Monday, March 30, 2009

LA Celebrates One Year of The Sporting Life

Now, let me ask you a question, and think
about an honest answer...

Los Angeles is known as the center of the entertainment industry. It
is full of beautiful, trendy people who want to be part of the latest cool thing. Angelenos expect to have the best of everything – weather, restaurants, high-profile glamour. Did you really expect this town to settle for sub-par cocktails?

Long ridiculed as the “vodka / redbull” city by cocktail snobs everywhere, our fair City of Angels is making the world stand up and take notice. Not only do we have an incredibly talent crew of bartenders / mixologists / enthusiasts / writers / what-have-you in our midst, we also have the people who do it with style.

Oh yeah, I’m bias. Ridiculously so. But, I also know LA deserves to be a little cocky when it comes to cocktails. And, I’m not alone.

I first met Marcos Tello at Tales of the Cocktail in 2007, and immediately recognized that we shared a passion for both mixology, and highlighting the people in LA who do it best. I’ve been presenting some of my favorite bars and bartenders on this blog for the past 3 years so my readers can know where to find them. Meanwhile, last year, Marcos went right out and rallied our local bartenders into action.

Tello says that after returning from the “Cocktails in the Country” (Gary Regan’s former bartending academ
y in New York state), he felt “heartbroken” at not finding the kind of “secret underground” society of mixology enthusiasts that NYC has. In his words, “I vowed to at least start a society of bartenders who loved cocktails, so when someone like me came along, they would have a community to belong to.”

A year ago, Marcos founded “The Sporting Life.” The 7 or 8 of us at the initial meeting (in the back garden of BarKeeper) are still active in the group. However, the monthly meeting are now sponsored by liquor companies, and anywhere from 30 – 60 people show up, which is saying a lot for a Sunday afternoon when many bartenders (and drinkers) are usually sleeping, chilling on the beach, or waking up next to a sexy somebody from the night before. Tello also points out that because we don't have the advantage of all living right next to each other like in other cities, individuals have to make a concerted effort to attend "community" functions and competitions in order to connect. In his words, “We have to want it more!”

Marcos attributes The Sporting Life’s popularity to the great cocktail culture here, which had been long dormant. He points out, “If [New York and San Francisco] could resurrect their communities, I knew we could do
the same with ours. Plus, LA is such a great vast market, that it was received with a huge amount of support.”

He thinks that having a ‘bartender club,’ if you will, gives Angeleno bartenders a sense of identity and elevates the awareness of good cocktails, which has a trickle-down effect into bars all over town. Marcos also believes that the LA cocktail scene is just beginning to define itself, declaring , “In the next few years there will be a definite "LA Style" when it comes to the bartending world.”

It was only fitting to have The Sporting Life’s One Year Anniversary Party back at Bar Keeper. Afterall, Joe is a good friend to the bartending community, and he is one of the heartiest enthusiasts to be found. Not only was the afternoon-long event filled with happy cocktail-swigging revelers, but some of our top talent took turns manning the bars set up for the party, showing off to each other (upping the ante for awesome cocktails for all of us!)

Marcos aims to keep expanding the group in an effort to support cocktail culture in LA. He has been pushing hard for bartenders to join the USBG (the national bartender union) and he would also like to bring in a Los Angeles Cocktail Community Board that will put on The Sporting Life from now on. He says, “This way, the group builds a community that supports itself and continues to do so for many years to come.

Raise a glass to Los Angeles, and three cheers for The Sporting Life!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Westside Tavern Opens

Once upon a time, on the sprawling streets of West L.A., it was difficult to find a decent cocktail – and the last place one would look was (gasp!) the mall. Well, its time to throw out the history books and start living the fairy tale – Westside Tavern has changed the way we think of drinking on the Westside.

