Monday, August 27, 2007

We are 'Billy!

by Jack Ruby Murray

Even for Las Vegas standards “The Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender” (VLV) was wild. VLV is an international gathering of Rockabilly culture that now sees Punk, Psychobilly, and Burlesque mixing amongst Elvis loving Rockabilly purists. But as much as they come for the music they come to party. Las Vegas never closes and for four days a crowd of 18,000, carousing and drinking, leaves famous “Sin City” tired, deaf and exhausted.

Rockabilly music is the roots of Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s a type of 50’s music that alongside Doo Wop and Rhythm and Blues and Country became the background for all Rock and pop music. It gave us Elvis, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. But most of all it gave us attitude. The Rockabilly lifestyle, certainly in American terms, has become an umbrella for people with an interest in Mid twentieth century music and culture. Sometimes it is called ‘Retro’. These days It has absorbed elements of Punk, Goth and Lounge or swing culture.

In fact Tom Ingram the organizer of VLV says:

“To call it a Rockabilly weekend is not technically correct. There so much more than Rockabilly music played there and there’s much more that goes on, a car show, the pool party, the Burlesque show these are things not connected to Rockabilly music but they are connected to the Rockabilly scene.”

The bands are from all over the world such as Big Sandy from LA and Ruby Ann from Portugal. The best of them are some of the best musicians you’ll see play on the scene.And it’s not just strict Rockabilly. Other associated genres play here too 60’s garage and surf band the Dynatones played a marathon set every afternoon and evening in the lounge at the Gold Coast. And one of the most well attended shows of the weekend is the the Stars of Rockabilly show that gave old timers like Billy Lee Riley and Sleepy LaBeef a chance to prop their Telecasters up on their walking frames for just one more song. This is the Rockabilly social event of the year and the crowd is a heady mix of men and women primped and preened to the highest standards.

Walking through the incessant chatter of the slot machines in Gold Coast Hotel and Casino it’s the women you notice first. They are influenced by 1940’s and 1950’s fashions. If you can squeeze through the crowd to the bar, you can rub shoulders with a heady perfumed mix of Rockabilly royalty. Vixens and vamps with Bettie Page pin-up style cool - in corsets, pencil skirts and heels – exchange MySpace addresses with innocent and charming looking Grace Kellys in full crinoline skirted ball gowns complete with beehive hairstyles. The ‘New Burlesque’ has been a big influence on the way women dress in the last few years. At VLV , in a pretty much a male dominated Music scene (Ruby Ann’s excellent performance on Sunday night was an exception) there’s now an event where Women perform. And it gets one of the biggest crowd of the weekend.

Ingram agrees:

“Its caught me off guard.’ Tom says, “We had a Burlesque competition as a bit of fun. But it’s now become one of the major events on the Burlesque calendar, and theres a lot of credibility goes with winning it. I didn’t realize it was such a popular event until this year.”

Burlesque is ironic nod to the pin-ups and sleazy side cabaret of the 50’s and 60’s.

“It’s stripping but not stripping!” says Ingram.

Done with a sense of humor and a panache that makes you laugh out loud it’s titillation for a hip crowd who know their ‘cool’. And the costumes and styles of that era have worked their way down into the crowd. There’s as many eye popping leopard print bra tops and tassels in the audience as there are on stage. That maybe because it’s easier to look cool these days without wading thorough Thrift stores and charity shops for vintage clothes.

Richard and Nanette McNamara are in their late forties they’ve been married for 20 years and they traveled 2,000 miles from New York City to attend VLV they say people on the fringes of Rockabilly or “entry level” can look pretty cool by shopping online. There are a lot more manufacturers ‘re-popping’ clothing - that is producing reproductions of vintage clothes – My Baby Jo is a good example.
Nanette says:

“There’s lots of people not happy about putting on a another person’s dress. They want new clothes.”

They live this life and have made nine of the ten VLV events. They come to VLV to meet up with friends and like-minded people. Collecting vintage clothing for over ten years, that dedication is also reflected in other aspects of their life.They have vintage furniture and collect original records. But not everyone lives like Rich and Nanette.

