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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

The Manhattan Project

May.27.15

The Manhattan Project

by Matt Bean

A squat package from Amazon Prime arrived at my door one afternoon with the kind of lopsided heft you’d expect of a bubble-wrapped bowling ball or maybe an antique typewriter cocooned in biodegradable peanuts. I gave it a shake and brought it inside to strip off the packing tape. This was the latest in a cadence of brown-boxed surprises to arrive that week, all gifts to a future self from a former one fortified by a few cocktails and empowered by one-click purchasing.

What I found inside the box recalled the oysters and the muscadet I’d had in Red Hook that weekend, and more directly the two or three fantastic Manhattans I’d had to wash them all down. The drinks had come with just the right amount of Carpano Antica, not the usual cheap, sour vermouth, and each was garnished with two Luxardo Maraschino cherries: deep, dark sugar bombs shot through with a lush syrup that warms the soul and frightens the pancreas.

Will power weakened by the Manhattan bender, I must have bought myself a six-pound container of Luxardo Maraschino cherries. This, I did not regard as a mistake—even now that I had sobered up.

The bar was called Fort Defiance, named after a loose assemblage of defenses cobbled together during the Battle of Brooklyn in the Revolutionary War. It possesses, like the rest of Red Hook’s establishments, the feeling that it is somehow apart from the rest of New York City. And that has nothing to do with the lack of public transit.

In 2012 I watched from the banks of the East River as the waters raged and Hurricane Sandy gathered strength. The assault on Red Hook ravaged local businesses and homes, but together the hearty folks there soon rebuilt what had been lost. They live on a frontier—theirs is not a polished part of the city, but one built from the bricks up. A bit dangerous, a bit rough, but all the better for it.

This has always been the case, from the days when Red Hook housed dockworkers and shipyards up through recent history. In the 1990s, Red Hook was considered the crack cocaine capital of New York. In the early 2000s, when I came to the city, it had been cleaned up but was no less barren. There were two or three bars— one replete with bad taxidermy, the other a haven for burlesque and performers. A band I had joined practiced in the same space Fort Defiance would later rehabilitate on Van Brunt Street, a cold, unforgiving, and far-flung box of a room that was an hour and a half from my apartment on the Upper West Side. The space did offer a baroque species of Hammond organ and low rent to compensate, but I recall dreading the trek from train to train to train to bus to get there. Gone now is the practice space, having given way to new wine bars, an Ikea, other staples of gentrification.

Not too far away from Fort Defiance in Red Hook sat a competing manufacturer to Luxardo, Dell’s Maraschino Cherries. I didn’t like their saccharine brand of garnish—a cheap, neon bulb topped by a simulated stem, but it turns out the cherries weren’t the finest product to be churned out of the family-owned factory. Dell’s would later be revealed as the front for a secret basement pot farm yielding ten million dollars in profit every year, according to one estimate. The so-called “cherry king” Arthur Mondella killed himself in a bathroom before police could bring him in for questioning but by that point many in the neighborhood knew the truth. Mondella’s casket was carried to the church with Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” blasting on the loudspeakers.

I never smoked the Cherry King’s weed, but my vice of choice–Amazon Prime–had nonetheless called him to mind. How was it that this inferior brand of cherry held sway over most bar stations in America? Luxardo’s exotic Italian brand of cherry was first made in 1905 and was likely borrowed along with the eponymous liqueur from Croatian coastal origins. Next to the preservative-laden American varieties, the cherries burst with flavor. They taste like actual fruit, not some day-glo science experiment gone awry.

Thing is, they’re expensive, and at Fort Defiance I must have reasoned that buying in bulk was the best way to support my habit. Luxardo cherries are one of those bar staples or bellwether ingredients that informs you, straight off, that a place means business, and I mean business when it comes to making Manhattans.

Do the math and a small jar often goes for 20 bucks a pop. That’s about 50 cents a cherry, a steep cost if the bartender is generous with her garnishes. I’d taken to eschewing the cherry altogether in favor of a peel or twist, if the cherry offered was inferior. Bar-made brandy cherries are often delicious, but more flaccid than the Luxardo variety, which benefits from the layers upon layers of taste provided by the syrup surrounding and suffusing it. (Add a dollop or two of said syrup to your next Manhattan before stirring and you’ll appreciate the depth it adds to the party.)

So it was that I found myself with six pounds of the finest grade of man-manipulated cherry product. Under similar conditions—too many drinks, too little restraint—I’ve come into the possession of everything from a 1976 BMW 2002 (bad idea) to a vintage surveyor’s tripod which I later fashioned into a lamp for my living room. But this was a remarkable commitment to a single ingredient, one that reflects my devotion to the Manhattan in all of its forms.