Tucked inside the annex of Westside Pavillion (on street level, just below the movie theaters) is the sleek-yet-accessible, cavernous-yet-cozy, softly-lit-yet-not-too-dark Westside Tavern. Smiling faces greet patrons at the door; patrons sip and nibble happily at the long bar; friends gather around high-top tables in the lounge; and couples canoodle pre- or post- movie watching in the dining area. A more formal dining room, with a second bar, is just around a corner and available for private parties.

One of the most exciting reasons to visit Westside Tavern is the high-quality cocktail program. Respected Mixologist / Bar Consultant Ryan Magarian designed the program which highlight unique choices such as the Pepper Smash (spearmint, red bell pepper, dry gin and honey syrup) and the Blood Orange & Sage Gimlet (pressed sage & blood oranges, dry gin, lime juice and egg white). The menu also boasts classic cocktails such as the Sazerac, Blackberry Julep (served in proper pewter julep cups), Corpse Reviver No. 2, and the Martinez, among others. Most surprisingly each of the fresh-ingredient, mixology-driven cocktails are only $9! These drinks blow away many of the $16 cocktails found around town.

Admittedly, one of my biggest motivations to rush down on the first night to sample a few of these wonderful concoctions is Kylee Van Dillen – our very own “Girl Friday Happy Hour” columnist – who can be found behind the bar. Kylee is an expert at both making drinks, and explaining the fresh mixology concepts to guests, enhancing the experience for the professional cocktailian and the novice, alike. Ask for her, and treat her well.

And, speaking of “professional cocktailians,” I had the pleasure of pulling up a barstool next to fellow LA-blogger Caroline on Crack, who was also eager to be among the first Angelenos experiencing this new landmark on our culinary landscape. Caroline and I are birds of a feather – photographing everything before we take a bite or sip – so she didn’t mind when I asked for a shot of her scrumptious Cantaloupe Sour (dry gin, lemon & cantaloupe juices, Gary Regan’s No. 6 orange bitters and clover honey syrup), a must-try.

Just when things couldn’t get any better, another familiar face emerged – Chef Warren Schwartz – formerly at the helm of Whist in Santa Monica. Chef Schwartz is a master at taking simple comfort food and giving it some high-brow polish, or does he take high-end food and make it comfortable? Either way you look at it, he is renown for his eye toward sustainability and his skill in the kitchen. Warren also believes that quality can come at an affordable price. He explained that when eating at a new hotspot means shelling out $10 for valet, $15 per cocktail, then meal, wine and tip, the average person might go once to be able to say that they’ve eaten at “X” place, but they probably won’t go back. Chef says, “We want people to return to us again and again.”

On that note, I could not resist sampling an order of mussels, topped with chorizo and smothered in garlic ($13). The grilled ciabata bread and drizzle of flavorful creamy sauce made this appetizer a meal in itself. Caroline and her pal ordered the Grilled Portabella, Tomato & Burrata Sandwich ($14) as well as the copious Lamb French Dip ($16). For dessert, we indulged in a luscious Brown Butter Apple Pie ($9) large enough to share with the table next door!

I’m sure Angelenos will also appreciate another benefit of Westside Tavern - the free parking garage! So, friends, put away the fantasy book. Whether looking for the perfect dinner-and-movie date spot, or a fun night out with pals – the Westside Tavern is a dream come true.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hendrick's Gin Limerick Safari 2009
coverage, photos and limericks by Kylee Van Dillen, The Liquid Muse Girl Friday

Everyone really loves Gin
To drink it is never a sin

Hearing limericks all night
On a tour bus packed tight
Is how a perfect event should begin!

The fun-loving folks behind Hendrick’s Gin are never without a whimsical event for their loyal gin lovers, and the “Limerick Competition” of 2009 was no exception! Last Fall, cities around the country hosted individual limerick competitions where contestants would deck themselves out in full Victorian “Steampunk” garb and make an original Hendrick’s cocktail…while reciting a limerick, of course. February 15th, the winners flew to Los Angeles for the finals. On "Competition Eve," these talented mixologists were treated to a “Cocktail Safari” tour of fine LA’s bars—each serving up delicious libations made with Hendricks’s Gin!

