The Ubiquitous Pig

We cherish our visits to San Clemente, home to my wife’s best friend and what I think of as the last affordable Southern California beach town.  As I write this, puffy clouds hover over the ocean on a brisk, chilly Memorial Day weekend.  Upon arrival yesterday (in the rain!) we ducked into South of Nick’s (http://thenickco.com/southofnicks.php), the newest restaurant in town.  Under an exposed-beam and truss ceiling, clean white walls and tile floors that evoke a little bit of La Quinta, we enjoyed fiery micheladas with Negra Modelo, margaritas and some light contemporary Mexican fare.

As we were leaving, my wife noticed a display case along one wall with some VERY nice tequilas in it.  One in particular caught her eye: an exquisite apothecary bottle with a handwritten, numbered label and a flat-topped glass stopper.  This was surrounded by bottles of all shapes and sizes: from the cut glass crystal of Gran Patron Platinum to the hand-painted Gran Mayan; from the classic Reserva de la Familias to the outrageous Asombroso “penis bottle.”  So we all crowded around the case, chatted up regional manager Nick Cousins (a Nick but not the restaurant namesake) and resolved effusively, as people with a few drinks on board do, to come back and try them sometime.  So, after a fortifying walk up and down Del Mar  Avenue where I picked up a copy of The Ubiquitous Pig, a coffee table book honoring one of my favorite animals, we sidled back up to the bar in low chairs, pooled 450 quarters and ordered up three of the fanciest tequilas in the place.

 

An entirely new level of ultra premium tequilas have come on the market since Patron blew open the premium category twenty years ago.  These, perhaps one or even two categories above the revered Patron, strain to top one another in price, packaging, formulation and character, and put sipping tequilas on par with single malt scotches and cognacs.

For our benchmark tequila we chose Peligroso Reposado ($10), a relatively new but very popular brand headquartered here.  Peligroso’s a fine tequila, and tasted like, well, tequila, more so tequila-ey than any of the others we tasted.  That was itself very satisfying, with traditional notes of agave, honeydew melon, patchouli and plaster.  It’s pale gold, lightly aromatic, and wouldn’t disappear inside a margarita.

Casa Dragone ($30) was the apothecary bottle tequila and its intense flavors belied its clear hue.  Pre-tasting aromas included citrus and white pepper.  While light on the tongue, the finish at the back of the mouth was sharp, grappa-like and burned on the soft palate.  It felt much like the distillation of essential tequila-ness, but wasn’t altogether pleasant.

The manager’s favorite (and at 160 quarters a glass why wouldn’t it be?) was Herradura Seleccion Suprema. This exists in a territory at the margins of tequila, with strong notes of honey and caramel on the nose, sweet, very much like cognac.  It balances sweetness with woodsy, earthy bottom notes.  Extremely smooth, there’s almost an umami to the feel on the tongue, and it fades away gently, like a dream upon waking.  We thought it tasted really, really good.

Last came the Grand Mayan, which comes in a gorgeous hand-made ceramic bottle that’s delicate and sophisticated—not like the heavy Mexican crockery that looks like it needs a donkey or a serape.  The darkest tequila we’ve seen, it was the color of walnut, smelled of dark tanned leather and came on strong, a sharp but not unpleasant attack on the tongue.  We noticed spicy aromas on the nose and strong flavors of hazelnut, balsamic, lavender and coffee grounds.  Complex but smooth, flavor lingers on the finish.

We had a little taste of Los Azulejos ($17), which comes in Picasso-inspired bottle.  We didn’t get enough for a thorough evaluation, but we remember notes of plantain and banana.

For an amuse bouche, Nick’s served us a lovely house-made sangrita, a thick blend of tomato and orange juice and essentially Blood Mary spices that cleared our palates between tastes as best it could.  Hard liquor tasting frankly bludgeons the palate, and I don’t know as we could have tasted too many more tequilas than the five we tried without dulling our perceptions somewhat.  Well, a lot.  As the weekend wore on, we indulged in some less carefully documented but equally enjoyable beverage sampling across the OC, from the St. Regis Monarch Beach “butterfly release ritual” to the Dana West Yacht Club.  But that’s a story for another day.

Happy Memorial day, all.  The drinking will continue until the economy improves.  When it does, we’ll drink to celebrate.

Cannes Ham Revisited

With the Cannes Film Festival approaching, I thought I’d share an essay I wrote for the pioneering film web site FILM SCOUTS 17 years ago.  It was my daughter’s first trip to France at 13 months; now she’s about to finish her junior year in high school  Wow.  Anyway, it captures both all that has changed, and all that has stay the same about the world’s most celebrated film festival.  A tip of the hat to my editor and friend Mayra Riesman of Film Scouts!

Cannes Ham (originally published in FILM SCOUTS September1996)

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My first observation is of the supposed objectivity of the press credentialing process.  The Festival asks you, when you submit your press request, for samples of you work from previous Festivals.  It didn’t occur to me until now that the policy provides the Festival ample opportunity to choose to credential those journalists who have only nice things to say about the Festival, and over time, weed out those with cynical attitudes like mine.  Guess I’ll be working with a market pass next year.

Writing is, at best, a tertiary occupation for me anyway.  I’m a publicist, which pays me for writing disingenuous claptrap on behalf of paying clients.  Unlike advertising, publicity makes a stab at objectivity but often comes off looking much worse: a thinly disguised piece of propaganda.  I may go to hell, but it’s a profession that provides well for my family and, after nine years at the same company, has become a career path I’ve traveled too far on to turn back and really be somebody, like an agent.

I’m in Cannes with my wife and thirteen month-old daughter Saeli.  In your mental machinery ever gets going in this direction and you don’t have a lot of money, a nanny, a splendid room at the Majestic or the like, PLEASE TRY TO INTERRUPT THIS PROCESS.  Not only will the child of this age not remember the experience, they will be so exasperating as to prevent, as it has in my case, the taking of a single photograph or frame of video to document the voyage.  Not that I don’t love my daughter with all my heart: I do, but France is a better place to be a dog than a baby.  Both appear to be allowed to poop just about anywhere, but the dogs (generally smaller than a big cat back home) are coddled in their masters’ arms as they stroll the Croisette; passersby offer warm smiles and approving glances as they drink from weighted silver bowls in the finer restaurants.

On the other hand, babies get evil stares and no respect as their parents negotiate the packed sidewalks and tight spaces in shops and restaurants.  Saeli did win converts.  Many people called her “souriant,” which means smiley or smiling; I kept telling others, in retelling the story, that she was “sourisant,” which, if it were a word in French, would be “mousy.”

As for my clients, I have five:  Film Scouts (how’s that for objectivity), RKO Pictures, Dark Horse Comics (they have a really cool web site:  http://www.darkhorse.com), Udo Kier, and young Leonardo di Caprio, who’s in Cannes with his mom.  Each of these people adds their own spin to the Cannes experience, my influence and clout rising and falling as their key projects come and go.  Leonardo has no project and evergreen appeal but I don’t have control over him; Miramax International does.

Film Scouts requires some explanation: I was originally going to write about parties, but the deluge of invitations I felt would accompany my accreditation as a journalist failed to materialize.  Now, publicists and journalists may trade barbs about who occupies the bottom rung of the entertainment food chain, but I had no idea that Cannes is the ultimate busman’s holiday.  Journalists who look like they have no business in the sun clog every nook and cranny of the place.  People who I turned away from the door at clubs in New York and Los Angeles get mailboxes from the Festival.  No fewer than 400 people from online publications applied for credentials–only ten got the nod.  I was the smallest fry as a reporter goes: print, small California newspaper syndicate (Jewish Journal; Beverly Hills Today).  There wasn’t even a mailbox to hold the air that was taking up the space my party invitations, screening passes and press releases from publicists eager for a piece of Henry Eshelman and California Press Bureau was supposed to fill.  The only invitations I had in any quantity were those for the MTV party late in the Festival.  I’m actually grateful to have a pass at all; initially, the Festival turned me down.  Then, a few weeks, later, congratulations and instructions followed, with no explanation why they changed their minds.

