Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Kershaw Crowned King of Old London Town

CONGRATULATIONS to our brother-in-booze, Sam Kershaw, who this evening emerged victorious from the two-day Great British Final of the Appleton Rum Bartender Challenge.

"Sam Jam," who kept bar with Giuseppe Gonzalez at October’s Salon (right) and was much-loved by everyone who paid a visit to Death + Co. or The Hideout last Autumn, qualified through one of four regional heats, where every competitor was required to complete a knowledge test, free-pour examination, and then to make a round of four classic rum drinks (Mojito, Mai Tai, Daiquiri, Jamaican Mule), plus an original cocktail — all within SIX minutes.

With this famous triumph, the 2008 Lounger No. 1 nominee will next month be jetting off to Jamaica to compete in a Grand Final against the world’s finest, where for three hours, he'll have to run a bar for 300 exceedingly thirsty judges. Assuming this doesn't (it won't) conclude in the shape of a pear, our kid will be in with a proper shout of being named the ‘2009 Appleton Bartender of the Year’.

Given that Sam (who's now employed at Rick's Bar in Edinburgh) is painting the West End red right now, details of that original concoction — and the inevitable blow-by-blow account of his remarkable achievement — are still scarce; nevertheless, ladies and gentlemen, your drinks are on the house!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Made of Win: A Visit to Bourbon & Branch

By Seven Red

After long delay, some reports from San Francisco, where I attended the dreaded CCCC conference this year. I will say this: I did not see a single bad talk. I will be taking Thank You gifts from the field for my previous taxonomical snark, which apparently whipped everybody into shape. You’re welcome, 4C’s. But on to the real topic of this post, Bourbon & Branch. This little speakeasy-style cocktail bar is, as the title says, made of win. So I’ll offer a little review.

You can get into Bourbon & Branch one of two ways. You can make reservations for a two-hour slot ahead of time, in which case you’ll likely get a table (or really, a booth), or you can seek a kind of general admission, in which case you’ll be placed in the “library,” which you access through a secret panel in the wall of the main room. Am I corny as hell, or is that cool already? Hell with you: I was impressed. But Drinking Buddy (DB) and I went the reservation route, so we had a booth from 6-8. We rang the bell, whereupon a hostess asked us for the password, previously communicated when we confirmed the reservation. It’s all very hush-hush.

Since it was still light out, B&B seemed remarkably dark, but really well done. You walk in to the main bar room, where piles of fresh lemons, limes, and oranges are arranged on the bar. Appearance: velvet red floral wallpaper (see the web site for the design) under a shiny pressed tin roof, small yellow-lit lamps at each high-seated wooden booth, a snazzy pinstripe design on the booth padding, along with severe tapered mirrors on the walls that match the tapered wooden tables: they’re doing the 20’s posh thing, and doing it well. Sound: subdued jazz playing at just the right volume, and ranging from some 20’s songbirds and early Tommy Dorsey to as late as Astrud Gilberto doing some popular Bossanova numbers, with the heavier accent on the older, pre-war stuff. When you get to the booth, a waitress hands over one hefty cocktail menu that also includes the house rules: no photography, no cell phones, smoke out the back door (unlock it and relock it when you come in), and don’t even think of ordering a “cosmo.” They actually have it in quotations like that, as if the thing can hardly be said to exist. The waitress also brought over two glasses of water and a small drink for us while we looked over the menu; I think it was Champagne with bitters.

The menu itself is impressive, with the whole back-end focusing on scotch and whiskey and such. I just don’t do the scotch thing (hell, I hardly do cocktails), so I focused on the first part, which was subdivided into house specialties and classics, with, again, the accent on a particular respect for cocktail history, pre-war. Each cocktail listing comes with both ingredients and an explanation, so cocktail know-nothings like me can feel comfortable. The waitress also advised us of a non-menu cocktail for the evening. I started with the non-menu cocktail, a “Kentucky Buck,” consisting of strawberry-infused Four Roses Bourbon, bitters, lemon, and ginger beer. It was yummy. DB started with an Old Fashioned, also delicious. For my second drink, I went classic, with a White Lady. It was Tanqueray 10, Cointreau, lemon juice, and egg white. I have to tell you that I was a bit nervous about the egg white, since I’ve seen the foaming action go so often wrong, but this was really perfect. In fact, if pressed, I’d say that the White Lady I had at Bourbon & Branch was the best cocktail I’d ever had, period. DB, who drinks more cocktails than I do, concurred, raving about it. For his part, he ordered a Blood and Sand, which was good, but maybe a little light on the orange juice. I was essentially done at two, because we still had beer drinking to do later at Toronado (on Haight). But DB went for one more, a Black Manhattan, which was the house version of a Manhattan with coffee bitters. I had a sip: yum yums.