The night began at THE STANDARD HOTEL in Downtown LA, lead by delightful Hendrick’s Grand Ambassador Charlotte Voisey, the charming Jim Ryan of William Grant USA, and hosted by the ever-present MC Billy Harris. Upon boarding a glamorous tour bus filled with eager drinkers, several decorative cucumbers and a stripper pole to boot, the crew set out to their first destination, the BEVERLY HILLS HOTEL, and so the boozing and schmoozing began!

Billy was Safari leader during the long drive from Downtown to Sunset Boulevard, leading the expedition into the “wilds” of Los Angeles as he described all the locations and scenery they were about to encounter on the tour. Introductions were made, and the crowd marched into the hotel ready for fun! The classy was
décor, the music was refine—and everyone dressed to impress, notably local bartenders Marcos Tello and Eric Alperin of The Varnish (who’s “Pickled Pig” cocktail made it into the finals!) in their shiny shoes, strapping suspenders and fedoras who shook up a round of Classic Hendrick’s Cocktails—Hendrick’s Gin served straight up, in a martini glass with a cucumber garnish, of course.

The group finished their cocktails down to the very last drop and buzzed with anticipation for their next liquid treat. Popular STK restaurant on La Cienega hosted a fancy sit down dinner and of course, more Hendrick’s cocktails! The long table was adorned with many mini-cucumbers, pink roses and candles, glowing in a fun, sexy and totally Hendrick’s spirit.

STK's head mixologist Pablo Moix served his own “Roses and Yellow Jackets," a refreshing martini made with Hendrick's Gin, freshly squeezed lemon juice, homemade Clover honey syrup, egg whites, and topped with Angostura bitters. Like a table of excited children, everyone tippled about, sharing personal introductions, reciting limericks from the big book and en
gaging in classic cocktail conversations with 'The Modern Mixologist' Tony Abou-Ganim and Milagro Tequila Ambassador Gaston Martinez. The eager sippers enjoyed a second round of cocktails during dinner and dessert (a delicious trio of chocolate sweets!) The aptly named “755 La Cienega” after the locations address, was a cool combination of Hendrick's Gin, Aperol, Fresh Mint, Freshly Squeezed Grapefruit Juice, Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice, and just a little touch of Peychaud's Bitters—the perfect after dinner drink.

After the belly-filling meal and palate-teasing drinks, the crowd was thirsty for more! The tour bus took a short drive down the street to COMME ÇA, a French inspired restaurant famous for its gourmet charcuterie and classic cocktails. Head bartender Joel Black conjured up the perfect liquid intermezzo with his “Remembrance of Jerry Thomas” cocktail, a bright combination of Hendrick’s Gin, St. Germain, Bitter Truth Bitters and a dash of juniper/fennel red wine vinegar. For those in need of a second round Joel shook up a special “Coriander Collins” featuring Hendrick’s Gin, lemon juice, soda water and homemade toasted coriander syrup.

The bus ride from West Hollywood back to Downtown LA was just long enough for everyone to catch enjoy their fuzzy feelings before an after dinner delight at THE DOHENY. Monday nights are “Secret Mondays” at this private venue—a DJ was spinning great music and the Hendrick’s crew mingled amongst the full bar while GM Steve Livigni and head bartender Daniel Nelson batched up an “Eastside Fizz” for everyone made with Hendrick’s Gin, cucumber (of course!) mint, lime juice, simple syrup and just enough soda for the “fizz.” The visit was brief because time flies when the Gin is flowing and there was one spot left on the Safari to explore before bedtime...

After a long night of limericks and libations, (and swinging on the stripper pole) there was no better way to unwind than 7 GRAND while resident Whisky wiz kid John Coltharp took action. An expert on the malted spirits, his Gin skills were just as impressive! The night ended with a perfectly crafted trilogy: “Bee’s Knee’s” made with Hendrick’s Gin, fresh lemon juice and Clover honey syrup, an “Alaska” stirred up with Hendrick’s, Yellow Chartreuse, and orange bitters, and the go-to classic “Martinez” with Hendricks Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Maraschino Liqueur and bitters.