Lately I’ve taken to enjoying the drink with maraschino liqueur as an addition. Just add a half-ounce to two ounces of whiskey (I prefer Rye) along with a shake or two of bitters (or an amaro for a kick) and an ounce of your dry vermouth of choice. (Cocchi Americano works as a substitute for the Vermouth; so does Carpano Antica.)

This cocktail, so made, is called the Brooklyn. And if you’re around I’d be happy to fix you my borough’s eponymous cocktail. Stop by. I won’t run out of cherries any time soon.

[Photo credit: Sam Howzit]

More of a Capitalist Parasite Than a Fascist, TBH

Apr.28.17

More of a Capitalist Parasite Than a Fascist, TBH

by Aleks Eror

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Bourbon in Belgrade

Earlier this month, Serbian citizens went to the polls to elect their new president. Reigning prime minister Aleksandar Vucic was more than just a clear frontrunner: he was already the president-elect in all but name. The election itself was a mere formality, and no one with a shred of political literacy truly thought that he could be denied the presidency. Instead, the vote became a referendum on Vucic himself and his five years in power.

Optimists saw it as an opportunity to build some momentum around a long-feeble opposition that could perhaps weaken his stranglehold on government at the next parliamentary elections. But the playing field wasn’t just uneven, it was farcical: the campaign period would last a mere 30 days–the absolute minimum allowed by law. In that time, each opposition candidate had to scramble together 10,000 signatures to get their name on the ballot slip, all while Vucic was out on the campaign trail.

I watched the results roll in from the comfort of my sofa in Berlin as I sipped on a bourbon, my standard evening ritual. The result was expected: a landslide victory for Vucic, totaling 56 percent of the popular vote. But despite its predictability, the outcome still outraged a sizable minority of the electorate, prompting thousands to take to the streets to protest “against the dictatorship.” The protests continued daily, reconvening every day at 6 p.m. to march through Belgrade and other towns and cities, demanding Vucic’s resignation. Their numbers grew steadily until Easter rolled around, and then… well… then they decided to take a break for a few days, drawing much condescension from cynics.

Labeling Vucic a dictator gives him too much credit. Dictators have an ideological grounding, whereas Vucic is a hollow man who believes in nothing but his own interests. He’s not a fearsome autocrat in the Putin or Erdogan mold—he lacks the vision for that. His main aim is to get rich, consolidate power, and construct a system that will remain subservient to him after he has left power so he stays rich and never has to do a day of honest work in his life. He’s more of a crony capitalist parasite than a fascist, that’s not a redeeming quality.

Those that took to the street weren’t contesting the result; they were incensed by the nature of the victory. No candidate had ever won the presidency in the first round. Vucic’s effortless and unsubtle win reeked of arrogance and showed how little he fears his neglected populace. It pierced through the veil of plausible deniability that allows Serbs to avoid facing up to some uncomfortable truths.

The protests were rudderless, lacking direction and a tangible purpose. They were a howl of impotent rage rather than a coordinated campaign of civil disobedience. Many want to see Vucic deposed, but no one has any idea of who or what could realistically take his place. Vucic is the target of their anger, but he’s only an avatar that represents the dashed hopes of the post-Milosevic years. A former minister in Milosevic’s government, one who stood before the national assembly in 1995 and threatened to kill 100 Muslims for every Serb hurt in the Bosnian war, Vucic is a reminder of how little has changed 17 years on. The question is if things ever will.

Some three weeks later, I am back in Belgrade visiting family, and yet another protest had been scheduled on the evening of my arrival. The city is choked by a thick world-weariness that always seems to hang in the air, but the protest’s rallying point offered up a small oasis of defiant camaraderie. I can’t say I fancy their chances, but I’ll hope for the best as I sip on my bourbon in the evenings.

Photo by: Lazara Marinković

India’s Dying Breed of Raspberry Soda Purveyors

Apr.27.17

India’s Dying Breed of Raspberry Soda Purveyors

by Rohit Inani

Raspberry soda in Bombay

“VS Naipaul once said that Bombay is a crowd…” I began to say, but G wasn’t listening to me. She was looking out of the taxi window to the sea and, farther away, to the Bombay skyline. It was the end of February and it was an unusually hot afternoon, and a breeze was lapping her face, throwing her wild afro-curls out of the window.

We were battling a heavy hangover and decided to visit a bookstore in Colaba, an old British quarter still wearing the badge of colonialism with pride. Just a week before we downed a couple of beers each at Alps, a cheap bar with long hanging lamps just across the road from the Taj Mahal Hotel. Later, under the shade of tall, leafy trees in the backyard of a 19th century library, we sat on a concrete bench and listened to two men debating Donald Trump and democracy. Blah, Blah, Blah. TRAMMPP, one of them said. G looked at me and frowned. We left, looking bored.

