One part Eastwood,
One part Astaire.
Add a dash of Bogart.
Shake, strain and enjoy.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rugged: Cupcakes


Because nothing says "I'm a man" like a cupcake.

The new shop will feature 12 varieties on their menu... some of which will have you questioning if you are in a bakery or a bar. The list includes:

A Rum and Coke
Beer Run
Big Papi

Who would have ever thought rugged would meet refined sugar?

Butch Bakery: Storefront coming to NYC - Spring 2010.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Rugged/Refined: Weather

The great monsoon is upon us.  New York City has been drenched in rain over the past 48 hours. According to this is now the wettest March on record with 9.18 inches measured over the span of the month at LaGuardia Airport.  3.92 inches alone have fallen in Central Park just from this storm!

However, foul weather is still no excuse to look schlubby.  I actually awoke in an excited state this morning.  Living on the top floor of a 6th floor walk-up that is nestled between buildings generally makes judging the weather near impossible... except for rain.  Like Poe's Raven, I can hear it tap, tap, tapping on my ceiling in a rhythmic ploy to lull me back into a deep slumber.  But not today - I had been waiting for rain like this - the first true test of my new Bean hunting boots.  Strings taught around my ankle, I grabbed my navy raincoat and faithful dandy umbrella, all but skipping out of the door.  As I approached the corner of 3rd Avenue, I spotted a devilishly tempting beast staring at me - a puddle so big, Nessie could have been roaming its deepest fathoms.  Now I wasn't a kid even when I was a kid.  I've always had a sense of control and propriety, BUT I'll fully admit that at the ripe old age of 27, I wanted to romp in that bad-boy like a 4-year old on Red Bull just to see what my foot Zodiacs could handle.

Besides playing with new toys, simply experimenting with functional style and accessories can turn out to be the bright spot in an otherwise dreary day.

Now if I could just find myself a decent rain suit...

It takes a rugged man to sport this outfit.
Now you know why we should trust him.

L.L. Bean Signature Waxed Canvas Hunting Shoe, $129 
(from previous post)

Brooks Brothers New Stick Umbrella: $60

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Blasphemy! The New Sunday

Image: Warming Glow

Happy Palm Sunday!  An exciting purchase and the looming pinnacle of the church year started swirling together in my head this morning, making me analyze what a Sunday has come to mean.

I can almost feel my father's chest tightening as I begin to write this.  A panic pouring over him like bath water in a baby's eyes as the Divine alerts him to the words of my sacrilege from three states away.  Each tap of the keys, another stab to his God fearing soul.  He is a fervent Catholic who regularly attends weekly mass and I represent the red-horned heathen that strayed from the flock.  It's not that I don't believe, I just choose not to attend a repetitive sanctioned ceremony to outwardly display my beliefs.  While he looks at it as a lack of sacrifice and respect to God, I see it as streamlining and efficient time management... masked as laziness.  I package all the praying, singing and kneeling up, strap some ambition to it and approach the world each day trying to be a good, honorable, respectful person.  He says - "that doesn't count".

Let's face it, my decades in purgatory are locked in and not attending mass is the least of my worries.  My generation is wrought with sin and living in NYC only doubles it.  I live in the mecca of retail and consumerism - even St. Patrick's Cathedral has a gift shop.  Consider the entire city a big Solomon's Temple and the merchants have long term iron-clad leases.  We can't leave our apartments without coveting our neighbor's possessions or... errr, "wife".  My lust for material items and women would send me to confession - Every. Single. Day.  Probably more than once.

However, if Christ is to return - he is going to need a style upgrade and I'm praying that this can buy my ticket back into the pearly gates.  I'll be the first to admit, Jesus is one rugged fellow - the beard, the ripped physique and those carpentry skills... if and when he returns, I'm going to bet he's setting up shop in Brooklyn.  I can see the sign of the new "IT" restaurant now - "Loaves and Fishes" - drawing hipsters in by the droves with a BYOW policy... "you bring the water, we'll take care of the rest".  I mean, his disciples were the original Urban Woodsman.  But Lord, come on! The mandals, the blousy robes, the long hair?  Pick up a GQ once in a while... this is NOT how a Savior should be attired. Swap out the robes for some plaid button downs or airy Irish linen.  How about a nice pair of Wolverines and burnished brogues?  See if Dad can swing a divine intervention at Tom Ford.  Don't underestimate the power of a good suit in selling eternal salvation.  Look at Don Draper. He could sell hair gel to a bald man.