It was a long and Gin-charged night
But the Hendrick’s crew sure slept tight

Feeling so warm and fuzzy

With a Hendrick’s Gin buzzy

Tomorrow they would compete just right!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Travel Buzz: Feijoa Bar, Amsterdam

No Sweeter Fruit than Feijoa

I’ve eaten feijoada (the national dish of Brazil) in Rio de Janeiro on various visits to that city… so when I listed Sergej Fokke’s Feijoa Bar my first bar stop in Amsterdam, I guessed that it might specialize in Latin-inspired cocktails with a possible emphasis on cachaça. Silly me.

While there is cachaça behind the bar, as well as quite a good overall selection of spirits, the bar isn’t so much “Latin”-centric, as it is cocktail-centric. There is a drink list but the barmen are open to creating something on-the-spot to suit individual tastes. As one bartender put it, as he motioned to the wall of bottles behind him: “This is our menu.”

The Dutch bar is named after the fruit “feijoa” which, although native to South America, also flourishes in New Zealand, so much so that New Zealand-based 42 Below vodka has a feijoa-infused spirit among its flavors. Naturally, I had to see what all the fuss is about, so I ordered Feijoa’s namesake cocktail. While the fruit has a slight medicinal flavor, or at least the infused vodka does, it is not unpleasant. And, when presented in a cocktail made with muddled fresh kiwi and limejuice, its quite refreshing.

In addition to enjoying a fine drink, Id’ encourage visitors to head to Feijoa to take in the superb bartenders. They are skilled in the craft of making guests feel welcome, and also have obvious training in mixology: citrus presses are used on limes and lemons in each individual drink; muddling is a regular occurrence; and double strained fresh strawberry daiquiris put anything less to shame. We talked spirits non-stop (discussed whether the new antique Galliano should replace the current popular version, as well as how to introduce the general public to higher quality cocktails in easily digested sips), and it felt like a ‘corner cocktail bar’ home away from home.

The 2-level space is small enough to feel cozy but not cramped. I’d call the décor “eclectic avant garde.” I loved the giant black and white photo, and the overhead light fixture is an antique operating room lamp - a bit macabre yet intriguing to imagine the many bodies carved up beneath it. I appreciate a touch of Vegas-y kitch about the place.

Feijoa is also very close to its sister bar, the famed speak-easy style Door 74, which is co-owned Sergej and Philip Duff. Although Door 74’s address is not loosely given out, if you are a cocktail lover, you might be able to convince the guys at Feijoa to get you into ‘the door’ for a peek.

However, under no circumstances should you saunter past Feijoa on your way to Door 74 without stopping in for a quick drink. In the words of Mr. Duff: “Fejoia [is] the tiny bartender's bar of the Netherlands and one of the three or four finest cocktail bars in Holland, full-stop.” In cocktailian terms, that means there is not a sweeter fruit to be found.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Bartender Diaries: Derek Brown

I first met Derek brown in 2005 when I was working at a small restaurant PR firm in Washington DC, and Derek was the sommelier / mixologist at Firefly, one of our clients. I was more than impressed with his talents, and when I quit public relations at the end of that year to start my blog, The Liquid Muse, I was heavily inspired by the DC bartenders, and Derek was one of the best among them. He is still one of the top people in the area, and I am pleased to (finally) feature him in The Bartender Diaries!

Derek stepped behind the bar about 7 years ago, and one of the first requests the bar owner made was if he knew how to make a rum punch. Brown remembers, “I hadn't the foggiest idea. So I grabbed a couple rums, all the fruit juices (sour mix, cranberry, OJ, whatever was in the fridge), and stuck a lime, lemon and orange slice on the rim of the glass with a cherry on top. She liked it and I was in.” Brown laughingly adds, “Now, I wouldn't thrust the same drink on my worst enemy.”

