-Am and I would be doing. If nothing else, I would also probably hold the title of World’s Oldest Barback.

Word of advice to iPhone and iPad users — the iOS built-in autocorrect always wants to change the word “barback” to “bareback.” Keep an eye on this, or else it could get embarrassing.

As the date of this thing approached and I hadn’t heard anything, I called Rocky and he tossed some dates at me. I managed to get my schedule open that week so that either of the dates he mentioned would be available, and then he emailed me a little electronic flier that described the event in more detail.

Jim and Rocky's Barback Pro-Am flier

Click to embiggen

“Amateur mixologists” were being sought! Okay, I resemble that remark. “The challenge is part of a mini-series to be shown on the Small Screen Network.”

Uh. What? (And what’s with the dead suckling pigs?)

“I could have sworn I mentioned that to you,” said Rocky after I had my first minor panic attack. I swore up and down he didn’t, “This is the FIRST I’ve heard of it!” I cried, but he almost certainly did at the time. Remember that six cocktails thing.

Here’s the thing. I hate being on camera. Hate hate hate. “Camera-shy” doesn’t even begin to describe it, if the camera takes moving pictures. I may be one of the only people in America who has on his bucket list never to be on TV in any way, shape or form. I was once approached to see if I was interested in participating in a reality show. “Does it involve me being on TV? Then no.”

“C’mon, it’s the Small Screen Network — you know those guys,” Rocky said, full of encouragement. “It’ll be great. You’ll be fine. Just relax. We’re going to have a lot of fun.”

I began to think of what kind of bullshit story I could tell my doctor to get him to prescribe me some tranquilizers.

I actually had a major panic attack (not a clinical one, just a Chuck panic attack) the night before, which left me feeling sheepish the next day. “We’re your friends,” said Jim. “You should trust us.” They are, and I do … but after hearing tales of the way the Barback Pro-Am went the night before with the previous victim, I was still a bit wary.

Y’know what, though? It was a lot of fun. (Once I put my foot down and said no, I won’t be doing a dozen shots over the course of the night.) It was actually the first time I’d been behind a working bar doing actual work, and it felt great. Granted, I wasn’t really mixing any customers’ drinks (although I did get to make a Blue Blazer!) and the bar wasn’t as busy as I would have liked, it was still a terrific night. Well, except for when I decided to run. More on that later.

My episode of the series is probably going up within the next week, and I had meant to be posting these all along, but Jazzfest and Houston travel combined with my own absentmindedness and procrastination delayed us until now. Better late than never!

Jim did a fantastic specialty cocktail menu for all the Barback Pro-Am stops, and we’ll be featuring a cocktail along with each video — the cocktails are on the Small Screen Network site along with the videos, but I want to get ‘em in our database here as well.

Follow Jim and Rocky’s Barback Pro-Am for all the videos and recipes, which we’ll also put here for you. First up is Jennifer Heigl of the site The Daily Blender. Let the games begin!

Jim is a passionate lover of Ardbeg whisky, and sometimes seems to think that the crowning touch on any drink is the Ardbeg float. In fact, you can follow him @ardbegfloat on Twitter. This is a lovely Martini — a little bit of sweetness from the Dolin blanc, and a touch of smoke from the Ardbeg.

by Jim Romdall, Vessel, Seattle

1-3/4 oz Hendrick’s Gin
1/2 oz dry vermouth (Dolin dry or Noilly Prat Original)
1/4 oz blanc vermouth (Dolin blanc or Cinzano bianco)
1 dash Ardbeg scotch whisky
Lime peel

Combine ingredients in a mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the lime twist.

Cocktail of the Day: Left Behind (A Rapture day special)

This is another example of the tomfoolery fun stuff that happens when my friend Chris Day (bartender at Sotto in Los Angeles) and I start knocking around cocktail ideas. We thought that somewhere (here, if nowhere else) there needed to be a cocktail special of the day on May 21 — a post-Rapture for those of us who are … Left Behind. (*cue ominous music*DUM DUM DUUUUUUUM!)

“Left Behind!” cried Chris. “Someone should make a drink called that. Just for the Rapture!”

“Ugh, Left Behind …” says I. “Worst. Books. EVAR.”

“It could be like a Left Hand.”

Hmm, a left hand and another left body part — the left behind as in my left butt cheek, which is what I think about doomsday happening on Saturday. I got yer Rapture right here, pal! *grasps left butt cheek* Yeah, this is sounding better and better.

“I wish we had Port in our repertoire,” he said. “Swap it out for the vermouth. Make it look like blood.”

“No port here either. We should swap out the base spirit. Rum! And Vergano Chinato Americano for the vermouth.”

Chinato (kee-NAH-to) is another style of Italian aperitif wine, the Italian version of a quinquina, as it’s given a bitter component by the addition of cinchona bark, the source of quinine. This one’s lovely, made from red Grignolino grapes in Piedmont and with more bitter oomph than Carpano Antica

“Appleton, Aperol & Chinato,” he said. “Dash Ango, dash mole bitters.”

