Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Good Stuff: 2013, Recapp’d

First, the year in me. Rosemarie and I moved to a deluxe apartment in the sky. We won an award. And I published a book. All in all, not a bad twelve months.

2013 was the least active year in the history of ye olde website, and most of the posts were about cocktails. But blogs are dead anyway, as Jason Kottke was the most recent to remind us. Still, I feel bad that I didn’t manage to rattle on about everything I watched, read, listened to or otherwise ingested. Hence, this rambling roster of recommendations, in the order consumed. It is by no means complete; there are highly touted titles I have yet to catch up with, others I’ve seen and am still chewing over. But such lists are always written in the sand, aren’t they? Consider this a snapshot of how I feel on New Year’s Eve. Come New Year’s Day I’ll be another person entirely. And so will you.

Drinking with Men, by Rosie Schaap. A heartfelt memoir about the pleasures and occasional perils of being a regular in a bar near you. My favorite book of the year.

Side Effects. New age noir, slyly updated for the era of prescription drugs. In the words of my friend Ray Banks, “classically sleazy.” And with that, Steven Soderbergh retires.

Noir City. A high point every year. Saw it in both Seattle and Portland this annum!

Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, by Sara Gran. Miss Gran continues to toy with the conventions of the mystery novel even as she probes the deepest mystery. This entry in the best series going is, sadly, the only novel on this year’s list. It was a strange reading year for me.

Behind the Candelabra (HBO). And with that, Steven Soderbergh returns! (I never bought that retirement story for a minute.) Featuring a bravura performance by Michael Douglas as Liberace, it doesn’t stint on the dirt or the garish period details while proving to be a riveting portrait of a long-term relationship falling apart.

Pacific Rim. The movie I always wanted to see when I was eight years old made me feel eight years old again.

The Hitchcock 9. Seeing the Master of Suspense’s first directorial efforts, completely restored and with live musical accompaniment, was an event of the first order. Kudos to the British Film Institute – and to Seattle’s SIFF Cinema, for innovative musical choices and following the series with several days of Hitchcock’s early U.K. sound films.

Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939, by Thomas Doherty. Engaging social history looking back at how the studios and the predominately Jewish moguls who ran them did and did not respond to the rise of Nazism in the years before World War II. Doherty has a thorough understanding of movies and of Hollywood as a business and a community. (Would that the same could be said for Ben Urwand. His shoddy and sensationalistic The Collaboration, which covers much of the same ground, is the worst book I read in 2013.)

Drug War. You can have your superheroes. Give me bad-ass cops. Johnnie To goes to mainland China and makes an epic thriller.

This Town, by Mark Leibovich. The one book that almost makes me say “The one book you have to read.” It serves up in clinical detail why American politics is broken – because once elected, the people who run this country essentially move to a separate realm, one without connection or consequence. Told with the gleeful abandon that only comes when an insider (Leibovich is a longtime political correspondent for the New York Times) decides to set the palace walls ablaze himself.

Blancanieves. A bewitching black-and-white silent film that retells the tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in 1920s Spain. With bullfighting. I can’t believe it wasn’t more popular.

The Bling Ring. In a year of movies about the hollowing out of the American Dream, Sofia Coppola’s up-to-the-minute look at fame-obsessed teenagers turned bandits takes the prize. Also deserving of consideration in this category: Michael Bay’s underappreciated Pain & Gain.

Rush. Ron Howard returns to his Grand Theft Auto roots and makes the film of his career and my favorite of 2013. Peter Morgan’s script transforms the battle for the 1976 Formula One championship into the essential existential question: how do you live your life? Magnificently photographed by Anthony Dod Mantle, with Daniel Brühl giving the performance of the year as Niki Lauda.

Captain Phillips. Harrowing all the way through, never more so than when the damage has been done; the closing scenes depicting shock are impossible to shake. Tom Hanks at his finest.

Frances Ha. The great dilemma of your twenties – finding your own music to dance to – put on screen in a truly unique way. Greta Gerwig beguiles even while she maddens. Thinking of the final shot puts a smile on my face even now.

A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940, by Victoria Wilson. At times frustratingly thorough, the first of this two-volume biography gives our greatest movie actress the treatment she deserves.