Rich continues:

“Most of our friends that we meet (at VLV) have period correct furniture. Art work etc., They date their purchase of a home - which is a significant purchase around here (in New York) – on something that’s mid-century.”

He goes on to say:

“It’s part of the thing that attracts us to Las Vegas (VLV) you start talking to someone you never met before and you find they collect the same things as you and understand what that’s all about. There’s never been an instruction manual, y’know? We all tend to gravitate to the same things, it’s remarkable. We’ve met people from Japan and they have the same kind of 1950’s Bakelite clock and they can’t believe it. We’re kindred spirits.”

And there seems to be no common denominator in these peoples’ outside lives:

“VLV is as diverse a group of people as I’ve ever met in my life: some are school teachers, some mechanics, someone’s in medical school.”

Rich says:

“The reason that Tom’s got VLV to the point that it is is there are a lot of people that say ‘I would much rather go to Vegas for a week in April than Rome or any place else because these are all people that are just like me.We live in the greatest city on the Planet (New York City) and there’s nothing that you can do here that touches on VLV ”.

The men look deadly too. Tattooed all over clutching beer cans and cocktails they maintain a ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ cool while talking music and cars with thrift store Sinatras. Blue jeans and T shirts is the prevailing styles or the men, with chains hanging from belts and clumpy biker boots or Converse All-Stars.

Other styles can be sourced to the lounge culture explosion Of the early 1990’s. Sharing roughly the same historical time period as Rock ‘n Roll they draw they’re influences from Rat Pack and from the hey day of Las Vegas itself. Loungers idolise The Rat Pack - a group of movie stars and singers and their hangers on that included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin Sammy Davis Jr. They immortalized the Jet Set lifestyle of the 1950’s and 60’s - they were cool. These gents forgo jeans for vintage ties and suits, sometimes custom made in either the big shouldered styles of the forties and 50’s or the slim lapeled suits with narrow ties that showed up in the sixties. They all have one thing in common though. Hair. Whether greased back or teased up, the quiffs pompadours are the crowning look of any self respecting weekender.

Carl Schreiber is attending VLV with his fiance Betsy. He bears an uncanny likeness to a young Liberace sporting a hair sprayed pompadour that rises 6 inches above his scalp. Betsy is demure with a simple orange blossom above her ear, long hair falls on her face in bangs, “It takes me 30 minutes to do my hair. Which is ten minutes longer than it takes Betsy!” He says.

‘E’ , 29, is from San Francisco and was the winner of Jive competition one year,

“I’d love to DJ too but it wouldn’t leave much time for Dancing!”

He meets up with friends this time of year every year for the past eight VLV’s:

“You get hooked on it and it has become a big deal. For me it’s as big as New year. Growing I loved the music particularly I listened to the music my parents did. I don’t exactly know when it took off for me but when I started buying my own clothes I looked for the clothes the musicians wore - and eventually I was combing my hair certain way and looking for anything related to the music and it sort evolved into this monster!”

Up the escalators from the Casino floor and turn right in the Arizona ballroom where some of the best music and dancing goes on turn right into the market where clothes new and old and records and CD’s are for sale.

Some travel from all over the country with pre-1960’s American cars stripped down and restored, modified and tuned so that their original owners wouldn’t recognize them. If Joe Q Public saw the family station wagon he bought brand new in 1954 and washed lovingly every Sunday as the kids played around him, he might drop down dead if he saw it now. Adorned with flames painted over the hood and huge silver pipes belching from under the undercarriage, it now sits only two inches from the hot Vegas asphalt, it’s definitely not your father’s Oldsmobile.

It is very much a West Coast scene perhaps because of the music business in LA. And more and more it has become a destination for other music fans. There are elements from Punk here too. In fact look carefully and you’ll see some of the older Punk crowd have gravitated to VLV as Punk splintered into elements that drifted away form their roots. Nic Alberico from San Francisco describes himself as an ‘Old Punker” he’s 44 and says,

“My first Punk show was Blondie in ’77, and I was amazed there were other people like me at the show. I suddenly felt part of something. VLV is a bit like that now. Punk as it was is gone but there’s a roots rock ‘n’ roll energy to that I identify with. VLV is celebration of real Rock ‘n’ Roll music.”

