Learning Curve

Better late than never, although with the sizable gaps in time between each post it is almost at the never side of things.  To best illustrate the past months I should start by filling you in about our bar.  The bar.  Booker & Dax.  BDX, as we call it.  It’s a small room in the back of a bustling world class restaurant that has consumed all of my time and every drop of energy for the last 8 months.  Two bars, a prep kitchen, 4 tables, 32 stools, 2 bartenders, a server, hostess, barback, manager, cook, 147 liquor bottles, freezers, fridges, clear lime juice, liquid nitrogen, a centrifuge… and a vacuum rotary evaporator.  It feels like a pub but looks like a laboratory, serves exciting cocktails and addicting food, it functions at the highest level while flirting with being too casual… it’s extremely hard for me to wrap my head around and has been my battle for what feels like a lifetime.  In short, a bar which focuses on high end craft cocktails utilizing new techniques which we at the bar are implementing.  I will leave you here with some links to what others have written about the bar thus far so I that I don’t have to form words to what I can barely grasp:

http://www.momofuku.com/restaurants/booker-and-dax/

http://drinks.seriouseats.com/2012/02/video-dave-arnold-booker-dax-cocktails-centrifuge-liquid-nitrogen-techniques.html

http://gizmodo.com/booker-&-dax/

There are more from all over the map if you google Booker & Dax.  Woo.

I have been running on such high emotion and so little sleep for the last few months it has left me with much ammo for this blog, for your sake I am reigning in what makes it to this page for fear of crafting a 200 page memoir about the struggle of opening a bar with untested tools and virtually no space.  Since January we have been drafting menus, staffing, building, experimenting, buying, ordering… etc, all while the old version of the bar remained open.  We have just ticked off the 5 month mark of being open, and I only now feel like we are finding any sort of stride.  It’s interesting running a bar that focuses on the fore front of technology because of the ever lurking pressure to keep innovating, and even just now as a fledgling bar I am already feeling the heat of ‘what’s next from Booker & Dax?’ In this city so driven by food and culture your life on the scene seems to be much like a shark, keep moving or drown.  I don’t say that negatively, it’s like going to the gym, if you are not building up you are losing ground, and that always means working to improve and find to a new direction.  Already I fall nostalgic for cocktails we are replacing on the menu, until I fall in love with the one that replaced it.  Upwards and onwards, always upwards and onwards.

So much more has come out of Booker & Dax than I could have anticipated.  It is not the organizing and admin, cocktail creation or staff emergencies, all those things I could have predicted in the day to day of restaurants and the bar world.  Press, media, events, social presence, and the never blind eye of being in NYC…  is what wears you out quicker than anything.  We have been fortunate enough to be involved in wonderful events like Taste of the Nation to benefit a great cause, and MOFAD (Museum of Food and Drink), CityMeals on Wheels Benefit, and then there are the guest bartending nights at bars around the city, barbacking at Speed Rack an all-female bartending competition benefiting cancer research, teaching a class for Manhattan Cocktail Classic, and then you turn around and the bar is full of photographers shooting the ‘bright green cocktail or the one with the flames.’  Apart from everything these things are amazingly fun, but when they begin to back up against each other, and with scheduling, and ordering, and… you start to forget about things like laundry, eating, cleaning, exercise, reading… We are moving (again) and as I started to pack up I realized we never actually unpacked.  I’m 26!  It is certainly the right time to dive head first into the fray, and to quote an institution I am fond of, ‘Learn by Doing,’ there is no better education than hands on work.  The work opens more and more doors everyday revealing so many cool people, new places, fantastic meals and drinks, and new opportunities!  It becomes slightly addicting and definitely intoxicating after a while, and I find it hard to say no to anything coming our way.

It must be said again, and I know I have touched upon this in the previous post, but the bartenders, servers, barbacks, cooks, NEW MANAGERS (Robert Henry Nelson) are heroes.  Dave Arnold and I bust into the bar at the drop of a hat and generally destroy all semblance of sanity.  “What if’s” fly around and “how ‘bouts” spout out repeatedly, leaving a trail resembling that of a tornado… Yet the intrepid and obviously hardy crew never fails and always powers through.  The fact that we have assembled such a talented staff is the miracle that keeps everything running every day.  I could not put to words accurately the curiosity, intelligence, energy, spirit, and dedication that the gang has.  They are the heart and soul of the bar.

There are a few people out there making sure that I see the light of day, and to those few champions of things outside of the bar I solute you.  We have escaped the confines of the bar to walk shelter dogs around South Brooklyn (since I can’t have my own), learned how to raise chickens in Brooklyn, gardened veggies, play in a soccer match, and rampaged and frolic around the city.

Once again I haven’t written about much, updating anything, or corresponded with family/friends in any coherent fashion, but it did serve as a nice outlet for voicing what words happen to build up on my mind.

