Filmmaker Douglas Tirola Serves Up a Fresh Look at Nightlife With ‘Hey Bartender’

Whether you’re sipping on a custom cocktail in New York’s finest mixology bar or relaxing with beers at your nightly hangout around the corner, the dim lights of the establishment are sure to eschew your eye to what’s hiding behind the curtain—or in this case, behind the bar. The woman who served up the fancy drink you’re enjoying or the man who pours your favorite pint every night, or whoever’s doling out your alcoholic pleasures, is sure to have a story of their own. And as the renaissance of the bartender only becomes more prevalent, the more we find ourselves asking: just who are these people that float in and out of our nights?

So with filmmaker Douglas Tirola’s new documentary Hey Bartender, he takes us behind the bar and inside the world of a set of bartenders navigating their way through cocktail culture. Focusing on two subjects: Steve Schneider, former Marine and  principal bartender at New York’s Employee’s Only and Steve "Carpi" Carpentieri, owner and bartender at Dunville’s in Wesport, CT, we’re made privy to the intricate details of a bartenders life—both the highs and excitement that surrounds the profession, as well as the struggles that come with it.
 
Having both big-budget Hollywood features and more independent festival features under his belt, Tirola decided to dive head first into the world of his subjects, hoping telling their own personal stories would reflect something about the time we’re living in. A few weeks ago, I got to chat with Tirola about the process of making Hey Bartender, what attracts him to this community, and creating a film that’s universally engaging.
 
What sparked your desire to make a documentary about this subject? Have you always been interested in nightlife culture?
I’m someone who really likes bars. I’m someone who, if I’m eating by myself, I’ll eat at the bar. When I was a kid my parents took me to a lot of bars or bar restaurants to eat and I was just in that environment a lot. The impetus for making this is that I had some exposure in a very short amount of time to a couple of the high-level cocktail bars and bartenders in New York—one being at Employees Only and the other being at PDT. That really told me that there was a story out there that I didn’t know existed, and I go to bars a lot. So I saw that and I knew that it could be a movie and had the potential to be something engaging and insightful. I hoped telling that story would tell something about the time we live in and the world we live in. 
 
How did you begin the process of making it?
We began by focusing more on the world of corner bars—that sort of Cheers bar. I love that world and I love those communities and the bartenders there that are like the unofficial mayors of those communities, but I couldn’t imagine the movie when we were filming that—if you think of  a writer taking notes, we were doing that with a camera. But then I got exposed to Employees Only and then also to a place in LA called Library Bar, and learned about the whole world of mixology and this throwback to classic cocktails, and that there were events where thousands of bartenders gather for, what most people would probably call a bartenders convention, but it’s much more than that. And at that moment,  I thought this was a story that’s happening now, this is a story that hasn’t been told, and I love these characters in that world and have an idea of the movie I wanted to tell. And then of course getting to know some of these people better is what led us to the main characters.
 
How did you select who you wanted to focus on and what were you looking for?
Initially the story that I wanted to tell was of how bar tending—which pretty much from prohibition on was a profession that was looked down upon and seen as a working class job in not great setting where people got drunk and got in fights and a not great job that doesn’t requite much talent and was for people that maybe had a plan and it didn’t work out and they fell into this and never got out. It was just not something people thought about, and when being exposed to this world, you realize these are people from all walks of life, most of them with college educations who’ve decide I want to be a bartender—that was news to me. I really wanted tell the story of how this happened. I’m fascinated with stories in which there’s this moment in time when people come together, usually not planned, and they’re all doing the same thing at the same time and suddenly something which is on the outskirts of our culture becomes the mainstay of our culture. So that’s really what I started out wanting to do. But I also wanted to get a feel for the process of bar tending and what that lifestyle is like. I wanted to be close enough to the action, where the audience’s hand actually feels wet from all the stuff the bartender’s are doing, just like you would when you see a regular Hollywood movie where that’s the coolest party I’ve ever been to and these are the coolest people. But that’s also what this lifestyle is like in a realistic way and I wanted to tell that even down to the cutting of lemons and limes and when the bar’s so crowded you can barely get the drinks out and then walking home at the end of the night alone.
 
