Notes on My Consumption in 2017
Not that anyone asked, but here are my top ten movies, in vague order:
- Get Out
- Logan Lucky
- The Florida Project
- The Big Sick
- Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold
- Hidden Figures
- Lady Bird
- Girls Trip
- Wind River
Gregg Murray told me I should insert this video of Mallory Ortberg doing Joan Didion:
Thanks to the recommendation of a friend I joined the Book of the Month club this spring, so I read at least one new book each month. It was great—I felt so on top of the Current Conversation. Since I already wrote about these books, I’ll limit my literary reflections to them:
Startup by Doree Shafrir
I liked this book. On my BOTM bookshelf, where you get 200 characters to review your monthly selection, I wrote, “A very timely exploration of sexual harassment at work, even where the companies are perhaps more progressive. Tightly written.”
Since We Fell by Dennis LeHane
I have no recollection of this book. At BOTM I wrote, “The search for the father at the beginning was amazing. The middle, when she starts to doubt her husband’s identity, drags. The surprising turn in Act 3, and the violence, worked nicely.”
All Grown Up by Jami Attenburgh
I remember liking this book, but I didn’t write anything about it on my bookshelf. BOTM prompts you to respond to each book with an emoji, like a LOL face or a bored face etc, and I chose “Sob” and “Thought-provoking.”
The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh
At BOTM I wrote, “Interesting premise, good turn, likable characters.” The story posits a community of people who had their memories erased (selectively, basically).
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
The best book I read in 2017. I chose the “Sob” option, but wrote, “The actual emoji for this book would combine: gripping, powerful, emotional, fascinating, educational … this book does everything. I learned a lot about Korean history and humans in general. Fave.”
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
This book gets lots of love but I wasn’t feeling it. I wrote, “Eh. This felt like a Dennis LeHane novel but where nothing happened. I didn’t really dislike it so much as not care. Anna’s struggle to become a diver was great, and the shipwreck aftermath worked too.”
Artemis by Andy Weir
Read Andy Weir for the science. This novel is about living on the moon and features a brash young woman who takes on a nefarious corporation. My BOTM review: “This lunar community was well developed, and Andy Weir’s knack for (over-) explaining the science made this a fun read, great for revving up the imagination.”
The Power by Naomi Alderman
Ugh. BOTM review: “The way this narratives weaves through four main characters makes it really hard to care about any of them. Maybe I’ll finish it someday, but I wasn’t compelled enough to keep at it on my first read.”
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
I really disliked this book, even more than I disliked the second half of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. At BOTM I wrote, “The protagonist was underdeveloped so much that I thought maybe the bread was meant to be the book’s hero, but in spite (or because) of its supernatural qualities, I wasn’t into that either.”
Here’s my Top Ten list of bars, in order:
- Attaboy (NYC) This is the former Milk & Honey location, where Sasha Petraske kindled the cocktail revolution. Enter an unmarked gray door into a small, quiet room—just a few bar stools and a couple booths. The staff is exceptionally courteous but chill, and they famously don’t have a drink list—they just ask how you’re feeling and work out something remarkable. I didn’t even see very many bottles at the bar. Tragically we only had time for one round but I think I’d travel to NYC just to go there again.
- The Violet Hour (Chicago) This is an extraordinarily beautiful bar. My visit there is probably tied with Attaboy, actually, though it’s completely different, starting with the size. Violet Hour is bigger than most prohibition-style cocktail lounges. It feels more like high tea at Claridge’s than a bar. Elegant high-backed chairs absorb the sound of the room effectively. While waiting in the little anterior chamber I heard distant hip hop, which made me think it was going to be frustratingly loud inside, but once ushered through the heavy curtains, the place (which was full), was quiet enough to have a low conversation. Over several rounds I tried to stump our bartender but she made every drink perfectly, offering suggestions, and was remarkably quick without skimping on her presentation.
- Dead Rabbit (NYC) This place in Manhattan’s financial district is also big. It has three floors. The first is an unexceptional, overly crowded pub. The third floor is primarily a rental venue but on the night we went it was open—maybe it’s a weekend thing? The menu up there seemed to be focused more on speed, so the drinks don’t seem as complex. The second floor is what earned Dead Rabbit the top spot on 2016s list of the Top 50 Best Bars. After our fivesome was sat, our server brought a liquid amuse bouche in delicate teacups. The menu (this spring) was laid out like a comic book, with more drinks than I could process, let alone experience in one visit, even with a table of ambitious drinking buddies. The menus is logically ordered from light to boozy as you turn the pages, and many are esoteric, like blends of different sherries, flavored vinegars, and/or oleo saccharum sherbet.