And then we were done, but that was perfect for somebody like me. The atmosphere and the time limit make the usual shenanigans you see when people are drinking cocktails more or less structurally impossible, so you actually enjoy a few good cocktails like a good meal. One thing that did strike me in Bourbon & Branch is that my wife, Mrs Red, would just love the place, and meanwhile, she’s home eight-months pregnant while I’m cavorting around drinking cocktails. I have to get her down to The Violet Hour in Chicago when she gets through all this baby-birthin’ business. She’s gonna be ready for a drink!

(Originally published at Seven Red dot net by our man in Chicago)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lounge Essentials: How to Play C-Low

Seven Red’s Rules of C-Low

“…when I play C-Low.When I roll four five six they go “We know.”So I collect my cash then slide. I got my back, my gun’s on my side. It shouldn’t hafta be like dat. I guess it ain’t where ya from it’s where ya at…” Erik B and Rakim,The Ghetto

I’ve been asked by Fredo to provide a comprehensive guide to C-Low, a dice game. Although Fredo and I have had our problems, and I fully believe that he pulled some infamous swindle in order to thwart me from a Fourth Consecutive World C-Low Championship, in the interest of letting bygones be bygones and, more importantly, of spreading the Gospel of this wonderful game to all the world, I’ve agreed to provide an easy to use guide to this authentic urban pastime.

C-Low is played with three (3) standard six-sided dice, of the kind generally found in Monopoly.. Preferably, the players will have two (2) green dice and one (1) red die, although these colors signify nothing at all in the game itself. If you do not want to risk your reputation by entering some “Gaming Store” filled with Trekkies and overweight “Dungeon Masters” in order to procure authentic green and red C-Low dice, be advised that these dice can be found in almost every bodega, though you’ll often have to ask for them. While C-Low can be played almost anywhere, it is most commonly played on sidewalks, in the back of high school classrooms being run by substitute teachers, on stone “chess tables” provided by the New York City Parks Department, or in staircases operated by the New York City Housing Authority.

Beginners will certainly want to play on the floor rather than on some other surface, if only to avoid the ugly incidents that inevitably follow when a C-Low die runs off a table and under the feet of opposing players. By crouching with one knee and one foot on the ground, the C-Low player can remain close to his or her money, while at the same time maintaining a stance that’s perfectly suited for fight or flight, either of which may be necessary at a moment’s notice, as we’ll discover.

C-Low begins when each player pays for the privilege of rolling the dice by providing a cash sum agreed to beforehand by all players. Some purists believe that the player’s money should be placed under his or her shoe, with ¾ of the bill exposed. Several experts differ on the wisdom of this procedure, however, as it seems to imply partial technical possession of wagered cash. Beginners may want to use the more common “pot” approach, for which the money is placed outside the physical possession, but within easy reach of each player. The order of throwing should be agreed to beforehand for the first round, and play moves counter-clockwise. For each subsequent round, the winner of the previous round shall roll first.

Scoring Players shall roll all three dice simultaneously until they establish a score for themselves. Rolling one die at a time will likely get you beat down, Redhook-style. Scoring is accomplished by rolling identical numbers on two or more dice.

For example, if one were to roll 5 - 3 - 2, one would not have scored, and would have to roll again. It is important to remember that each player continues to roll until he or she scores. Once a player has rolled identical numbers on two or more dice, they have a score.

If the player rolled identical numbers on two dice, then the player’s score is the non-identical number appearing on the third die.

For example, if a player rolls 4 - 4 - 3, then that players score is 3. If a player rolls 2 - 6 - 6 , then that player’s score is 2. If a player rolls 5 - 6 - 5, then that player’s score is 6. Once a player has scored, the player CANNOT roll again. The player’s turn has ended for the round once a score for that player has been established, and the player must then “sit on” his or her score, hoping it is not beaten by the score of another player.

Despite the name of the game, it is not the Lowest score that wins, but the highest.
If every player scores by achieving identical numbers on ONLY two dice, the player with the highest score number wins.