It was a Sunday and the bookstore was empty. We bought a few books. In the evening we walked to Horniman Circle Gardens, a large, leafy park surrounded by India’s premier banks, high-fashion luxury brands, and a few iconic cafes. But that evening there were also two or three police vans, curious onlookers and paparazzi marveling at a possible high society party at the classic Town Hall. The building is also home to the Asiatic Society of Bombay, where the original manuscript copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy is preserved. In 1930, Benito Mussolini offered the society a million pounds for the copy but the society bluntly refused. Mussolini was furious.

G said she strongly felt it was a Page 3 party and walked up to a cop to enquire. Bollywood and Dante under the same roof? Hah!

We left the scene and asked a man at the next turn for Jimmy Boy. Located at a quiet and breezy street, Jimmy Boy is an old Irani cafe founded in 1920, and then known as Cafe India. In 1999, the family changed the name to Jimmy Boy, keeping in mind the changing times, and put Madonna and the Spice Girls on its evening playlist. Jimmy Boy is one of only a handful of Irani cafes—the once-ubiquitous canteens set up by India’s Zoroastrian Irani immigrants—still operating in Bombay.

We sat at a marble-top table looking out on the street and marveled at the trademark bent wood chairs, high ceiling and a slightly tilting crystal chandelier. G loves Irani cafes. Outside, it was turning dark now, and we asked for two raspberry sodas. A quintessential Parsi beverage, it is fizzy and plays havoc with one’s sweet tooth. Bottled by the Pallonji company since 1885, today it is on the brink of extinction, thanks to a lack of demand and the gradual decline of the Parsi community. Some still call it the Rose of Persia.

“How do you like it?” I asked. But G wasn’t listening. She closed her eyes in excitement and drank through the straw, grooving her head in slow motion, and outside, on the empty street, night fell.

Not Bursting with Flavor, But Goes Nicely with Impeachment Celebrations

Apr.26.17

Not Bursting with Flavor, But Goes Nicely with Impeachment Celebrations

by Mitchell Blatt

Beer in Seoul

The long, grassy square in front of Gwanghwamun gate was filled with people raising candles and waving signs. Some were sitting on the grass enjoying beer or soju and snacks. At the very front was a stage where rock and pop artists performed. “Alright, it’s a glorious day,” one singer crooned.

The cause for celebration? South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye had been removed from office that morning following her impeachment over a massive corruption scandal. It was the first time a Korean president had been removed by democratic means, and it was due in large part to the protesters at Gwanghawmun, who came out in the hundreds of thousands for candlelight vigils.

I was drinking a large can of Hite beer, mingling with the cross section of society reveling in their victory. Two men in their 40s, Kevin and Kyu, invited me to sit and eat street food with them.

The contrast between their youth and the scene in front of them couldn’t be greater. In the 1960s and 70s, activists who protested against the authoritarian abuses of Park’s father, Park Chung-hee, who rose to power by military coup, could be arrested and tortured. In 1980, Park’s successor, Chun Doo-hwan, sent the military to suppress an uprising in Gwangju, causing hundreds of deaths. After the sacrifices of so many, South Koreans finally won democracy for themselves in 1988. These past few months, the power of people exercising their democratic rights was on full display.

While Korean beer isn’t bursting with hops and flavor, it does have a nice smoothness that makes it cool and satisfying. Hite is the best-selling beer and has fueled American and Korean soldiers out on the town and democratic activists through the past half-century. Today’s Hite Brewery got started in 1933 as Chosun Brewery.

That night, with the music, the spirits, and the historic occasion, the beer couldn’t have tasted better. After three months pressing the legislature for Park’s impeachment, then three months more waiting for a ruling by the Constitutional Court, the mood of Gwanghwamun changed from one of anxiety to celebration.

A traditional Korean music troupe played the zither and banged drums and danced in a circle. Park’s critics posed for pictures in front of a papier-mâché statue of Park in prison garb. When the music stopped, Koreans gathered in the middle of the square held fireworks in their hands and set them off in a shower of red, yellow, and green.

Nothing Like a Little Unmediated Animal Flesh to Send You Running for the Fruit Pavilion

Apr.25.17

Nothing Like a Little Unmediated Animal Flesh to Send You Running for the Fruit Pavilion

by Rob Kunzig

Kvass in Riga

Step this way, into the Fish Pavilion at the Riga Central Market in Latvia, where the stench of fish oil and smoked flesh fills the room to its vaulted ceilings and immediately manifests as a metallic tang in the back of my throat. Vendors in rubber aprons smack around live carp, which smack back, gills heaving. I watch a bucket kick itself across the tile and catch a glimpse of wet black fin inside. And here’s a semicircle of severed pike heads, apparently decorative, vaguely conspiratorial.

If you’re someone like me, this is a strange place for an afternoon snack. But I’m here to sample two Latvian institutions under the roof of a third: smoked sprats and kvass, a sweet near-beer, all washed down under the roof of one of Europe’s largest bazaars.