He liked the admiration and control a bartender had, but admits that once there he realized there was a lot more to it than I thought. I've been learning on the job ever since. A few years later, he became a restaurant manager and asked the owner to pay for a sommelier course so he could better assist guests.

Brown doesn’t see the jobs as vastly different citing, “If you look at early bar books they have sections on wine. Bartenders have often doubled as sommeliers.” He goes on to explain, “There's a lot in common between the two jobs but, honestly, as a sommelier you're in less control of the product. You can get to know the vineyards, vintners and even the grapes but you don’t make the product. As a bartender you're selecting from spirits (and even wines) that someone else has made but you're also manipulating them in a way as to change the final product.”

When it comes to mixology, Derek is largely self-taught although he has completed the B.A.R. training course, which he calls “an astounding amount of information and an amazing course.” He is currently the head bartender at the Gibson and the cocktail instructor for Culinaerie Cooking School. He also consults on various beverage programs and for liquor companies and he his the Museum of the American Cocktail’s Washington, D.C. Ambassador running seminars on the history of cocktails with one of the Museum founders, Phil Greene.

Despite his creativity (he even has a passion for tea and coffee) Brown says he still loves the classics. “I love scouring old cocktail books. I'm especially fond of the Fifty-Fifty cocktail, which I make with equal parts Tanqueray 10 Gin and Dolin Dry Vermouth. I then spray the top with the zest from an orange peel and discard the peel. It has to be stirred and it has to be cold. I think it epitomizes a simple, elegant cocktail. It's really just two ingredients but it sings.”

He describes the perfect bar as “warm and welcoming where the bartenders are knowledgeable and well-prepared.” He quotes an Arabic saying: “the heart doesn't desire cocktails and bars, it desires friendship,” and explains, “Cocktails and bars are just the vehicle, but a bartender must take care in perfecting his or her craft so that they are capable of enhancing that experience.”

When Derek isn’t working you might see him at Bourbon in Adams Morgan, Bar Pilar or Tabard Inn and Cork. He is also engaged to be married to fellow bartender Chantal …. And says that the only challenge he has found so far being engaged to a fellow bartender is: “it's damn hard to impress her with my bartending skills.”

Brown’s mentors include his brother Tom Brown, whom he calls one of DC’s best bartenders, Phil Greene, fellow DC mixologist Todd Thrasher and all of the guys from the B.A.R. program, especially Doug Frost, whom he knew as a sommelier before I was back behind the stick. The DC folks have also recently organized their own association called the D.C. Craft Bartenders' Guild, and Derek finds inspiration among his peers.

Those of us on the cocktail blogging scene a few years back have long lamented the dissolution of Derek’s cocktail blog “DC Drinks,” and are thrilled to welcome Derek back into the fold with his new blog ….

Derek’s goals include: “Working with bartenders in D.C. to work toward being the best city for bar hospitality in the country. I love promoting my city. I'd also like to work with bartenders nationally to make sure they're getting health insurance and are being taken seriously as a profession. Overall, I just think bartending is the greatest profession on the planet and I want to share that enthusiasm and passion for the craft.”

Photo credit: Jim Webb

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Preggatini Party™ and Book Signing – L.A.

There is so much to learn when writing a book. Writing the book proposal, finding the right literary agent, teaming with the best publisher for your project… and then actually writing the manuscript are all important things to navigate. But, the real challenge is what to do once that book is a living breathing entity. (ok, it doesn’t breathe, but its my baby nonetheless) That's when the question arises: "Its finally here, now what?"

Well, in the land of The Liquid Muse, getting that bundle of paper and ink into my hot little hands only meant one thing… promote, promote, promote! I did my first book signing at the Sutter Home Winery tasting room in Napa. That was so cool, and even some people who had seen my appearance on KRON 4, TV in San Francisco drove up to get an autographed book. How amazing is that?!