Collision Low Crossers, by Nicholas Dawidoff. A confession: I didn’t watch a single snap of the 2013 NFL season after skipping January’s Super Bowl for the first time in years. One unpleasant story after another – too many deaths of former players with signs of serious brain trauma, the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, a rash of player suicides culminating in Jovan Belcher’s death by his own hand at the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice facility after he murdered his girlfriend – had drained all pleasure from football for me. Dawidoff’s book chronicling his 2011 season embedded with the New York Jets coaching staff thus came along at an interesting time. Beautifully written and packed with inside info, it perfectly captures football’s grind both on the field and off; George Will was not wrong when he said the sport combines the two worst aspects of American life, namely violence and committee meetings. Coaches and players alike acknowledge the risks inherent in the game and undertake them willingly, but don’t care to discuss them in depth. I feel better about football knowing that. I’m still not planning to watch the Super Bowl, even if the Seahawks are in it.

Six by Sondheim (HBO). A biography in the form of half a dozen songs, and one of the best treatments you’ll ever see of a writer writing.

Nebraska. Alexander Payne’s film (written by Seattle’s own Bob Nelson) is an elegy for a life and an entire way of life – as well as a reminder that time passes for the young as it does for the old. Will Forte should be getting more love for his performance here.

Inside Llewyn Davis. In many respects the evil twin of Frances Ha. Structured like a folk song, which is why it’s going around and round in my head. What happens when you’re good enough to make it – and you don’t make it? It’s also a meta, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-we self-portrait by Joel and Ethan Coen, two artists dogged by questions of likability who may only be able to create with a partner.

Here’s wishing all of you the best in 2014. Thanks for stopping by on occasion. I’ll leave the light on. Odds are I’ll still mostly be talking about cocktails, though.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: That Bubbly Burden

Of all the first world problems, a glut of champagne may be the first worldiest. But there’s no denying the stuff flows like a river come the holidays. As a change of pace, may I suggest a champagne cocktail? In fact, may I suggest three?

Speaking of the season, my favorite gift was the inclusion of Down the Hatch in Seattle Magazine’s gift list for spirit and cocktail lovers. Here’s the redoubtable A. J. Rathbun:

Written by Seattleite Vince Keenan, this tipsy and jolly book features more than 50 helpful cocktail recipes. But it’s much, much more than a recipe book; it’s really a memoir to the joys of drink and of creating delicious drinks. In it, Keenan tells of a year of learning to make and love cocktails, with many stories, histories and more. You’ll find lots of Seattle-ness, as well.

Did you get a Kindle or a bunch of booze for Christmas? Are you planning a New Year’s Eve bash? Then pick up your copy of Down the Hatch at Amazon. Make both our seasons bright.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Miscellaneous: Noir, Poetry, Noir Poetry

A tasty trio of stocking stuffers for your holiday week …

First, an update on the unveilings at last week’s Noir City Xmas in San Francisco. The poster for Noir City 12 was released, and this year the crown of Miss Noir City rests on the lovely head of burlesque artiste extraordinaire and friend of the festival Evie Lovelle. Feast your eyes on this stunner inspired by Will Eisner’s The Spirit.

Also announced: the full program for the next festival, running from January 24 to February 2, 2014 at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre. I’m happy this particular feline has escaped its conveyance; I’ve known about the roster for a while, and couldn’t wait for the wildly ambitious line-up assembled by Film Noir Foundation honcho Eddie Muller to become public knowledge. The centerpiece is the world premiere of the restored 35mm print of Too Late For Tears, one of the truly unsung examples of the form getting the treatment it richly deserves.

This year’s festival is global in scope. The usual complement of classic noir films will be joined by movies from the same era made around the world. Japan, France, Mexico, and other countries will be represented; noir may be an American innovation, but its message travels well. Also on hand will be suitably multicultural music acts and libations; yours truly made a small contribution on that latter front. I’ll be in San Francisco for opening weekend, and at the roadshow version of the fest that hits Seattle a few weeks later.

Second, my lovely wife and writing partner Rosemarie has been keeping herself busy. She’s not averse to verse, having penned this week’s offering at The 5-2, your home for crime poetry. Her tale of Noël nefariousness is called “Holiday Hours.” Read it here.