As yet another aside, the official currency of France might be the franc (this was pre-EMU), but the official currency of the Festival is the invitation.  My last Festival, when I was holding fistfuls of invitations to THE MASK premiere and party, I could trade them for anything I wanted: Palais screening tickets, other party invitations, you name it.  This year, all I’ve got is the MTV party tickets, which, while I have them in quantity, are good for no more than paying back favors I owe to my travel agent, banker, pr colleagues, etc.  Meanwhile, people I have worked with on films make lame protestations when I ask them for tickets to their party: I simply have nothing to offer them in return so who cares about me?

RKO was and is a Festival stalwart.  RKO CEO Ted Hartley and his wife, the absolutely gracious and sophisticated Dina Merrill, move through Cannes like an extended Southampton cocktail party, and they do it with inimitable style.  They stay with friends (next to having your own villa, this is the coolest thing to do), they have a driver (essential in a town where, at peak hours, hotels refuse to even call a taxi for you), and they have no real agenda.  Never mind that Microsoft’s Paul Allen declined to invite her to his pirate-themed reggae Party at Cap Mediteranée (his office said, and I quote, “she’d be the oldest person there.  We’re going to have young people, rock and rollers like Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan at the party.”), Ted and Dina are perfect guests and perfect hosts.  With their International Sales Head June Shelley at my side, I share an office bigger than my miserable Cannes flat.

Speaking of the miserable Cannes flat, my family’s accommodations seem to evoke the Mediterranean equivalent of a North Carolina beach motel, too far from the beach to retain any sense of charm and too far from the Interstate to have been remodeled any time in the last thirty years.  It’s just been wallpapered with a material that must be made exclusively from petroleum by-products; an evil chemical stink pervades the room.  The room bears no other ornamentation of any kind. The shower, prior to a mid-festival modification made at my insistence, lacks a curtain or frame and features a shallow square basin in the bottom deep enough to rinse gutted fish or animals but not enough to bathe the baby.  It opens onto a block with no less than three restaurants (and a jet-ski repair shop), each of which shares a karaoke machine they pass back and forth to one another as the week wears on.  Needless to say, I’m feeling refreshed as I face my first day on the job.

Day One is allocated to Udo Kier.  Udo, the German who played Andy Warhol’s Dracula and Frankenstein and a host of other roles, is in Lars von Trier’s BREAKING THE WAVES, which is in competition Monday evening.  His production company begrudges me two tickets to the premiere, saying to the English publicist behind my back: “his client is in the film for two minutes and he wants to go to the premiere.”  Von Trier himself is unable to make it; he’s afraid to travel.  I wonder what happens to his ticket. 

After the midday press conference at the Palais, there’s a French media call on the lawn of the Grand Hotel, and I’ve got Udo for two interviews.  Victoria and Saeli join me.  Since every square meter of every grassy surface in every urban area of France is liberally carpeted with dog poops, everyone places cameras with care and goose-steps gingerly across the greensward.  While I’m waiting for E! to set up, I notice that Jared Harris, who I spent a semester with in an acting group in college, is nearby.  He’s in I SHOT ANDY WARHOL, and since we were chummy if not intimate for several months, I decide to introduce myself.  I say, “Hello Jared, we haven’t seen one another in sixteen years, but we spent some time together at Duke and I thought I’d congratulate you on your recent successes,” or something like that.  He actually turns up his nose to me, snorts, then looks away and tries to start a conversation with the other people at his table.  I wanted to say, “Andy Warhol?  I knew Andy Warhol, and you’re no Andy Warhol.”  He did do a fairly good job playing him in the movie, though.

I haven’t had enough abuse.  Udo wants to meet Peter Greenaway, the director.  He’d sent him an idea or something a while back.  At Udo’s insistence, I go up to him and introduce myself as his publicist.  He’s cordial but wary.  I tell him, “Udo Kier is in BREAKING THE WAVES.  He admires your work and would like to meet you.”  He looks at Udo standing eight feet away, and actually says, “I don’t think I need to know him.”  Meanwhile, following Udo’s interview, the E! cameraman says, “That was your wife walking the baby back there?  I shot Udo’s interview wide to keep her in it.”  That night, we miss the Palais screening but I go to the party, held at the Nordisk film office on a beautiful patio overlooking the Croisette.  Udo is flush with the screening. He’s described as “unspeakably evil,” an epithet he obviously enjoys, and all of the smart money is betting that someone I can’t remember will take the prize for Best Actress; she doesn’t.

On Day Two, Udo is off to London to do over vocal overdubs for THE ADVENTURES OF PINOCCHIO and I’m on to the next project, Dark Horse Entertainment.  Dark Horse’s Mike Richardson is about to announce a joint venture with Guy East of Intermedia.  East used to run Mayfair Entertainment.  He’s completely different from actors; he’s a money guy: cool, confident, pleasant.  His office is at #2 La Croisette, directly across from the Palais.  It’s sumptuously furnished.  Everyone in it looks well rested and they all dress and talk like Hugh Grant.  I notice that everyone that comes to see him holds their briefcases in front of them while they wait.  They are supplicants.  This is the mountain.  We announce a deal in The Hollywood Reporter for the two to make over $100 million worth of films together based on Mike Richardson’s ideas.  It runs page one.  I’m happy.

Later in the day, I go over to M.V. The Blue Moon for a drink with Josh Woodward, the roommate of one of the assistants in my office.  My boss Larry comes along.  Josh’s grandfather, who owns a chain of supermarkets or something, bought the 160-foot yacht for himself as a retirement present.  It has a full-time crew of twelve who lower Zodiacs in the water with cranes to wash the damn thing.  It’s very plush; all the guests are college age kids who either wear the trappings of great wealth with ease or are very happy to be aboard.  For no reason, Josh offers to host a luncheon for anyone I want on the boat; guest lists and invitations to parties previously denied start swimming in my head.  For some reason, John Paul de Joria, who owns John Paul Mitchell Hair Products, comes over; his boat has a helicopter and Cher on it (note: for one of the scariest photos ever published, check out Cher on page 26 of the May 31, 1996 issue of Entertainment Weekly).  He and Larry, who represented JPM for years, strike up a conversation.  Larry becomes so engrossed I leave him on the boat.  The next day I hear he was aboard until after midnight.

Wednesday is all work.  This day is significant in that I am ripped off the only time during the trip at a place called Beverly Pressing on the Rue D’Antibes.  I go in there with a smattering of dry cleaning for Victoria and I and four day’s worth of baby laundry.  I ask them if they wash–not dry clean–baby clothes; they say yes.  By the time I get back to the hotel flat I look at the bill: a staggering FF800.  I’m in over my head in the language department, so I have the hotel owner call to get the stuff back.  They refuse.  “It’s already sorted” or something like that.  When I go back to pick it up, they’d dry cleaned everything–even baby socks at FF20 a pair–in the dingiest solution I’ve ever seen.  The stains show through the grey of the solution.  Avoid them if you ever go there.  Speak ill of them to acquaintances if you don’t.

For dinner, we take June Shelley to her favorite restaurant, Jade.  June orders expertly.  Mee, who owns the place, has known June for years; he runs it with his wife and daughter and they treat us well.  Order the men (fried rolls), Vietnamese soup and sweet and sour shrimp.  Not gelatinous and cloying like any other sweet and sour, Mee’s sauce is pungent, tangy and thin.  They make a fabulous lemon tart for dessert.  John Malkovich comes in to the restaurant.  June, who doesn’t know him, calls out hello.  We’re beginning to feel at home.

