Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Tales Dream

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I had a little fable dream the last morning I woke up in New Orleans. It was a story of love. I debated for some time as to who it should be for, when finally the skies of my mind cleared and I realized it was for everyone. So if you are you, then this is for you...

Once upon a time we had not yet met, and as a result there was a hole in the sky where you and I belonged. Upon meeting, we knew our love would fill that hole, and so up we flew. But we didn't realize that our love was even bigger than that hole in the sky, and also made of stronger material. And so it was that our love shattered the sky entirely. It instantaneously burst into infinite tiny fragments, scattering across the earth, nestling into the ground and appearing as if tiny red rubies. The sky was now open and stretched out forever.

To this day, when the people of the world look to the wide open, neverending sky, or find one of those precious red jewels upon the earth, they swell with gratitude for the love we had. We blessed them all with something to live for.

Goodbye everyone. See you all next time.


photo by Thomas Bondesson .


Some Post-Tales Reflections on The American Bartender of The Year

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My last day in New Orleans was Sunday, July 25th. That day at noon, being a few hours away from my flight departure, an hour past having checked out of my hotel after getting one hour of sleep, and 6 hours after having gotten caught in the mighty aqua force of Tropical Storm Bonnie on Iberville Street, I was interviewed by Tim McNally on AM 690 WIST New Orleans. Barely moments into the interview, and before I'd really even gotten my bearings, Tim asked me what got me into this whole cocktail field.

Oddly enough, I had no prepared answer for this. I'd never really thought about it. It just kind of seemed to happen. But faced with the embarrassment of making my live radio debut by saying, "uhmmmmm," I quickly reached into the proper spot of my subconscious and fetched the real answer. The real answer was, quite simply, Murray Stenson.

Murray Stenson is a bartender at The Zig Zag Cafe in Seattle. He's been bartending here in Seattle for over 30 years. Those of you familiar with US history know full well that Seattle did not exist 30 years ago. Therefore, the idea that Murray has been bartending here for longer than that is impossible. And that's OK. Because all of what Murray does is impossible.

This past Saturday night, Murray was named Bartender Of The Year at the Spirited Awards at Tales Of The Cocktail. At the time, I was sitting in The Bourbon House having dinner, when a text I had requested from Jon Santer came in simply saying, "Murray won."

Murray won.

I love the cocktail industry. It is brimming with creativity and with beautiful and amazing people. The affection people have for what they do, and for the others that do it, is unmatched in any other community on earth I have ever encountered. But...too often the tireless self-promoters are the ones who gain notoriety, while the truly talented people are overlooked. Bartenders complain justifiably that this happens at the hands of the media and the spirit companies with their deep pockets. But even bartenders are not immune to it, often recognizing and seeking out their own peers who focus on making a name for themselves, while other more talented smiths of the craft focus on honing their skills, improving their bars, building the foundations of their community, pleasing their customers.

If ever in this industry there was a person who was emblematic of the humble devotees to the craft of bartending and the art of hospitality, forsaking the grand-standing and career building, it is Murray. It was only fitting that Murray was not there Saturday night to accept his award. He never seeks out the limelight, and would have been embarrassed, even encumbered, by all the attention. He would have had to schmooze it up with the throngs of new adorers, made appearances at the ensuing functions, and stayed up past his bedtime. All things I dare say Murray prefers to avoid.

All this is what makes it so special that Murray won. Hard work, dedication, and passion won. Bartending is hard work folks. I've done it a few times. It takes it out of you. Try doing it about eight thousand times. Now try doing it eight thousand times at such a level of intensity that you always inspire, and frequently straight up blow minds.

I wish the whole world could have been a pack of flies on the wall this past April, when at the unofficial wrap-up party for the Seattle BarSmarts program at Zig Zag, many of the world's finest bartenders sat at Murray's bar with jaws dropped and, in a few cases, tears in eyes, witnessing the Murray show. It wasn't about drink making technique. It wasn't about displays of cutting edge trends in mixology. It wasn't even really about the drinks. It was about an absolute master of his craft displaying an undying passion for what he does, an impossible level of speed and efficiency, and a keen awareness of every single person at his bar (and there were a LOT of them that night) that superseded even their awareness of themselves.