For example, for the game of three players we’ve just seen, in which one player rolled 4 - 4 - 3, thereby scoring a 3, the next rolled 2 - 6 - 6, thereby scoring a 2, and the last rolled 5 - 6 - 5, thereby scoring a 6, the last player will have won the pot, as that player had a higher third number (a 6) than the other two (who had a 3 and a 2). If four player score 5 - 1 - 5, 6 - 4 - 6, 1 - 2 - 1, and 1 - 6 - 1, the last player would have won, since a 6 beats a 1, a 6 beats a 4 and 6 beats a 2. If only Doubles are rolled, it is very simply the highest third number that wins.

However, a player can also roll three identical numbers with three dice, say 5 - 5 - 5. If this happens, the player is said to have rolled a “Trip” (in this case, a “Trip Five” - or triple five). All Trips trump all doubles. So, if a player rolls a 1 - 1 - 1, that player would still defeat a roll of 5 - 6 - 5, since a Trip Ones (triple one) beats a regular 6. Within Trips, the highest score again takes the prize: a Trip Deuce (2 - 2 - 2) beats Trip Ones (1 - 1 - 1), Trip Treys (3 - 3 - 3) beats Trip Deuce (2 - 2 - 2), etc up to 6 - 6 - 6. Again, it is important to remember that ANY TRIP beats any score accomplished by matching merely two dice. This is, of course, highly logical, since it is much more probable that one would roll two identical numbers with three dice than it is that one would roll three identical numbers. Trips do not afford any special privilege other than their higher score: again, once a player has established any score, that player cannot roll again in that round. Automatic Win and Loss. If this procession to highest numbers were all there were to the game of C-Low, it would never have survived. As one can deduce from the seemingly cryptic words of Rakim cited above, there’s another twist involved:

Four Five Six.
If any player rolls 4 - 5 - 6 at any time during a round, that player automatically wins the round and the money. No subsequent players get a chance to roll. If there are eight players, and each has wagered $50, and the first player rolls 4 - 5 - 6 on his or her first roll, that player wins the round automatically. Do not be fooled by neighborhood grifters who insist that they are allowed an opportunity to match your roll of 4 - 5 - 6. They ARE NOT ALLOWED AN OPPORTUNITY TO MATCH. The round ends automatically. A roll of 4 - 5 - 6 trumps EVERY other roll. If said neighborhood grifters persist in this obnoxious fraud, it is within your rights, and may even constitute a duty, to pistol whip them unmercifully.

One Two Three.
If any player rolls 1 - 2 - 3 at any time during a round, that player immediately forfeits his or her turn without a score. Subsequent players do get a chance to roll, but the roller of 1 - 2 - 3 is out of the running for the remainder of the round. Obviously, as one needs some score to win, the player that forfeits his or her turn without a score is a loser. One Two Three is a loser roll.

In the Event of a Tie.

Ties in scoring often cause controversies, since the procedure to be followed varies from neighborhood to neighborhood, and among different skill levels. I will outline two of the most common procedures, but it is wise to agree on a Tie procedure ahead of time, to avoid inevitable ugly incidents. C-Low is much like pool in this respect - House Rules are posted, preventing anyone from bitching incessantly.

Tie Procedure 1: Runoff. This is the most common and in my opinion the fairest of the tie procedures (fairest, of course, does not always mean best). If two or more players tie, those players, and ONLY those players roll again, in the same order they rolled during the round proper. There is often a question here about whether those players engaged in the runoff should contribute again to the pot. While opinions vary on this point, I personally believe that one shouldn’t be penalized for “winning”, that is, that one shouldn’t be required to lose $40 in a run off when those who didn’t even reach the run off only lost $20.

Tie Procedure 2: Round Replay. This procedure is more rare, and practiced by only hardcore players. It requires that everybody re-up and roll again. Should players who rolled 1 - 2 - 3 in the first, tied round be allowed another chance in a round replay? That’s a thorny question, and one that’s gotten more than a few people beat down without restraint. Extreme purists always go for the round replay, and, to heap additional ignominy on 1 - 2 - 3 rollers, require them to re-up their bets without the benefit of another roll. While I find such a policy to be contrary to the basic premise of gambling, and little better than rank extortion on its face, I have to admit that it’s pretty damn funny when you’re not the 1 - 2 - 3 roller. The conventional wisdom is that this practice originated somewhere in Upstate New York where the beds are owned by the Department of Corrections; re-uping with a 1 - 2 - 3 roll is often called ‘feeding the bitch’ for this reason.

O.K. kids. You’re ready to play. Now run on down to your local bodega, pick up some dice, and hit the wall! And remember, if you happen to find yourself playing C-Low with Fredo, keep an eye on his pinky finger. Sorry to undermine you, Fredo, but as you once told me, “Everytingz a tradeoff.”