The Negroni, along with the baseball season, is one of the most welcome rites of Spring. Its devotees include Gabrielle Hamilton, Orson Welles, and, of course, Count Negroni, for whom the drink is named. According to legend the count wanted a stronger version of an Americano and asked a bartender in Florence to substitute gin for club soda. The result is downright historical. Never has so much been owed by so many to so few. Kingsley Amis, our best writer on drink, declares simply: ‘This is a really fine invention.’
Resist the temptation to try to come to terms with SXSW logically. These aren’t tax forms you’re dealing with, but 2000 bands, playing in clubs, in tents, on streets, in parks. By design, it reinvents itself every year, and there are countless pathways through the mayhem, all of them leaving you exhilarated and exhausted. You face the assault on your senses and then pick your spots for visceral gratification. The fact that the festival overlaps with St Patrick’s Day is a blessing or a curse depending on your feeling toward public intoxication and fake Irish accents.
You think you’re braced for New Orleans’ lax approach toward human frailty, but you’re probably not. Like an upper classman with a fake ID, the city encourages you to drink with little concern for the consequences. Many of us don’t need much persuasion in the first place. You already know the classics: The Ramos Gin Fizz, the Sazerac, the Pimm’s Cup, and, lower down the list (much lower), the Hurricane.
At the indispensable Tujague’s, the astute barman Paul devised something called the Green Rice. All he would reveal before we tried it was that the liquor was gin, which of course was no problem. It tasted slightly of citrus, and had an incredibly clean finish, without being bitter. The reason? Rice vinegar. Sometimes it takes vision to invent a new level of vice.
One day out of the blue I got an email from Gabriel Stulman — the guy behind a few of New York’s smallest and most loved restaurants (Joseph Leonard, et. al.) — inviting me to lunch sometime. If you have ever been to Joseph Leonard you will understand Gabriel and I share an aesthetic, something that was further established for me the first time we met. That was about a year ago and it was near the beginning of the process of planning Gabriel’s newest spot, Jeffery’s Grocery. The concept is oyster bar meets local grocery meets late night drinks-and-a-sandwich. destination. Eventually, our shared appreciation for vintage American aesthetics led to a series of discussions and meetings over the next several months where Gabriel and I would meet to talk about the look and feel for Jeffrey’s. We discussed everything from the colors of the wood that made up the bar, to the beadboard, the employee uniforms (which are from Levi’s, Gitman Bros. Vintage, Kenton Sorenson Leather, Stanley & Sons and The Hill-Side; more on that here soon) and all of the little design details and layout that goes into making a place unique. I’d even see Gabriel and his fiancé Gina up at Brimfield with all sorts of cool old stuff that was destined for Jeffrey’s. It was obvious early on that Jeffrey’s was going to me my type of place.
John Tinseth and I met sometime in 2008, back when I worked with J. Press. We met up one night for drinks with a mutual friend. I think John got stuck with the tab that night (which if memory serves was around $300; not that he has let me forget it). In my defense, I would have happily paid, I’m not one to skip on a check especially when lubricated. Anyway, John started his website The Trad around the time I started ACL. The Trad is a little bit older actually — a fact I’m sure Tinseth enjoys privately. Well, it is at least something he doesn’t relish in front of me. Which is nice of him.
Tinseth and I hit it off immediately — the man is easily one of the best story tellers I have ever met in my life. Shit, add liquor into that mix and you have yourself one hell of an evening, which we always do. I don’t want John to get a big head, but The Trad is by far my favorite blog to read — especially since I know John and how he is in real life. Even if I didn’t know him I’m sure I would still love it. Tinseth has the rare skill of being a great story teller, but also being able to put those stories into words. I don’t know why he hasn’t been offered a book yet.
Over the past two and a half years I have tried like hell to get in touch with the people from Miller because I really love their flagship beer (old=flagship) — Miller High Life. I wanted to be involved, I wanted them to sponsor ACL, and well, shit, I wanted some free beer! In addition to obsessing over their super bubbly deliciousness, I have long been obsessed with the W+K produced / Errol Morris directed series of commercials. I think maybe the Errol Morris spots were ahead of their time. Especially when you consider the what is happening these days with this whole Americana thing. I also think that maybe the marketing folks at Miller don’t get it — just look at the “common sense” ads that the company has been running for the past few years. High Life is a gold mine of heritage, the best bottle shape in beer drinking and is a relatively unbiased product. When I say “unbiased” I mean — that while some people may view High Life as cheap and watery — they don’t attach the same connotations as the Bud Lights of the world.
If you happen to find yourself out in the country in Wisconsin, do yourself a favor and stop by the Pleasant Ridge Store for a burger and a beer. That’s exactly what I did not too long ago and I’m a happier man for it. Situated seemingly in the middle of nowhere (and I mean that in the best possible way) the Pleasant Ridge Store used to be exactly that, a country store, but these days they serve the farmers and dairy folk with cold Wisconsin brews and bar food.