But why Las Vegas? Tom Ingram puts it simply:

“With all the entertainment in Vegas most of it sucks! VLV is known for being an event in Vegas that’s a break from the norm. All these people who want to go to the 24 hour Vegas environment to party but are put off because there’s nothing for them, realize that VLV is the only entertainment there is. I mean who wants to see Celine Dion over dinner?”

Rich McNamara agrees:

“We live in the greatest city on the planet (New York City) and there aren’t that many things that come even close to VLV. It’s 24/7! It’s non stop action!”

In the huge casino Chris Lopez sits at a slot machine with his girlfriend Celeste Torrez in the casino of the Gold Coast he is dragging a half finished 12 pack of beer around with him, he says:

“I love this place they let you drink beer on the street!”

If you’re twenty-one, in Las Vegas you can play all night. And you don’t need to leave the venue. Ingram block books 600 rooms of the 711 available. Susan Essex, director of sales at the Gold Coast says:

“It’s our biggest single event of the year. They’d take more rooms if we made them available. We love these guys!”

And there’s more to it than that even. though it’s billed as a “weekender” official events start on Thursday and end on Monday. People come to VLV come on vacation. And with a half days drive you can be at the Grand Canyon or downtown Los Angeles.

One couple from Croatia and Slovakia showed up in a wedding gown and tails,turns out they got married! at where else? The Graceland Wedding Chapel. Happy Easter - Elvis

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What Ever Happend to Vegas?

by The Senator

Dean Martin takes another pull from his Kent, holds it for a moment, until the burn passes, his eyes peering just beyond the spotlight that has followed him for the last 20 odd years or so.

To the right he sees a familiar face, but he doesn’t recall the name or where he’s from…maybe the Villa Venice? He’s a large man, probably half-Irish, a man trying to look way too young, in a suit that looks way too old, laughing way too hard. He needs to get a haircut, lose the mustache, and maybe even the dame he’s with -- a woman who is laughing way too loud at a joke she clearly doesn’t understand. In her blonde updo, she’s a looker alright. In an instant he makes out what she’s wearing -- a blue satin sheath and long white gloves -- but he doesn’t look too long at her. He never sang to the women before and he sure as hell isn’t going to start with her. The women aren’t the ones paying the bills.

He peers back into the light, taking a deep breath while blindly flicking ashes to his piano side. He nods back over to the couple.

“You want to hear me sing serious, you better buy the album.”

More laughter.

“We’re calling my next one ‘Ballads for B-Girls.’”

Again, they laugh.

He pushes out another stream of smoke, and flicks the cigarette toward the footlights.

No way had she known what a B-girl was. The guy was nodding though…and still laughing just a bit too hard.

The bill outside The Sands that night hints that “maybe Frank” would show up, but instead, the 800 high rollers in the Copa Room are treated to the tap dancing spectacle that is the Magid Triplets. They hail from Kew Gardens, NY.

Sinatra, who is from New Jersey, holds court in the New York room at Chasen’s in Los Angeles.

These days, Frank has no time for Las Vegas. His private jet, Dago One, has been logging serious hours, shuttling the famed Chairman of the Board back and forth from the West Coast to New York. In the works is his latest comeback attempt – a shot in the kisser aimed right at the hipster generation – an hour long special called “Sinatra – A Man and His Music.” In it, he will sing 18 songs, a task that would usually be his bread and butter. But just one month before his 50th birthday and short of recent battle experience, he’s worried.

To make things worse, he has a bad cold. To most people, that wouldn’t mean much -- perhaps a few days in bed, a couple bowls of chicken soup and a chest slathered with Vicks. But Sinatra isn’t “most people” -- he’s the foremost entertainer in the entire world.

A crooner by trade, a cold means the difference between hitting the high notes and digging for clams. And though he lords over the room like a modern Caesar, it’s that nervousness, that potential vulnerability, which leads him to pick a fight, even though he’s aware that a reporter, Gay Talese, is standing nearby and watching his every move.