Is filmmaking something you were always passionate about?
My road into movies is a little bit different. I’m just someone who loves movies, I like going to movies—I still like going to movies in movie theaters—and basically, I got very lucky and was able to get a production assistant job on When Harry Met Sally when I was still in school. So I still feel like I was a guy who said: okay I really want to play baseball for the Yankees but I’ll never get a chance to do that, so if I can be the bat boy, that would be great. And that’s how I fell into that and I worked on a bunch of bigger studio pictures and then had the opportunity to make a documentary. So I decided to do that and surround myself with a couple people that I’ve worked with now for many years. And that film got into Tribeca and did well. And as I’ve gotten into it, I’ve realized that what I’ve done before in production and as a writer in Hollywood, that my background really prepared me to work in documentaries and really fulfilled at the same time what I like about being a writer and what I liked about working in production. Now at this point I feel like this is something my background trained me to do better than I could have if I set out to do it from the start. 
 
Were you concerned at all about drawing in an audience who was not familiar with this sort of world or engaging people who wouldn’t usually be interested in this subject?
As a director of a film, I had to think about who is the audience for this and how do people that don’t go to bars—or don’t even drink—going to get into this movie and are they going to enjoy it? That is something we were constantly challenging ourselves about, to make sure it wasn’t something just for people who understand this community. I think ultimately a movie is for movie-goers, the sort of people like myself who get the paper on Friday and look what’s opening, and so the movie has to work for movie-goers. That means taking the time to explain what this world is and explain these characters just like you would if it was a scripted movie and then give the audience something to root for and people to be invested in. And because its a documentary, giving them an insight into this world that they usually wouldn’t be able to see on their own or just don’t have the time to get the insights out of these people. But I always get frustrated when people talk about scripted movies as real movies and documentaries as some alien species. When go to a movie or even if you’re at home watching a movie, it’s still a movie and the movie has to do certain things or you’re not going to like it. It has to tell us with something we don’t know and leave us with a cathartic moment—whether it’s a happy one or sad one. So for me, when people see this, I hope they say that they really like this as a movie that just so happened to be a documentary.
 
I’ve spoken about this with other filmmakers but what I find fascinating about the making of a doc is that you can go in with one idea and by the end have an entirely different film than you set out to make because it’s so dependent on the subjects and characters.
I think that’s very insightful what you’re saying and what’s great about making documentaries is that you can start out one place and end up some place else—that’s also the thing that’s scary about it. When you work in the studio system, they’ve gone over that script and revised that script 20 times before you even start filming, and it’s still risky. But with a documentary, you start out with some information but you actually hope that while filming it leads to some place you had no idea it was going to go, and that’s usually when things turn out to be the most exciting and the best movies. As opposed to: here’s my thesis and I’m just setting out to prove it. But that becomes a much more risky and scary proposition because you might have wanted to make the movie for one reason and in the middle of it you’re like gosh, everything I thought I knew about this is completely wrong and I’ve got to regroup. In this case, getting to know the bartenders and this world fulfilled all the things we were hoping to see and then took us to these things that we didn’t even know existed. 
 
Did you have an inspirations or touchstones while making this?
There were a bunch of movies in little pieces that inspired me during this. I’m a big believer that if you’re making movies, you’re watching movies and that’s the process. I really reviewed what bar tenders were in film history—everything from Tom Cruise in Cocktail to the character Lloyd in The Shining, even watching a couple episodes of Cheers. There are bartenders all throughout film history, so we were really aware of who the other bartenders were to the extent that we knew the preconception audiences had when they would come to watch the movie. So that was one part  of it, but the other part was just learning how bars looked in movies because we were filming so much in dark settings. If you’re in a bar, you want it to feel and look like a bar—something sexy and exciting and dangerous about setting and we wanted to make sure we weren’t ruining that. There’s a scene in All that Jazz where they do a table read of the musical they’re going to do and all the sound gets muted and you only hear what he’s hearing in his head or responsible for, and I thought it was responsible to get into the bar tenders head and go: what are these men and these women thinking about when they make these drinks and how can we get that across? So that’s how we got to these slow motion sequences with muted sound. 
 