Third, the missus makes her debut in print this month as well. Silver Birch Press published the Noir Erasure Poetry Anthology, a collection of poems based on the work of hardboiled masters including Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain. Rosemarie’s contribution, “My Lovely,” is taken from Raymond Chandler. Buy the book here.

Let’s see, I promoted the work of my favorite non-profit and my better half. Have I done anything lately? Well, I wrote a book. You could always buy that.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Jack Rabbit

For the last Cocktail of the Week before the holidays – and the final original CotW post of 2013 – I want to break new ground. David Embury observed that “the overwhelming majority of our cocktails are of the Sour type.” Endless invention springs from an elemental formula of spirit, citrus, and sweetener. That third ingredient might seem the most prosaic, but even in the drinks featured here it has come in several forms. Sugar, either as bitters-soaked cube or simple syrup. Grenadine. Honey. Certain liqueurs, like Cointreau.

With the Jack Rabbit, we’re going all Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys on the sour. That’s right. Time to bust out the maple syrup.

The Jack Rabbit, originally known as the Applejack Rabbit, turns up in 1927’s Here’s How! by the pseudonymous “Judge Jr.” Much of that guide was cannibalized by Harry Craddock for his Savoy Cocktail Book three years later. Early recipes called for equal parts maple syrup and apple brandy, astonishingly “one hooker” or approximately two and a half ounces of each. Tastes and syrups were obviously different then, but this is a ratio right out of Super Troopers. Embury, in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), offered a spirit-forward version. He deemed it “not half bad” and also noted that the drink is sometimes known as the Applejack Dynamite “for no reason at all.” Perhaps because it’s better than not half bad.

Jim Meehan helped restore the Rabbit’s glory (as well as its longer name) by including it in The PDT Cocktail Book. He specifically recommends Grade B maple syrup, the darker, thicker variety with a more intense flavor that makes it superior in cooking and baking. I don’t do much cooking and baking. I do eat a lot of pancakes, though, so what I had on hand was Grade A dark amber syrup – think of it as the highest level of the maple minor leagues – and that served me in good stead.

The recipe below comes courtesy of Erik Hakkinen of the Zig Zag Café. The Jack Rabbit practically demands to be served at brunch; maple and apple pair as wonderfully in the glass as they do on the breakfast plate, with the zing of lemon an added bonus. Not that you should limit this cocktail to sprawling midday repasts. Enjoy one anytime this season, while chestnuts roast on an open fire, or you draft the litany of half-truths that constitutes your holiday newsletter, or you search feverishly for the Allen wrench that’s supposed to be in the box. It’s too good a drink to pass up.

PS. My holiday newsletter will be a little late this year. But it’ll be worth waiting for.

The Jack Rabbit

1 ½ oz. Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy
½ oz. maple syrup
½ oz. orange juice
½ oz. lemon juice

Shake vigorously. Strain. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at Amazon.com.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Keenan's Klassics: It's a Shane Black Christmas

Your old favorite, from December 2009. Note that BLAST OF SILENCE will be showing at Noir City Xmas this very night in San Francisco, with writer/director/star Allen Baron in attendance.

There I am at my favorite watering hole, talking with the staff, when the subject of Christmas movies is raised.

First suggestion, not made by me: the traditional double-bill of Die Hard and Die Hard II: Die Harder.

Thus giving me the tenor of the conversation. This is not the time, perhaps, to mention Remember the Night and Holiday Affair, two overlooked films (with noir connections!) that Turner Classic Movies has labored to turn into Yuletide staples. Although a mention of Blast of Silence, full of Wenceslas wetwork, might not be out of the question.

So I lobby for my own Christmas favorite, The Ref. And then observe, not for the first time, that the entire oeuvre of Shane Black – Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang – is set at the most wonderful time of the year. (Editor's note, 2013: You can now add IRON MAN 3 to that roster.)

Therefore, as you venture out for that last round of shopping, I offer, by popular demand, what has become a VKDC tradition. (“By popular demand” meaning Rosemarie asked, “Why haven’t you posted this yet?” And she did write most of it.) Here, once again, is Shane Black’s 12 Days of Christmas. Record your church group performing this and we’ll post the video here!

