Pop Culture, High and Low, Past and Present.
One Day at a Time.

Email me:
vince AT vincekeenan DOT com

    Follow me on Twitter

    Tuesday, July 21, 2009

    Cocktails: Words of Wisdom

    "A proper drink at the right time – one mixed with care and skill and served in a true spirit of hospitality – is better than any other made thing at giving us the illusion, at least, that we’re getting what we want from life. A cat can gaze upon a king, as the proverb goes, and after a Dry Martini or a Sazerac Cocktail or two, we’re all cats."

    - From Imbibe!: From Absinthe Cocktail to Whiskey Smash, a Salute in Stories and Drinks to “Professor” Jerry Thomas, Pioneer of the American Bar, by David Wondrich

    Truer words never written, and ones that came back to me last night in my favorite bar while enjoying a variation on the Battle of New Orleans.

    Labels: ,

    Monday, January 26, 2009

    Noir City San Francisco: Wicked as They Come (1956)/Slightly Scarlet (1956)

    Whenever the dark carnival that is Noir City rolls into Seattle, as it will next month, Rosemarie and I are at every screening. But host and programmer Eddie Muller told us more than once that we weren’t getting the full experience until we took in a double bill at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, the place where Noir City was born. This year, we decided to rectify that.

    On Saturday night, we were part of a crowd over 1400 strong, the second consecutive sell-out of the festival. Things get off to a rollicking start with David Hegarty on the Castro’s mighty Wurlitzer organ, playing a mix of favorites from the ‘20s and ‘30s. He finishes the set with a rendition of San Francisco, the crowd clapping along as the Wurlitzer sinks below stage.

    The evening is a tribute to actress Arlene Dahl, so after a few welcoming words from Eddie Wicked as They Come unspools. Arlene plays a woman hell-bent on escaping her drab working class life, no matter how many seductions it takes. Wicked, based on the novel Portrait in Smoke by Bill S. Ballinger, is a familiar story complete with pat psychological explanation, but Arlene plays the bad girl with such relish that it goes down easy.

    Ms. Dahl, glamorous and fiery of both spirit and mane at age 83, is in attendance along with her son, actor Lorenzo Lamas. (Dude, it’s Renegade!) Eddie interviewed her on stage over champagne. She talked about her memorable first day on the MGM lot (watch the hands, Errol Flynn!), working with the great cinematographer John Alton and director Anthony Mann on the Noir City discovery Reign of Terror, her relationship with John F. Kennedy. She won me over completely by speaking highly of Chez K favorite Dennis Morgan, her co-star in her first “official” movie My Wild Irish Rose.

    A redhead, Ms. Dahl said she was often used “to bring color” to films, but what she really loved was to play the femme fatale. The twain met in our next feature, Slightly Scarlet, which teamed Arlene with fellow titian titan Rhonda Fleming. I had seen the movie before, but never in Technicolor on the big screen. Yowza. In this James M. Cain adaptation the ginger goddesses play sisters – Arlene’s the bad one – who both fall for intellectual gangster on the make John Payne. It was every bit as delirious and unhinged as I remembered. I’m still fairly certain the ending makes no sense. And the capacity crowd ate it up.

    That was it for the movies, but there was more noir to come. We went to the fabulous Kayo Books, where I nearly wept at the sight of so many pulp classics up for sale. I should have brought a second empty suitcase with me. Still, I made a dandy haul that included some Fredric Brown, a copy of Joel Townsley Rogers’ The Red Right Hand to call my very own, and a Johnny Liddell thriller by Frank Kane, who wrote pretty much every episode of the old Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer TV series.

    Across the street from Kayo is the apartment building where Dashiell Hammett lived while he wrote Red Harvest and The Maltese Falcon. I stopped by to pay my respects, and later went to the corner of Bush and Stockton, where Miles Archer breathed his last in Falcon.

    Cocktail report: I’d long wanted to bend an elbow at Bourbon & Branch, and I’m happy to report it’s as good as advertised. The rye maple fizz on the new menu is extraordinary. I’d also heard great things about the Alembic Bar but was concerned that Haight-Ashbury would be a bit out of the way on this trip. I needn’t have worried. (Thanks, Todd and Chad!) The Alembic is worth making time for. Their Vieux Carré had me flying before I reached the airport. It was the perfect way to wrap up a fantastic weekend.

    More photos are up at my Flickr page.

    Labels: , , ,

    Sunday, January 04, 2009

    Cocktails: Insert Absinthe Pun Here

    The New York Times Sunday Style section has done more than its share to propagate idiotic trends. So it’s nice to see them Rochambeau one before it gets out of hand. From Eric Konigsberg’s article on the absinthe craze:

    If absinthe were a band, it would be Interpol, third-hand piffle masquerading as transgressive pop culture. If absinthe were sneakers, it would be a pair of laceless Chuck Taylors designed by John Varvatos for Converse. If it were facial hair, it would be the soul patch. If absinthe were a finish on kitchen and bath fixtures, it would be brushed nickel.


