A Reflection Upon Academic Alcoholism by Duggan McDonnell

... A.K.A. The Shot Nazi, A.K.A. 'Shotzi'


Shotzi and Hurl savoring a Singapore Sling at the Swizzle Stick Bar

Thirteen San Franciscans descended upon the Big Easy for the Fifth Annual Tales of the Cocktail event held at the historic Hotel Monteleone from July 18-22. Most of us made it back in one piece.

Designed for both the industry professional and the casual consumer alike, Tales presented an incredibly wide range of seminars, tastings, and workshops. Picture this: five days chock-full of education about all matters cocktail-related, plus a generous fundraising effort for the city of New Orleans, AND a damned good time. No wonder I've got the sweats today.

I attended Tales primarily as a gun-for-hire for Boca Loca Cachaça (a delicious cane rum distillate about to hit San Francisco) teaching a tasting seminar and cocktail workshop. However the occasion was much more than that. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet colleagues within my profession as well as reacquaint with old friends hailing from all points across the States, and Europe. Imagine experiencing the world of pisco, the history of tiki drinks, nouveau elderflower cocktails, multiple Pimm's Cups, and fattening your wallet with more business cards than even George Costanza could stand--all before 6pm.

(Before I prattle on, bragging as I do; I must admit that I'm not feeling all that well. In fact, if I could, I'd have my liver, kidneys, stomach, intestines, and all other gut-organs to be exorcised and power-washed, bleached, and boiled, then gently returned to their original functioning status. Lord, have mercy.)

Speaking of George Costanza, there were plenty of New Yorkers in the house. Such heroes in the Industry such as Dale DeGroff and Gary Regan, David Wondrich and Audrey Saunders led seminars and lounged poolside just like everyone else. It was amazing for me; like downing a double-shot of Star-struck followed by a buffet of talent always waiting to be feasted upon. New York and New Orleans each possess separate but equal statuses as great drinking cities. And to meet and interact with such an array of working talent was for me comparable to meeting John Cusack a decade ago (Lloyd Dobler, anyone?), and thanking him for affecting my generation. (Which, we all know he did.)

A surprising and very rewarding element of conversation that I kept hearing throughout my visit was how innovative San Francisco is in culinary cocktail development; that San Francisco leads the way in imagination while the rest of the nation waits, watches, and then figures out how to catch up. Folks! This is amazing news!

I was quoted in the September 29, 2005 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle as saying, "I'm willing to go out on a limb and say San Francisco is the best cocktail city in the nation." That's nearly two years ago, and now (I'm willing) to admit there was a touch of bravado in my tone. Translation: I want San Francisco to be the best cocktail city in the nation. Who knows whether any kind of 'best' can or even should be quantified, but it sure feels good to say 'I'm from San Francisco,' and be immediately greeted with such a compliment.


And while we're throwing out compliments, please congratulate the folks at Bourbon & Branch for winning Best New Cocktail Bar of the Year, and Jeff Hollinger, General Manager of Absinthe Brasserie & Bar for Best New Cocktail Book for writing The Art of the Bar.

On Saturday, I asked Simon Difford, publisher of DiffordsGuide, "What time did you leave the bar last night?"

"About 5:30..." he said.

"How'd you get home?"

"I walked," he replied.

"Do you happen to know what time I left?" I said.

"5:30."

"And how did I get home?"

"You walked," and then added with a wicked grin. "With me."

Ouch.

On a more serious note, I spent some time with New Orleans local Ms. Lu Brow, Beverage Manager for Café Adelaide and The Swizzle Stick Bar. Even from spending just a few days in the city, it's clear that New Orleans is still very much a wounded city. Lu's persona is one of classic Southern hospitality and New Orleans charm. She relayed a story of a woman thanking her after the Hurricane for having held a cocktail party for charity a few years prior. The money raised went toward teaching underprivileged girls a number of life skills, including how to swim. When this woman thanked Lu, she said; "Because of you my girls can swim. And in Katrina, we were able to get out. Because of you, my girls lived." That's what Tales of the Cocktail is all about: giving back to New Orleans via one its greatest exports: the culture of cocktails.

I'll be putting in a lot of hours behind the stick, slinging drinks, working hard with my hands and on my feet, and if ever I begin to feel sorry for myself, I'll remember Lu's words. And if you'd like, come on down to Cantina, and toast the citizens and the drinkers of New Orleans. They've got a good idea going.