Twelve cars exploding
Eleven extras running
Ten tankers skidding
Nine strippers pole-ing
Eight Uzis firing
Seven henchmen scowling
Six choppers crashing

Five silver Glocks

Four ticking bombs
Three hand grenades
Two mortar shells
And a suitcase full of C-4

God bless us, everyone. Or else.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Extra, Extra!: Noir City

Coming along just in time to chill your Christmas cheer is the latest issue of Noir City, the magazine of the Film Noir Foundation. And what better face to slap on the cover than that of Dan Duryea?

Noir’s most likable heel gets his due with a host of writers considering his contribution to the genre. Plus a look at Peter Lorre’s sole film as director; an interview with Lion Books editor Arnold Hano, responsible for bringing key books from authors like Jim Thompson and David Goodis into print; and fifty years after John F. Kennedy’s assassination, a consideration of the paranoid style in movies.

Closing out the issue: “Keenan’s Korner,” my crime fiction & cocktails column. I review Marisha Pessl’s mammoth, highly touted Night Film, Elissa Wald’s domestic noir The Secret Lives of Married Women, and the latest Crissa Stone caper from Wallace Stroby, Shoot the Woman First. Plus a salute to the real national drink of Mexico, first choice of lamsters everywhere.

All this can be yours for a donation to the Film Noir Foundation, with every penny going to the restoration of America’s noir heritage. C’mon, pony up. It’s Christmas, fer Chrissakes.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Diplomat

Following the Journalist with the Diplomat means I’ve accidentally stumbled into a theme: Cocktails Named After Professions My Mother Wishes I’d Gone Into.

There’s another logic to this week’s selection. We’re in the thick of the holidays. During this season of celebration, there may rise occasions when you want to keep the party going without paying the price the next day.

In a bar, never settle for club soda and lime unless that’s what you crave. Experience has taught me that bartenders relish the opportunity to prepare non-alcoholic drinks using the juices, spices and mixers at their disposal. Many cocktail establishments even highlight such selections on their menus, and they’re often among the tastier offerings.

Or perhaps you simply prefer to dial down your consumption without sacrificing complexity. I found myself in such a situation on a recent evening at Seattle’s superb Rob Roy. I’d had a cocktail, didn’t care for another of similar strength, yet was in no hurry to leave. I explained my dilemma to Greg, working behind the bar.

He understood. “You want to pump the brakes,” he said. “I have just the thing.” He fixed me a Diplomat, a drink I’d always meant to try in part because I always have the ingredients.

The Diplomat first appears in the 1922 book Cocktails: How to Mix Them. The author is Robert Vermiere, credited as “‘Robert’ of the American Bar, Casino Municipal, Nice and late of the Embassy Club, London.” His bona fides state that he is “well known as an expert, first at the Royal Automobile Club.” Along with the recipe, ‘Robert’ presents without comment the tidbit that “this drink is very well known in the French Diplomatic Service.” So well known, in fact, that he lists it as the Diplomate. Maybe no comment is required: you don’t want to serve too much of the hard stuff to someone in possession of state secrets.

Robert’s formula calls for twice as much dry vermouth as sweet as well as both cherry and lemon peel garnishes. The modern variation opts for equal parts, omits the lemon peel, and adds bitters (ideally Angostura, but orange works as well). I put my own spin on the drink by using Punt e Mes, the additional bitterness of that sweet vermouth necessitating an extra dash or two of maraschino to compensate.

When David Embury enumerated the functions of a cocktail in The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks he led off the list with, “It must whet the appetite, not dull it.” The Diplomat’s long, dry finish makes it the embodiment of Embury’s ideal and a classic aperitif. At the very least, it’s a wonderful way to slow the tempo of a pleasant evening during the most wonderful time of the year.

The Diplomat

1 ½ oz. dry vermouth
1 ½ oz. sweet vermouth (try Punt e Mes)
2 dashes maraschino liqueur
1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir. Strain. Garnish with a cherry.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at Amazon.com.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Book: A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True 1907-1940, by Victoria Wilson (2013)

To get my prejudice out of the way up front: I believe Barbara Stanwyck is the greatest actress ever to step before a movie camera. Many of her performances remain startlingly fresh, her presence almost contemporary. It’s at once resilient and sad, marrying the confidence of a thoroughgoing professional with an uneasy watchfulness. Being abandoned by your widowed father at the age of four and having to make your own way in the world as an adolescent can do that to a girl.

