Friday at five: Old Pal

A guy walks into a bar:
Bartender: “What’s yours?”
Guy: “Old Pal.”
Bartender: “Listen buddy, I don’t know you from Adam. So I’ll ask you again, what’ll it be?”
Guy: “I’d like an Old Pal, please.”
Bartender: “What in hell is that?”
–end scene

Some version of this scene has been playing over and again for me, minus the Capra-esque patter, for many months now. I’ve been conducting a bit of an experiment, and have found that hardly anyone, bartenders included, knows how to make an Old Pal. I think the bartender at Elixir, a truly excellent bar in San Francisco, may have been the only one who remembered it. And that’s a shame, because it’s a great drink.

I’m a big fan of Negronis–they’re my go-to when I’m looking for a gin cocktail that’s as bracing as a slap across the face. A few years ago, I fell in love with Boulevardiers, which swap out the gin for bourbon. I was in Louisville for two weeks this summer, and had one of those pretty much everywhere I went. But Nora and I both have a preference for rye whiskey over bourbon, at least in cocktails, and that’s where the Old Pal comes in. If you swap out the bourbon in a Boulevardier for rye, and also swap out the sweet vermouth for dry vermouth, now you have an Old Pal. This is exactly how I explain the drink to a bartender who doesn’t know what an Old Pal is. If they also don’t know how to make a Boulevardier, I’ll order a whiskey on the rocks.

The drink was created by Harry MacElhone, of Harry’s New York Bar in Paris, in honor of his friend and frequent customer, William “Sparrow” Robertson, a sports writer for the New York Herald. Robertson would call everyone his “old pal,” and the drink was named. The associations with Harry’s and Paris in the ’20s complete the allure of the drink for me.

Ingredients

  • 1 oz Rye Whiskey
  • 1 oz Campari
  • 1 oz Dry Vermouth
  • Lemon twist

Method

Build in a tumbler filled with ice. Serve with a lemon twist for garnish.

Given the similarities between the Old Pal and the Boulevardier, I thought it would be instructive to mix up one of each and do a side-by-side comparison. I was expecting the Old Pal to be crisper and the Boulevardier to be sweeter, and I was blown away by how much that turned out to be the case. The Boulevardier was tasting almost like sweet cough syrup in comparison to the sleeker, racier Old Pal. I think I will keep ordering them!

And speaking of old pals, our friend Kara Newman has a great book, “Shake. Stir. Sip.” which features the Old Pal, and about 50 other equal parts cocktails. It’s worth checking out, as are all her books!

Kara Newman's book Shake Stir Sip, and the Old Pal cocktail.
Kara Newman’s great book, Shake. Stir. Sip. features equal parts cocktails.

What’s fermenting: Union Square Greenmarket Sauerkraut

Friday was a gorgeous day in New York, perfect for our weekly visit to the Union Square Greenmarket. Who knows how many more days we will have like this? Traditionally, end of harvest is the last chance to ferment, can, and store food for the rough season ahead. Even though we already have plenty on hand, we stopped off at the Oak Grove Plantation stall to get another beautiful batch of chilis for this year’s fermented hot sauce production. We also picked up some green and red cabbage, and bolero carrots for our latest fermentation project, sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is not exactly a staple of ours, but Nora has been making excellent homemade kimchi for a couple of years now, and we thought this would be a good time to branch out.

I grew up in a very Polish household. Every house we lived in had either a proper root cellar, or various nooks in the basement where my mother squirreled away mass quantities of canned foods and homemade treasures: dill pickles, jams, and always a giant vat of sauerkraut. You may think that the Polish national dish is pierogi or cabbage rolls, but in fact, that honor goes to bigos. Bigos is a hunter’s stew made sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, and various meats. Growing up, it was served at pretty much every formal dinner my parents had with their various friends and relatives. I never really cared for it as a kid, and haven’t really had the opportunity to try it since becoming a pescatarian over twenty-five years ago. We will try out some vegetarian bigos recipes in coming weeks. I am also really dying to try a vegetarian Reuben sandwich recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 head green cabbage
  • 1 head red cabbage
  • 4 carrots
  • Sea salt