Kvass seems to have its roots in Russia, though good luck selling that to a Latvian—they’ll say it’s a Baltic thing, or an Eastern European thing, and while we’re at it, the Russians didn’t invent pickles, either. Like prison wine, kvass is easily brewed at home: combine rye bread, sugar, and brewer’s yeast, and let ferment for a few days. The result is a sweet, mildly yeasty beverage that couldn’t get a toddler drunk. In the summer, Latvians sell it from drums by the roadside.

A half-liter pour costs 80 euro-cents (or 90 American cents) at the fish pavilion. There’s space nearby to stand and use it to wash down my plastic-bagged kilogram (2.2 pounds) of smoked sardines. It’s a little sticky on the lips, but not syrupy, with a pleasant fizz that almost makes me forget that this could have been brewed under someone’s bed.

Like kvass, smoked fish is a pillar of the Latvian diet. Much of the fish Latvians eat is caught, processed, and sold in Latvia. Plants line the coast, and Latvian expats will cut off a finger for a tin of Rigas Gold, a particularly famous brand of smoked sprats (small herring) preserved in vegetable oil.

I pinch apart the sprat’s gold foil skin to get to the dark, greasy flecks of meat inside. It’s pungent, salty, and meager. Like steamed crabs, this is a deliberately difficult meal, meant to be enjoyed slowly over conversation. It counters the lingering sweetness of the kvass, and I can briefly imagine having one more.

Far from the poise and polish of Riga’s old city, the market feels unvarnished, post-Soviet. Wide-eyed American tourists expecting a wholesome farmer’s market should prepare instead for Russians in tracksuits to flick cigarette ash on them. Inside the pavilion is a picture of abundance, even if it looks like a grindhouse flick: see the trays of jello-like livers, or the basketball-sized cow’s heart, or the various animal appendages impaled on meat hooks.

I’m an enthusiastic carnivore, but like most Americans, I’m used to a little mass-market mediation between me and my animal flesh. Seeing it—smelling it—makes me want to move on to the fruit pavilion. I manage one sprat, but I can’t do two, forget the full kilo.

I bring the bag to a Latvian friend and ask him if he likes sprats. He gives me a look I’m now familiar with.

“Of course,” he says.

The Universal Struggle to Get to the Bar Before Happy Hour Ends

Apr.24.17

The Universal Struggle to Get to the Bar Before Happy Hour Ends

by Saba Imtiaz

Wine in Amman

It is 5 p.m. in Amman, and I’m frantically dialing my bank in Pakistan to complain why a transfer hasn’t gone through. My Urdu seems accented and strange, as if I haven’t spent most of my life speaking the language.

I rush out of the house. It’s a Thursday night, the start of the weekend, and I want the same ritual as that of people working in offices everywhere–to get a drink. I emerge to the beginnings of rain, and shrug on a jacket and wrap my head in a scarf. It’s April, and yet I am still dressing like early winter.

I almost run to the stop for servees cabs: the shared-taxi service that runs in older Amman neighborhoods. There’s a queue stretching down the pavement. The servees cabs seem to be practicing their version of surge pricing. One servees says it won’t go downtown. Behind me is a guy dressed in head-to-toe workout gear, and incongruously holding crystal prayer beads.

We shuffle along in the queue. A guy passes by with a roll-on suitcase with a seemingly pregnant woman in tow, wearing a burqa and niqab. They ask for directions, and the queue is split between saying it’s a 10-minute walk and advising them to take a cab. They head off on foot. “Some people like walking,” says crystal beads man, to no one in particular.

I am itching to get going. What if happy hour is over and I have to pay full price—money I really can’t afford to throw away–for a drink?

A servees rolls up, and I don’t even care if it’s not going downtown. It’s going somewhere. Four of us pile in and pay the driver; a little over a quarter of a dinar for a ride that would cost four times that in a cab. I then take another servees to go to a different neighborhood. My head is throbbing slightly; I’m starting to wonder if the running around is worth it for a drink.

I disembark at Café de Paris in the Jabal al Lweibdeih neighborhood. Nine years ago, when I last lived in Amman, it was perhaps the only café here, a bare-bones place that served passable coffee, with large windows looking out onto a sleepy little neighborhood. Now this district is where the hipsters and expats hang out, and Café de Paris is now a bar—all dark wood and old-school stools. In the corner, a street artist sips his beer.

I strip off my jacket and ask the bartender: “Is it still happy hour?” “Until 8,” he says. I could have taken my time, I guess, but I’m here now. My glass of red wine arrives. I watch out the window. Other people come in and light cigarettes. The staff brings in what seems to be a week’s worth of vegetables.

I take a sip. It’s okay wine, but this is my sole luxury this week. I am glad to not be home writing another pitch or checking my bank account. It’s finally 5 p.m., and I’m like everyone else, trying to let go.

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