For me, Thursday is the high point of the Festival in all respects; the rest is anticlimax.  They day is warm and cloudless.  For the most part the weather (and the celebrity watching) has been so bad the media are running b-roll of old Festivals instead of the non-events actually unfolding.  In the morning we host a press breakfast for STAGGERWING, a film-to-be starring Liev Schreiber and David Strathairn that features one of the last biplanes, a 1939 Staggerwing, with which RKO will be involved.  The producers have found a real one originally attached to the US Embassy in London, and shipped it down to Mandelieu on a train.  After breakfast we hire limos to go out to the Mandelieu airport and actually fly around in the sucker.

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The airplane is exquisite.  The wings and airframe are actually covered in dope, some kind of resin-soaked cloth that preceded fiberglass.  When you thrum it with your finger, it resonates like a bass drum head.  The natty embassy seal complements the blue and yellow color scheme.  Inside, it’s like an old Jaguar XK120–functional, a little ratty, but elegant.  Leather seats and trim, lots of toggle switches and ivory covered levers, big analog gauges, and a clock made by Hamilton Watch in my hometown of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  You can roll down the windows.

The pilot was Bud Fox.  We have fun pronouncing his name.  He was, like all professional pilots, very pilot-like.  Cheerful, chipper, accurate voice, pilot’s uniform, aviator glasses.  Liev Schreiber looks nervously at the plane and back at producer Peter Tunney: “So, like, we’re going to shoot most of the flying stuff against bluescreen, right?”  There’s a draped table with wine and cheese brought out–it’s 10:30AM, and the mood is festive, and everybody digs in.

I’m on the third flight out.  The first two carry TV crews from ET and E! who need to ride with Liev, and, after all, I do have to defer to media.  We’re up with Peta Browne from the STAGGERWING pr company in England, a female journalist–also from England–and Peter Tunney; I ride in front.  As we taxi, we discover the only subculture across all of France where this happens; it may even be required: all the pilot to tower chatter is in English.  The plane take off after about 150 meters, absolutely effortlessly, yet flying so slowly you wonder how it stays up.  We’re all jabbering with one another on the headsets.  The rest of the group thinks that I could play a pilot in my sunglasses.

In a few minutes we’re over the Croisette.  All of Cannes glitters below.  For a moment, we forget the scene and the sleaze and rude movie people and suck in the view, slack-jawed like tourists.  We’re so low you can read the names on the sterns of boats.  Arms dealer Adnan Kashoggi’s old boat, the Nabila (now renamed), sits out in the bay, too large for the harbor, alongside a porno boat that takes people out every couple of hours for peep shows and strippers.  It says “Private” on it in letters twenty feet high, and we joke that that must certainly dissuade people from swimming out to it.  I feel like I’m on vacation.  I turn around to say something approving to Peter, who has actually fallen asleep among all this useless beauty.

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Back on the ground, I get the limo to drive all the way out to The Blue Moon for lunch–we’re talking right out on the quay up to the stern.  I am so lost in this obnoxious gesture that we drive right past my wife, who is walking out to meet us.  Luckily, I don’t discover this until well after we get there and she never noticed.

All of us from the airport pile out and on board.  I can’t remember if Josh is wearing his Blue Moon bathrobe or not–he did in at least one of our encounters.  No matter, the crew are all well trained, crack troops, enormously efficient, pleasant, accommodating of everyone’s needs..  One by one the rest of the guests arrive, get drinks, and settle in.  It’s a fairly diverse group, maybe fifteen people in all, not counting those already on board.  While I might be the only thing people initially have in common, they discover common interests and mix well.  When the boat next door takes an hour to get underway, the crew explain their captain does not know how to drive his boat very well.  Instant savants of yachting, we nod and act like we’ve know this all along.

Saeli requires constant attention.  There’s plenty of places she could slip through, and she’s hell-bent on finding them all.  She doesn’t like the boat all that much, but guests and the crew do their best to keep her occupied.  Lunch is served, is eaten.  As we relax, we notice Peter Tunney reprising his performance from the airport: in the midst of this latest postcard setting, he’s fast asleep.

Thursday night is Victoria’s and my fourth anniversary.  We were hopeful to return to Roger Verge’s Moulin de Mougins, where we had our second.  Alas, Elizabeth Taylor has taken it over for her AmFAR benefit.  Victoria is crestfallen, and it’s neither for nostalgia nor romance.  Moulin is where she first tried Maroille cheese.  Her first experience with Maroille–a very strong cheese that initially tasted like vomit to me–puts a look on her face I confess I don’t see as often as I’d like.  We have to settle for La Ferme de Mougins instead–not as expensive, but without Verge’s pedigree and, more importantly, without Maroille cheese.

We entrust Saeli to a law student the Martinez has set up for us.  We have reason to be nervous.  Not only has Saeli not been eating well on the trip, we’ve only had one baby-sitter besides Victoria’s mom since Saeli was born.  After we explain our numerous idiosyncrasies (and Saeli’s new habit of walking the halls of the Martinez), our baby-sitter unabashedly proclaims she is the best baby sitter in the world, and that Saeli will be no problem.  We call her once from the restaurant.  She assures us there’s no problem.  We get back to the Martinez to find Saeli asleep.  A miracle.  It remains to this day the only time we’ve ever come home to find Saeli asleep in the care of a baby-sitter.

By Friday, the Festival is building downhill momentum.  The STAGGERWING stuff has broken everywhere.  It’s the first day I feel we can start to unwind.  Professionally, I have only odds and ends: I drop off some cigars as a thank-you for Josh (his company name is Smoke Ring Productions), try in vain to move the Film Scouts story, and gather more MTV party invitations for those who need them. Confidence buoyed, we book the baby-sitter for another night. She wants us to be home by midnight, so she can attend–you guessed it– the MTV party.  I’m wearing black tie to this thing, crestfallen from not having the opportunity to wear it after missing the only film I planned to see.  And my baby-sitter has tickets to the MTV party.

The MTV gig is a zoo.  There’s a huge line out front of this Italianate casino.  The one time I fail to bring my press credential, which has been utterly useless to the entire Festival, we learn the only way to cut the line is with a press pass.  We wait, stuck in coach.

Inside, it’s like a nightclub from the ‘80’s in almost every respect, right down to being nearly empty while huge crowds are held outside for effect.  Everybody who has missed a chance to throughout the Festival is strutting their stuff, and Victoria and I are thinking things are better left to our baby-sitter when Harry Connick Jr. takes the stage.  He’s a great improvement over vapid poseur Chris Isaak from the year before, who had greeted his audience in Spanish and gave a listless performance that made the Cowboy Junkies seem like the Ramones by comparison.  But Harry is rocking.  We decide to stay for a couple of songs when we run into a woman who used to work at our office.

During her brief tenure at BWR, she distinguished herself by having outsized breasts, wearing her glasses on a beaded gold leash like a 60’s secretary, having sex with another employee in the parking garage, and by telling a story about her pet goldfish, who died because she kept taking it out of its bowl to pet it.  Of course, she was known as “fish-petter” after that.  She explains to me that BWR made a big mistake firing her because she’s actually working in development for a porn producer who has a couple films at the Marche.  Victoria is rolling her eyes; she can’t believe I’m giving fish-petter an audience.  It’s our cue to leave.

On the cab ride home, we receive the only rude treatment from a French national the entire trip.  I put my champagne glass on the rear deck of the car.  The driver tells me I am awful to think I would leave my glass in the cab.  I explain that I hadn’t planned to leave it in the cab, I just didn’t want to hold it in my lap during the ride.  He asks, with considerable indignation, if I would do this in a cab in America.  I said that as a matter of fact, I would, but that wasn’t the point, I had no intention of leaving the glass in his cab.  He calls me disgraceful.  I apologize some more.  He keeps ranting.  We got out and walked the last three blocks to the Martinez.  Saeli was docile and happy in the hands of our law student.