"I need your help..."
"I'll tell you what, you overlook my infidelity, 
I'll teach you how to look this cool. Deal?"

With this being said, Sunday's are still religious in my apartment but for blasphemous reasons.  During the summer, once the clock strikes 10 p.m. silence is to be observed as the celebration begins.  Although we are still a few months away, it's Mad Men time once again in the land of Rugged/Refined.  Sterling Cooper my Cathedral and Don Draper my officiant.  Season 3 has arrived on DVD and I can't wait to re-watch every advertising-related, flannel-wearing, chain-smoking, bourbon-soaked second of it.  While I have to wait until July for new episodes, reliving past seasons will certainly fill the void until Season 4 arrives.

A tryptic of envy.  

Days worth of entertainment.

I find it no coincidence that the show normally airs on Sunday - it's devilish plots filled with questionable morals and tragic figures are the perfect counter to the piousness of the day.  Despite their sinister lives and foul misgivings, we could all learn something from Draper and the gang about style and persuasion... even you Son Of Man.  Crisp white shirts (masking their dark hearts), clean-lined suits, skinny ties, cuff links, pomade and fedoras - if biblical figures had dressed like this, I might have paid more attention.

"What are you looking at? Don't judge me."
"I haven't said a word, have I?"

In many ways Mad Men and Christianity are one in the same and deserve to share the day.  Advertising and religion are both about the power of persuasion... relying on a story to communicate a point, be it salvation or "brighter brights and whiter whites".  We, as materialistic consumers are subjected to the Drapers of the world telling us what we need and, in essence Jesus and the disciples were too - spiritual ad men spreading the word via "PR" to those in search of something higher to believe in.  Their hope being to forge a connection with a brand.  Jesus was the original Orvil Reddenbacher, a spokesman and logo of his own brand.  A symbol of redemption, forgiveness, compassion and sacrifice for millions of followers.  Without His early marketing efforts, He may have simply been considered weird, odd, or unbalanced - His story lost over the years to other "fanatics" with a better campaign.

Religions are probably the most successful campaigns in history and they flourished without modern communication.  Passion, writing and oratory were their main outlets... skills used by Draper himself:  Kodak Carousel Pitch (I still get goosebumps watching him speak).  Just like Draper's pitch, Jesus and his disciples had to captivate and elicit an emotional connection in their audience.  They had the "new" philosophy but needed to create the sentimental bond.  People had been fed belief systems since the dawn of time - the wheel that the client speaks of - all He and the disciples had to do was sell the Christian "carousel".

Draper and Jesus.  Closer than one might think.

My soapbox is wavering so I must step down.  Evening is upon us and I am eager to get episodes underway.  I must prepare my chalice... three fingers of Balvenie... my cup runneth over.

Of all the DVD season sets, I am enamored by the season three graphic.  Stark yet glistening, it takes its style cues from the show itself.  Easily the most refined cover of my collection.

 Through the eyes of a mid-day Mad Man.
How did so many good campaigns come from so many inebriated minds?

Pray for me.

Rugged/Refined: Coffee

Simply the best coffee I have ever had.

Robust, yet smooth - like a burly lumberjack in a Henry Poole suit.