Back to what you were saying about documentaries having the same validity as fiction features, where do you think Hey Bartender falls along the scope of modern docs?
Now in documentaries there’s like two camps: you’re either telling stories like Inside Job, which is like talking heads, or you’re telling a movie where you’re following someone and there’s no interviews and you’re just a fly on the wall. I’ve produced both kinds of movies and I like both kinds of movies but in this case, we see something that delivers the best of both of those. There are things we hear from the bartenders in these interviews that you would never usually get insight to and commentary about the world if we didn’t and there are things that wouldn’t be on screen if you didn’t sit back and let the action unfold in front of you.
 
Do you have a favorite cocktail of your own?
I know about ten good jokes to answer that question, but my favorite spirit is tequila. And the tequila I found while making this movie is called Melagro—I really like that. I’m usually someone that when they go out to eat, I go to a certain restaurant and I get the same meal every time—other than to be polite, I really don’t want to hear what the specials are. But what I have found through the process of making this movie, now when it comes to cocktails, I’m the opposite of that. If I go to a  cocktail bar I want to know what their specialties are  or what the bar tender’s making that day. My favorite cocktail is what the bartender wants to make for you. I usually love what they make because they’re good as deciphering from a little bit of information what you’re actually going to like, but I also the whole process that they’re making that cocktail especially for you. 
 
Is there a favorite place you like to drink in New York?
There are a lot of places. But I’d say the Clover Club is great and I think Monkey Bar is  fantastic.

More Sandy Relief Benefits This Week, All With a Boozy Twist

It’s great that after a few weeks, two holidays, and another on the way, people are still recognizing the disaster that Hurricane Sandy caused in various parts of the city. In the next nine days there are four fun events aimed at raising money for victims, displaced families, and devastated businesses. Here are some ways you can give more to the relief efforts, and drink your face off at the same time.

Tonight, hit up the Bowery Hotel for the 1st Annual New York Bartenders Ball featuring live music by Chances With Wolves and cocktails made by drink mavericks from Death & Co, Employees Only, PDT, Ward III, Dutch Kills, Dram, The Whiskey Brooklyn, and Weather Up Tribeca. Starting at 7pm, $100 gets you in for a five-hour open bar with food, and every penny goes to Occupy Sandy NYC Relief and the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation

Also tonight, the $10 donation at the door of NYC Heart’s NYC event at The Tippler will be donated to victims of the hurricane. While you feel good about giving back, you can also feel good about shaking your tail to Diane Birch and Maverick & Ice, and then, participating in the live auction hosted by Brian McCarthy. The party runs from 6pm to 2am, and they will serve $10 cocktails and nibbles all night long. 

The Barman’s Fund is at it again, but this time they are inviting you to party down at Dutch Kills on Sunday, December 2 at 9pm until 2am. Join them for the 2nd Annual Barman’s Fund Holiday Shindig, where for $50 you can feast on food by #7 Sub and The Vanderbilt, sip cocktails made with Brooklyn Gin, Tito’s Vodka, Owney’s Rum, and others, all mad by barman Richard Boccato. All proceeds go to various NYC charities. 

Next Tuesday, December 4, The Brooklyn Brewery hosts a Hurricane Sandy relief fundraiser for Rockaway Surf Club, Red Hook Initiative, and Coney Recovers. Tickets run $40 and include a commemorative tasting glass, unlimited samples of beer from breweries including Blue Point, Kelso, Dogfish Head, Empire, Founders, and more. With all these incentives, giving has never felt so good.