Method

  1. Clean cabbages and retain some of the outer leaves.
  2. Scrub and trim 4 carrots, do not peel.
  3. Shred each cabbage into a large mixing bowl.
  4. With a peeler, shred the carrots into the mixing bowl.
  5. Mix to evenly distribute the cabbages and carrots.
  6. Weigh the shredded cabbage and carrots, add 2% salt by weight.
  7. Let sit for 5-10 minutes.
  8. With both fists, take handfuls of the mixture and squeeze, to release the moisture. Keep doing this until water flows from the cabbage like wringing a wet sponge.
  9. Tightly pack mixture into Mason jars or sauerkraut crock.
  10. Take some of the outer cabbage leaves and use as a ‘lid’ inside the jar or crock. Push down to make sure all is submerged by the brine.
  11. NB: if using a lidded Mason jar, you must periodically loosen the jar or open the lids to allow gasses to escape. Fermentation will be at its most vigorous for the first few days.
  12. Periodically taste. After a few days, it will be crispy and fresh tasting, for weeks and months after that, it will develop sourness and deeper flavors. Eat it when you like it!

Notes

The main vessel we are using to ferment this is a 1.5L vintage Le Parfait Super Jar that Nora found at the Housing Works Thrift Shop. We closed the lid when we packed it, and by Saturday evening, the gas buildup was substantial, opening the lid released a violent spritz of purply brine. After that, we have mostly been keeping the lid loose. When first shredding all the cabbage, it seemed like it would be an enormous volume, but that went down after the squeezing step, and went down further after packing into the jar.

Looking at recipes, a 2% salt by weight appears to be a common target. For folks like us, who are watching our sodium intake, that may be a bit too much. Sandor Katz recommends salting to taste.

Friday at five: Sazerac

Few drinks are as evocative of a place and time as the Sazerac. The place is New Orleans, and the time is mid-century. Mid-19th-century that is, near the beginning of the cocktail story. Apothecarist Emile Amedée Peychaud was selling his namesake bitters, mixed with brandy. John Schiller was the New Orleans agent for Sazerac de Forge et Fils Cognac. In 1859, he opened his bar and dubbed it the Sazerac Coffee House. Schiller gave the Sazerac cocktail, made with Peychaud’s bitters and Sazerac cognac, its name. Later on, in 1870, the preferred base changed from brandy to rye whiskey. This much is established. Claims that the Sazerac was the first cocktail, and claims around the origins of the term ‘cocktail’ itself are probably apocryphal (or is that apotheracril?) These details aside, our credo is that New Orleans gave America two of its greatest inventions: cocktails and jazz.

The best Sazerac I ever had was years ago during Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. Nora was at an event for the afternoon, so I was free to while away a few hours in the Napoleon House. It was a beautiful day and the way the sunlight was playing inside the bar is impossible to describe or forget. While we all enjoyed Sazeracs, I chatted for over two hours with a couple from Baton Rouge. I have no idea what we talked about, and I suspect the only thing we had in common is that we all appreciated the beauty of that moment.

Ingredients

  • Generous 2 oz pour of whiskey
  • 1 lump of sugar
  • Several dashes of Peychaud’s bitters
  • Several dashes of absinthe
  • Lemon twist

Notes on Ingredients

For the whiskey, we used Breukelen Distilling’s 77 Whiskey Bottled in Bond. We picked this up during New York Rye Week at the Union Square Greenmarket and have been enjoying it neat, in cocktails and on the rocks. For the Absinthe, we used St. George Spirits Absinthe Verte. There is no substitute for the Peychaud’s bitters, although some reputable establishments, including the Napoleon House, use a mix of Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters.

Method

Gather two tumblers. (We are using Duralex Picardie tumblers that we just found at Housing Works for a dollar a piece!) Fill one tumbler with ice and chill. In the second tumbler, add the lump of sugar. Add dashes of Peychaud’s bitters to cover the sugar. Muddle the sugar and bitters with the back of a spoon. Add the whiskey and stir. Add ice to fill the glass. Prepare the second tumbler: discard the ice. Rinse the glass with the absinthe, and discard the absinthe. Using a Hawthorne strainer, strain the drink from the build tumbler into the chilled tumbler. Garnish with a lemon twist and serve.

Suggested film pairing: this one is a no-brainer, as featured in Nora’s Classic Cocktails, Classic Film series, it’s Live and Let Die from 1973.