Saturday dawns sunny, bright and temperate, and we enjoy a brunch at the American Pavilion, sharing our table with a Dutch journalist.  A small crowd of Americans–the Europeans have somehow learned not to do this–have lined up along the railing that fronts the beach, their eyes on the few women who have decided to go out topless.

There’s a kind of torpor in the air: it’s feeling like the shank of the Festival and I am feeling it’s just as well.  No media want to talk to me about my clients, and the trades have sent most of their staffs home, leaving only those who need to close their offices up and record the awards and close-of-Festival stories.  We’re planning to watch these from Vezelay, in Bourgogne, two days’ drive to the north.

We go to the car rental office.  The car they’d planned to give us was a minuscule Renault Clio, but the gods are smiling: they’re out of those and the next car up is a Mercedes C280 turbodiesel, a spectacular, fast, comfortable car with the ugliest upholstery this side of the 1986 Golf GTI. In fact, it would make a nice golf shirt.  There’s no baby seat though.  The agent wants us to drive to Nice–50 kilometers in the wrong direction–to get one from another office.  We’ve got a better idea.  We make the rental agent buy us one at the local Kids R Us, and it’s the best baby seat we’ve ever used.  We regret to this day that we didn’t steal it.

I don’t know what it is, but in the months between the time I wrote most of this story and the days in which I finally tacked on the last couple of paragraphs, Cannes has burnished itself in my memory, or maybe my memory has burnished the edges off the place.  Maybe because I finally paid off the part of the trip my clients didn’t.  Cannes is a place that leaves you cursing it yet promising to return, a place that inspires all emotions positive and negative: wonder, disgust, melancholy, yearning..  It’s the Coney Island of the Mediterranean mixed with someplace special–a place where Mee remembers your order and shows you where you stuck your business card under the table glass four years ago, where you can buy antique watches for fifty or sixty bucks, where a guy in whiteface and a monks habit poses as a statue on the Croisette, where people actually take pictures of cars and hotels like they do in Beverly Hills.  I’m certain that, no matter how difficult, whether by hook or by crook, I’ll return for the Festival’s Fiftieth Anniversary, already upon us.

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Revisited 05/07/12

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Spirits Ads on TV by Arthur Shapiro

Spirits Ads on TV by Arthur Shapiro

Today, I am giving over Killer Hooch to my old friend and client Arthur Shapiro, who writes a much more real beverage blog than this one called Booze Business.  Arthur, while head of marketing at Seagram, famously “broke” the voluntary ban on spirit advertising with Crown Royal.  As a member of the Absolut team (also a Seagram brand at the time), we were pretty jealous!  Here’s his story from Spiritz, the Indian spirits magazine. I tried to convert it to plain text here, not nearly as nice as it looks in the magazine, so I just gave up and instead refer you to the source: http://www.boozebusiness.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/booze_abroad_article.pdf

It’s an amazing tale of a sea change in the industry, written by the guy that made it happen.  Spoiler alert!  it’s meaty. 

More original content to come and thanks for reading!

Jack’s Car

My father always loved cars—and vehicles of all kinds.

He loved his 1930’s Harley.  He had one of the first ATV’s—a six-wheeled amphibious thing that had to be steered like a tank—of the kind the Banana Splits drove.  We cut the meadow grass in our neighborhood with gang mowers and a vintage Ford 8n tractor.  He put racing stripes made from electrical tape on his 1967 Buick Electra 225. He collected sporadically with his friend Jack Holden.  They went down to Philadelphia to pick up cars—once they shared an original Lagonda—and had a grand old time.  For a summer or two, a huge black Austin sedan with fold-down snack trays in the back seats sat in our back lot. When 50’s Chevrolet woody wagon (he Val-oiled the wood trim on it for God’s sake) wouldn’t pass inspection anymore, he sawed off the roof and hauled wood and brush with it.  After the first oil crisis, he invested—and lost—tens of thousands of dollars in a very early hybrid car experiment, in which the company fitted a Buick Skylark with a small diesel motor and mine car batteries.  That venture went nowhere fast, so to speak.

1949 Ford 8n

But, he never really pushed the boat out for himself.  I remember him sitting at dinner one night after he’d test-driven two Alfa-Romeos—the Berlina and the GTV.  He was smitten.  “We drove over these railroad tracks and while you could feel it, the independent suspension just soaked them up,” he enthused.  “The steering was incredible and the leather smelled great.”  He passed Alfa brochures around, coined the term “Alfa-holic” and then went out and bought a Mustang II.

1974 Alfa Berlina

This was an unfortunate piece of mid-1970’s styling (bulbous, gravid, jangly, heavy for its size, drooping with plastic-body colored bumpers) on a Pinto chassis, of all things.  A Pinto’s?!  The hapless Pinto’s manifold shortcomings were well known by 1975, so it’s astonishing Ford chose to expand on this folly, to use it as a platform for another car.  The Mustang II was how I found out the Motor Trend “Car of the Year” honor was simply purchased by manufacturers.  Then, sadly, for a few months I had to drive one, a hand-me-down from my brother Andy that was mercifully sideswiped, hit and run, by a crosstown New York City bus and put out of its—and my—misery.  As if to compensate, I bought an 1961 MGA from my childhood friend Ian Hartman, who bought it from Jack Holden, after that.

I can’t even remember what he drove after the Mustang II because he gave it to my sister (who, sadly, somehow traded a Fiat 124 sport coupe for it).  But in the 1980’s, he purchased what surely is the worst automobile Cadillac ever produced: the woeful Cimarron.  This was a Chevrolet with a Cadillac badge glued on. As gutless as it was hideous, it was very early evidence of the decline of the US auto industry.

So when his sister Phyl passed away and bequeathed him her 1997 C230, my dad quietly couldn’t believe his good fortune.  He took the plucky little four cylinder Mercedes—not terribly optioned-up, but with heated seats—on a tour of the Canadian Maritime Provinces and to the Wright-Dayton museum in Ohio.  The car starred in his famous 2005 bicentennial retracing of the route of Lewis and Clark, “Westward Ho Solo.”  T-shirts are still available.  He promised repeatedly it would a) be the last car he ever owned and b) he’d give it to me when he passed away.  “No, no dad, you’ll have another car,” I reassured him.  “We’re confident you’ll outlive it.”

But then he didn’t.

I wasn’t sure how the other seven children in the family would take his bequest, with four cars and a motorcycle of our own it seemed an embarrassment of automotive wealth. But he made such a big deal out of it, and even wrote his sister’s kids informing them of his plans, so there wasn’t any grumbling.  Well, none that I’ve heard.

We’d resolved to give it to our daughter for her sixteenth birthday.

So, after wintering in Lancaster, the little cream puff (60,000 original miles in fifteen years) came across the miles on a car carrier.  The truck driver was a handsome, colorful and sprightly fellow named Terry.  He charmed my mother on collecting it, along with a bunch of California-bound cars from the Manheim Auto Auction.  He promised to really beat it to California because, he said, he had some unspecified trouble to attend to near his home of Big Bear.  And beat it he did.  He left Lancaster on a Friday and the car was the last one unloaded on Moorpark Street on a Tuesday evening.

JBE’s car was a time capsule of his daily life—a frozen scene that it seemed he’d left without realizing he wasn’t coming back. All the months it waited for the call in Lancaster I wanted to keep it that way.  It looked and even smelled like him.  It was reassuring to drive when the kids came back for visits. But Saeli wanted, as quickly as possible, to make it her own.  So she and I went through it, from front to back.