Stumptown Coffee in NYC:

Manhattan -
The Ace Hotel
McNally Jackson Books
Stumptown Coffee Roasters

Brooklyn -
Apt. 138
Breukelen Coffee House
Cafe Pedlar
Frankie's 457
Marlow & Sons
Prime Meats
Sit and Wonder

Queens -
Sweet Leaf

For location information see the NYT article:
New York Is Finally Taking Its Coffee Seriously.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Long Live the McQueen

Image: Life

I feel like a fraud admitting this, but I have never seen a Steve McQueen film.  I only know of the man from his sartorial heritage - being a rugged bad-ass.  He was named as one of GQ's 50 Most Stylish Men of the Past 50 Years, initially putting him on my style radar.  They deemed the most fitting description of him as a "surf, bum, hippie... McQueen was at his best when he looked like he'd just washed up on the beach." Each day we are assaulted with an overabundance of casual attire, yet some can make it look downright enviable. McQueen was one. Simplicity reigned with regards to his wardrobe, proving to be as functional as it was cool in order to accommodate his robust hobbies, namely racing, aviation and marital arts. Confidence was his best accessory.

I recall giving my uncle The Magnificent Seven one Christmas in my youth and his subsequent disgust having heard that I'd never seen it. "Steve McQueen man! He's the coolest". One of my favorite style publications, The Rake, turned me on to his refined side in the lead role of the original The Thomas Crown Affair, in which he was outfitted almost entirely in custom British tailoring. Form fitting suits, waistcoats and pocket watches transformed the gritty hired gun from a life of dusty horses to elegant Rolls Royces.

Earlier this week I stumbled across a new series of pictures just released by Life showing various aspects of his short life.  Bear witness to his bad-ass ways:  Steve McQueen: 20 Never-Seen Photos  

Image: Life

And for the refined McQueen, sink into The Rake's online version of the Thomas Crown article: Crowning Glory 

Image: IMDB

Here's hoping Bullit or The Great Escape is playing OnDemand this weekend so that I can correct my McQueen-less shortcomings and earn the right to continue lauding ruggedness.  

Friday, March 26, 2010

Trauma: Style on the Streets #1

Image: shingirmingir

New York affords me the opportunities to experience unique "style" each time I set foot outside. There are the fashionistas of Soho, the uptown prepsters, the Williamsburg hipsters and the suits of Wall Street. It's a blogger's paradise - constantly ripe with attire to address... for the good and the bad. Sites like The Sartorialist, Swagger360 and yours truly draw inspiration (and in my case - some disdain) from what is seen on the street. 

My first real experience of city life was in Brooklyn. Bouncing around the tri-state area looking for a place to call home, I didn't settle into Manhattan until 8 months after my initial flee from Maryland. It was miserable. I hated NY (well, NJ and Long Island). I was going to give it the year then tuck my tail between my legs and exit defeated. The only repose from my suffering came from stints in Park Slope, Brooklyn house-sitting for my then boss. I felt at home there. The people were quirky, artsy, fashionable... and surprisingly nice. My only reference to Brooklyn prior to visiting were of goombas in wife-beaters, gold chains and leisure suits singing the Bee Gees. Needless to say, Brooklyn has come a long way and continues to burgeon as THE place for all things up-and-coming in NY. From music to facial hair to coffee - BK seems to be the catapult of trends. 

Oddly enough I am not one for crowds. Anxiety creeps in as the sidewalks start to strangle me with bodies. This past weekend unlocked the city with warmth. People fluttered out into the streets like moths from your grandmother's basement... and with that came a slew of style statements. Luckily I found myself in Brooklyn last Saturday morning and deferred the return river crossing to lap up the sun in absence of the shady edifices of The City.

Manhattan is known for its fashion scene but often the outer boroughs offer just as much amusement, especially when the weather is in the middle of transition. As I entered Brooklyn on Friday night I was immediately slapped with enviable wardrobes. I passed many of the current Brooklyn stereotype - the urban woodsman - beard bearing and flannel draped. But standing toe-to-toe were the natty gents of the borough, sporting bow ties, tailored blazers, sockless ankles with wingtips, and well-groomed hair in pomade. If rugged/refined were a place, Brooklyn would be it.

Perhaps the highlight of my weekend though was the exact opposite of the trendy spot that I just described... a view of a street corner as I was enjoying a refreshing beer and the company of an engaging woman on a bar patio. The scene was odd to start and only continued to escalate in weirdness, both in cast and wardrobe. It was like watching an SNL skit without dialogue. 