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To come:

Surströmming! Eating rotten fish out of a can from Sweden! See below.

(http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2012-04/popscis-friday-lunch-can-putrid-surstr%C3%B6mming)

Moving! Again! And how it’s the worst thing that can happen to a soul in NYC.

The fun side of things:  http://blog.zagat.com/2012/04/30-under-30-nycs-hottest-up-and-comers.html

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What the heck just happened?

I am mostly alive.  I am slightly zombie… ish.  I am living a new life.  Since the last time I posted the world has been flipped on its head once again.  Gone are the days of distilling and nights of Amor, now is the time for pork buns and flaming cocktails.  Starting last November I took a position with Momofuku to champion their bar program at Ssam Bar in the East Village.  For the last four months I have been working with the incredible Dave Arnold and a team of amazing bartenders to flesh out a new cocktail bar, Booker & Dax, featuring a craft cocktail menu based around some newfangled and amazing tools created by Dave himself.

This post is not about the bar.  If you want to learn all about the awesome stuff happening at Booker & Dax then I will go into the bar in detail another time.  This is a post about the demands of running and opening a new establishment, about falling off the face of the earth, about sacrifice, success, and shortcomings.

The moment I started at Momofuku it has been a constant slamming of information, research, administration, creation, press, cleaning, hiring, firing, drinking, ordering, inventory, and lots and lots of hours logged.  Never before have I been so immersed in one single all consuming project.  7 days a week, 15 hours a day.

For better and worse, I have been so inundated in Booker & Dax I have not posted a blog post in 4 months, called my friends, been out in the city, been on a date, cleaned my room or washed any laundry; my gym called me yesterday to ask if I still wanted my membership because I hadn’t seen them in 3 months.  There are so may facets to cover when joining a new company, opening a new bar, and then running it that constantly demand all of your attention.  It has left me overwhelmed not a few times.

Why it’s worth it:

{I am entering this blurb post writing this blog post: I didn’t realize that I needed to spew out all of this below, I think the last few months have been so emotionally charged/draining that once you get started you can’t really stop an outpouring as such this is.  So the following is less informational and more… therapeutic}

The people.  There is one thing above all others that makes this constant battle worth it, the people.  Throughout this entire process I have constantly met and enjoyed the company of so many amazing individuals.  First and foremost are a team of bartenders who have such an extreme passion for what they do that they will endure anything just to learn more and be a part of something so great.  Working side by side with these guys has taught me so much about not only bartending, but work ethic, loyalty, creativity, and the unmatched energy that has made Booker & Dax the bar that it is.  I’m constantly blown away by what these people bring to the table everyday and I count my lucky stars I have them to lean on constantly.

Dave Arnold is a mad man with a pension for genius, and has quickly turned into one of my best friends.  Working with this man has educated me on carbonation, the physics of liquid nitrogen, using a rotovap, clarification, dilution, dirty jokes, flavors, interviewing well, and more importantly all about family and friends.  There are very few men on earth who command such loyalty from everyone they encounter.

I am now thoroughly convinced that if you gave me a cardboard box, a couple of pitchers of malt liquor, and a phenomenal caring bar staff that it would millions of times better than the most perfectly crafted well appointed bar with manikin like bartenders.

As this bar only just begins to find its stride and allows for some breathing room, the staff and management can begin to step back and start to unravel everything.  More than any success we have gained has this project illustrated my short comings.  Only when put under such great pressure do you ever see the cracks in the dam, and boy have I ever found a long list of cracks.  What my priorities are do not always seem to coincide with what the bar priorities have to be to make it succeed.  Balancing my time between costing out cocktail prices by dashes of bitters, staffing costs, over time hours, inventory, making sure we have the most cost effective blocks of ice, employees W-4’s are signed, and all of the admin drudgery versus the much more attractive side of my position like creation of recipes, tasting new spirits, events, and normal bartending… is hard.  Also, I make horrendous excel spreadsheets. I’m terrible at scheduling.  Routine, not my strong point.  To answer this all though, I now know this, and am starting to learn how to not necessarily fix these things but rather combat myself.  Once again, without the bartenders, dear god we would be lost at sea.

Bah!

On entirely an entirely different note: I am now 26.  Some years back, I believe in the ever impressionable era of 9th grade, Robby Nelson explained to me that the male body peaks for distance running at age 27, and ever since then I have committed myself to the idea that it is at 27 that a guy is perfect. (also it may just turn out that after 27 I may actually commit to the idea of being a man and not just a guy)  Absurd, I know.  My father, who is ancient, is far fitter than I am and could kick my butt while hog tied… but, none the less this gilded age of 27 has wrung in my head as the epitome of fitness.  While this last year has actually been fairly successful as far as staying healthy goes, this up coming year it the focus.  First step: cut out the daily doses of pork belly… yeah.