Naturally, I couldn’t wait to devour Victoria Wilson’s new biography. But I’d have to pace myself. Wilson’s epic is no ordinary repast but a smorgasbord, tipping the scales at over one thousand pages. And as the subtitle indicates, that’s only volume one.

Stanwyck in 1924
Stanwyck’s history – a Dickensian childhood as Ruby Stevens giving way to a career that spanned the breadth of twentieth century show business – and her status as a performer have long demanded a definitive survey. Wilson dedicated over fifteen years to the task. Her book is exhaustive and on occasion exhausting. She regularly attributes to Stanwyck quotes from studio press books or back issues of Photoplay that were clearly written by some sharpie in the publicity department. The lines not only don’t sound like the actress but scarcely read as human. Here’s Barbara, allegedly, on her character in the 1932 Edna Ferber adaptation So Big: “Selina became a farmer’s wife, and her hands became soil worn. She lost her girlish prettiness, but she became a beauty instead. And there is beauty in fine, strong hands that have not been ashamed to work in the earth.”

Wilson also insists on including every tidbit about Stanwyck reported by Hedda or Louella, no matter how irrelevant or meager the context. It’s a strange choice given Wilson’s genuine talent for concision. She regularly steps away from the framework provided by Stanwyck’s life to offer brief, vivid sketches of her collaborators like Frank Capra (who helped establish the actress’s early persona and fell in love with her), William Wellman and Stella Dallas author Olive Higgins Prouty.

The most vexing figure in Stanwyck’s life is her first husband, vaudeville titan Frank Fay. Their troubled, abusive marriage is thought to have inspired A Star is Born. Wilson skillfully dissects one of Fay’s signature routines on the page, explaining his popularity and demonstrating how his now-forgotten talent influenced (and was copied by) Jack Benny and Bob Hope, and thus every comic who borrowed from them. She even gets mileage out of Stanwyck’s second spouse Robert Taylor, the handsome if one-note actor who was briefly bigger than Gable. (Taylor’s diminished luster is perfectly summed up for me by the blank enthusiasm with which Sarah Jessica Parker says his name when guessing which celebrity her boyfriend met in Ed Wood.)

Taylor and Stanwyck
Wilson chooses to focus more on Stanwyck’s work than her relationships, which is no doubt as the lady would have wanted it. In the time covered here Stanwyck evolves quickly, moving from pre-Code shockers like Baby Face to the tortured mother love of Stella Dallas in less than five years. The book’s greatest asset is Wilson’s understanding of and appreciation for Stanwyck’s abilities as an actress. Wilson also doesn’t stint on how Stanwyck’s regular radio appearances aided her development as a performer. (Another plus: a bounty of photographs, many never before published.)

When Stanwyck provides great copy, Wilson proves more than up for the challenge. The book is particularly strong when dealing with Preston Sturges, who as a writer is responsible for Stanwyck’s first truly great performance in the Christmas dramedy Remember the Night and would direct her in the classic The Lady Eve. Wilson picks up on Night’s Gothic undercurrents, on Sturges’ nuanced dialogue and barbed warmth. She points out the marked contrast with Stanwyck’s previous film, the adaptation of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy, in which the actress is stilted. Odets doggedly conjures up the real world through details – the cry of the fishmongers satirized in Barton Fink – and as such his “official art” is “artificial and stylized,” while the faded-upper-crust Sturges grounds his realism in “emotionalism, character, people and humor.” He is “high elegance and high sophistication while being banana peel low, and Barbara as an actress is freed up by it.”

The Stanwyck legend was forged in one of the great show business stories, and Wilson tells it in its full glory. Initially the movies didn’t know what to do with Stanwyck, and she in turn was suspicious of them. She was cajoled into making yet another screen test she was sure would prove fruitless. On an evening in 1931 she presented herself at Warner Brothers and found no director, no make-up man, no script. Finally, Alexander Korda arrived. He, too, was adrift in Hollywood, destined to find success back in Europe. He invited Barbara to do what she pleased while the camera rolled. She said to hell with it and performed her key scene from The Noose, the melodrama in which she made her name on Broadway. Korda, briefly struck speechless by her intensity, told her “it’s been a privilege to make this test with a real actress.” It’s a haunting moment, two gifted outcasts briefly commiserating then going their separate ways, expecting nothing. And they’re right; the studio’s assessment is that neither director nor actress has anything to offer. That melancholy punch line gives way to a more astonishing payoff when Frank Fay barges in on Frank Capra and forces him to watch the footage, setting his wife on a path that will quickly eclipse his own.