There were two Dymo label maker notes stuck to the dash: one to remind him where the fuel filler cap was, and the other to identify the rear defroster. He also fixed a little Velcro strip to the dash to hold the garage door opener to it. There were three golf umbrellas, each identifying a bank or country club.  A tiny car trash bin sat on the transmission hump. There was a pair of his prescription Ray-Ban aviators with the G-3 green lenses.  Like him, I try and take good care of my things.  Unlike him, I lose a pair of glasses every few weeks; he must have had these for thirty years or more.  They’d been soldered at the bridge. Homemade cassettes abounded, included one labeled “jazz stew.”  It proudly displays the pewter front plate everyone in Lancaster has.

The most astonishing find was a wicked knife deep in the pocket behind the passenger seat.  This is a multipurpose implement Davy Crockett would be proud to wield.  You might not be able to kill a bear with it, but you could sure piss him off.   I recall my brother Roger either coveting or possessing this item, with its laminated leather handle.  At one point, an inlay in the hilt had fallen out and it was either reinforced—or decorated—with very thick copper wire—not as thick as UL-rated household electric wire, but pretty close.  What had my dad planned to do with this?  Gore a would-be thief?   It would have been very easy to reach behind and down to get it from his driving position.  I can, quite respectfully, imagine my father even at 88 facing down a would-be carjacker, unsheathing this thing while calmly explaining to the would-be thief, “You know, I’d rather talk you out of it but if I can’t, I’m going to have to defend myself.”

In the trunk, a pair of LL Bean duck boots sat in a strawberry box, alongside a pair of his golf shoes.  “I’m giving you those golf shoes when I pass away too,” he reminded me maybe a year before his death. “I’ll put them in the trunk of my car.” The box, which also included an EverReady Captain flashlight (also good for braining assailants) and jumper cables, sat on a grey rubber-backed doormat.  Next to that was a collapsible snow shovel.  The whole thing was kept neatly in place with an expandable shower rod.  Oh, and his initials, “JBE” in Press-a-ply labels, are fixed to the driver’s side door.

As soon as the car was off the carrier, Saeli wanted to drive it.  She logged twenty supervised, cheerful hours behind its wheel as a student driver, and we drove it down to Indio so she could take her test in it after Coachella.  Bit by bit, many of JBE’s things in the car found homes elsewhere.  It rained enough since then that I’ve had to wear the duck boots a couple days.  I lost one of the golf umbrellas already.  I’m still trying to figure out how to put non-prescription lenses in the old Ray-Bans without breaking them.  Saeli left some touches, like the labels and stickers.  Her friends now enjoy the Life Savers and Altoids JB had socked away, unopened, in the glove compartment.

Saeli behind the wheel solo in Francois for the first time

Watching Saeli reverse out of the driveway in what is now known as Frank (short for Jacques-Francois; all our cars and the motorcycle have names) provided my wife Victoria and I with the most dislocating moment of our parenthood so far: from the time she disappeared down the street until she got to where she was going, we didn’t know exactly where she was.  She’s been driving for two months now and we are still not quite, no, not at all used to this.  Her humble C230—two years younger than she is—parks alongside new Range Rovers and BMW’s in her high school neighborhood.  But she’s as happy as she can be with it.  JBE is smiling in heaven, as is his sister Phyllis, too.

Why is this post on Killer Hooch?  Well, first, don’t drink and drive.  Second, on this Father’s Day, I look back wistfully in a gentle reverie on my Dad, and his life, adventures great but mostly modest, and stories; many of them told over scotch, martinis, bloodies and libations of all sorts.  I hope I can connect—and keep connecting—with them.  Saeli’s ownership of the car carries his memory and legacy forward another generation out in to the world and sustains her love and memory of him. Happy Father’s Day, Ole JBE.

On the BLVD

This post is sort of a cheat. The drinks come from somebody else; it’s filled with shoutouts to clients past and present; and they were created for a bar we represent. But what’s cool about them is a) Jesse’s Damron’s a bar genius whose talents deserve to be shared with the world—he’s kind of the king of the layered cocktail and he gave me some drinks for this series that were almost too complicated to make in any quantity b) some of this stuff is REALLY good, and we wouldn’t have taken them on if we hadn’t thought so, and c) if you’re in LA April 13 I invite you to try them with me at the opening of Bar BLVD. So in those respects, I guess it’s exactly what Killer Hooch is supposed to be about and…you can try this at home!

Bar BLVD Drink Menu
Created by LA Mixologist Jesse Damron from Ocean Bar Service
http://www.oceanbarservice.com

 

Bar BVLD Opening Invite

Hollywood BLVD
Sophisticated and savvy, this cocktail combines Bacardi Razz, Koloa Hawaiian rum and coconut rum, sweet lime juice muddled with raspberries, strawberries, simple syrup and mint leaves, topped with club soda and garnished with a lime.

In shaker with no ice, muddle 3-4 raspberries, 1/2 of a strawberry, 1/2 oz. simple syrup, 8-10 mint leaves, and 1 lime wedge

Add ice to shaker then pour:
1.25 oz Koloa Hawaiian rum (www.koloarum.com)
1/2oz. Bacardi Razz
1/2oz. coconut rum (Jesse uses “Three Palms” …it’s his favorite coconut rum and is $8 a bottle)
3/4oz. Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice

Shake above ingredients and pour into a highball glass.
top with ice and club soda. Garnish with a Lime.

Sunset BLVD
Edgy and unpredictable, the Sunset Blvd pays homage to the road of rock & roll. Blends Bombay Sapphire Gin, Zen Green Tea liqueur, Triple Sec with min, simple syrup and a dash of…water. Garnished with mint sprig.

In shaker with no ice muddle 8-10 mint leaves and 1/2 oz. of simple syrup.

Add ice to shaker and pour:
1oz. Bombay Sapphire
1.5 oz. Zen Green Tea Liqueur (www.suntory.com/zen)
1/2 oz. Triple Sec
dash of water

Shake and strain into martini glass. Garnish with mint sprig

Wilshire BLVD
Soaring and airy, uncomplicated and refined like the soaring towers of the Wilshire corridor, Wilshire BLVD is Haamonii low-calorie shochu, Elixir G and whit cranberry juice. Garnished with lemon slices.

In a Highball glass, fill with ice and pour:
1.5 oz Haamonii Shochu (http://haamoniismooth.com)
1/2 oz Elixir G (http://elixirg.com)

Fill with white cranberry juice and garnish with lemon

Ventura BLVD
History meets contemporary in this dusky, exotic cocktail. Root liqueur, Langer’s Mongo Mango, Elixir G and Gosling’s Black Seal Rum mixed with Rose’s Cherry Grenadine and a sprig of rosemary. Very potent; keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times.

In shaker with ice pour:
1.25 oz. Root Liqueur (www.artintheage.com/spirits-aita)
3/4oz. Rose’s Cherry Grenadine
2 oz. Langer’s Mongo Mango
1/2oz. Elixir G
1/4 oz. Goslings Black Seal Rum

Shake and pour into rocks glass
Garnish with rosemary or mint sprig

La Cienega BLVD
Beware the snake: BLVD’s fresh organic margarita, the La Cienega BLVD features Tequila Tierras–the first TTB and USDA ORGANIC Tequila in the US—agave nectar and fresh lime juice.

Fresh Organic Margarita

In Shaker with ice pour:
1.5 oz. Tierras Tequila (http://www.tierrastequila.com)
1 oz. Agave nectar
Squeeze 1 fresh lime

Shake and pour into rocks glass
Garnish with lime

Robertson BLVD
Like the famed shopping district, the Robertson BLVD is a playful, inviting confection featuring Blue Angel Vodka, Martini Gold Pomegranate mixer and martini Gold Chocolate mixer garnished with fresh crushed cherries.

