January 31, 2012

An Odd Chair

Every Saturday the Z likes to flop down and get into her Off Duty. A little mindless brain candy masquerading as journalistic conduit for Cooking | Eating | Style | Design | Travel | etc. Not exactly mental gymnastics, but the writing is good and I'll give it its due for escapism via newsprint.  

Anyhow, a few months back someone wrote a piece called "10 Odd, Yet Essential, Elements of Style." Not in the Strunk and White sense, it turns out, but rather in terms of decorating. One of these so-called essentials was the use of "an odd chair... desirable primarily for its amusing demeanor, making it more like a piece of sculpture in the shape of a chair." Now, I'll grant that this ain't exactly my forte, but we've got one such chair that seems to fit the odd bill. 

Picked it up in San Miguel de Allende. Paid a reasonable sum that quickly doubled with shipping. It arrived eight weeks later, delivered by pack mule, well-conditioned, and free of stowaways. Finally got 'round to having it covered recently with a piece by Elizabeth Carrington, a San Antonio-based artist/designer with a penchant for old David Bowie lyrics (as you'll see with the brief appearance of Golden Years). And now it sits, with no one sitting, just radiating its amusing demeanor... 

Sketch credit: Virginia Johnson/Random House via WSJ.

January 24, 2012

Forget Paris

You can't swing a dead cat around here without hitting someone who'll sell you a Stetson. Truly if it's just the transaction you're looking for, that and nothing more, you'll have no trouble. But if you'd rather an experience, some place with a little more substance and a lot more clutter (history is often masked as clutter), then your options start to dwindle...

The Hat Store in Houston is a good stop. I've got a buckle from there on my dad's old alligator belt. Gen-you-wine. Paris Hatters in San Antonio is another. Drive past it every morning. One afternoon, couple years back, I stopped in and picked up that Open Road up there. It's a hat I'd always admired, usually in a photograph as it sat atop LBJ's menacing head. 

Stetson's been making the brim on it a little wide lately. Wider than they used to. Up to two and 5/8". Fine with jeans but out-of-place in trousers. Makes me feel like I've got a foot in two worlds and don't belong in either. So it wasn't getting worn. And there's no sense having a hat that just sits on the rack. Had to get it trimmed. Half an inch'll do. So I take it to Abe at Paris. Abe he's the owner. And Abe says he'll cut it but won't replace the ribbon. Bit of an ass about it too. No ribbon? Unreal. That's service for you.

Now, no one really needs an excuse to get to Lockhart (Texas BBQ Capital... more on that real soon) but sometimes it's good to have one. And in this case ol' Abe's unflinching smugness gave me all the excuse I needed. So I call David at Texas Hatters. Can you trim a felt hat? Sure thing. Replace the ribbon? You bet, mom does it. Of course she does. Texas Hatters doesn't have quite the number of years under its belt as Paris and the Hat Store, but as a friend of mine says "It-ain't-the-years-it's-the-miles."

David sits behind an old bar rubbed light by miles of elbows top to bottom. Doesn't offer me a drink but takes the hat. Sure we can trim it. Then a little history lesson on why the brim is 5/8" inch. Something about the crimping process. But my mom's not here so the stitching'll have to wait. Next week? That's all the excuse I need.

911 S Commerce St
Lockhart, TX 78644

January 18, 2012


Forgiving this place is not. Early morning scent of steamed milk and concentrated chicory yields quickly to the stench of a night you'd rather forget. Rising sun bakes the party soup that's accumulated along the curbsides on Bourbon. And across the Quarter, emerging from dark doorways, half-shut eyes and foggy noggins who know well that the best way to move through it is to dive back in. No, never has a more misplaced word been ascribed to a morning after in New Orleans than 'forgiving'. But forgetful... well that's another story.

The Spotted Pig

Some four years ago, as my brother and I slid atop bar stools at the Old Absinthe House on a Ju-ly afternoon, we'd soon come to learn that we were amongst a unique group of folks who knew just what they were doing behind a bar (just before they went under it); we had landed ourselves smack in the middle of Tales of the Cocktail, an annual boozefest-cum-conference where men and women of similar accord gather to do just what you'd think, under the guise of, oh let's call it professional development.

