A Quick Chat with Helen Hollyman

Here is a quick chat with Helen on her radio show, U Look Hungry.  For whatever reason I can chat up a bar all night long but aim a microphone or camera at me and like kryptonite, frozen.  Luckily Helen is a wonderful host and kept me from tripping up too much, also the bourbon helped.


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:




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.


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

Reaffirming Beliefs

After a very rough couple of days I had a moment of personal epiphany waiting for a train at Union Square. It has been for the last few weeks that I find myself waiting for the L Train in the early afternoon after leaving the gym, and while I lean against my large metal column passing the time until my ride home arrives I am inevitable approached by the same shaved head, small pony tailed, orange toga wearing, tambourine playing, pamphlet distributing… gentleman. At first I was, as usual, polite yet dismissive, and yet as the days became weeks and his advances getting more aggressive trying to ply me with a poorly edited brochure, I reached a point where I snapped and asked him if he was blindly distributing his attack on education and logic. I instantly regretted my outburst, and attributed it to the swirling chaos of my life at the time. More and more I thought about it until I realized that although I do blatantly despise the pressure that these people force upon others to ‘awaken’ to their own religion, I also know that before I judge anything I should first attempt to understand it. This afternoon I was post-workout, apple in hand, waiting for the train when of course I was approached by our local Union Square Hare Karishna Ambassador. Being in a sour mood I was tempted to repeat my actions and send him packing, but fortunately I had sustenance in hand and time to kill. So instead of sending him on to the next cold dismissal I invited him to sit down and explain what exactly it was he was trying to accomplish and why I should tolerate his overly aggressive tactics. After hearing this man out it was quickly reaffirmed that I did not support or find logic in his personal gospel, but at least I knew that from fact rather than bias. In return I asked him to listen to my own views and prompted him about spending the time he was using up with handing out flyers and to instead go out and in the name of Hare Karishan volunteer his time with someone who was helping others. Rather than request that people listen to him without reason, lead by example and show people why the would want to be apart of his belief. He kindly listened to my retort, and then continued down the train path handing out booklets. Maybe tomorrow I will stop him again and repeat our interaction, it seems to me that might speak to him.

What did come from all of this is a reminder that I firmly believe to first write off something as wrong or at least disagreeable with your own personal views, you must know it. I now know one more thing about the world I am in, and although my beliefs on it did not change, at least I have a firm leg to stand on when asked why.

Diving Deeper

As the weeks plod on out here, more and more alcoholic work is seeping up through the cracks, and I am taking every chance I get to dive deeper into the stills or take shelter behind a bar.  Most recently I have started bartending at Amor Y Amargo back at home in the East Village.  This awesome, albeit minuscule, bar housed within a complex of other well known bars is a showcase for something near and dear to my heart: bitters.  As a showroom for the Bittermens Bitters and a bar ware general store this space serves multiple purposes, and Saturday nights you will find me behind the narrow bar pouring out drinks stuffed with bitter and complex flavors.  Centering on using Amaros from around the world, and a house made sweet vermouth on tap, we have a great time putting out cocktails to an extremely nice and always intrigued crowd.  I am extremely excited to be part of the team down there, and it has done wonders for breaking me free of the solitude of distilling alone all the time!  There are actually people out in the world to interact with!

Yesterday wrapped up a city wide cocktail event here in NY.  The Manhattan Cocktail Classic is a 5 day rampage of learning and drinking; bar tenders and cocktail enthusiasts gather in the city to attend events ranging from stories told by world famous bars or instructional seminars on crafting the ultimate Old Fashioned.  I happened to win tickets to an event that was oddly appropriate, if not a little redundant, to which Jackie and I attended.  The History and Current Landscape of Distilling in NY.  Hosted by two gentlemen opening a distillery not too far from where ours is now.  The lecture itself was actually quite enjoyable and featured in it for a good portion of the presentation was a section solely on Kings County Distillery and the methods and booze we are making.  Almost more importantly the lecture was sponsored by Pernod-Ricard which produces any number of fine spirits, and we were delivered a new and different cocktail to sip on every 10-20 minutes… by the end we had a whole lineup of empty glasses and were in great need of a hearty dinner.  I’m now convinced that all lecture style classes should include servers, bussers, and booze.  Beyond the inspiring libations, it was also a really nice chance to meet the other members in my small and specialized field in NYC.  Gathered all into one room were all of the current distilleries, and being able to see what was coming up is really a neat thing, and finally I see a small community forming around the craft distillery industry in Brooklyn, something I have been looking forward to for quite some time.  More coming up soon about the current evolution of our little distillery into a bigger little distillery.


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