Wednesday, June 22, 2011


The Bad Bad Boys of Saloons – 3 P.M. Thursday, July 21, 2011 – Tales of the Cocktail

Sure, you could go to one of those earnest seminars with qualified and respectable bartenders who will teach you cutting-edge or historical bar techniques that will add to your understanding of the art and science of the bar. Or, you could come hang out with James Waller and Christine Sismondo, who will regale you with stories you’ve almost certainly never heard before, or are likely to in polite company.

Slumming, after all, is one of the great American pastimes, which, incidentally, is one of our best topics.

As if you need any more reasons, here are my top five:

1. By Thursday at 3pm, you will be over your first hangover and very ready for a Mule Skinner to round out your afternoon.
2. You don’t have to leave the hotel – which means one less shirt change.
3. Bad bars and the people who frequent them are far more fun than good ones.
4. You almost never get a chance to see James Waller and Christine Sismondo in the flesh, since they are usually either reclusively writing and drinking whiskey at home or found in bars you can’t tell your mother about. This may be your only chance to see us and confirm we actually exist.
5. This seminar will almost certainly be the cult hit of Tales of the Cocktail 2011.

Add to this, the fact that we promise not to use the words "mise en place."

Where: Queen Anne Ballroom, Hotel Monteleone, Tales of the Cocktail, New Orleans, Louisiana.
When: 3pm-4:30, Thursday, July 21, 2011
What: Maybe the most dynamic, fun and sensational seminar on the history of bad bars you’re likely to see.
Why: Because it will justify James and Christine’s idea that spending a lifetime drinking in bars was not actually a waste of time and promising lives.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


It’s Bloomsday, everyone. And, once again, I’m in the wrong country.

Still, it can be celebrated quite easily from Toronto. Flipping through, though, I realized how much I had forgotten and how much I need to re-read it. The one chapter that’s still pretty clear, however, is “Cyclops.” Unsurprising perhaps, since much of it takes place in the bar, Barney Kiernan’s. And, as you might guess, this bar scene makes it into the new book: America Walks into a Bar.

First off, there’s the mention of anti-treating: “… Joe was talking about the Gaelic league and the antitreating league and drink, the curse of Ireland. Antitreating is about the size of it. Gob, he’d let you pour all manner of drink down his throat till the Lord would call him before you’d ever see the froth of his pint.”

Anti-treating was a movement that gained currency, not only in Ireland, but also in England, Canada and the United States. The basic idea was that buying rounds were what was leading to drunken behaviour and that if buying another person a drink could be prohibited, drinking would be a more staid and solitary affair.

Funnily enough, standing a round is the central controversy at the pub and in this chapter, since everyone thinks Bloom has made a killing at the track earlier that day on a longshot named Throwaway. Bar etiquette demands that a winner has to buy a round, to share the wealth. When he doesn’t offer to, they attribute Bloom’s stinginess to his being Jewish. It’s all fun and games ‘til somebody gets a biscuit thrown at him, which is what happens to poor unwitting Bloom.

When I began working in a bar that could be properly described as a “local,” I realized that Joyce had nailed the interaction. Not surprising, given his keen eye for detail and astounding memory. One guy won a pool – soccer, I think – but snuck in during the daytime to pick up his winnings, thereby circumventing the need to buy a round. That was sixteen years ago. And people still talk about it today. Not kidding.

That was my first clue that there were interesting codes of behaviour being played out night after night in the bar and that they were, in many ways, incredibly rigid. And this is, in part, what got me interested in hanging out in, studying and writing about bars.

Happy Bloomsday!

Friday, June 10, 2011


Very nice picture of one of Toronto's many talented bartenders. Full story here.

Friday, June 03, 2011


June 3, 2011

In honor of Allen Ginsberg's birthday today, I bring up his favorite bar, the Black Cat on Montgomery Street. Its owner, Sol Stoumen, was constantly being threatened with the loss of his license, since he insisted on serving "disorderly" patrons who frequented Jose Sarria's satirical operas which he always closed out with the refrain: "God Save us Nelly Queens, united we stand, divided they'll catch us one by one."

Stoumen took his case to the California Supreme Court and won the right to legally operate a gay bar - which is a basic freedom of association. It wasn't a slam dunk success, however, since a few years later, the California Alcohol Beverage Control Bar asserted its right to shut down bars catering to "sexual perverts." A detailed account of this battle and others is to be found in the penultimate chapter of America Walks into a Bar, available for pre-order here.