I've gone on long enough. I'd love to share anecdotes about amazing Murray feats, but I don't want to write a book here. Feel free to leave your own comments with your own Murray tales. Suffice to say, the judging panel of the Spirited Awards should be very proud of themselves. They got it all perfectly right.

Congratulations, Murray.


photo by Dan Crawford

Friday, July 23, 2010

New Orleans: The Sorrow, The Pity, The Awe, The Joy

If I were ever to move to New Orleans I would almost certainly end up writing the best novel ever written. People all over the world would drop their bags and look to the sky in awe and reverence over what had just been accomplished, sensing the seismic alteration of the universe my words had caused. Mothers would clutch their children. Construction workers would remove their protective eyewear and proudly wipe away tears. Football players would pull up short of tacking their prey and instead offer pats on the back and warm embraces. Such is the level of inspiration of New Orleans and such are the possibilities when it gets wired into my brain. The title of the book would be one of those poignant couplings of words we typically take to be contradictory, such as Joy and Sorrow, Hope and Doom, Life and Death, or Sex and the City.

Inevitably a great deal of our time here always revolves around the glorious French Quarter, with its beautiful old buildings and fascinating people, where brilliant troubadours sing from the street corners hoping to be bestowed with a smattering of loose change while lesser talented but better represented musicians earn a living performing inside the bars. Where the people revel in the street corners into the wee hours of the night while a row of horse police line up waiting for one to drop so they can pounce. Where men painting buildings sometimes simply pause and stand still, looking off into the distance as they allow themselves to cool. Where people with carts piled high with new toilets to be delivered and installed discover new and creative ways to roll wheels over a decaying cobblestone street. Where a confused man demands a refund at Walgreen's because he wanted cheese sticks and accidentally bought pretzels.

But this year more than ever before we have found ourselves entering other areas of town. Wednesday night William Grant and Sons bussed 800 of us to the Elms Mansion in the Garden District. Among the well lit partisans in the lush lawn, surrounding the gazeboed brass band, we battled the masses for some sours featuring Hendick's Gin, sweet stuff, sour stuff, and egg white. They were delicious, and when a friend disappeared in quest of air conditioning, I got to drink his as well as mine. Fair play to me. We then made our way across the lawn to the Solerna blood orange liqueur area, where Ms. Jackie Patterson was concocting drinks of Solerna for the adoring throngs. I believe the drink she placed in my hand was simply Solerna and club soda. I can't be sure. As usual, the mere sight of my dear friend Jackie had completely taken my breath away and I was rendered unable to discern the basic sensory input of my surroundings. She might have placed diesel oil in my hand at that moment, and I would have indulged in it with glee.

Inside we found smiling faces pouring glasses of Balvenie and Glenfiddich, and other smiling faces of loved ones we had long not seen. This was my re-entry to New Orleans, and though I have only been here twice before, it felt like a sort of homecoming. And I should mention, New Orleans, Super Bowl champions suits you well. I haven't seen you since you won. You look gorgeous.

Last night, inspired by the opportunity to spend some time with pal Jon Santer, I finally made the cab ride out to Cure. I'd been hearing about Cure for years, and have a long standing mountain of respect for Cure guru Danny Valdez and former Cure/current Teardrop Lounge of Portland, OR bartender Ricky Gomez. So what the hell have I been waiting for? A cab? Yes! And it came. And we went. And I loved it.


The food and drink was delicious, but more importantly the moment we passed through the doorways we had that feeling. That perfect feeling when you enter somewhere and you know you are in some place special. Some place where nothing bad could ever happen to you. Some place where if you died there your soul would flap straight up to heaven and have a bed waiting for it with a cocktail on the end table and a glass of water so as you don't wake up parched.

We ended the night by standing on the street corner outside of the Absinthe House with literally everyone else in the entire world. I went with the flow of my own gentle inebriation and told loved ones things I believe to be true, things like “I love you,” and “I always will,” and “forever and ever.”

I woke up feeling very proud of myself.

Thank you New Orleans. I love you, and I always will, forever and ever.