His mark tonight is Harlan Ellison, a 30-something writer that happens to be right in Sinatra’s space at the wrong time. Ellison, dressed in a pair of brown corduroys, a green shaggy-dog Shetland sweater, a tan suede jacket, and Game Warden boots, represents everything Sinatra’s recent press release for the show railed against: “If you happen to be tired of kid singers wearing mops of hair thick enough to hide a crate of melons, it should be refreshing to consider the entertainment value of a video special titled Sinatra - A Man and His Music."

Ellison is shooting pool – poorly – against the legendary baseball manager and former Yankee Leo Durocher, a member of Sinatra’s entourage and the man who coined the phrase “nice guys finish last” (something the team he managed the year before, the Chicago Cubs, managed to do). But it’s not Ellison’s game that disgusts Sinatra – it’s the outfit.

These may be the days of the “Great Society,” but Sinatra still swears by “High Society.” Wearing brown after the sun went down was and will be forever wrong in his playbook, and boots like Ellison’s belong on a farm.

Sinatra, who sits staring at Ellison from a stool in the corner, can finally take no more. The challenge must be issued, if only because he’s boring of the entire scene.

“Hey,” he yells to Ellison, the ice in his Jack Daniel’s clinking against the glass as he leans forward. “Those Italian boots?”

“No,” Ellison replies, without a hint of deference.

“Spanish?” Sinatra asks.

“No,” Ellison replies again.

“Are they English boots?” Sinatra persists, his aim now clear to all in the newly silent room.

Ellison’s demeanor changes, too. His father died when he was a kid and ever since, he had been on the road. It was late, and he didn’t need Mr. Daddy-O himself questioning his attire.

“Look, I don’t know, man.” He turns away, fiddling with his cue-stick, agitated.

Like any great prizefighter, Sinatra knows to move in. The boxing analogy is one of two men tied together by a string – when one moves back, the other is pulled forward. Though they were separated by ideology and generation, there was little doubt that the two were bound in the moment now. And Sinatra, a relatively short man who stood 5’ 8”, actually had a height advantage on Ellison, who stood all of 5’5”.

“You expecting a storm?” Sinatra sneers, looking down into Ellison’s face, his eyes alight.

Ellison moves a step to the side.

“Any reason why you’re talking to me?”

Again the kid has it wrong. This wasn’t a talk. It was an address.

“I don’t like the way you’re dressed,” is the decree.

Ellison writes episodes for Star Trek. He never once had Captain Kirk set his phaser on anything but “stun.” But he had also been in a Red Hook, Brooklyn street gang and he knew how to use a switchblade, too. His adrenaline on the rise, he stands his ground, ready to go a few rounds himself now.

“Hate to shake you up, but I dress to suit myself."

There will be no shake up this night. Not in the New York room, not on Sinatra’s watch. Ellison is shown the door by plenty of people willing to make sure that men like Sinatra didn’t have to get their hands dirty. The situation over and his music playing on the jukebox again, Sinatra announces his final, but prime directive for the club:

“I don’t want anybody in here without coats and ties.”

Three years had passed since that night in the New York room and Sinatra’s NBC special had him wearing a Nehru jacket and love beads, singing medleys with The Fifth Dimension.

In another three years, he would retire altogether from show business.

The rest of the Rat Pack didn’t fare much better. Peter Lawford became persona non gratis after a falling out with the Kennedy’s and Sinatra. The only person who would still hang out with him was Sammy Davis Jr., but that’s only because they shared the same predilections when it came to partying. They could still get pictures made – “Salt & Pepper” and “One More Time” kept them in celluloid, but they too took to wearing Nehru jackets, a futile attempt to prove they were still hip, instead hastening their trip into the land of famous people who were famous for being famous.

It was little surprise to any of them that Martin became the most successful of them all during that time. Unlike Frank, who never seemed to understand that in order to hold on to the girl, you had to not hold on at all, Dean had perfected the art of not giving a shit – accordingly he got most of the spoils. It was probably instilled in him years ago…don’t get your hopes up. You’re a split lipped, busted nose, son of an immigrant who can barely read or speak. Be grateful for what you’ve got, and don’t kid yourself about the people you’re with…when you’ve got money, you’ve got lots of friends.