“That sounds really good in my head,” I said.

It was good — perfectly pleasant. I felt the need for something a bit more bitter, though. We are being Left Behind, after all! The disappearance of Kirk Cameron won’t make up for the bitter tears we’ll shed while we’re weeping, wailing, gnashing teeth, rending clothing and otherwise generally tribulating. I decided to up the Chinato, and instead of reverting back to Campari I thought I’d kick the bitterness up a notch. Cynar, I thought, but not quite so much. I also swapped out Bittermens Xocolatl Mole bitters (a product I absolutely adore) for a local product with a bit more kick — Miracle Mile Chocolate-Chili Bitters. (No link yet because the website isn’t quite done, but you’ll be hearing a LOT more about those bitters very soon.)

I was pretty happy with the result, but it could still stand for some tinkering. As a one-day cocktail menu special, though, it ain’t bad.


1-1/2 ounces Appleton Extra rum
1 ounce Vergano Chinato Americano
1/2 ounce Cynar
2 dashes Miracle Mile Chocolate-Chili Bitters
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Orange peel

Stir ingredients with cracked ice for 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe, twist the peel over the drink and garnish with the peel.

Doesn’t quite look like blood, but it’s tasty enough. For the Left Behind No. 2 (which we didn’t have time to try but will likely try tonight) I’d swap the Cynar out for Campari and use the original proportions of 1-1/2 to 3/4 to 3/4, and maybe add a barspoon of Smith & Cross for a touch of funk.

So, enjoy your drink special (I hope), and Happy Doomsday!

P.S. — Given that this is a variation on the Left Hand, I think a post about said cocktail plus two tasty variations is due next. Stay tuned.


[P.P.S. -- While my tone may indeed be mocking (the idea of the rapture itself, much less calculating it to the day and hour, is the biggest load of peanut butter and horseshit I've ever heard), I have to say that I feel sorry for that nutbar preacher's followers who quit their jobs, sold their houses and everything they had to spend on end-of-the-world-is-nigh billboards. Come Sunday those people will be penniless and destitute, left with nothing but their betrayal. Beware of false prophets, y'all.]


Live from Jazzfest 2011!

I’m sitting in the Gospel Tent, where Sister Naomi Washington and her group just finished — hallelujah!! I also just finished my traditional Creole’s Stuffed Bread to start my festival day, as I’ve done for nearly 25 years.


Seeing Mrs. Merlene Herbert, who makes and sells these from her Lafayette restaurant Creole’s Lunch House, is a gem of a human being — I adore her and I love her food! The lines for her stuffed bread (still the most underrated food item at Jazzfest yet one of it’s very best) should be at least as log as for the Crawfish Monica right next door. Go get one every day if you’re going to the Fair Grounds this or next weekend.

(No more strawberry lemonade for me though, sadly — they changed vendors last year and now it sucks.)

Don’t get used to me weblogging from the Fair Grounds, though! It’s seriously draining my battery. Better to follow my Twitter feed – I’ll be updating that frequently.


Happy Jazzfest!!

Coming to A Warehouse …

I grew up hearing those words on radio ads for concerts, coming out of my tinny car speakers via WNOE and WRNO … “Coming to A Warehouse.” They referred to a big, dank, cavernous music venue on Tchoupitoulas Street that was just that — an old warehouse that had been converted (relatively minimally) into a music venue that hosted some of the biggest rock bands all through the Seventies.

I sighed whenever I heard those words. I knew I wouldn’t be seeing any of those shows because I was too young and wouldn’t be allowed to go. (For a variety of reasons my mom was horrified by the very idea of that venue.) By the time I was old enough to go to the Warehouse the venue started seeing hard times, and by that time I tended to go to see bands that played in smaller clubs Uptown for the most part.

People who frequented the Warehouse (always referred to as “A Warehouse” in the ads, as I remember) have memories fond and not-so-fond (it apparently got really, really hot in there), and there was an excellent article in the Gambit a year and a half or so ago about the good old days of the Warehouse.

For those of you who yearn to relive those days (and those of us who never quite got to live them in the first place), documentarian Jessy Cale Williamson is about to release his film A Warehouse on Tchoupitoulas, featuring interviews from the former owners and other people in the local music scene at the time, and what looks to be a great soundtrack. I can’t wait for this one.

Here’s a 16-minute preview:

Keep an eye on the filmmakers’ blog for more details and news. Now I’m off for Jazzfest, and I hope not to be completely absent the whole time. We’ll see!


Je Suis Le Grand Zombie

Glen David Andrews covers Dr. John’s “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” (originally on the album Gris Gris, from the early days of his Night Tripper era), featuring Paul Sanchez on electric guitar, and it is made of awesome.

I’m way behind on posting, as you can undoubtedly tell, but I’m going to try to feature some music posts up through the beginning of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival next Friday. I’ll be home for Fest so posting likely won’t be happening, but I’ll try to get at least something quick up as often as I can. Please stay tuned!

Oh, and please visit trumpetsnotguns.com to support Glen’s music education initiative.


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