Your Bar and You

January 27, 2010

Every tee-partialing household has, or should have, a bar. Yours probably does, if we take “bar” to mean a stock of liquor that exists on a “going concern” basis (as opposed to one-off stocks for large parties). But your bar isn’t much, is it? You don’t feel any special sense of proprietorship over it. It doesn’t say anything about who you are or what type of social space your apartment is. But sometimes, after you’ve visited my bar, you wish it did. How can you make that happen? You’ve tried wandering the aisles of the liquor store, but it’s all so bewildering, and you end up spending more money than you wanted to on a haphazard selection that sends you reproving vibes as it sits unconsumed on your shelf, like some stray animal “adopted” by an enthusiastic but irresponsible child. Is there nothing to be done?

The key to building a great bar is the same as it is for any collection, be it of books, movies, autographs, or whatever. You must define the collection’s domain, and you must do so according to (1) your interests, and (2) your budget. A paleoichthyologist friend of mine once won a book-collecting contest with his collection “Man and Fish.” Of course it had Moby Dick and The Old Man and the Sea, but it also had fishing manuals, treatises on the importance of fishery to American culture, and suchlike. The collection wasn’t worth very much money (I’d guess a few hundred dollars), and most of the books were, if not common, then not particularly rare. Nonetheless it was a remarkable collection. Beholding it, one’s sense of the importance of fish to man was immediately expanded, not indefinitely into vaporous musings, but along the lines that my friend’s own wholehearted engagement with the man/fish question suggested. The collection was an appendage of his personality, an expression of his identity in a new medium. Of course collectors with deep pockets might build much more comprehensive collections, perhaps about about man and the sea in general, but that was beyond my friend’s personal interests anyhow. When you start thinking about building your bar, think “Man and Fish.”

Now, how can we translate the “Man and Fish” principle to liquor collecting? The place to begin is with your interests. What are your favorite cocktails? What are the cocktails you are so attached to that you shake your head ruefully when you discover that a friend doesn’t like them? Those cocktails will form the nucleus of your bar. Let’s say that you love the Manhattan. Start by buying one to three bottles of the main spirit, which can be either rye or bourbon. (I highly recommend Rittenhouse rye, which sells for about $17/750ml and is the best rye I’ve ever had). Next you’ll need some sweet (red) vermouth. Vermouth is a very misunderstood drink: many bars feature a large bottle of Martini and Rossi that sits out for years and years, being slowly depleted. But since you love the Manhattan, you’ll do some research and discover two things: (1) there are brands of vermouth that taste much better than the ubiquitous Martini and Rossi (try Noilly Prat), and (2) vermouth should be refrigerated and consumed within a few months. Finally, you will need some angostura bitters, which is a no-brainer since there’s only one brand. And of course you’ll need a metal shaker, a strainer, and some glassware, but that sort of goes without saying. Now, already, you’re at the point where your friends will say, “Daaamn! Now I know where to go if I want a top-notch Manhattan! Party at YOUR house!” Read the rest of this entry »

That Monsieur Hammerskjold and I disagree about the relative merit of “The Hurt Locker” is no secret to…well, the two of us.  But his underestimation of this film in such a public forum leaves me with no choice but to defend its honor.  No, this was not a planned “point-counter-point” on our part.  This is merely an argument 1) on behalf of the best film of the year and 2) that it is much better than “Point Break”.

Dash’s points are well taken.  Mrs. Bigelow’s films pursue a similar aesthetic in service of a similar question.  She is interested in the adrenaline junkie, the ultra-modern adventurer who seeks thrills for his own sake.  The gendered language is purposeful here because Bigelow foucses on a central myth of the American male: rugged, individualistic, glory-seeking despite the odds and a hostile environment.  However, it is only with “The Hurt Locker” that she has made something truly salient.

Again, I agree with Dash that “Point Break” is better than is usually thought, though our reasons are quite different.  I read that movie as a subtle yet substantial critique of one aspect of American culture through one particulr incarnation of the myth of the American male just mentioned.  To watch legitimate celebrities (Swayze and Reeves) wax pseudo-philosophical and seek faux-enlightenment at the barrel of a gun is a clever, pithy (hat-tip Dash) and ultimately withering critique of the American west coast.  The movie shows how southern California co-opts and corrupts legitimate spiritual traditions and how even those who purport to reject its plastic, disposable version of consumer capitalism are co-opted by it.  Utah, from America’s interior (and frontier at that!) is also co-opted by it.  (The fact that he is an FBI agent is extremely interesting given the disproportionate number of Mormons who enthusiastically serve in that particular agency).  Though on its surface American culture (and in this film Bigelow has her guns aimed at Hollywood) appears inane and insane, it is also built upon violence.

However, “Point Break” is limited by its gimmicky conceit.  Read the rest of this entry »

That “The Hurt Locker” is only marginally better than “Point Break” is a fact that becomes clearer on repeat viewings of both films. This is not a knock against “The Hurt Locker,” the Best Picture contender for which Kathryn Bigelow is justifiably considered the favorite to win Best Director; rather, consider it a vote of confidence in “Point Break,” a cult film most famous for having bank robbers don rubber masks of ex-presidents (Patrick Swayze’s Reagan is particularly chilling).

The theme of both movies is “to thine own self be true.” Jeremy Renner’s character in “The Hurt Locker” needs to arrive at a greater understanding of his self in order to be at peace, never mind the social consequences, and both Reeves’ Johnny Utah and Swayze’s Bodhi (short, of course, for Bodhisattva) need to reach their inner selves in order to find enlightenment. Reeves’ search for his self is expressed on film via his love for Lori Petty’s Tyler. The two are made to look nearly identical, and the romance shifts from an expression of Utah’s narcissism to an embrace of a totally different persona. Meanwhile, Bodhi’s spirituality is increasingly contrasted with his destructive actions.

The presidents masks, then, are not just rejections of consumerism and pithy critiques of politics, but invitations to look below the beautiful exteriors. Bodhi lives up to the symbolism of his name, though perhaps not in the ways we expect. Meanwhile, Keanu Reeves wears no mask while undercover. He hides in plain sight, behind his old identity. Like Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker”, he rejects the mask or giant protective suit. Theirs is a sort of open-key encryption. Read the rest of this entry »