He didn’t care that his carefully cultivated persona of the lovable drunk had worked just a little too well because the joke was on everyone else. He practically owned all of NBC’s stock after the success of his variety shows. And while Frank and Sammy struggled to stay with the times, Martin could have cared less. He still recorded an album or two a year, starred in a movie or so a year, he still played Vegas, still told the same jokes, and he still wore a tux with a red pocket square. When asked about the moon landing in an interview with Look magazine conducted in his suite at the Sands, Martin looked genuinely befuddled.

“Why would anyone want to go there,” he asked. “There’s nothing up there.”

As the years went on, there wasn’t much for him in Vegas either. He tired of the girls, whom he saw as opportunists eager to get into his wallet. He preferred milk to scotch, western movies to showgirls. The times were changing, and he was fine with it.

Dean Martin died on Christmas morning in 1995. He could have saved himself, but he declined the extensive surgery it would have taken to prolong his life.

One year later, The Sands was completely destroyed.

Unlike other cities, casinos in Vegas aren’t destroyed with wrecking balls. They blow them up with 800 sticks of dynamite. Such was the fate of The Sands on November 28, 1996.

The demolition was carried live on the local television station, an announcer who sounded far too young to know the significance of the event did his level best anyhow.

“Back in it’s heyday in the ‘50s and into the early ‘60s, it was the place to be on the strip,” he spoke without remorse. “In moments, it won’t be there anymore.”

With competition from Steve Wynn owned properties like The Mirage, The Sands’ ownership decided they needed to respond. The Sands, like those who had made it famous, was hopelessly dated. They needed to wipe the slate clean.

Architecture on the strip has been classified in two ways by experts over the years. They posit the theory that there are really only two basic types of structures in Las Vegas, the “decorated shed” and the “duck.” A decorated shed was a basic building that had ornaments applied to its façade. The duck was a sculpture in and unto itself. The Sands had been considered a decorated shed by its ownership, and the decision to make the change over to The Venetian – a duck with a canal system to boot – made all the sense in the world to them.

Plenty were complicit in the decision.

It was time for another era. Nostalgia has no place in Las Vegas. Nostalgia is last race’s losing ticket at the sports book, it’s the last Keno slip, and it’s the $2.50 redemption that’s not even worth cashing in because the line is too long.

Las Vegas started off with casinos and hotels that sought to capitalize on the image of the Wild West – the taming of the frontier, the discovery of gold. Accordingly, the names of the venues matched the fantasy…the Golden Nugget, the Frontier, Glitter Gulch.

When Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegal rightfully surmised that people all over the country would want to join the “A-list” after World War II, he decided to change the paradigm. Pouring millions of mob money into a casino he named after his mistress’s oral sex prowess, “The Flamingo” was built to take America out of the Victory garden and into the Garden of Eden.

By the mid-50s, the strip had made another change. Now casinos like the Sands, Dunes, Sahara, and the Aladdin took their spot on the main stage. Forget the old west…harem girls, sultans with gold coins and flying carpets…that was the new ticket. The powers that be in Vegas were suddenly embracing their treeless desert roots.

Wasn’t it ironic then that the news announcer would describe the Sands’ demolition in woodcutters’ terms? The dynamite, it was explained, were placed in such a way to make the building fall backward, in much the same way a lumberjack would chop down a tree.

It was a cliché to be sure, but perhaps not the most apt one he could muster. For the Sands refused to fall. Instead, it hung there, even after the charges ripped every floor from its frame, when by every engineer’s account it should have sagged to the ground in an instant, it hung there. The Sands, like an old heavyweight champion who couldn’t believe that someone could actually knock them out, refused to go down.

Thirty years ago, it was Sinatra that refused to set down. There was more to Vegas than the show – he could sing anywhere. It wasn’t for the bar – his parents had owned one back in Hoboken and if that’s what he wanted, he never would have left. Vegas meant more, because it was more to him. Upstairs, his bedroom could be Hell for the thrice divorced man. On the strip, every action was just another venial sin. So why sleep when there was a perfectly good golf cart to tour the grounds with?