My next book signing took place in Los Angeles, and there was no better place to hold such a party than at my favorite bar store in the whole wide world, Bar Keeper. Joe and Anna Keeper were incredibly generous and gave me the run of the place, and even came in to open it up on their day off. Talk about friendship and support.

I admit that I was a little nervous when I first announced my book signing party. Some people had warned me not to get my hopes up for a big turn out, so I wouldn’t be disappointed. I sent out the emails, and nervously hoped that I could wrangle at least 20 friends to come. Low-and-behold, by the time I had over 80 RSVP’s I was thrilled, excited – and immediately quadrupled my drink and appetizer plans.

The whole of Bar Keeper was packed! I moved to L.A. in 1993, and I was truly touched to see so many friends and colleagues from the last 16 years coming in to clink (nonalcoholic) glasses, pick up copies of my book, and show their general support. Talk about a warm-and-fuzzy feeling.

Tray passed hors d’oeuvres and Sparkling Pomegranate Snowflake Preggatinis™ circulated around the room, and everyone seemed to have a good time. Laughter, chatting, mingling and happiness filled the store and the back patio, as I sent a prayer of gratitude for the good fortune to have such wonderful people in my life.

It is important to keep learning more about my business, and writing, and promoting my projects – but the most important thing I keep learning through this process is that I am a truly lucky person to have such wonderful people who are there to celebrate the little triumphs.

Cheers to you all!

Event Photo Credit: Paul Cantillon

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Bartender Diaries: Pablo Moix

Pablo shares his thoughts on being a bartender and bringing “fun” back into mixology:

“I’m born and raised in Queens, NY. My mother is from Barranquilla, Colombia and my father is from Caracas, Venezuela. I have been bartending now almost 16 years. I always did it as an in between job til I figured out what I want to do with my life. It allowed me to have my days free while I tried things like being a stock-brocker or starting my own T-shirt company. None of these things panned out so I'm still behind the bar.

Today, I think maybe I have been doing what I really want to do - I just never realized it ‘til now. I find bartending to be a selfless job - it is about "making people happy.” Regardless of a mood someone is in, when you hand them an amazing, or as my mentor taught me a "life changing beverage experience,” it puts a smile on their face. I love that. Nowadays, luxury is important and everywhere - even in cocktails - everyone is looking for a luxury experience both in alcohol delivery and fresh ingredients. I find that people are focused on being healthy as well so fresh ingredients brings to for cocktails.

I received formal training in Cocktail History, Recipe Execution, and Cocktail Bar Management from noted beverage consultant Ryan Thomas Magarian. Together we opened for The SBE Restaurant and Nightlife Group Katsuya by Stark Hollywood and Glendale, Foxtail Supper-club, and S Bar. Now I am the Mixologist for the One Group who has some of the most successful restaurants, lounges, nightclubs and hotels in the country that include Gansevoot Ny & Miami, STK NY & Los Angeles,
One Little west 12th, One Sunset, Tenjune, Kiss and Fly, Bagatelle, and Coco De Ville.

One of my biggest challenges is [bartenders] who think cocktail bars should be super serious places, guys in suspenders and 1920's mustaches, spirits no one has ever heard of but them and the 2 people in the room, super serious. I like provide a similar, if not identical experience, in a fun environment. There are people and music and, well, fun. Somewhere in this cocktail revolution it became cocktails first and fun is non existent. I'm trying to remedy that.

Its funny because Downtown LA trying to be NY, and that is not a good representation of what I believe California style cocktails are. I describe my style as “California Fresh,” balancing complex spirits and bitters with fresh, straight-forward fruit flavors that appeal to both the connoisseur and newcomer alike. In the future, I see myself consulting on a larger scale, internationally. Los Angeles is a small pond in the grand scheme of things I would like to spread my passion around the world.

When I'm not behind the stick or doing development I send all my time with my girlfriend and her son. They are the most important people in my life. Bartending is hard because it consumes so many hours of the day. I have considered walking away and getting a 9-5 but I love what I do. The thing I like least about bartending is people that don't respect us as professionals. I don't have a favorite cocktail per se. Currently, I'm really into rum and Tiki style cocktails. They are fun and extremely approachable and when made right, they are DELICIOUS!!!!!!