 

Photo by Caspar Newbolt

Absinthe Brasserie Shakes Things Up in New York

Before the great cocktail boom that started half a decade ago, to get a solid drink in San Francisco proved a challenge. At that time one place stood out: Absinthe Brasserie. For almost fifteen years, this bar has pushed the cocktail renaissance into what it is today. Now, as bar manager Jeff Hollingersteps down (though still has a hand), the famous brassiere welcomes Matt Conway, formally of nopa.

“What I hope to see from Absinthe, and what I’m trying to help ensure, is that we maintain our relevance in the growing list of these watering holes,” said Conway. “In my mind, doing that is not about having a ‘celebrity’ bartender or having the most obscure ingredient, it’s about providing your guests with a great experience.” 

Of course, if you aren’t able to get to California any time soon, getting the three-star Absinthe experience is difficult, except this week. Conway, as well as Hollinger, chef Adam Keough, pastry chef Bill Corbett, will be taking the city by storm. First up, Conway and Hollingerwill be guest bartending on Tuesday, July 17 at Death & Co, and then on Wednesday, July 18, they will be at PDT. They will not only being showcasing their skills to these chic bars, but a taste of what Conway plans to do with the Absinthe menu.

“What I am bringing to the bar is some different experiences and maybe some different ways of looking at things,” said Conway. “I tend to let my own personal preferences influence the drink and spirit list, so we’ve [Absinthe] recently brought in more vermouths, fortified wines, and amaros, which I try to incorporate into drinks rather than just have them in the fridge or back bar.”

On Thursday, the rest of the Absinthe team will be whipping up their minimalist, French-flared cuisine during a multi-course meal at the James Beard House. Though these events don’t beat an actual trip to the West Coast to experience the whole of Absinthe, which the San Francisco Chronicle rated as one of the top 100 restaurants in the city in 2011 and 2012—it’s the next best thing. 

PDT’s Jim Meehan Talks About His James Beard Award Win

This year the James Beard Foundation debuted the Outstanding Bar Program Award, an honor sponsored by Campari that is given to a bar that “displays and encourages excellence in cocktail, spirit, and/or beer service through a well-presented drink list, knowledgeable staff, and efforts to educate customers about beverages.” The winner of the inaugural award was PDT. We chatted with the humble owner of PDT, Jim Meehan, after he won the prize.

How did it feel to win?
It’s a crazy feeling, but it feels spectacular. This is something that we have paid very close attention to for a long time. It’s amazing that bars are now a part of the awards. I kind of left last night wondering if they were going to ask for it back.

Campari had a big part in the creation of this category. Do you like the spirit?
Campari is one of the ingredients that ends up in many cocktails and we use it a lot. Last night one of the bartenders made a good Campari drink with Plymouth gin, spiced honey syrup, and champagne.

Why do you think you won?
For five years we have taken care of our industry. We have always been a bar that is a little something extra, and, when chefs stop by we always take care of them.

You run you bar very well. What is your inspiration?
I came from Gramercy Tavern and Pegu Club. Audrey [Saunders, owner of Pegu Club] came from a five-star hotel and she taught us all how to offer hotel service in a cocktail bar.There were a lot of Gramercy people awarded last night too, and at that place it’s like a finishing school for service.Our own form of hospitality, the way we run the bar, is the way a restaurant runs its dining room—meaning, there is no standing and there is enough staff to serve you. My team for five years now has bought into this concept of running a bar like this. It’s very gratifying to get this award from this industry’s most celebrated and respected chefs.

What other bars do you think should win this award?
All the bars nominated deserve this award. Pegu Club is where I learned so much. Bar Agricole has an amazing wine program and their cocktails are elegant and well presented. Plus, it’s a certified green restaurant and I am surprised it didn’t win. Also, for Grant Achatz to open up a bar [The Aviary in Chicago] is such a huge thing for the bar industry. Last but not least, Toby Maloney who was our head bartender at Pegu Club and the first to head out and open up the Violet Hour in Chicago. It was bittersweet to walk away with the award because I am close with all the nominees and they all deserved it.