All afternoon, a revolving door of bartenders plied their trade. And all afternoon, willing recepticles were we. Gun to my head I wouldn't be able to tell you anything we drank that day, but then and there we vowed to make it back the following year... which, of course, we did not...

... though it seems to have made it back to me. In a sense. Later this month comes the inaugural San Antonio Cocktail Conference, modeled (we'll see what that means) on 'Tales' as well as the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. Should be a great lineup, and all for a great cause

January 26-29, 2012

Stirred photo via: Newman Photography.

January 14, 2012

Hobbies vs. Interests

Saturday morning, springtime in Austin, alone in my room, polishing knives dad and I collected as the house begins to stir. Collecting knives was a hobby we shared, a hobby of his that I adopted. Summer of '49 plays in the background...

"Near the end of the 1946 season, a young Red Sox pitcher named Dave Ferriss went into Yankee Stadium to pitch and was stunned by the size of the crowd... Ferriss had only recently left a tiny town in the Mississippi Delta. That day he was so awed by the noise and tumult that in the middle of the game he decided to commit the scene to memory and take it with him for the rest of his life. He stepped off the mound, turned slowly to the stands, and inhaled the crowd..." - Halberstam, David. Summer of '49.
That scene always stuck with me. I try to inhale crowds every chance I get. At a young age, baseball was a hobby. Played it, read it, watched and listened to it, collected it. Stacks of Beckett's under my brother's bed; the contents of those stacks would change over the years, as would my interests.

Dad had interests: hunting, fishing, flying, classic cars. There's a "swath of rumpled terrain whose eastern and southern edge(s) sweep in an arc some 200 miles long from the Austin area down past San Antonio and west to not far from Del Rio on the Mexican border" (ref.) called the Hill Country. To say that spending time in the Hill Country was merely an interest of his would be an insult to its draw. And draw it did, nearly every weekend in the fall.

When I was young my brother and I would go out with him more, but at a certain age our interests diverged [as interests between young men and their fathers are wont to do]. Older I get though, more I can see our interests coming back together. He's gone seven years today, but his interests remain, as do the memories, locked inside the safe right alongside that old knife collection, brought out now and again for a good polishing.

January 6, 2012

Ever Upward

Walking into the Ace Hotel in the Flatiron District will make you feel like a better man than you actually are. Or at least like a man who belongs. Like you've stumbled into a scene that will be recalled in hazy detail, over and over, in stories of how "this" all got started. Hubs of folks, scattered about and hunching over screens and talking about whatever it is they've come to talk about. No shortage of movement, that's for certain; enough to keep the place alive, even if it is "darker than the inside of a goat" (ref.) in the lobby.

Once through the doors and you've got yourself a few choices: turn left, toward The Breslin. A handsome goddamn space with handsome folks | handsome face. The windows face north onto 29th St but any notion of sunlight is consumed by the bar's first bottle, so what you're left with is the sense of a perennially cloudy day. Perfect for carnivorous undertakings and neat whiskey, but what we pined for was something lighter. Something briny. 

We turned right, into the John Dory. A corner space with a flood of light, spilling onto copper-topped tables. Lunch was the oyster pan roast with uni butter crostini, parker house rolls, Blue Points with vinegar and shallots, bay scallops, and the pink snapper with shiitake and preserved lemon. Two Oyster Stouts from Red Hook and we were on our way, uptown for drinks.

1196 Broadway (at 29th St in the Ace Hotel)
New York, NY 10001


We couldn't get a cab to save our lives. Struck out once at a smoke bar (the name escapes me), which was grandfathered in and thereby immune to the crusade against a man's desire to light up wherever he finds fit, and wound up at the Surrey Hotel's Bar Pleiades. It was early yet, just 5:30p or so, cocktail hour. I met the crew there after a walk down Madison, circling once through Bemelmans Bar at the Carlysle just to hear the piano. And after, the Z and I snuck off, northward still, for Maurizio Cattelan's All (through Jan 22, see it), his oeuvre dangling in the atrium at the Guggenheim .

Then we went down, towards home.

BAR PLEIADES (in the Surrey Hotel)
20 E 76th St
New York, NY 10021

January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

So, that happened. Here's to a prosperous 2012.

Untitled credit: Mike Monteiro via 20x200.