More to come...

ted

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

HOW BARS THAT ARE GOOD DON'T LET YOU GET AWAY FROM PEOPLE



This evening T.Mixeur is proud to introduce a new era in Le Mixeurtonia, an era of democracy, free speech, equality, and a level of blinding stupidity sure to alienate the remaining 6 readers of this blog. That's right, dearlings, welcome to the era of Le Mixeur Audience Participation!

LE MIXEUR PARTICIPATION D'AUDITOIRE!!!

Today's blog topic comes from audience member Ben Y, or as we like to call him around town, “Sir Yawtz-A-Lot.” Sir Yawtz-A-Lot has embraced Le Mixeur's heroic vicissitude with a prompt injection of something completely surreal. Sir Yawtz-A-Lot has requested that T.Mixeur write on the topic “how bars that are good don't let you get away from people.” Before we commence with this, let us all take a moment to compliment Sir Yawtz-A-Lot on his creation of a near-complete sentence...

Now on with the blog!

As is the case with all posts on this blog, extensive research went into presenting the reader with a thorough and comprehensive report on the topic at hand. The topic, of course, being “how bars that are good don't let you get away from people.”

(editor's note: if anyone out there has any idea what Sir Yawtz-A-Lot is talking about, please contact us immediately)

The first step in this research was to meet with owners and bar managers of the bars that are good, and ask them the question directly. First on the list, Anu Apte, owner of Rob Roy in Seattle.

T.Mixeur: So Anu, you are owner of Rob Roy, one of the bars that are good. At Rob Roy, how do you don't let you get away from people?

Anu Apte: Well C.McClure, at Rob Roy, when we have a customer displaying a tendency to you get away from people, we don't let him or her. How do we don't let him or her? Well, sometimes we'll carve an ice ball, and he or she will lose the will to you get away from people. If that doesn't work, we might offer him or her a Sazerac, and say to him or her “hey him or her, don't you get away from people! We make you Sazerac and carve ice ball! If you still try to you get away from people, we don't let you!”

T.Mixeur: And I understand the statement you just made - hey him or her, don't you get away from people, we make you Sazerac and carve ice ball, if you still try to you get away from people, we don't let you – has become the official slogan of Rob Roy?

Anu Apte: That is correct. It is printed on the marquee of our establishment and is also viewable on our Citysearch and Yelp pages.




Next, T.Mixeur spoke with Andrew Bohrer of Mistral Kitchen about how he, Mr. Dipsographer o' Cask Strength himself, helps his bar that are good don't let you get away from people.

T.Mixeur: So Anu, you are owner of Rob Roy, one of the bars that are good. At Rob Roy, how do you don't let you get away from people?

Andrew Bohrer: I'm not Anu and I'm not owner of Rob Roy.

T.Mixeur: Can I quote you on that?

Andrew Bohrer: Listen fucker, don't try to make me feel bad about not being Anu or owner of Rob Roy. I'm past that. I'm bar manager at Mistral Kitchen, one of the bars that are good. No one can take that away from me.

T.Mixeur: Ha! I just took it!

Andrew Bohrer: Give it back!

T.Mixeur: No!

Andrew Bohrer: Yes!

T.Mixeur: no no no no no no no...

Andrew Bohrer: yes yes yes yes yes yes yes...

T.Mixeur: no no no no no no oh OK!!! Take it back!

Andrew Bohrer: Ha! In Your FACE G.Miclo!

T.Mixeur: So Anu, you are owner of Rob Roy, one of the bars that are good. At Rob Roy, how do you don't let you get away from people?

Andrew Bohrer: That's it mother fucker!!!

(skirmish ensues)

Next, we met with the man, the myth, the legend, the guy who makes lots of wicked freaking good drinks at the Zig Zag Cafe...Murray Stenson.

T.Mixeur: Murray, Andrew Bohrer is a vicious little fucker and he broke my nose.

Murray Stenson: Word up!

T.Mixeur: So Murray, you are man myth legend GWM lots of wicked FGD at Zig Zag, one of the bars that are good. At Zig Zag, how do you don't let you get away from people?

Murray Stenson: Hey Phil! How are you? Can I get you another root beer?