My lady-friend first drew attention to a mustachioed man behind me and we proceeded to make the requisite pedophile jokes as he looked every bit the part of a creepy predator. As my head pivoted back around I took note of a burly fellow on the corner, clad in denim on denim, just putting out the vibe next to a mailbox. The sun beat down on this Italian looking Marlboro Man and beads of sweat and hair gel began rolling along his forehead - the overabundance of the hefty fabric suffocating his pores. After a few minutes, he sauntered over to a Seabring Convertible on the corner (top down) and leaned in to discuss something with the Village Person that was resting in the passenger seat. His companion was decked out in work boots, short denim shorts, a bulky contractor Tee and his old baseball shades circa 1983. I was hooked at this point and all my attention went to figuring out what was going on with these two. 

Moments later, back at the street corner a horse-shoe headed man arrived bedazzled in a 3 tone Puma tracksuit, greeting the Marlboro Man heartily. Now his apparel was obviously style (not performance) driven as this gentleman would have surely suffered a stroke had he tried to run to the next block. This brings the actor count up to 3... but it didn't end there. Huffing across the street jogged the 4th clown and he was more spectacular than I could have ever imagined. Glistening like a fairy princess in the late day sun, his curly-haired skullet had become matted with sweat. The business had closed long ago up front, but the party never stopped in the back. He stood a stout 5'5" and channeled the look of an aging 80s porn star confidently wearing a XXXL green T and basketball shorts so long they could have been confused for pants. His pannus fell from his abdomen to mid thigh, swaying with pendulum precision. There was no doubt it produced an ooze within its folds solidifying throughout the day in his oven of skin. The meeting convened at the original mailbox location with no movement towards a final location, while actor #2 snoozed contently in the Seabring. We glanced back and forth wondering what could possibly be going down... a meeting of these costumed anti-heros to discuss their pending trip to Saville Row, perhaps? 

I don't mean to sound pompous, judgmental, or pretentious. I am an advocate for personal style and understand economic disparity. In fact, lately I have been noticing and extracting elements of individuality on even the most pedestrian outfit. I'm constantly amazed at the level of detail that one can find in another's presentation - the way jean cuffs are folded, an odd pairing of colors, or a quirky pair of frames. For example, I consistently see the same gentleman on the subway during my morning commute - he, a security guard, always has his boots polished with military precision. His uniform may be standard issue brown polyester but he takes pride in the way he wears it. The intricacies are why I love clothes - the perfect way to make a daily statement about yourself.

HOWEVER, there is unique and there is presentable. These fellows that I described were simply not presentable and lost in another time and place - their confidence and swagger completely unfounded. They were bringing Brooklyn down and I resented them for it. We all have off days, but my gut was telling me, this had been a bad decade for them. To further the hilarity, my lady-friend and I were discussing earlier that denim on denim is actually a coming trend in menswear. I doubt today's fashion designers had this particular look in mind.

But with every ying there is a yang. To juxtapose these hobbits of fashion, a pocket sized young-lady of no more than 5 put them to shame, passing by in quite the stylish get-up. She was playing the weather to its extremes, outfitted in shorts and an over-sized t-shirt that presented as a dress. By her own hand or that of a parent she accessorized with a floppy eared wool knit hat that housed strings that hung to her waist. She walked casually with a look of effortlessness that only a child can have. Even the children of Brooklyn are trendy! 

The check arrived and we had to clear out, the pending business of the Street Corner Triumverate still in session and their tuckered friend completely passed out in the now enclosed Seabring. Even as we passed by them exiting the bar, their discussion remained softly spoken, almost secretive - all huddled close to each other protecting the genius they were no doubt creating. 

Unfortunately the visual abuse didn't end there as my Manhattan bound train brought with it more fodder for ridicule: none other than a full denim suit with crocodile shoes... if only I was able to snag a pic. Apparently denim, like marijuana and and hand guns needs government regulation.