That tale and the life it produced deserve to be celebrated, and Wilson has done right by them. Steel-True is like a marathon, a long haul requiring time and commitment. When it’s finished, you feel spent and exhilarated – and immediately start planning the next run. The book ends with the world plunging into war and Stanwyck poised to play her greatest parts: Eve, Ball of Fire, and Double Indemnity, not to mention one of my favorites Sorry, Wrong Number. Volume two cannot come soon enough.

If you’re in New York, be sure to attend the Film Forum’s month-long Stanwyck series, at which Victoria Wilson will be a guest.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Cocktail of the Week: The Journalist


Holds Forth on Subject at Slightest Provocation

SEATTLE, WA – Vince Keenan had never tried the cocktail known as the Journalist before, but he had a perfectly valid reason to make one at his home bar.

“I already had the ingredients,” Mr. Keenan said. “Every one of them. Even the lemon. Kind of a lucky break, really.”

Over recent years, Mr. Keenan has developed a taste for mixed drinks, amassing a considerable collection of books dedicated to alcoholic libations and regularly preparing them for himself and his wife, who asked not to be identified by name.

“I wouldn’t say I’m a cocktail expert. More a cocktail enthusiast,” Mr. Keenan said with what he hoped was a twinkle in his eye but was in fact more likely mild astigmatism. “I’m always happy to experiment, especially with what I already have on hand.”

Pictured: A journalist
In this most recent instance, that would include curaçao. “I’ve been raving about Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao for a while now. Ever since I bought a bottle, really,” Mr. Keenan said, turning to his sparsely-trafficked website for proof. He added that he had become quite a fan of the orange liqueur, based on a nineteenth-century formulation, because of the presence of brandy, which he described as “stout.” “As in strong, not as in the beer,” Mr. Keenan clarified with a wholly unnecessary chuckle. “I was looking for other drinks I could make with it and came across the Journalist.”

The adult beverage in question first appeared in the storied Savoy Cocktail Book, a compendium of mixed drinks first published in 1930 and assembled by Harry Craddock, an American bartender who emigrated to the United Kingdom during Prohibition to pursue his craft. Unlike many of the other cocktails featured in Mr. Craddock’s book, the Journalist was largely forgotten, seldom appearing in subsequent titles on the subject. “Somehow it survived into my copy of Patrick Gavin Duffy’s Official Mixer’s Manual,” Mr. Keenan said, scrambling to retrieve his edition of the book even though no one had asked him to. “It’s where I first found it.”

To some extent Mr. Keenan was not surprised by the Journalist’s neglected status, because of its similarity to a far-better known concoction. “It’s basically a perfect martini with a sharp citrus kick,” Mr. Keenan said, explaining that by “perfect” he meant the cocktail contained equal portions of both sweet and dry vermouth. The citrus kick comes courtesy of lemon juice and Mr. Keenan’s favored new ingredient curaçao, which are used sparingly but to great effect. Mr. Keenan again credits the brandy present in the curaçao. “I think it tethers the hints of lemon and bitter orange, lets them shine through the gin. The drink retains the crispness and clarity of a martini, but with a burst of citrus that makes it sort of sprightly. I can say that, right? Sprightly? I always feel self-conscious using words like that when talking about drinks. Or any subject, really.” He went on to provide several examples, ending in a protracted crying jag.

Pictured: A different Journalist
Mr. Keenan also appreciated the Journalist’s judicious use of bitters, which he viewed as a nod to tradition. “It’s a variation on a martini, after all, and originally that meant bitters. The recipe calls for Angostura, but any aromatic variety will do. I wouldn’t make this drink without them.”

This experiment proving a success, Mr. Keenan was asked what he planned to do next. “I don’t really know,” he said. “Typically I don’t put much forethought into this. More often than not it’s based on whatever I have lying around. Like the Bénédictine I picked up the other day. Where did I put that?” He went in search of the recently acquired bottle. When he did not return after several hours, the interview drew to a close.