At high speeds.

Through the lobby.

Swinging a golf club at the bellhop who got in the way.

“I built the place,” he would bellow, skillfully missing the head of his would-be ambusher, “and I can tear it down!”

Memories prove to be weightless in the end, and The Sands did finally come back down to Earth, much to the approval of the newsman and the blast engineers overseeing the event.

“After 44 years, the Sands has succumbed,” said the newsman.

“That looked wonderful guys,” came the crackling response over the radio. “Looked real pretty.”

Sunday, August 12, 2007

What We're Drinking: Italianize cocktails with Fernet Branca

Fernet Branca
Novare serbando - translation "Renew but conserve" - Fratelli Branca motto from the 19th Century

I have been in love with the mysterious Italian liquor known as Fernet for over ten years. The dark syrupy substance ranks as my favorite post dinner drink with grappa and sambuca rounding out the trifecta. It was not love at first shot by any means. I first tasted Fernet in Italy during my days as a student at the American University of Rome. I remember the harsh medicinal taste of the first sip but then gradually warmed up to it. I became such a fan, that one night we finished a bottle of it at an apartment near the Flaminio and I realized Fernet was something special! As romances sometimes go we lost touch and I moved on to other amari. Then one day we reconnected.

While ordering a Negroni at my local bar I saw the familiar dark green bottle sitting uncomfortably between Averna and Campari. As the bartender reached for the red amaro, I decided to make my move and asked him to substitute Fernet. I realized that I was bored of the same old cocktail recipes. Don't get me wrong, I love Manhattans, Negronis, and Pimms Cups and other timeless classics but sometimes I need an extra kick. So I began to"Italianize" my cocktails with Fernet Branca

First a little background: Fernet is an herbal liquor or “digestivo” has been popular in Italy and France since the 19th century. The Fratelli Branca's Fernet-Branca brand is the most popular in the world but there is also an excellent variety produced by the Venetian produced Fernet Luxardo. The soothing liquor is made from 27 herbs, including saffron, aloes, gentian, rhubarb, gun myrrh, red cinchona bark, & other exotic spices and has a medicinal quality which can be refreshing after a satisfying meal. Be warned that it is 80 proof and a cousin to Jaegermeister so it is not your typical amaro.

The modern Fernet invasion into the United States began in San Francisco in the late 90s and has continued to spread east. According to Nate Cavalieri’s article on the Fernet-Branca obsession in San Francisco, “The Myth of Fernet,” from the December 7, 2005 issue of SF Weekly, the city consumes more of the liquor than any other place in the United States. Fernet has become an institution with bar patrons from the Italian enclave of North Beach to the hipster Mission district to South of Market (SoMA) street back up to Haight Street and beyond. In his article, Cavalieri also goes into the history of Fernet Branca in America as an elixir. It has the notoriety of being the only alcoholic substance imported into the United States during prohibition, the government considered it medicine. As you can imagine, it flew off the shelves at local pharmacies! All this history adds to the mythical and outlaw nature of the liquor.

In the past several years, Fernet has been making inroads on the East Coast gaining popularity in Boston and amongst bar and restaurant industry folks in New York as well. According to, the trend of drinking Fernet Branca by chefs, bartenders, and waitstaff alike can be compared to a reaction against the fashionista commercialism of Cosmopolitan and expensive vodka bottle service mania. In other words, Fernet is an outlaw drink and that only true cognoscenti can handle!

Fernet Cocktails:
Tradizionale (aka "Neat")

  • 2 oz Fernet Branca
Pour the Fernet Branca into a cordial glass, add a twist of lemon when in Sicily or drinking with the Senator.

Fernet Rocks
  • 3 oz Fernet Branca
  • Twist of lemon
Pour the Fernet over ice into a rocks or high ball glass, serve with lemon twist.