In shaker with ice pour:

1.5 oz. Blue Angel Vodka (www.blueangelvodka.com)

2 oz. Martini Gold Pomegranate mixer (www.mymartinigold.com)
1/2 oz. Martini Gold Chocolate mixer

Shake and strain into martini glass
Garnish with fresh cherry

Want to try them with us?  Mention Killer Hooch in your RSVP and come see us next week to try these cocktails for yourself!

The Bar Method

There are certainly plenty of (lucky) opportunities to try new spirits in the course of my travels, visiting bars, restaurants and rooting around in the liquor cabinet for something I’d overlooked.  I recently found a bottle of Grant’s 8-year old Scotch my father brought to my wedding 19 years ago up there; I think he worried you couldn’t get Scotch in California.  But if you want the full frontal assault of all the industry has to offer in one go, there’s nothing like a big liquor show.

Two years ago I had the opportunity to serve as a judge—alongside Junior Merino and Yuri Kato–in a vodka competition at the New York Bar Show.  We had to evaluate thirty cocktails in about an hour.  As we worked, I asked Kato, “So, what’s next for you after this?”  She replied, “I’m off to do this again in San Francisco.”  I was goggle-eyed, thinking, “You get paid to do this?! Sign me up!”  Anyway, after the tasting I was interviewed on local TV.  I had all sorts of trenchant comments about my favorite drink (The “Bing-A-Ling”) and the state of mixology generally, but all the TV station aired was, “I’m not nearly as drunk as I thought I’d be after that.” It sure made my patrons at IS Vodka proud.  More on that here: http://articles.nydailynews.com/2009-06-16/local/17925587_1_ling-edible-bing

Fast-forward to Wednesday morning, when I meet my friend Lincoln Salazar, who’s starting a proper spirits magazine with his editor John Shakill, and we line our stomachs—I had my second burrito in 12 hours (it poorly compared to Tuesday evening’s one-pound monster from Chipotle)—to tackle the Bar and Nightclub show in Las Vegas.

This show has warped and woofed over the years.  While some major brands like Möet Hennessy, Svedka and Diageo have left the show, some genuinely big players—Patron Spirits, Beam and Brown-Forman among them—were back this season.  The quality and mood of the exhibitors was higher than in several years past, though the floor wasn’t as raucous as the New York show, where at one time sloshed delegates had to be escorted from the premises.  And, while we noticed fewer exhibitors overall, it still challenged us to cover them all in a day.

We started with the tequilas, which were conveniently segregated under the Spirits of Mexico banner, which holds a big tequila festival in San Diego each fall.  By and large they were lovely, family run operations.  Standouts were Corralejo Tequila, whose anejo had a pronounced but not unpleasant lilt in its finish from its aging in scotch barrels, smooth and subtle QV (Querido Viejo) Tequila, as well as a tequila that exhibited outside the Taste of Mexico, Baluarte.  They make an excellent silver and reposado that come in a distinctive frosted (another trend) black bottles unlike the squat containers used for most tequilas.  One company, Kah, gets unabashed double duty from using the very same skull-shaped bottle Crystal Head Vodka uses, but each bottle is hand-painted in wild Day of the Dead meets lucha libre colors.

Out on the main floor, attention must be paid to The Situation’s vodka, Devotion.  With vodka, flavor can often be hard to separate from hype and there’s more than enough to go around here.  I think the Situation must think himself a pretty lucky guy to have ridden to success in the spirits realm; no matter what people say about him and Jersey Shore, millions of prospective “Devotees” make their way to TV’s and DVR’s pretty dutifully Thursday nights.  I was partial to the “straight” spirits from Michter’s of Kentucky.  They boast a fine rye from the company’s history as America’s oldest distillery, founded in Schaefferstown in Eastern Pennsylvania.  Now, the owner grouses about doing business in Pennsylvania, which used to be the largest single liquor account in the world.

We observed one strong trend: cream liqueurs.  Perhaps chasing the success of Patron XO Café, offerings ranged from a vanilla cream liqueur to “hard chocolate milk” and cream limoncello.  There was also NutLiquor—yep, peanut-butter flavored vodka.  It was surprisingly good; the peanut taste fully suffused the spirit from aroma to finish; it didn’t feel glued on as an afterthought as lot of flavored vodkas do.  Ironically, it’s made in Temperance, Michigan.  It features an unfortunately named drink called Monkey Nuts, which consists of NutLiquor with a splash of something else called 99 Bananas.  I didn’t try this.  I also didn’t try Cougar Juice vodka, because, contrary to the brand’s call to action, the cougar just wasn’t in me.  Cougar Juice? Tiger Blood?  These poor big cats are getting milked for all they’re worth.  I did try and loved 4 Orange, an organic vodka distilled from four kinds of Florida oranges from the owners of Sobieski  Vodka.  4 Oranges is light, refreshing, not oily; the flavored vodka category succeeds best when the spirit really feels infused rather than “flavored.”

Most exhibitors strove mightily to get show delegates into their booths.  One company that built portable bars hired a mentalist.  Rums of Puerto Rico slung drinks from a 40-foot bar.  Beam Brands’ booth oozed prosperity and elegance.  Marlboro had a smoke-free trailer for sampling their snuff pouches called SNUS “like goose,” confounding visiting smokers looking for free packs (last year’s exhibitor Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, makers of American Spirit, were absent).  Almost everyone had busty “booth babes.”  There were booth babes in nurses’ uniforms, booth babes in Sue Sylvester Glee tracksuits, booth babes in angel’s wings, booth babes in coach’s outfits, you name it.

Lincoln and John and I politely made the rounds.  But you can’t be polite and chat up exhibitors—many of them brand owners and boutique distillers—without sampling their offerings.  And some of them have a whole range to try; tequileras, for example, always have a silver, a reposado and an anejo.   So, no matter whether you spit it out or not, a hundred-plus tiny sips are going to lead up to something. Lincoln’s manifested itself in a growing, finally irresistible desire to visit Jimmy Buffet’s Magaritaville at the Tropicana (where I had my stag weekend).  After about an hour of hectoring, his editor John Shariff and I finally gave in, and quit the show for the garish Stripside theme venue with papier-mâché penguins leering down from the rafters, the “parrot crossing next 3 miles” signs, and the rows of fake boats as seating booths with prominently branded Garmin sonar pods on their flying bridges.

As we tucked into margaritas and barbacoa nachos, the flat winter light sunk between the big new hotels but still cast a warmth over the Strip and favored those clinging to the rail outside for what for a moment felt like a little Caribbean sea spray…but maybe it was just water sloshing out of the hot tub in the back of a passing limo.

My Bloody Valentine

I’ve had a lifelong love affair with The Bloody Mary.  As a novice drinker, I tried ordering a Tom Collins but the club bartender snapped back,  “A Tom Collins?  REALLY?  Here’s a Dewar’s and water; it’s what your father drinks.” So a Bloody was a respectable drink that didn’t taste much like alcohol and was hearty in the absence of snacks.  “The cocktail and hors d’oeuvre in one,” I’ve always called it.

As I grew older, I pursued the ultimate Bloody with passion.  I experimented with many recipes.  The first were “kitchen sink” recipes that relied as much on the quantity of ingredients as on their nature. At one time, Campbell’s made V-8 with clam juice that made for a pretty impressive variation; up until then I’d tried splashes of clam juice and Old Bay Seasoning when going in that direction. And then of course, there’s beef broth.  Once you’ve tried this, it’s hard to go back.  It’s what makes the Bloody a meat drink.