A historical figure I would love to serve a cocktail would be Simon Bolivar "the liberator" as he is known he freed 5 countries in South America from Spanish rule. That guy is awesome! My earliest memories is being in Colombia and seeing a statue of a guy on a horse with a sword in hand he looked bad ass, I asked my uncle who he was he said that is Simon Bolivar. He told me his whole story I have admired him ever since. I'm still waiting for someone to make the movie.

As far as mentors or looking up to people aside for what was taught to me by Ryan who I respect tremendously, honestly it is my staff or the people I have trained that now are not only being creative themselves but now have so much respect for what they do and treat it as a craft or and art. They are the people I admire today my staff at STK and One Sunset they don;t get the credit they deserve but they are awesome!!!”
Welcome Drink Me Magazine!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

En Vogue Vino: Voga

How would you spend an extra 50 thousand or so frequent flyer miles? How do cutting edge couture, mouth-watering cuisine and a whole country full of sexy people sound? And, don’t even get me started on the wine… Luckily, even if you can’t get away right now, you can still savor the flavor of Bella Italia.

Pinot Grigio, mostly from the Veneto region in Northern Italy, is the most widely exported Italian white wine. Voga wine brings cultural elements together with its sleekly designed bottle, crisp fruit notes and dressing up the buffet table at your next party. Voga’s versatility also makes it an easy choice to pair with global delights such as seafood pasta, fresh Asian spring rolls or even a green or yellow Indian curry – convincing your
amici that you’re the most sophisticated donna around.

At the very least, sipping Voga will send your taste buds to Italy – even if your stilettos remain firmly on the ground back home.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Bartender Diaries: Jeffrey Morgenthaler

I first became pals with blogger / bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler when I was in Thailand about 2 years ago. I was on vacation with my husband, and when I checked my blog, I saw that some guy in Oregon referred to me as the “Cocktail Goddess to the Rich and Famous.” Needless to say, I snapped him up as my new male BFF that very moment, and have held him in fond esteem ever since. Not only is he one of the few professional bartenders who has a way with the written word, but his sharp wit and biting humor will leave you laughing, crying, somewhat bewildered -and you’ll come away from it having learned something, too.

Jeffrey has been bartending since 1996 after tossing a coin between being a dishwasher or a bartender, and drunk chicks at bars all around the Northwest are thanking their lucky stars ole’ Morgenthaler ain’t stuck in the back of the kitchen. The other interesting sidenote of Jeffrey’s story is that he chose bartending to get over his “shyness and difficulty speaking in public,” which made me laugh so hard I peed a little. Anyone who’s met the guy (and seen him work his magic on the ladies) wouldn’t buy that line if it were on sale in the blue light special.

While many people look to Jeffrey as a mentor behind the bar, he says that he didn’t really “get into” the kind of bartending he does today until the late 90’s. He was turned onto mixology via San Francisco Paul Harrington’s now defunct Hotwired Cocktail site. Jeffery points out, “His passion for bartending as a craft, understanding of its history, and elegant prosaic writing style inspired me to delve deeper into the profession I'd already been a part of for several years.”

Morgenthaler says he got kicked out of, I mean worked at, just about every bar in Eugene, Oregon before recently moving to Portland, to work at Clyde Common which he calls “a big, busy, urban gastropub,” and says he loves.

Jeffrey says that he’s not the most prolific bartender in terms of new creations, but likes to rediscover the drinks he’s made a thousand times before, pointing out, “One of the best philosophies I've heard on cooking is that to learn how to cook, you must first perfect the egg.”

We all know that behind every great man, there is a woman, and Jeffrey credits a lady named Nancy Bertini as having who trai
ned him. He refers to her as, “Firm yet hospitable with the rough-and-tumble clientele, Nancy knew how to command a room.” Later, when he started got into spirits and cocktails, he’d watch the better bartenders work, while simultaneously soaking up cocktailian wisdom from Paul Harrington, Trader Vic, Charles H. Baker, among others.