The Fedora
(created by Matt Dawson of Brooklyn Social)

  • 1/4 oz Fernet Branca
  • 2 1/2 oz Michter's Rye Whiskey
  • 1/2 oz sweet vermouth
  • Twist of citrus
Pour the Fernet into an ice filled shaker and "wash the ice" by stirring the liquid, then drain it. Combine the Rye (we prefer the American brand Michter's Rye over the Canadian variety), and the vermouth into the shaker. Stir rigorously and serve up in a martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a twist of lemon or burnt orange.

Fredo's Fernet Negroni
  • 1 oz Beefeater Gin
  • 0.5 oz Fernet Branca
  • 0.5 oz Campari
  • 0.5 oz sweet vermouth
  • Orange slice
Combine the ingredients over ice in a double rocks glass. I prefer a dry gins like Beefeater or Tanqueray in this cocktail. Try not to use botanical infused gins, like Bombay Sapphire or Hendricks, as they will not blend well with the strong medicinal qualities of the Fernet. Stir until chilled and serve up in a cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist.

Fernet with soda
  • 1 oz Fernet Branca
  • 2 oz Coca Cola or Ginger Ale
Pour the Fernet over ice in a highball glass. Then pour in Coca-Cola (practically a national drink in Argentina) or ginger ale (a favorite in San Francisco).

Pimms Italiano
  • 2 oz Pimm's No. 1
  • 1/4 to 1/2 oz of Fernet Branca
  • 3 oz ginger ale
  • sliced cucumbers
  • sliced lemon
  • fresh mint
The Pimms Italiano is a Milanese take on the traditional English Pimms Cup. Combine a slice of cucumber, lemon, and mint into a rocks glass. Muddle the ingredients using a bar spoon or muddler. Add ice. Pour in Pimms No. 1, then ginger ale and stir. Finally add the, Fernet Branca as a floater. Garnish with a Cucumber slice and drink away.

- Fredo

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Brooklyn Social - "Non-Members Welcome"

by Fredo

When I first ventured to Smith Street in Brooklyn during the mid-1990s for friends’ house party the strip was ghost town. The street was populated by boarded up storefronts, a few car services, a pizzeria, dilapidated bodegas, and a few old social clubs. Back in those days, one did not stroll down Smith from Atlantic Avenue to 9th Street; one walked at a brisk pace and kept your wits about you. There were a lot of hard looks and it seemed the only friendly faces beamed out of the social club doors. A quick glance inside revealed old men playing dominos or smoking cigars in wood paneled rooms.

Well times have changed. The wave of gentrification arrived and quicker than you can order a steak frites at Bar Tabac; the new Smith Street was born. The old storefronts are now bistros, boutiques, and bars. The last bodega closed down was replace by an Asian fusion resturant. There is a bar on every block. But one bar has opened in the past three years that stands above the rest. Instead of shunning the old Smith Street, it celebrates it. The joint is called Brooklyn Social, a renovated old Sicilian social club.

The Scoop: Owners Matt Dawson and his partners obviously love the old Brooklyn. The bar is homage to the men who worked hard at blue-collar jobs and then stopped into socialize with their fellow paesani over some grappa or vino di tavola. The dark oak wood bar and fixtures have been dusted off and look like new. The copper ceiling, painted red is a tribute to fine workmanship. The main room contains the bar and two intimate alcoves for discussing “business”; the back room has a pool table and the bathrooms.

Bevi: I have sampleda majority of the outstanding cocktails on their list! At under ten dollars a cocktail the place is a worker’s paradise. Recently, I ordered a Plymouth Gin Negroni and it was right on the money. For the ladies, I suggest the Fellini, a champagne drink with rosemary.

Mangia:The joint also offers a choice of three grilled panini sandwiches — priced at $7 and includes a crisp pickle — a welcome treat when you’re engaging in some all-night watering!

Alas, friendly faces once again beam out of a social club on Smith. But this time all are welcome. The bar’s slogan is “Non-Members Welcome.” Plus you’ll probably find some of the Loungerati hanging outside puffing on stogies on a lazy Tuesday night.

Brooklyn Social
335 Smith St
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Cross Street; Carroll St.
Subway: F/G to Carroll Street.


(originally publised in the Barfly's Beat - April 2006)