There is so much more I want to write, but I am becoming more exhausted just thinking about everything at this point.  So after getting this unorganized mass above out of my brain and on to paper I do believe I could produce a coherent post on the actual bar, cool new things, home bars, eating out at amazing restaurants… the fun side of things. Tomorrow.

Much love to you all.

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Unnatural Natural Almost Disasters

Upon returning to NYC from New Mexico the god almighty above said let insanity be done upon Brooklyn, in accordance with the prophecy, for Tristan has cometh back.  Bah, just kidding, I wish I could take credit for first an earthquake and then a hurricane, but alas while I have the power to get thee drunk I can not, yet, shake the world.  Yet it is true, as I sat at the distillery one fine afternoon I took note of what I thought was the familiar feeling of a subway train trundling down a tunnel just under the building, and yet come to think of it there isn’t a train near the distillery… it must be the freight elevator and someone unloading crates onto it, ‘damn trucks,’ I thought to myself.  It was the shuddering of the bottles quietly tinkling on the shelves as they shivered against each other that made me look around and rest eyes on our tubs of liquid begin to roll back and  forth with visible waves of corn and barley sloshing against their lids, something weird might be happening.  Trying to make sense of this nonsense I finally stumbled my way over to a window to set my eyes upon the street lamp looking like a damn metronome, at which point I admitted to myself that yes in spite of being on the east coast I was experiencing my first earthquake, so I made way way to the door frame where I stood watching inexperienced Brooklynites bounce down the hallway laughing at the absurdity of a New York quake.  Although it lasted much longer than I would have thought possible, it left as fast as it came, rolling in as large waves to shake up my bourbon and my afternoon.  Even though it did leave me a little off balance for a little while the biggest fallout was easily the mass movement of social media outbursts.  Following the earthquake it was apparent that more people ran for their phones then for cover, which left me with endless entertainment all day.

The Apocalypse is coming, here’s why:

Following our shake up my father posted on my facebook wall, ‘watch out for the hurricane that’s coming next.  haha.’  A jest.  A poke at the fact that Brooklyn should be too cool for earthquakes.  So I found myself bunkering down one fine night a week later with my friends, 10 gallons of water, 10 gallons of bourbon, some canned food, and three 12 packs of beer watching as our good friend Hurricane Irene thrashed not overly violently against our house.  The true fallout from Irene were the 3 days prior to it actually hitting us.  With the blitz on stores for canned food and water, as well as Rittenhouse Rye which was wiped form all liquor store shelves, people’s emotion were actually running on high and you could see it in everything.  It was a palpable feeling wafting through the streets on the day before it was supposed to hit us, excitement and dread actually hung in the humid air.  It sounds dramatic, but walking the neighborhood that morning watching people bustle around in an overly quiet and inward mood, feeling the weight of the oppressive humidity, there was something vaguely electric in the air that made your heart beat faster the longer you lingered out unprotected in the world.  I’ve heard it described before but never felt such an eerie energy actually pulse through a community.  Much like the unsettling emotions stirring around outside, the opposite was equally as strong upon entering the safety of home.  The comfort of seeing the girls lounging idly on the couch, hearing soft weathery music playing through the speakers, and enjoying gentle rain against windows were all amplified by the tangible tension outside, it created such a warm sensation of safety.  In the end it turned out to be just a good excuse for NYC to take a weekend off, the best possible result.  Although our night filled with friends, cocktails, and Tears for Fears karaoke seemed to resemble any normal night, there was a depth created by the uncertainty of what might happen that seemed to elevate it to an event, luckily this time the hurricane gave to us an awesome night rather than the potential nightmare that it threatened to unveil.  What better time is there to open the good bottles of booze and thaw out the emergency stash of Hatch green chile then when you are locked up in a house with your best friends about to face certain doom.

I am now waiting for a dinosaur to knock on my door, as it seems the next logical step in the end of the world.

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Not Enough Hours

Every time I post on here I swear that I am going to become more religious about updating you guys on the happenings of Brooklyn and Manhattan, and yet it is the very lifestyle of those chaotic locales that keep me from doing so.  I find that when I finally have a moment to breathe rather than grab my computer and begin to type away I actually need to get some sleep!  Since I last updated you at the end of June, much debauchery has transpired.  In order to better organize my thoughts and give you a preview of the extreme purge about to attack your screen here is a quick rundown of what 2 months can contain: Cognac tastings at Daniel, Earthquakes, Hurricanes, lots of bourbon, endless amounts of bars, trips to Colorado and New Mexico, bartending, pro soccer games, the US Open, trains through the Hudson Valley, Hikes through upstate NY, Sufjan, Decemberists, grilling, chalkboards, carrying cabinets through Williamsburg, and much much more.  Ready for this?  It might take a few days, and more than a few posts, but as I have come to rely on this website to catalog my travels and experiences, I truly do want to get it all up.  So without further ado, let’s dive in.