- 30 -

The Journalist

2 oz. gin
½ oz. dry vermouth
½ oz. sweet vermouth
2 dashes curaçao
2 dashes lemon juice
1 dash Angostura or aromatic bitters

Shake. Strain. Garnish with a lemon peel.

Want more Cocktail of the Week? The first fifty-two essays are available in the Kindle bestseller DOWN THE HATCH: ONE MAN’S ONE YEAR ODYSSEY THROUGH CLASSIC COCKTAIL RECIPES AND LORE. Buy it now at Amazon.com.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Down The Hatch: Repeal Day Blowout!

Eighty years ago tomorrow, on December 5, 1933, the Twenty-First Amendment was ratified and Prohibition ended. To commemorate that moment when the United States came to its senses and once again bellied up to the bar, I’m teaming with Amazon for a special Kindle Countdown Deal.

My book Down the Hatch: One Man’s One Year Odyssey Through Classic Cocktail Recipes and Lore is only 99 cents through Friday. Go to the Amazon page; there’s a little countdown clock and everything! Celebrate your right to imbibe as an American in style. Read about Repeal Day here, then buy the book Joy of Mixology author gaz regan called a “great compilation of fine drinks” for less than a buck! Remember, with the free Kindle app you can read Down the Hatch on any computer, tablet or smartphone.

In other DTH news ... my favorite book of the year is Drinking With Men, the brilliant memoir by New York Times Magazine columnist Rosie Schaap. Consequently, I was thrilled when Rosie sent along some kind words about Down the Hatch. To wit:

“Vince Keenan is just the sort of man with whom I like to drink: Funny, sharp, opinionated, a Mets fan - and a truly engaging storyteller. DOWN THE HATCH is a terrific guide through the classic cocktail repertoire.”

The clock is (literally) ticking. What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Movie: The Impostors (1998)

I’m reluctant to file this post under the Tuesday’s Overlooked Movies rubric. After all, I remember The Impostors with so much affection that it was our Thanksgiving night entertainment, cinematic comfort food. The trailer’s not on YouTube – but a fan version is, which tells you something about the film’s reception.

Actor Stanley Tucci scored a succès d’estime with his maiden (co-)directorial effort, 1996’s delicate art vs. commerce fable Big Night. His follow-up left critics and audiences somewhat flummoxed. It’s an honest-to-God farce, a loving tribute to 1930s cinema featuring the best actors 1990s independent film had to offer.

Tucci and Oliver Platt play Arthur and Maurice, a pair of literally starving actors cut from Laurel and Hardy cloth. Fittingly the movie’s opening scenes play like one-reelers as the boys struggle to ply their trade. Thanks to their efforts, they run afoul of vainglorious thespian Sir Jeremy Burtom (Alfred Molina, gleefully picking scenery from between his teeth) and accidentally end up stowing away on a transatlantic cruise ship, where their troubles really start.

The characters onboard the vessel are broad types drawn from the era (Campbell Scott restores luster to a neglected favorite, the comedy German), each a faker in his or her own way. They’re played by an astonishing cast. The assemblage of talent is one of the things that keeps bringing me back to the movie: Steve Buscemi (singing!), Lili Taylor, Hope Davis, Richard Jenkins, Allison Janney, and many more. It was only on viewing the film last Thursday that I realized Burtom’s nameless dresser is played by Lost/Person of Interest star Michael Emerson. (Tucci is destined to be remembered by an entire generation as the preening M.C. of the Hunger Games Caesar Flickerman, but for me his legacy aside from his sterling work as a character actor is the trio of films he directed that show an affinity for a bygone New York: this, Big Night and Joe Gould’s Secret. I wish he’d make more of them.)

What I love about The Impostors, in addition to the players and the affection for the period, is the silliness. It celebrates a style of comedy seldom seen nowadays, wrapping up the mayhem with an end titles sequence that is one of the most joyous on film. Occasionally I’ll pop in the DVD just to watch the last shot. It never fails to make me feel like a million bucks.

On The Web: Crimes of the Century

Ethan Iverson is the hugely talented pianist in The Bad Plus, a connoisseur of crime fiction, and a man who does not shy away from monumental tasks. His latest dark undertaking is an exhaustive, highly idiosyncratic list of the genre’s must-read books. I was honored that he asked me to give feedback, along with the estimable Sarah Weinman. Clear the decks and go read his choices.