Barry Harris at the Village Vanguard

How early do you have to arrive to be the first in line at the Village Vanguard? I found out last weekend, two nights in a row. The first set at the Vanguard starts at 8:30, and the doors open at 7:30. On Saturday night, we gambled that 6:45 would be early enough. And it was, but just barely, because the line began forming behind us within a few minutes. We always run into nice people on line at the Vanguard. We met Dan, who had flown in from Detroit just to catch Barry Harris. Dan is a Barry Harris superfan, but not a musician himself.

Dan flew in from Detroit just to see Barry Harris at the Vanguard. The first time I saw Barry, the chap sitting next to me had flown in from Dallas, and was catching every set that week. On a later date, the person in front of us on line had flown in Toronto. We had a nice chat and it turned out he was Elvis Costello’s guitar technician. Ok, so why are people flying in all over to hear a pianist in his late 80s?

In order to understand that, you need to know a couple of things, one is Barry’s place in jazz history, and the other is his role as an educator. History first. Barry was born in Detroit in 1929, and based there through the end of the 50s. While in Detroit, Barry served as a mentor and music teacher to all the young players who were around the scene at the time, including Paul Chambers—much like Monk had been doing in New York in earlier years. Barry moved to New York in 1960, and his recording career began in earnest. Since then, he’s recorded twenty-five records as a leader, and appeared with a long list of greats, including Cannonball Adderley, Donald Byrd, Benny Golson, Dexter Gordon, Coleman Hawkins, Sam Jones, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, and Sonny Stitt. Odds are, you have at least heard him play on Lee Morgan’s hit, The Sidewinder.

Stylistically, Barry has strong links with two other pianists, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Of the two, Barry’s playing is closest to Powell’s in harmonic approach and melodic approach. Powell’s melodic language is classic bebop; if you could imagine Charlie Parker playing the piano, you would wind up with Bud Powell. Monk’s own style was of course unique, but he and Powell were friends and certainly admired and influenced each other. But Barry had a much closer personal connection with Monk—they lived together in Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter’s house in Weehawken in the 1970s until Monk’s death in 1982. (Nica was a patron of jazz, and bebop in particular, perhaps most famous for her relationship with Charlie Parker. When Bird died on March 12, 1955, it was in Nica’s apartment at the Stanhope, across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) Barry still lives in that house in Weehawken.

So Barry had already been a teacher and a mentor in Detroit in the 1950s. In the 1970s, he started teaching workshops in New York. From 1982-87, he taught at the Jazz Cultural Workshop, which he co-founded. Since then, he has maintained his own weekly workshops in New York. I first started attending them off and on about five years ago. They take place every Tuesday night when Barry is in town, from six until midnight, divided into sessions for pianists, singers, and then at ten, improvisers on all instruments. The only reason I don’t go every week is that I already have enough of Barry’s materials to work on for the next few decades. When Barry is on tour internationally, he conducts workshops there too. Through that process, he has developed a couple of generations’ worth of acolytes. One of the most prominent of the younger generation is the brilliant Italian guitarist Pasquale Grasso, who has standing set at Mezzrow every Monday night. If Bud Powell is like Charlie Parker playing the piano, Pasquale is like Bud Powell playing the guitar.

We settled in for the first set on Saturday night. Having arrived first, I was able to grab the seat directly to Barry’s left, maybe two feet away from him. Barry came on with his trio of many years, with Ray Drummond on bass, and Leroy Willams on drums. Barry began his banter. It had been a tragic couple of weeks for master jazz pianists. Harold Mabern had died on September 17, Richard Wyands died on September 25, and Larry Willis died on September 29. Barry sang a tune dedicated to all three. For the rest of the set, Barry narrated an improvised story that he used to introduce each tune. “You are walking down the street, and you see someone who looks really fine, and you think to yourself, ‘I Want To Be Happy.’” Hit it. Later on, Barry played Blue Monk, and I still have goosebumps thinking about it. The set wrapped up with one of Barry’s audience participation numbers, which he referred to as “jazz karaoke.” “Ok, we need a number from one to eight.” Someone calls out, “eight!” and we all feel bad for that guy. “No, man,” Barry laughs, “something better than that!” Barry is asking for musical intervals, out of which he will improvise a new tune. I think that night the pattern was “two-four-five-three.” A few members of Barry’s choir were in the audience, and they sang along. I sang along too. I always look forward to Barry’s tune Nascimento, which will often end a set and is another tune that the audience sings and claps to, but he ran out of time.