    Wednesday, December 03, 2008

    Cocktails: Class of the Glass

    The New York Times devotes today’s Dining section to cocktail culture, even seeing fit to give my man Murray Stenson at the Zig Zag Café his very own action shot. I was astounded at how many of the bars mentioned I’ve been to, and was filled with both pride and shame. An experience that is not entirely new to me.

    The lead article is on the resurgence of the White Russian, spurred by The Big Lebowski. I confess that as much as I love Lebowski, I have never ordered a Caucasian, nor do I intend to.

    I was more interested in this piece on cocktail geeks. I’m not sure if I could call myself one of them. I have never made my own vermouth, and set the bar pretty low when it comes to ice. (If it’s cold, that’s good enough for me.) On the other hand, I too have little use for vodka and can pinpoint my own moment of conversion: entering the Zig Zag for the first time, telling Ben that I wanted to learn about rye whiskey, and being poured a Red Hook. From then on, I was a new man.


    Tuesday, July 29, 2008

    New York Report: The Return

    The days of neglect are at an end, for the great journey home to New York is over. After a morning of gallery-hopping in Chelsea and one last terrific lunch, we flew back to a city thirty degrees colder and shrouded in gray. Seattle, I say this as a citizen of the world: it wouldn’t kill you to tart yourself up a little.

    We handled our accommodations a bit differently this trip, renting an apartment for our weeklong stay. I wouldn’t hesitate to do so again. There’s nothing like being centrally located and able to prepare your own breakfast for less than you’d pay to stay in a hotel.

    We saw family and friends, did a little business, and partook of numerous cultural experiences to be detailed in a series of bloated posts. In short, a grand time was had by all. A few random notes:

    Rosemarie stumbled off a poorly-marked curb in Times Square our second night in town. Her ankle swelled and turned purple, but she taped it up and soldiered on. She’s a trooper.

    We did have one unfortunate incident involving the insect known to all New Yorkers as a water bug. Rosemarie insists the beast was the size of a bath mat; I’d say it was as big as my thumb. I almost pulled a hamstring getting rid of it.

    For reasons I cannot fathom, I spontaneously bark Seth McFarlane’s dialogue from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, complete with Prussian accent. (“Agent Hellboy! I demand zat you take ze shot!”) On a related note, I learned again that skyscrapers allow the human voice to carry great distances.

    When in the city, I leave the TV tuned to the local news network NY1. In short order I became obsessed with the promos with actor Dominic Chianese, in which The Sopranos’ Uncle Junior sings along with the station’s snippets of theme music. I don’t know who wrote the lyrics “Twenty-four seven, that’s what we’re here for,” but damn are they catchy.

    On our last night in town, at the dark corner of 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue, I literally slipped on a banana peel. One more thing I can cross off the bucket list. Next up: pie fight.

    New York Report: Cocktails

    Oh, yeah. We drank a lot. Did I mention that?

    There are a handful of bars that we frequent when we’re in the city. On this outing, we hit all four.

    Death & Company
    The Flatiron Lounge
    Little Branch
    The Pegu Club

    Peruse Death & Company’s menu and behold what you’re missing by attending various parent-teacher conferences and church events. Although I will say that the bar’s sublime Cooper Union – made with Redbreast Irish whiskey (although on the night I was there Bushmills had been pressed into service) and St. Germain elderflower liqueur, and served in a glass washed with Laphroaig – is in and of itself a religious experience.

    Labels: , ,

    Sunday, February 10, 2008

    Miscellaneous: About As Good As It Gets

    Here’s how Rosemarie and I went about constructing a damn near perfect day yesterday.

    1. Get up and out a reasonable hour. The Lord loves a working man, even on Saturdays.

    2. Stop in at Zanadu Comics to introduce myself to the world of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s Criminal.

    3. Go to the Seattle Mystery Bookshop so I could get a copy of Money Shot signed by the divine Christa Faust, as well as meet Marcus Sakey, author of the fine novel The Blade Itself, and the lovely and lively Sue Ann Jaffarian. Tell me the sample chapter of Money Shot doesn’t make you want to read the whole thing.

    4. Lunch at The Honeyhole, offering the finest sandwiches within Seattle city limits. The Chachi’s Favorite is particularly good.

    5. See In Bruges, the feature film debut by brilliant playwright Martin McDonagh. A pair of hit men (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson) hide out in Belgium, getting on each other’s nerves while awaiting instructions from their hair-trigger boss (Ralph Fiennes). A dark, moving comedy with a richly mordant Irish sensibility. Tell me that unrated trailer doesn’t make you want to see the whole thing.