T.Mixeur: My name is not Phil and I do not want a root beer. I want to know how your bar that are good don't let you get away from people.

Murray Stenson: If you make it to Range while you're in San Francisco, tell them Murray sent you!

T.Mixeur: I'm not going to fucking San Francisco mother fucker! And they already know me at Range!! Stop fucking with me!

Murray Stenson: Jiggering is for sissies!

T.Mixeur: I jigger! That's it old man! Let's go!!!

(skirmish ensues)

(Editor's Note: It was later revealed to us that Murray's internal automato-barkeep program had a malfunctioning hard drive, causing everyone's favorite Bartendodroid to generate responses randomly rather than appropriately. We deeply regret any damage done to any products of the Automato-Barkeep Multinational Corporation, assure their legal staff that no such future instances shall occur, and will readily relieve T.Mixeur of his reporter's duties should any written demands of such nature come forthwith.)

SUMMARY

From our panel of experts has come precious jewels of wisdom. Clearly, the ways bars that are good don't let you get away from people are to carve ice balls, make sazeracs, speak in broken English, break reporter's noses, and have androids for bartenders who are backed by multinational corporations who have teams of lawyers who are vicious little fuckers.

Sir Yawtz-A-Lot, thank you again for your brilliant idea for a topic. We sincerely hope you have been entertained and informed by this response, and we would like to graciously invite you to have no further relationship with this blog whatsoever.

If you work in a bar that are good and have your own ways of don't let you get away from people, or if you are a him or her who like to get away from people and you have been to a bar that don't let you, we at Le Mixeur would love to hear from you! Please come to us at Le Mixeur, because we are a blog that are good and we don't want you to get away from people! If you don't believe us, just read the subtitle of our blog that are good! Seriously, look up at the top of the page. It's right there in black and white.

Le gra,
T.Mixeur

Saturday, April 3, 2010

BarSmarts, Resurrections, Vikings, and the New Imperialist Distillery of Washoregornia

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Bla bla bla obligatory mutters explaining prolonged span of time between blog posts bla bla bla token vague statement attempting to instill confidence in the reader that such absences are over with and regular posts will be forthcoming (statement is possibly false and rather presumptuous in its belief that the reader's well being is somehow tied to the writer's level of productivity) bla.

With that little order of business gracefully put to rest, let us move on to today's topic...

BarSmarts.

Bla bla bla BarSmarts bla bla bl-

(editor's note: we are experiencing a temporary malfunction with this blog's "bla bla" apparatus. Our technicians are working frantically with sweat on brow and gun in back to correct this problem. Please stand by...thank you)

BarSmarts is the offspring of the celebrated Beverage Alcohol Resource, or BAR. BAR is the hallowed, New York City-based bartender training program that all the kids are so wild about these days. BAR is headed up by the Dream Team of David Wondrich, F. Paul Pacult, Dale Degroff, Andy Seymour, Steve Olson, Doug Frost, Charles Barkley, David "The Admiral" Robinson, and Larry Bird. In an ongoing effort to preach the gospel of Spirits and Cocktails, a similar training is now available via Internet (BarSmarts WIRED) or home study combined with one day intensives in select cities (BarSmarts Advanced). Here is the tale of how this came to be...


The BarSmarts Saga
by T. Mixeur

The creators of the BAR were all crucified by the Romans after a particularly wild night of Fernet shots at the Stravinskj Bar, then miraculously resurrected the following July in order to honor their contractual obligations to Tales of the Cocktail, and hosted many seminars. Some believed their haggard presence was due to hangovers, but some of us knew better.

After Tales ended, they ascended to Heaven to assume their rightful place besides Jerry Thomas, Harry Craddock, Charles Baker, and Ed McMahon. At that point it was left to their apostles to spread the good word. The BAR boys' Saint Paul is none other than Pernod Ricard, the Spirit giant known for such products as Pernod...and Ricard.

And on the first day Pernod Ricard created BarSmarts WIRED, and lo, this was good. The subscribers to WIRED, for a small fee, would receive gifts in the mail such as a kit of bar tools and a quite functional shoulder bag, not to mention access to online print materials and streaming videos from the messiahs themselves. WIRED is open for enrollment to anyone twice per year, for a two month period each time (the next time being July 1st - September 1st). Upon enrolling, you have one month to complete the work. If you do not complete the work in that time, BAR shall smite thee.