The set ended too quickly, and we only had tickets for the first one. I arranged to meet Dan for the first set Sunday night. I only had a ticket for the second set, Dan was gracious enough to gift me the extra ticket he had. How early to arrive Sunday night? I really wanted to make sure I got there early enough, so this time I arrived at 6:15. Again, I was first in line. But this time, I was joined even more quickly, and then more and more people arrived. Several people from the workshop, including some of the choir members. Dan arrived. It started raining lightly, and the person working the door told us we could stand under the awning, but only up to “this line,” gesturing to a crack in the sidewalk. A woman from Germany came over and asked if she could share the awning. She wasn’t trying to sneak in, honest, just keep dry. She was dressed for an evening out, and wearing Chanel No. 5. Her husband stayed back in line in the drizzle, it was OK, he had a hat on.

7:30, time to sit down. Dan and I grabbed table one, right at the stage. Barry seemed a little happier and a little more relaxed on this night. Through two sets, he brought out several guests, a couple of his piano students, a trumpet player, a singer. I had an extra ticket for the second set, and I was able to pay it forward to a gent sitting in the back who needed one. He was, our server told us, another Barry superfan. Ethan Iverson came in and sat down at the table to our left. Towards the end of the second set, the gentleman who had been second in line hopped up on stage and did a beautiful modern jazz dance to one of the tunes. As always, the second set of the last night featured the choir for most of the numbers. It’s such a sweet, glorious sound, evocative of the choral jazz of the 1960s.

The set was over, the week-long stint was over. Barry and the band milled about the stage and Barry kept on joking around with the audience. He finally ended his patter with, “We’ll be black…” And then, “we’ll be white… black.”

Friday at five: Rye Manhattan

Welcome to the inaugural post in cultured nyc’s weekly cocktail column, Friday at five. It’s autumn in New York–our favorite time of the year. Even though we haven’t had much sweater weather yet, it’s time to start thinking about warming up with some whiskey. Not only that, but today is Rye Day at the Union Square Greenmarket. Frye-day, if you will, kicking off a week-long celebration of New York state rye. We had the chance to sample rye whiskeys from Breukelen Distilling, Nahmias et Fils, and New York Distilling Company. We were taken with all of these, and will be featuring these whiskies in coming weeks.

For today, we will showcase New York Distilling Company’s Ragtime Rye American Straight Whiskey. This is a classic rye; 100% New York rye, aged for three years and bottled at 90.4 proof. On its own, it’s spicy, clean, well integrated. I had a feeling it would do well in a cocktail too.

The cultured nyc reference library has a pretty deep cocktail section, so where to turn for our first post? How about Dave Wondrich’s Imbibe? We’re starting off old school here, and this book is all about the old school. The Manhattan Formula #3 (New Standard) comes courtesy of William “The Only William” Schmidt in The Flowing Bowl, 1892.

  • Half a tumblerful of cracked ice
  • 2 dashes (1/2 Tsp) of gum
  • 2 dashes of absinthe
  • 2/3 drink (2 oz) of whiskey
  • 1/3 drink (1 oz) of vino vermouth
  • (a little maraschino may be added)

This is close to the Manhattan we always make here at cultured nyc, maybe a touch sweeter on the vermouth. Per Dave’s recommendation, we left out the simple syrup. We also left out the maraschino, but did add one of Nora’s very fine house-made maraschino cherries. I was, however, very curious about the absinthe. A tiny bit of absinthe can completely transform a drink. I was worried that this would turn into some sort of weird Sazerac. But it didn’t! Not quite anyway; it added a green ‘undertaste’. I don’t think I’ll turn this into my new standard, but I certainly enjoyed it.

Dave Stryker Trio at the Bar Next Door

Smalls lives up to its name, and Mezzrow is even smaller. The Bar Next Door is even more intimate than either. When you’re sitting at the tables directly in front of the musicians, you’re almost close enough to boop them on the nose while they play. We settled into one of those tables to catch Dave Stryker and his trio Thursday night. The Bar Next Door, is “next door” to, or more accurately, in the basement of La Lanterna, a nice Italian caffe and wine bar on Macdougal in the heart of the Village. The pizzas are good, the wine list is big, and there’s not a bad seat in the house, so it’s usually a good place to listen.