- Candelaria (Paris) Enter through a secret door at the back of a cramped taco shop and Candelaria feels a bit cave-like. Their menu is carefully crafted, one drink per page, with an amusing illustration that indicates the character of the drink as well as the kind of glass it’s served in. This is the only place where I’ve gotten to pour my cocktail myself (El Chupacabras).
- The Spirits Library at Columbia Room (DC) My companions and I were looking for last call after an amazing adventure through the mezcals at Espita Mezcalaria (run, don’t walk to experience their exhaustive and extremely well-informed list), and they pointed us to an alley nearby where we stumbled into the oaken Spirits Library at Columbia Room. Though I can only partially remember the next hour or so, and though some of my compatriots had passed from thirsty to asleep, I often think back about how nice this place was. We were seated in deep leather chairs around a gleaming coffee table, to which savvy bartenders in heavy aprons delivered all manner of Old Fashioneds.
- The Watershed (Ithaca, NY) There’s a nice place in Ithaca called Bar Argos, where I spent a couple fine afternoons. It’s a sunny lounge in a quaint inn, and while I was there the bartenders were prepping to head to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail, sort of an AWP for bartenders. It was fun to check out the new drinks they were working on for the occasion, which seemed heavily inspired by the Death & Co book (definitely the best cocktail recipe book). But down the street from Bar Argos is an even more interesting place called The Watershed. There the menu is focused on sustainability, so the drinks use acids instead of fresh juices, and they chill their glasses / dilute the booze with cold water instead of using a lot of ice, and—get this—in order to preserve the bartender’s arms they don’t shake any of their drinks. Which, like, I mean. I grilled the owner / conceptualist behind the stick, and she was very patient with me as I, like a Republican, pointed out that their amaro sailed here from Italy so give me a dang lime wedge, and that the bartender’s effort was the reason I was paying $12, but in the end she won me over with her intentional design—not to mention that her goal is to make The Watershed a legit safe space. Read about their commitment to socially responsible hospitality at their website.
- Kimball House (Atlanta) I’ve stopped buying fancy drinks at most bars because I don’t want to pay $15 for something I can make equally well at home (though this year a friend and I went to the Mandarin Oriental hotel bar in the afternoon, when there was no bartender working; an up-for-anything waitress poured us drinks of our own specifications, and that was a good time). Every time I go to the Kimball House, I’m impressed by the quality and depth of their drinks, and I leave with about a hundred ideas to try at home, happily out several sawbucks.
- PDT (NYC) You famously access PDT (short for Please Don’t Tell) through a phone booth in a hot dog shop. It’s a bit silly but once you’re ushered into the crowded bar the gimmick falls away and it’s easy to just focus on the people you’re with and the exceptionally rich and inventive drinks.
- Beau Butchery & Bar (Montpelier, VT) This tiny bar is crammed into a corner of an also tiny butcher shop down the hill from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I spent a couple weeks in February. For a while I didn’t even believe it existed but when I finally clomped my way in, I was treated to a very serviceable Negroni in a uniquely enlivening atmosphere. This bar makes the list because of its sheer willfulness to be there, beating out other great places I went to like Death & Co in NYC and The Little Red Door in Paris.
- Joystick Gamebar (Atlanta) A couple weeks ago I started going to the Ticonderoga Club here in Atlanta, where—like at Kimball House—I am deep into their cups, particularly the Manhattan riff that I can’t remember the name of. But that’s okay, I’ll go back. But to end this list I have to take my hat off to Joystick Gamebar, which also offers an amazing, experimental menu that features unusual ingredients like an Underberg float, plus a couple slushies and homemade sodas. Sure, Joystick has no ice game, but they make up for it with tons of other games like Galaga and … whatever other arcade games are lining their walls. I never play them because I’m too busy challenging their super-talented bartender to make three different daiquiris, or a variation on the Last Word.
These are my favorite books about cocktails, all great. The best in terms of niceness/production value, readability, usefulness, variety of drinks are, in this order:
- Death & Co by David Kaplan, Alex Day and Nick Fauchild
- Regarding Cocktails by Sasha Petraske
- Smuggler’s Cove by Martin Cate
- Mezcal by Emma Janzen
- Amaro by Brad Thomas Parsons
The Dead Rabbit book is great for when you want to spend a weekend prepping ingredients just to make one drink. And if you’re going to go to all that trouble, you should peruse Liquid Intelligence to understand the science behind it and The Drunken Botanist to get where the liquids are coming from in the first place.
If anyone wants to razz me about these, hmu in the comments.