The more time I spend at Amor y Amargo the more in love I fall with being behind the bar.  All week I look forward to being at the bar with my good friend Chris serving up drinks to the fine people of the East Village.  Side by side I feel like Chris and I gear up every single shift with the mind set to conquer the night.  We are never content to simply make it through a night like a job that merely needs attending, but rather  make it our mission to make sure that every night is an experience for the guests as well as ourselves.  It has inspired both of us to continually attack volumes of spirit and cocktail knowledge and return to the bar week after week with new techniques, drinks, and fun facts to try out on our unassuming clientele.  This constant drive to expand understanding of the cocktail world has fortunately dropped us into some really cool events, such as a cognac tasting at one of the worlds most prestigious restaurants.  Being served foie gras delicacies prepared by Daniel Boulud himself and sipping on endless amounts of cognac based cocktails seems to be a method of teaching that I can truly commit myself towards.

After a crazy winter, not much of a spring, and then an obnoxiously erratic and hot summer it was time for me to escape this side of the world and retreat back to the wonderfully open and fresh southwest.  Flying first to Boulder to capture some mountain air and remind my good friend Kara Henry that well earned hangovers are worth it, and in the process uncovering one of my new favorite cocktail bars in the US, the Bitters Bar.  I spent the days hiking the mountains and the nights dining at Boulders incredible restaurants and bars, almost enough to convince me not to leave.  Colorado also being a hub for American distilleries, I made sure to swing into Stranahan’s to meet their Head Distiller and tour around their incredible facilities getting a feel for what a full blown coast to coast distributed Whiskey process was like.  Intimidating.  Exciting.  From Boulder I drove south towards home with my father, and feeling like a star struck foreigner in my own home, couldn’t recall to its proper position my dropped jaw at just how beautiful the landscape is out in the nether regions of our enormous country.  I have in the past heard time and time again from visitors about the vivid colors and sweeping vistas of New Mexico and until being away for an extending period, exaggerated by living in a concrete jumble of buildings, had not comprehended what exactly that had meant.  Returning from NY to NM was like flicking on some absurd filter on a digital camera that blows colors into whole new levels, my dad only slightly annoyed by my repetitious outburst of awe.  For 5 days I relaxed and basked in the thin and crisp air of 6000 ft elevation, feeling much rejuvenated, I flew back to NYC with suitcases burdened by 20 extra lbs of green chile.

Upon my return to the city from the spacious Rocky Mountains, all hell decided to break loose.

Work beckons me back this afternoon, bourbon for some reason refuses to make itself, but tomorrow afternoon we will continue with upstate adventures, earthquakes, Sufjan Stevens dressed as a crystal, and hurricanes.  I promise.

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Digging In

I am digging my claws in and not budging an inch.  Finally I seem to have gained a permanent home in a good neighborhood, a good schedule, and a healthy disposition.  Addie and I have taken up residence in the highly sought after, cooler than you but not trying to be, tree lined, Italian flag painted, vinyl sided, overly caffeinated, booze saturated, neighborhood of Williamsburg.  We have found ourselves in a two family home on a quiet street which most importantly has its own stoop.  The apartment itself is normal in such a way that you have already seen it, two bedroom, a living room, a kitchen, some hardwood floors, enough windows to keep it light… you have seen it a hundred times in your life, it is to a T, an apartment.  Outside though… outside is another story all together.  Stairs.  Big wonderful stairs that perch above our street and below our trees and happen to be the ideal spot to drink a beer, eat a baguette, read a book, talk to friends, and people watch.  Summer evenings and mornings should always be based around a fine stoop, and it’s nice to find that friends flock to stoops (and beer) like moths to a flame.  What’s even better is Jack the Terrier who graces us occasionally with his regal self lounging across our bottom step, it’s nice to once again have a good dog around, even better when you don’t have to walk, feed, or clean up after him.  Swing by sometime and grab a beer, there are plenty of steps to pull up and take a load off.  Soon enough Addie will have finished her Stair Chair creation, a chair with the back two legs chopped to the level of the stairs so you can sit it on the stoop anywhere and sit properly.  Diagrams and instructions to follow some day.

I am going to attempt to shorten my posts in order to make them more frequent.  While a novel length post summarizing all of the previous months is more convenient, I don’t think it is able to strike the finer points of a story.  So for tomorrow: the distillery, and a cognac tasting at Daniel.

Pictures to come as soon as I gather them from my herd of electronic companions which are apparently frying my brain with radio waves.  Until then, please enjoy this song from Wye Oak, my current obsession.  You need this album.