BarSmarts: An Insider's Guide, or "What The Folks at Pernod Ricard Won't Tell You."

BarSmarts Advanced is different from WIRED in many ways. For starters, WIRED is spelled in all caps whereas Advanced is not. Impressed, are we not, with the cool demeanor of Advanced? Words that spell themselves in all caps, such as WIRED, are usually compensating for deficiencies in other areas.

But the differences don't stop there...

  • WIRED - shoulder bag.
  • Advanced - backpack.
  • WIRED - read from the BarSmarts web site.
  • Advanced - your very own spiral bound book!
  • WIRED - streaming videos
  • Advanced - DVDs
  • WIRED - any bum can join
  • Advanced - invite only
  • WIRED - done in your underwear
  • Advanced - must appear publicly before the BAR team, who being from the East Coast expect formalities such as the wearing of clothes.
By the way, with a little polishing, I think the above exchange could be the basis for an excellent play. Sort of Harold Pinter meets Miranda July. I see Alan Rickman in the role of Advanced, and Mary Kate Olson as WIRED.

Back to Advanced, the materials covered are pretty much the same as WIRED, though there are some extra notes on important things specific to running a bar business. But after completing the BarSmarts WIRED program and wondering how I would find more room in my brain for all the stuff from Advanced, I was quite pleased to realize I had already learned everything there was to know.

The primary element to the Advanced that sets it apart from WIRED is obviously the one day in-person class. My day will be April 27, when the BAR boys come to Seattle. There's something unquantifiable yet unmistakable about the value of face-to-face learning, particularly when the teachers have ascended upon us from the afterlife. The mystic spirits will then wander on for ensuing classes in Washington, DC on April 29, Orlando on May 10, and New Orleans on May 12. They do not, I am told, plan to take me with them. But I will say it here: I am ready, my lords. Take me!

At the day class, the topics from our studies are reviewed and expanded upon, tastings are done, and then each student has a turn mixing a drink or two for the experts to demonstrate he or she is not a complete fraud. I am told this latter part can be nerve wracking, particularly since the BAR boys insist on wearing Viking hats and angrily claiming the student is to blame for the fall of Northumbria. I know, from personal experience, that these are difficult circumstances under which to work. But the concept is valid: they are simply attempting to simulate the typical scene at your average bar.

the BarSmarts "Dream Team" wrapping up another successful training


So What Does One Learn?

Plenty! How to distill, how to taste, the what/where/when (but rarely why) of every major type of spirit, cocktail history, cocktail tools, mixers/ice/garnishes, and finally how to make drinks.


But For Me, There Was One Thing That Really Resonated...


We learned that the Dutch and English started making gin thanks to the massive warehouses of botanicals they had stolen and horded via their respective East India "trading" companies. So in essence gin is the byproduct of looting and pillaging the world.

This is a far cry from today, when distillers in Washington State must get more than half their ingredients from Washington state growers. I mean, why don't the bureaucrats just come to our houses and disembowel us now? All good spirits are the product of imperialist aggression...that's why they taste so good! What about us? We want to pillage, loot, and perhaps plunder like our Dutch and English forefathers! We must be allowed this honor, nay this duty, before we become a nation of weak men making weak spirits. Our consumers must be given the joy of tasting a fine gin or whiskey with the satisfaction of knowing that blood was spilled for its creation.

It is time for action, I say. I am going to charter a boat, and Gwydion Stone, Marc Bernhard, and I are going to raise an army and sail down to the coast of Oregon, then California. We shall storm the beaches and move inland, killing all in our path, taking all that we think smells nice. We will assume the same quasi-governmental powers the Dutch East India company held at the height of its powers: waging war, negotiating treaties, coining money, and establishing colonies. And then we shall return to Washington and distill a spirit from our treasure that will restore all of us to our former glory. Our distillery will be called "New Imperialist Distillery of Washoregornia."

Folks, if all this doesn't make you want to sign up for the BarSmarts program, I just don't know what else to tell you.