Plenty of people found my obsession a little annoying.  At every nightclub I worked in, I’d try to get them to up their game in the Bloody department. “Why do you use that crappy Mr & Mrs. T’s–they’re for airline Bloody Marys,” I’d complain derisively.  Usually the club owners would tell me to stick to my parties or art or promotion and leave the bars to them, and reminded me Mr. & Mrs. T’s lasted a long time in the well. Sometimes, I’d take cans of beef broth into establishments where I was the only person who’d ever order a Bloody Bull.  A few places made great ones–Orso and Maple Drive in Los Angeles, for example; but the Bloody Mary at Bix in San Francisco got me back to the basics: tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, tabasco, salt and pepper, and good (not great) vodka.  It forms the basis for my own recipe:

  • 4 oz. Tomato juice
  • 4 oz. Beef broth
  • Tabasco to taste
  • Worcestershire sauce to taste
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon coarse-ground black pepper
  • 2 oz. vodka

Shake or stir ingredients vigorously. Strain through ice into small old-fashioned or big martini glass. Garnish with fresh cilantro. Consume immediately.

A Bloody Mary starts with tomato juice.  Would that I had my grandmother’s recipe (and a lot of time on my hands) for that; she used to make it herself.  She’d cook it up on the stove and bring it over from York to Lancaster where I grew up.  It would have been perfect for Bloodies–it was thin, but very flavorful with a baked tomato taste. Trouble was, she put the tomato juice up in old liquor bottles. We could index the Owings family spirits consumption on the basis of these deliveries. Like most things, this embarrassment of quality made me pine for the most processed versions of it–Clamato, V-8, etc. but I got over it.

So bringing us up to the present day, I haven’t had a Bloody Mary rock my world since Bix, until last night, when some my wife, some friends and I visited Street in Los Angeles, “Two Hot Tamales” chef Susan Feniger’s first solo operation without her partner Mary Sue Milliken.   There, I had ordered a glass of Provençal rose, but noticed a plain bottle behind the bar with a tiny profile of a pig fixed to the bottle with cellophane tape.  I learned this was at the heart of Street’s BLT Bloody Mary.  Susan infuses her vodka with real bacon essence right on the premises.  The bacon craze has spawned some pretty nasty things (bacon mints or licorice, anyone?), but I believe in using all parts of what Homer Simpson called the miracle animal.  (I’m actually becoming conflicted about this as, as much as I love “the other white meat,” pigs have an impossible, pet-like cuteness and demonstrated intelligence that makes eating them seem, well, mean, and I might have to stop at some point in the future).

A cute, compelling argument for vegetarianism--or at least turkey bacon!

Street’s bacon vodka is subtle, smoky, natural-tasting on its own and a smash in the BLT Bloody. I normally don’t like really thick juice but Street’s mix actually clings to the big Romaine lettuce leaf garnish for a very satisfying, bacony, crunchy, meaty snack to accompany the drink.  The latter has flecks of fresh red chiles and actual bits–globules, I might say–of bacon fat and bacon bits in it.

The BLT Bloody Mary at Street

There’s as many Bloody Mary recipes as there are shoes in Imelda Marcos’ old closet, but 2009 was the 75th anniversary of the vaunted drink (invented at the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis in New York, it’s said) and the hotel published twenty of their favorites–one required 24 hours’ notice.  I couldn’t find the actual recipes easily, but there’s a New York Post article which identifies a number of them here:

http://www.nypost.com/p/lifestyle/food/item_5YB4XGD97UxMn7i0MryHPP

So this Valentine’s Day, raise a loving toast with a drink that’s red for the special occasion–and nothing says “I love you” like bacon!

Beer, Bags and Brushing Elbows with Filmmakers: Sundance 2011

So I never got around to my sparkler story over Christmas.  It’s still to come.  Instead I ate and drank my way (in moderation, of course) through the Sundance Film Festival.  I was lucky enough to have paid for only one meal the entire Festival, a quiet, pre-Sundance riot sushi evening with a client at Oishi in Park City.  We got a table without a wait, had terrific Aji sashimi, and didn’t talk about film at all…

As the paroxysm of branding and celebrities drew to a close after the Sundance Film Festival’s opening weekend, the Stella Café presented by Food & Wine and Sorel at the Galaxy Tab Lift quickly earned a reputation as the hub of casual, low-pressure industry networking and social activity at the Festival.   Oh, and Stella Artois beer was, as you can imagine, everywhere.  Stella www.stellaartois.com has a terrific flavor in their signature chalice at very low temperatures and high altitudes.  The combination makes is smooth, flavorful, not fizzy, and very thirst-quenching, with a citrus acidity and very mild bitterness.  And 5% alcohol carries a respectable kick at altitude.

 

The Stella girls with Olympic speed skater Allison Baver at the Lift (photo credit: Philip Hooghuis)

During the day, industry swells and press held meetings and filed stories while chefs including Michael Voltaggio (best known for winning Bravo’s “Top Chef” Season 6) and Fig’s Ray Garcia prepared delicacies like a Serrano ham huevos rancheros and chicken shawarma.  By night, The Stella Café offered invitation-only hosted receptions and dinners (Koji Tacos for the first time outside of LA) of a different sort than the high-pressure, door-policy venues further up Main Street. Rather, the Stella receptions, for independent films and groups with lesser-known casts, harkened back to an earlier time when the Festival was less about hoopla and branding and more about movies.  Festival Program Director Trevor Groth, who visited the café several times, remarked, “We DID notice, and we appreciated it.”

Friday, January 21st, Stella hosted the Film Society of Lincoln Center, invigorated by new staffers Rose Kuo, Eugene Hernandez, and Courtney Ott.  Guests included FSLINC board member Peter Herbst;  festival execs Graham Leggat (San Francisco), Alec Jhangiani (Lone Star), Britta Erickson (Denver), James Faust (DALLAS), Janet Pierson (SXSW) and Sundance’s Keri Putnam, John Cooper, Trevor Groth and Basil Tsiokos; and film executives Phil Engelhorn and Peter Raisler (Cinereach), Howard Cohen (Roadshow Attractions), Ira Deutchman (Emerging Pictures), Mark Urman (Oscilloscope), and Ryan Werner (IFC Films); and some of the top journalists covering the Festival.

Later that evening, the Café hosted the post-screening reception for writer/director/actress Miranda July’s long-awaited second feature THE FUTURE.  Guests included July; cast members Hamish Linklater, David Warshofsky, Isabella Acres and Joe Putterlik; and producers Gina Kwon, Roman Paul and Gerhard Meixner.

Saturday, January 22nd brought the Café ON THE ICE, with writer/director Andrew Okpeaha MacLean and cast members Josiah Patkotak, Frank Qutuq Irelan, Teddy Kyle Smith, Adamina Kerr, Sierra Jade Sampson, John Miller and Rosabelle Kunnanna Rexford in attendance.  Cast members Patkotak and Sierra Samson sported the “Twitten,” the curious and silly two-handed mitten for couples making the rounds of the Festival.

Sunday, January 23rd, media property Hammer to Nail (www.hammertonail.com) hosted a reception honoring all low budget American Independents in festival.  Guests included Trevor Groth, Ted Hope, Lynette Howell, Mike Plante, Mike Ryan, Christine Vachon and Hammer to Nail editor Michael Tully (who also directed and starred in midnight feature SEPTIEN).  The party also drew directors, casts and crews from The Catechism Cataclysm; Co-Dependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same; Kinyarwanda; Lord Byron; Martha Marcy May Marlene; The Off Hours; On The Ice; The Oregonian; Septien; Terri; and The Woods.

To close out the café Monday, January 24th, Stella hosted the post-premiere party for ANOTHER EARTH, with co-writer and director Mike Cahill and co-writer/producer/actress Brit Marling and cast member William Mapother in attendance.  The film sold to Fox Searchlight about 24 hours after the event.