Now that you won, what are your plans today?
My plan is to try and reply to all my text messages and emails from people all across the country that reached out to say congratulations. Then I have a meeting at a bar and tonight I am having dinner with my brother and our wives at wd-50 for the launch of their new menu. All in all I am kind of speechless and really happy, but, in my experience you got to try to live up to the award. It’s important not to let it go to your head, so, it’s back to work. 

Photo by Kent Miller

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 25th Annual James Beard Award Winners

Over two decades have passed since the James Beard Awards began handing out trophies to the best in the restaurant world, and it continues to be the Academy Awards of the food world. Last night, at the packed Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, the awards commenced with their 25th annual ceremony that honored the country’s top chefs, restaurants, food writers, journalists, servers, bartenders, and television personalities. Not surprising, New York took a big chunk of the glory, with awards going to Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern, who won Best Chef in New York, and Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar who won Rising Star Chef of the Year, beating out Dave Beran of Grant Achatz’s Next, which won the Best New Restaurant award. New York also boasts a win for the outstanding chef award, which went to Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park. He trumped the other top-notch contestants including David Chang, Paul Kahan, Nancy Silverton, and Gary Danko. Paul Grieco took the prize with Terroir for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional. PDT won for Outstanding Bar Program, and La Grenouille achieved victory for outstanding service.

Though only a handful of people walked away with a medal, Lincoln Center filled up with the country’s hottest foodie folk. April Bloomfield of the Breslin and Spotted Pig made an appearance decked out in a snappy suit and—shocker—with makeup on. Food Republic spotted Jamie Bissonnette of Coppa in Boston sneaking a flask of Fernet, and, rumor has it a PR gal got fired after failing to recognize renowned French chef Jacques Pépin and not letting him enter the pressroom. Naturally, the nominees were there, as well as haute chefs like Ed Lee, Rick Bayless, Wolfgang Puck, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Stephanie Izard, Cathy Whims, and dozens more. Keep making us tasty treats guys, and, may you all win next year.

The List of Winners:

Outstanding Chef: Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park (NYC)

Outstanding Restaurant: Boulevard (San Francisco)

Rising Star Chef: Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar (NYC)

Best New Restaurant: Next (Chicago)

Best Chef: Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH):  Bruce Sherman, North Pond (Chicago)

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (D.C., DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA): Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama (Hoboken, NJ)

Best Chef: Midwest (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI): Tory Miller, L’Etoile (Madison, WI)

Best Chef: New York City: Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern

Best Chef: Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY STATE, RI, VT): Tim Cushman, O Ya (Boston)

Best Chef: Northwest (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY), Matt Dillon, Sitka & Spruce (Seattle)

Best Chef: Pacific (CA, HI), Matt Molina, Osteria Mozza (Los Angeles)
Best Chef: South (AL, AR, FL, LA, MS): Chris Hastings, Hot and Hot Fish Club (Birmingham, AL)

Best Chef: Southeast (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV): Tie between Hugh Acheson, Five and Ten (Athens, GA) and Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene (Atlanta)

Best Chef: Southwest (AZ, CO, NM, NV, OK, TX, UT), Paul Qui, Uchiko (Austin, TX)

Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional, Paul Grieco, Terroir (NYC)

Outstanding Wine Program, No. 9 Park (Boston)

Outstanding Bar Program, PDT (NYC)

Outstanding Service, La Grenouille (NYC)

Outstanding Pastry Chef, Mindy Segal, Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (Chicago)

Outstanding Restaurateur, Tom Douglas, Tom Douglas Restaurants (Seattle)

For a complete list of winners, go here.

Photo of Momofuk’s Christina Tosi by Kent Miller

Taste of the Nation Charity Event Draws New York’s Best Local Chefs, Feeds Kids

Last night the charity Share Our Strength hosted Taste of the Nation, their annual culinary fundraiser as a means to help end childhood hunger. “We are here tonight because there are 16 million American kids who struggle with hunger,” said co-founder Debbie Shore. Since 1988 the foundation has hosted these yearly events in 30 plus cities and raised over $75 million, and frankly, given the number of top named chefs, bartenders, and restaurants that volunteer their time and ingredients, the organization makes donating money easy.

