Thursday, October 25, 2012

In Memoriam: Brian Paynter

Some words from the Editors

Fredo, Bernard, Brian, and Eff at Monkey Bar, NYC - February 2012
Brian Paynter (April 22, 1954  - October 24, 2012)

This week we lost one of our own.  The venerable Brian Paynter was an iconoclast and true original. When he walked into a room, he exuded charismatic presence, and left a memorable impression on all who met him.  Brian was an old school New Yorker of Dutch and Lithuanian descent who grew up on the Upper East Side during the rough and tumble 1960s and 1970s. He was devoted husband, a loving father, and a church going man. Brian was a straight shooter who carried himself with charm and panache. He was larger than life and like no other person I know. He had a big heart and was a massive influence on me and the vintage/lounge community.

Let me be frank, if it were not for Brian Paynter there would be no Loungerati.  If not for Brian, I would not have a love for cocktails that has become a passion. If not for Brian I would not know houndstooth from glen plaid, pork pie from Homberg, Xavier Cugat from Desi Arnaz, Cohiba from Montecristo, Lost Weekend from The Apartment. To say that he left an impression on me and countless others who live by the lounge creed is an incredible understatement. Brian was our standard bearer. He was first class like Nick Charles. Brian embodied the very foundation of Lounge living and did it without pretense. In Brian's world, loyal phone company working class guys could be as dapper as Humphrey Bogart or Fred Astaire and stroll Fifth Avenue like they owned it.  In Brian's world, putting a little extra effort into how one presented themselves was not an outdated concept but rather a mark of one's character. Brian was my mentor, my template for behavior and sartorial expression.

In the cocktail community, old time bartenders often talk of discerning clients who insisted on classically made cocktails well before the current cocktail Renaissance began ten years ago. They called these die hard aficionados "lone samurai" and credit their insistence on specific ingredients and well made cocktails as inspiration for a career in mixology. Well, Brian was one of those lone samurai.  When I met Brian 15 years ago at a cigar bar called Cigargoyles in Brooklyn Heights, he was drinking a Canadian Club Rye Manhattan in a gray flannel suit and felt fedora. He was suave yet approachable and down to earth. I was impressed and this experience was a game changer. The lone samurai soon had traveling companions - dozens and dozens of finely attired, jazz loving, swing dancing, cigar smoking, cocktail drinking regular folks determined to live life to the fullest.

Brian passed away at 10pm on the evening of October 24th surrounded by family. Brian had been fighting Leukemia for three years and though he put up a valiant fight, he ultimately lost the battle.  I was lucky enough to stop by the hospital last week to say good bye. I found my old friend, alert, in incredibly good spirits, telling jokes, talking about old movies and a recent jazz show he had attended. I had smuggled in a flask of pre-mixed Manhattan and we shared a last drink. He appreciated it. Brian expressed that he had lived an exceptional life and was blessed to have a beautiful super smart daughter and the best wife on earth. Damn straight! I could not muster up the actual words "good bye" so we shook hands and he said, "I'll save you a seat." And he meant it.

Brian, I shall never forget you. I would not be half the man I am today without you in my life and I owe you big time. My heartfelt condolences go out to the Paynter family and Brian's legion of friends during this difficult time. Thank you again old friend. Rest in peace.

A closing note from our Style Editor Eff 

I am indebted to you for the generous gift of your friendship. I learned something new every single time we spoke. You were always the best dressed guy in the room and I wouldn't have had it any other way! You kept me entertained with tales of your New York: volumes of stories which somehow never repeated themselves.

You shared insightful predictions on experiences us guys younger than you have yet to experience.  I look forward to testing their reliability and validity. But already know you were right. Lastly, thanks for the trust you put in me: those times meant the world. And in a little way, let me kid myself that I somehow didn't owe as much a debt to you as I did. But in true Brian Paynter fashion, he slyly stepped away from the table and settled the bill before others could pay their share. I'll try and pick it up sometimes for other fellas...with loving gratitude to you.


  1. Beautifully, beautifully said, Fredo. How lucky I was to have been sitting there with Brian last week when you came by with that "last Manhattan". I was so touched by the fact that you did that. When you brought out that little silver flask, his eyes lit up. He said, "It doesn't really matter now..," meaning he knew that the end was near. As he gingerly sipped the perfect Manhattan, he laid his head back on the pillow and just savored the pleasure he had known all his years. Just one long sip. But then after we chatted a while longer, when he said "Give me some more of that"...well, that was the Brian I knew.
    Iconoclast is right. He did it "His Way," which is the supreme compliment in my book. We are all our own creations, and he did a bang-up job of creating a fine, intelligent, kind and fascinating friend and loved-one for the rest of us to look upon with admiration and affection. I'll never forget that "last Manhattan," Fredo. That was the act of a true friend...I wished that I had done the same. Gregory Moore--NYC

  2. My wife and I didn't know Brian well -- a few brief chats at Wit's End, the Jazz Age Lawn Party and other vintage events -- but we so enjoyed our every encounter. We didn't know he was ill and we're very sorry to hear of his passing. Condolences to all who knew and loved him, but also to those of us on the outer fringes of his circle, too, who now won't experience the joy of getting to know him better. It's a loss for us all. Rest in peace, Brian.

  3. Great stuff Fred. I was there in Brooklyn the day you met Brian. For me, Brian is a couple of other things.... a pain in the ass, a ball buster and kind of a sonofabitch. But that was also what made him the best. He was a REAL person. He was there to punch a guy in the face if needed. He was there to tell a phony they were a phony. He was all the things Fred said he was. Never full of shit (or always full of shit?). He was New York guy. He was my brother's oldest work pal and I appreciate him for all the things I imagine him to have been for my brother. I don't have to know the specifics, I don't have to know whether the stories were true or not. All that mattered was the story. And Brian had a lot of stories.

  4. Simply beautiful, Fredo. I had not seen Brian in many years, since I left New York City, but hearing of his illness and ultimately, his passing has touched me deeply. The last time I saw Brian was in passing on the street, and as always, he greeted me with a smile and a warm hug. I have so many memories of Brian and his family - every single one of them good. He was a force of nature, when you met Brian you knew something in your life had just changed. I am grateful to have had the honor of knowing Brian, however briefly, and to have had him touch my life. He will be missed for sure, but I'm looking forward to the day when we all meet up at the bar again together. Just like the old days. - Rachael

  5. Lovely eulogy, boys. Today at 11 am, I will be thinking of Brian. And, of course, I will be thinking of you both, and all of the other wonderful friends I have met along the way. Friends, without whom I never would have amassed this stash of great memories. I will be thinking about all of it tomorrow at 11. And I will never forget that it would have not been the same without Our Brian. Love, Rachelle