When Jeffrey started his blog around 2004, the original intention was to keep a portfolio of architectural and web design work, and show off the occasional pictures of pets, vacations, etc. However, he noticed that people were particularly interested in his cocktail posts, so he took it that direction. Because he works behind a bar, his blog appeals to both bartenders and enthusiasts who appreciate a professional perspective.

Jeffrey particularly likes drinking what he calls “very feminine cocktails,” which doesn’t mean he wants "girlie" drinks, but rather a delicate balance of flavors with
depth and sophistication. In his words, “Order a Cosmopolitan, and then order a Negroni. It's like discovering the difference between a young girl and a woman. And I think that's where the beauty of the cocktail lies.” (Do you see what I mean about making the ladies swoon?)

While he considers a bar “a sacred social place,” he likes to spend his time off walking, swimming, reading and cooking. Jeffrey explains, “Nothing beats being barefoot in the kitchen, listening to music and sipping wine while I cook. And at least once a week, I like to have someone cook for me - going to a restaurant and trying something new with good company is one of life's great pleasures.”

So, how does a guy who’s charming, cooks and makes a mean cocktail stay single? “The hours and the lifestyle can be tough on a relationship,” explains Jeff. “I make a point of spending as much time outside of bars as I can…but the words of Willie Nelson always ring in my ears: ‘The nightlife ain't a good life, but it's my life.’”

Jeffrey’s latest role model is a German bartender named Gonçalo De Souza Monteiro whom he met while delivering a presentation at the BCB in Berlin this past fall, “We have similar career arcs - both exploring architecture before falling in love with bartending - and a very similar set of bartending philosophies,” he says. “I think he's one of the best practicing bartenders out there right now, and sadly very few people in the United States know who he is. I hope to help change that.”

Jeffrey’s dream is: “to help restore the profession of bartending to its rightful place as the original American contribution to the culinary arts” and to travel the world doing just that. His favorite drinks are many: Manhattan, the perfect Old Fashioned and Mint Julep, and refers to the Sidecar as his “first love.” Jeff shares, “ Right now I often find myself thirsty for a Daiquiri made with aged rum (I love using El Dorado 15 for this), 2:1 simple syrup and fresh lime. When the proportions are spot on, few things are better.”

Indeed, just as with people, the perfect cocktail is all about the balance. Cheers, Mr. Morgenthaler.
Xo Your pal, The Cocktail Goddess to the Rich and Famous

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Join the LIVE Online Cocktail Party TODAY at Sleepover 2.0

I met some really cool people in Chicago when I was out there teaching The Liquid Muse Sustainable Sips(R) eco-friendly cocktail classes. One night, the class was a group of super-hip, forward thinking, environmentally-friendly, tech-savvy bloggers, and the like. Among that group of friends was Amy Guth, who runs all sorts of cool online stuff - among them her own site: Guth A Gogo.

I was honored when Amy & crew asked me to create a signature cocktail for this weekend's Sleepover 2.0. We are going to do a live call and make the drink together over the net - why don't you join us? Here is the recipe so you can be prepared to share in the fun!

This drink is a modern twist on an old classic called the “Dark & Stormy.” The sweet-n-spicy of the Kilo Kai rum plays nicely with the cherry liqueur, lime juice and ginger beer. Rock-on, ladies!

Storm on the Horizon

© Natalie Bovis-Nelsen, of The Liquid May not be printed, sold or otherwise distributed without permission.

1 1/2 ounces Kilo Kai spiced rum
1/4 ounce maraschino liqueur
1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 ounce - 1 ounce ginger beer

Pour Kilo Kai, maraschino liqueur and lime juice into a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, shake, then strain into either: a chilled martini glass; or an ice filled rocks glass. Top with ginger beer (to taste). Raise a glass to the girls!