In New York this year, the two-story, four-room space at 82 Mercer was filled with delectable bites including: Old school Lobster Thermidor served by chef Aaron Bashy of The Water Club; the infamous fois gras and jelly doughnuts made by the boys at Do or Dine; a fluke cebiche from La Mar’s smiley chef Victoriano Lopez (plus his translator); and an amazing razor clam and fennel dish from Ai Fiori.

On the high-end-low-end spectrum guest were forced to ingest the comforting pickled beef tongue by the gang at Mile End, slices of a six-food wedge salad sandwich by chef Joe Dobias of JoeDough, and the most amazing savory cotton candy being whipped up by the adorable Amanda Cohen of Dirt Candy. Oh the tragedy.

To wash all these treats down Eben Freeman shook up a delectable Melagrana Sour for Osteria Morini, Jeff Bell from the clandestine bar PDT poured a smoked cardamom-infused Mariner cocktail, and Employees Only whipped up a blackberry vodka drink. Hands down the most exciting drink being made came in the form of Booker and Dax’s Hendrick’s Rose, a sweet, fizzy cocktail that smoked.

Amid all the opulence, we can’t forget the real reason Taste of the Nation is held. After all, most people don’t think of American kids going hungry and in a place where many of us throw food away every day, it’s tragic that about one in five children in this country don’t get enough to eat. As the organization continues to fight this cause, they continue to give something to raise a glass of smoking pink bubbles to and I hope to see them again next year.

4 Out of 5: Alex Leo on New York

Alex Leo is director of news product at Reuters Digital. This is her take on four places she likes, and one place she doesn’t.

RECOMMENDED

DeSantos – "This place has gone through more design iterations in three years than most restaurants do in a lifetime, but they’ve finally got it down (despite the cotton-used-as-art issue). DeSantos hits the perfect balance between intimacy and energy, just make sure they don’t seat you in the bar area, unless of course your date is really boring and you don’t care what he has to say. There’s nothing to avoid on the menu — they do everything well — but you’ll regret not ordering the truffle fries."

Moss – "While I will never be able to afford anything in this high-end design store, it is incredibly fun to poke around in. Rolling tables made out of found objects, brightly-colored crystal chandeliers and unidentifiable acrylic objects make this place more like a gallery than a store. The range of products and enormous price tags also make for fun people watching."

Bobo – "I am a sucker for any place that serves me brussels sprouts in pork fat, but Bobo offers more than just delicious sides. It has a wonderfully inventive seasonal menu, a great wine list and décor that makes you feel like you’re in a modern-day Henry James novel."

Fishs Eddy – "This Flatiron shop offers adorable housewares with a New York bent—how could I possibly resist a NYT Crossword Puzzle platter? It’s a perfect place to find gifts of all sizes and prices."

NOT SO MUCH

PDT – "Yes, yes, the speakeasy came back and walking through a phone booth in a hotdog shop to get to a secret bar is intriguing, but the place itself is depressing, snobby and not worth the price."

Remy Martin 1738 Cognac: No (Smoking) Jacket Required

You want me to drink Remy Martin 1738 cognac? Sure, just let me grab my monocle, slip on my smoking jacket, and withdraw to a leather chair next to an oil painting of a fox hunt. What’s that you say? These affectations are unnecessary, as cognac is now being used by cutting-edge mixologists like Jim Meehan of New York’s PDT to create cocktails that are as innovative as they are delicious? Well now you’re speaking my language. I’ll be right over.

And so it was on a Tuesday night in Manhattan, when a contingent of BlackBook editors filed through the secret phone booth at Crif Dogs into the quirky PDT lounge, where bartender Jim Meehan (author of the new PDT Cocktail Book) schooled us on the history and versatility of the grape spirit, and Remy Martin cellar master Pierette Trichet discussed the finer points of chalky terroir, limousin oak barrels, and the meaning of eau de vie.