I first met Dave at the Jamey Aebersold summer jazz workshop in 2014, and since then I’ve been doing workshops, masterclasses, and online lessons with him, in addition to working through his books. He maintains an active teaching schedule, teaching at Indiana University and Montclair State. That’s on top of a very busy touring and recording schedule. I’ve learned a lot from him over the last five years, but more than that, I’m just a huge fan of his playing.

Originally from Omaha, Dave moved to New York in 1980 and had his first big break touring with Brother Jack McDuff in 1984-85. McDuff’s groups had included Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, George Benson, and Pat Martino. As Dave likes to tell the story, when he joined up, McDuff was luckily to have finally landed a “good guitarist!” From there, Dave spent a decade working with Stanley Turrentine. He’s firmly rooted in the hard bop tradition, and all the organ quartet and soul jazz pedigree infuse even his more abstract work with a down home groove.

The group launch into their first set. Jared Gold is on organ, and McClenty Hunter is on drums. I’ve seen this combo a few times and they gel together from the first downbeat. Gold has been playing with Dave since 2004 and the trio has been the foundation of Stryker’s records since 2013’s Blue To The Bone IV and 2014’s Eight Track. That last record launched a terrific series, with Eight Track II coming out in 2016 and this year’s Eight Track III and Eight Track Christmas. The concept is to treat the pop songs of the 1970s (Superfly, Wichita Lineman, We’ve Only Just Begun) as new additions to the great American songbook and work them into jazz numbers. The more I hear this approach, the more I think it’s a good idea, and I think it’s especially welcoming for younger people who don’t know dozens of the old tunes.

Dave Stryker and Jared Gold
Dave Stryker and Jared Gold

The band starts playing. A typical Stryker set will include originals, standards, bebop and blues. They play Autumn in New York. A woman and her parents walk in, sit down, and begin talking loudly in Italian. Dave calls the tune, “Too High,” insisting that it doesn’t describe the band. He’s trying to draw the Italians in, but the woman says it’s no use since her parents don’t speak a word of English. At the end of the tune, I helpfully call out to translate, “Troppo Alto”–maybe they thought I was shushing them, because they did quiet down for a few minutes after that.

The band is really cooking for the second set. I saw McClenty looking a bit tired in the break, but he really caught fire now. The set features a couple of blistering bebop tunes, including a super high energy take on Donna Lee. In honor of Thelonious Monk’s 102nd birthday, Dave does a lovely solo rendition of Ask Me Now. The set wraps up and we all go off into the New York Autumn night.

One For All celebrates Art Blakey at Dizzy’s

We are now in an era of jazz centenaries. Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ella Fitzgerald had theirs in 2017. Charlie Parker will have his next year. Barry Harris is just shy of ten years away from his. On October 11 2019, the honor goes to Art Blakey. Several events in New York this week will serve to commemorate. I caught One For All at Dizzy’s on Tuesday night. This supergroup sextet features Eric Alexander, Jim Rotundi, Steve “Stevie D!” Davis, David Hazeltine, and Joe Farnsworth. Eric had just flown in from Vancouver early that morning, and Jim had just flown in from Vienna.

I know Eric, Jim, and Steve from the Jamey Aebersold summer jazz workshops. I’ve played in combos supervised by Eric and Steve, and to put my cards on the table, they are both heroes of mine. I’ve been a fan of Eric’s ever since I first heard him play at Smoke in 2005 with the Mike LeDonne quartet (and which I wrote about at the time).

Steve had the honor of getting picked by Blakey to join the Jazz Messengers right out of college. Steve played on the last two Messengers albums, his tune, One For All, became the title track of the group’s final record. There’s a story that Steve likes to tell about his early days with Blakey. Art took Steve aside, put his arm around him and said, “Listen, when you solo, you make statement, you build to a climax, then you get the fuck out!” “You got that?” Steve: “Yes.” Art: “Then fucking do it!” Truer words were never spoken!

Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

One For All first got together for a gig at Smalls in 1997. Since then, they have recorded sixteen albums together. I have to admit not knowing those albums previously, but I am looking forward to digging into them.

Through the course of two sets, the group ripped through a bunch of Blakey favorites, including Benny Golson’s Along Came Betty, and Blues March. During Manteca, it was all I could do to stop from shouting out the tune’s name, just like Dizzy and Chano Pozo did. Joe Farnsworth acted as MC for most of the night, and this night being about a great drummer, took several extended and thrilling solos.