Meanwhile, downstairs at the House of Swagg, Thule (www.thule.com/en/US) renowned Swedish vehicle rack maker, is getting into the luggage business with stylish, rugged gear, tried out its new luggage line on numerous celebrities from America Ferrera and Emily Mortimer and Susan Sarandon to Danny Glover, Emile Hirsch, Li’l Jon (both pictured) and Scott Wolff—and even Real Housewives of Hollywood’s Adrienne Malouf.   And because a bag is no fun without a place to go to with it, Thule tucked a night’s stay at the new BLVD Boutique Hotel and Spa in Studio City inside, along with what Interview Magazine called “a swag highlight,” the “Twitten”—the silly, goofy, FUN and warm two-handed mitten for couples to hold hands inside www.thetwitten.com.

And finally, everywhere at the Galaxy Tab Lift, guests could sample IZZE Sparkling Juice www.izze.com.  Kim at the Stella Café originated a spectacular new recipe for IZZE for the Creative Coalition’s Spotlight Awards, the IZZE Spotlight, consisting of IZZE Clementine, Patron Citronge, and POM.  Delicious!

Wine was nowhere to be found.  Turning Leaf, a former Festival sponsor, left the fold several years back and last year’s sponsor, David Johndrow www.Johndrowwine.com sat this year out so no sponsored plonk plied Festival guests.  One friend at the Spotlight Awards lamented, “Oh, if I could JUST have something that wasn’t served cold or over ice!”

I DID have a very nice glass or two or three of Nicolas Feuilatte’s NV Brut Reserve Particulaires champagne at Livestyle’s supper club dinners www.feuillatte.com.   I have always felt Nicolas Feuilatte was an underrated champagne house.  I think this is a superb champagne, fruity, light on the tongue, with a hint of not-unpleasant pear-like sweetness.  I like toasty, yeasty champagne but this had a supple quality I’d associate more with a rose. Long ago, when Details Magazine was printed on pulp paper and still had Steve Saban’s column in it, they had a very cool ad campaign called “Sips and Spills” that was the among the first branded editorial—actual editorial of their parties in the magazine that looked just like regular editorial. I wrote one of them once.

Meanwhile, up at the RealTVFilms Social Media Lodge, www.realtvfilms.com, guests eagerly consumed Root www.artintheage.com/spirits-aita and Snap, two extraordinary new liqueurs actually concocted by a Pennsylvania advertising agency called Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.  Both certified organic, Root derives from Root Tea, a colonial-era spirit.  It precedes the invention of Root Beer—an alcohol-free variant developed during the Temperance movement of the late 1800’s.   While incredibly fun, complex and mixable, most of the guests at ReaTVFIlm’s four Lodge parties—one each for the Jewlicious pre-Shabbat reception, Scenechronize, IndieGogo and Technicolor—drank Root and its ginger and molasses-distilled cousin Snap, straight.  The also gobbled up everything else in the house–from Popchips, Pirate’s Booty and Pretzel Crisps to Mighty Leaf Tea, IZZE, Stella and Hoegarden beer.

Holiday wine survey Part 1

Welcome back to Killer Hooch. I’m going to be going through the trash (I should have planned this a little better) and reviewing some of this holiday’s numerous beverage selections.  So at Christmas Eve dinner, I assembled a team of tasters to work through some of these wines and champagnes/sparkling wines with us.

First up was a 1990 Chateau Potensac Medoc Delon Liguard.  I split a case of this with my friend Heidi Richman at this Spring’s Spectrum Wine Auction at Charlie Palmer in Orange County.  I can’t account for the whereabouts of one bottle but we gave another to our tasters to celebrate their engagement and it was corked.

This bottle wasn’t.  It was everything a 20 year-old Bordeaux blend should be: subtle, complex, mildly spicy, not TOO much of anything–a greater challenge after drinking single varietal Californians most of the time.  Superb and satisfying.  We decanted it to remove sediment and air it a bit.  Robert Parker gave it an 86 whenever he reviewed it; I am convinced he’s give it above 90 if he came back to it today.  I paid just about on market for it at auction; online surveys seem to price this bottle in the $40-60 range if you can find it.

Then, after arguing over whether to open our guests’ Laetetia Pinot Noir 2008 first (I wanted to keep that for a year but was reminded we should drink what our guests bring)  we opened a family favorite: Navarro Vineyard’s 2005 Pinot Noir Methode A L’ancienne.  We had to wait to get on Navarro’s waiting list and since then have loved getting two or three cases a year of this Anderson Valley wine, some of which we cellar and some we drink right away.

For readers of Stephen King and watchers of Fringe, they’ll know what I mean when I say that the fabric separating our universe from theirs is tissue paper thin in Philo and Boonville, Navarro’s Anderson Valley provenance.  There’s a peculiar, technicolor color to the light.  You’re aware of someone, something watching you.  They speak Boontling, a language invented in the 1800’s to hide Boonters’ doings from outsiders.

After the Chateau Potensac, though, the single-vineyard Pinot was nothing like my wife and I remembered.  I KNOW it was supposed to be VERY good, but the wine tasted strong and slightly sweet, a loud, insistent one-instrument performance after the Medoc’s symphony of flavors.  I expected the aging to increase its complexity but it didn’t.  It just bounced off us, an unexpected reaction.  Perhaps this was a fluke, because Navarro seldom disappoints.   Although almost 5000 cases were produced, you can’t even find this wine to buy anymore, so it’s hard to say what it would cost.  Navarro, which I think does most of its business through direct mail and a very select group of restaurants, is at http://www.navarrowine.com.

Next up was Laetitia’s 2008 Estate Pinot Noir. Our friends are Central Coast wine fans and Laetitia’s Arroyo Grande Pinot was yummy, smooth, delicate with spicy cran-cherry flavors and even a hint of, dare we say it, bacon.  Maybe we should have drunk this before the Navarro. It bloomed up very nicely on the palate with a woody flavor I associate with Carneros Pinots like Acacia in particular.  Very fine, and easily available for a little over 20 bucks.

We went back to Navarro for their 2006 Late Harvest Gewurztraminer, “Cluster Select.” Gewurtz (along with Pinot Gris and Rieslings one of Navarro’s standout varietals), and even with a fair amount of wine on board this was a true standout, a reminder that Alsatian style wines can be very good indeed.  We served it very cold in my father’s old sherry glasses.  They looked sort of dorky but worked just fine.  Honey-sweet but sharp with a thick but not syrupy consistency, this wine’s delicate stone fruit notes combined with an appropriately holiday, dare I say cinnamony finish.  Navarro still sells this for $29 from the vineyard.

Next post?  Sparklers.

Welcome to Killer Hooch!

Happy Holidays!  I’ve signed up for this blog and hope to link it to the web site Killerhooch.com, which I was lucky as heck to obtain.  Killer Hooch used to be an irreverent look at the spirits (not the spirit) world, and I hope to continue that tradition.  Here, I am going to post various items and stories from the drinks world.

Why? I’m grateful for the opportunity to enjoy spirits, wine, beverages of all sorts.  They provide pleasure on many levels–flavor, aroma, mouth feel, bite, finish, all that.  As for inspiration I look to my late father, who once told this story: when he turned 80, his cousin Bill Musser suggested he square himself with God and strengthen his ties to the Mennonite Church.  My dad replied, “Bill, if you told me I could live ten years longer if I stopped drinking and smiling, I’d have to take a pass on that.”  My dad made it eight very happy, fulfilled years longer, but lamenting close to the end of his life that he felt pain “that even a martini just couldn’t assuage” and I think Bill Musser is still with us, a pretty pinched, dour guy.  Who would you rather be?  The consumption of alcohol is a privilege, not a right, and can be revoked at any time.

Stop back by for some posts soon, because it’s the holidays and I think I will be sampling some beverages then!

Cheers,

Henry