First, Meehan had us taste a flight of brown spirits ranging from rum to rye, just to see where a fine aged cognac fits in.  (Short answer: cognac shares their complexity while adding a smoothness that comes from its lower alcohol content.) He explained to us how popular cognac was in 19th century cocktail culture (the original versions of the Mint Julep and Sazerac called for cognac, which would have been known at the time as brandy). And he talked about his approach to mixing cocktails with cognac, which involves using flavors like citrus and mint that bring out the spirit’s essence, rather than burying it in sweet syrups and sodas.

Next, Trichet took us on a virtual tour of cognac country, which is located near the west coast of France. Its chalky soil is perfect for growing ugni blanc grapes, whose acidity is ideal for cognac production. The juice of the grapes is made into eaux de vie (fruit brandies), which are then blended and aged to produce the cognac house’s various "expressions." Of those expressions, Remy 1738 may well be the most versatile, easily fine enough for sipping neat while seated in the aforementioned leather chair, but also ideal for mixing in both classic and modern cocktails.

Which brings us back to the purpose of our visit. Meehan mixed several amazing cocktails that featured Remy 1738 as a base spirit. The Mint Julep was sweet without being cloying, with the tartness of the grapes mingling with the coolness of the mint. His Sazerac – which featured an absinthe rinse – was divine, and the substitution of cognac for rye whiskey seemed to work perfectly with the bitters. Served in a sturdy tumbler, it’s definitely a man’s cocktail. And I truly enjoyed the Bow Tie, which combines Remy 1738 cognac with dry vermouth and fresh pineapple juice (not the sticky canned stuff) that gave the otherwise austere cocktail a tropical twist. Delightful.

I’ll admit it, up until last night, cognac was not my thing. But after tasting Remy’s 1738, both on its own and mixed in a variety of inspired cocktails, I’m happy to add it to my regular drinking rotation. You think it would go well in a Long Island Iced Tea?

Travel Dispatch: Honolulu’s Sailor Jerry Turns 100

Chances are you’ve been seeing a lot of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum around town lately: it was the heavy pour at the AllSaints pop-up pub during the Jelly Pool Parties over the summer; it reunited the Greenhornes for a show back in September; its iconic logo was celebrated with the launch of a Sailor Jerry Pin-Up Calendar with Inked magazine just a few weeks ago; and you’ve probably had it in one of your custom cocktails at mixology bars like PDT or The Andaz — the Cellar Door cocktail is one to try. Well, it just so happens that Sailor Jerry is celebrating the 100th birthday of their founding father, legendary tattoo artist and “Class-A Pirate” Norman “Sailor Jerry” Collins. It also happens that the celebration and historical dedication will take place in his hometown, which, lucky for me, is Honolulu, Hawaii.

Because of tonight’s impending blizzard, I’m hopping a plane a day early so as not to miss out on the three-day birthday party taking place around Oahu, Hawaii, Sailor Jerry’s stomping ground. He settled in Honolulu’s Chinatown after spending his youth hopping freight trains cross-country. Collins learned the art of tattooing from a man named Tatts Thomas, and after spending considerable time practicing on other drifters like himself, he sailed the Pacific Ocean and landed in Hawaii.

Though the brand itself isn’t terribly old (Sailor Jerry became a brand in 1999), it’s history is incredibly rich. Ed Hardy was directly influenced by Jerry’s art and self-branding. Sailor Jerry pioneered a unique style of folk art that symbolized an important part of American History, a part I’m due to learn about on this celebratory trip. Through a sailing expedition to the WWII-era tiki bars on Keehi Lagoon, a historical tour of the storied Moana Surfrider Hotel — which offered rest and relaxation to weary soldiers — a trip to Pearl Harbor, and an exploration of the debaucherous, back-alley district in Chinatown known as “Hotel Street,” where Sailor Jerry took up shop, I’ll be introduced to the origins of an American way of life that we still see traces of today.