    6. Meet up with Christa, Marcus, Sue Ann and Kim of Seattle Mystery Books at my home away from home, the Zig Zag Café. I’m not sure I’m old enough for the conversation that followed, but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. A marvelous night in the company of good people. Don’t take my word for it: here’s Christa’s report. (UPDATE 2/11/08: And here’s Sue Ann’s.)

    All that, plus the Washington State caucuses got along just fine without me. And it looks like the WGA strike is over, meaning I can get back to work.

    I tell you, kids, sometimes it’s good to be me.

    Labels: , , , ,

    Friday, November 16, 2007

    Miscellaneous: Where Everybody Knows My Name

    Many’s the time I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the Zig Zag Café, the finest cocktail bar in Seattle and one of the best in the world.

    But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Robert (Drinkboy) Hess. He’s devoting several episodes of his web series to the Zig Zag, the first being an interview with co-owners Kacy Fitch and Ben Dougherty. And ace bartender Murray Stenson is there in spirit.

    Get it? Spirit? Bartender? Man, I’m good.


    Sunday, October 14, 2007

    Miscellaneous: Bites of the Big Apple

    You expected posts? I’m on vacation, people.

    Actually, I’m on a spiritual quest, one encapsulated by a question from the hardboiled fiction list Rara Avis: whatever happened to rye?

    The answer divined from some of Manhattan’s finer bars confirms what I already knew. Rye is making a comeback. It’s used in any number of cocktails, many of which are named after neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Red Hook, Greenpoint, Bensonhurst, Bushwick, Park Slope. Apparently, this is something of a tradition for New York bartenders, as all rye cocktails are seen as descendants of a drink called the Brooklyn. It contains rye, dry vermouth, Maraschino liqueur, and Amer Picon. That last ingredient is the tough one to get ahold of, but it’s worth the effort. Even if you have to stash it behind the rocker panels.

    In other news, we seized the opportunity to see Romance & Cigarettes. The musical written and directed by actor John Turturro was orphaned by its studio, so Turturro is distributing it himself. It’s a truly odd duck of a film featuring a stupendous cast and some singular moments, like Christopher Walken’s take on ‘Delilah.’ The limited initial run has been a success, so who knows? Maybe it will be coming to a theater near you.

    And then there’s the real reason for the trip. Xanadu on Broadway. Sure, I have people to visit here, business to transact. But there’s also a stage version of the movie on the Great White Way.

    I’ve seen the film countless times. I think of it as the cocaine simulator. You want to know what riding the white horse does? It makes you think that Xanadu is a good idea.

    The show’s a hoot, even if you’re not way too familiar with the source material. And it’s allowed me to fulfill another lifelong dream. I have now seen a cast member from The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (and Tony Roberts as Warren LaSalle) sing and dance live. I love New York.

    Labels: , , ,

    Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    Miscellaneous: The July Stuff-I-Didn’t-Get-To Post

    Sunshine. The production team behind 28 Days Later turns their attention to science fiction. An impossibly beautiful team of astronauts heads into space to jumpstart the sun before it dies. I liked it quite a bit. And the science is accurate. Kinda.

    The Bullet Trick, by Louise Welsh. An interesting structure and seedy atmosphere to burn in this novel about a cut-rate burlesque magician who gets in over his head with dirty cops and shady dames.

    Mad Men. Two episodes in and I’m loving AMC’s first dramatic series, about advertising execs in 1960 New York. It illustrates in many subtle ways how the world has changed in 45 years – and how it hasn’t.

    Miscellaneous: Quote of the Day

    From the New York Times article on the success of Skinny Bitch, a chick-lit-style diet book that, to the surprise of some purchasers, includes several chapters of animal rights information. Says co-author Rory Freedman:

    “They’re mad that they spent $14 on a book that was not what they thought, but they’re not mad that chickens are having beaks chopped off their faces? How is that possible? I can’t even wrap my mind around that.”

    Oh, come on. I’ll bet some of the people who bought this book paid good money to have part of their own beaks chopped off their faces.

    Miscellaneous: Raise A Glass

    Tales of the Cocktail, the international culinary and cocktail event, held their annual shindig in New Orleans last month. There my usual hangout The Zig Zag Café took home prizes for Best Drinks Selection and Best Classic Cocktail Bar. That’s in the world, folks, and decided by people who know. Congratulations to Ben, Kacy, Murray (also a finalist for Bartender of the Year), and company. Drop by if you’re in Seattle and mention my name. Maybe it’ll help. Me, I mean, not you.

    Labels: , , , ,

    This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?


    www vincekeenan.com


    Site designed by Rosemarie Keenan
    Movie stills from The Prelinger Archives