New York... you constantly surprise me - the suave and shabby offering equal levels of entertainment and enjoyment in their own right. There is no doubt in my mind that I garner the same critique with outfits that I chose to don. "Hey, check out the guy in the purple loafers" or "What a schmo, who does he think he is wearing a tie on a weekend?". To each his own, I suppose - no man can dress perfectly in the eyes of everyone. That's what makes it creative... an art form of sorts. It's why fashion is lumped in to the same categories as music, film, design and architecture. It's a matter of personal taste.

All of this begs the question: Does everyone believe themselves to be stylish in some regard? Do we all feel that the clothes we choose to wear each day do us justice both in appearance and personality?

I see many other irritable style missteps in men's attire as I walk about the city. Little things that I feel should be common knowledge to steer clear of but are instead embraced as a norm. I hope to present a few more to you in coming posts.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Broke Man Walking

Don't let it fool you, Spring is a deceptive bitch.  A sleazy pic-pocket.  Sneaking up on me, putting me at ease, reeling me in and then leaving me dazed and confused as to what happened.  It distracts me with temperate weather and sundresses, luring me to spend more time outside where I fall prey to the temptation to spend. 

After a deluge of rain, Manhattan has been blessed with beautiful weather over the past few days.  Not too hot, not too cold... a slight breeze and just the right amount of sun.  The days have been irritatingly perfect, like an overly cheerful co-worker that you just want to slap.  On days such as these I shutter at the thought of going underground to fester in the subway and instead opt for some exercise and sunlight to revive me from a day exiled to a neutral room.   My concern, however, is that as good as the walk is for my well-being, it is equally as bad for my wallet.  Evil leaps from every store window like a crack addicted jack-in-the-box.  Madison Avenue turns into a veritable runway of style... office drones all having the same idea to stroll home and bask in the breeze.  The more I look, the more I am inspired and my cash becomes increasingly magnetized towards the looming merchandise.  Eventually I have to put blinders on and aloofly stare straight ahead... desperately trying not to process what is in front of me... concentrating only on the "Walk" signs and perhaps an striding derrière.  All I want is to make it home without succumbing to the pressure to splurge on new spring attire.

Recently a
Brooks Brothers catalog arrived in my mailbox, which I thumbed through as I was preparing a cocktail one evening.  I took note of a new Oxford button-down sport shirt in a slew of spring colors that was now offered in their Extra Slim Fit.  Seeing that Brooks Brothers Traditional Fit shirts are cut along the same pattern as a camping tent, I was leery that their "Extra Slim" shirt was even worth a look.  One of my favorite dress shirts is a pink gingham pinpoint button down in their "Slim Fit"... I had to have another 1" taken in on either side.  Granted I am a slim guy: 6'1" and 150 lbs soaking wet, but still, in this day and age I feel like I shouldn't have to hunt and peck for shirts with some measure of standard tailoring.  I wouldn't have this problem if I lived in Europe, where, you know, they have some concept of portion control.

I started having more faith in Brooks Bros after they created the Black Fleece line in collaboration with Thom Brown.  It showed that they were willing to look past their stodgy, pudgy banker base and think about extending their product offering to younger, hipper... thinner people such as myself (well, not hipper).  Unfortunately, designer collaborations often come with hefty price tags and Black Fleece is no different.  The premium adjusted to Brooks Brother's already lofty prices is well out of my reach, even for noteworthy design.

From further review of their catalog, it seems that they are beginning to slim down more than just shirts.  While they have expanded their offering of regular Slim Fit shirts, they also now have a Milano Fit pant, as well as a slim cut suit.  Each garment adhering to a more streamlined and tailored look and less of their signature parachute cut.  They are even embracing the "skinny tie".  Bravo!  Its about time. 

As I approached the corner of 46th and Madison, the heavy doors of the store drew me in to its gravitational pull to critique this new fit.  

I have a love/hate relationship with Brooks Bros retail.  I admire their heritage and applaud their rule over the Northeast Prepster style hierarchy (how can you not, considering it was a preferred brand among the Kennedys), however their snooty customer service leaves much to be improved.  Despite the convenient location, I would prefer to bypass their "service" and just shop online.  As I stated in a previous post, I slide along a sartorial line throughout the week - some days rugged, some more refined.  Regardless of when I enter and which outfit I regale I always feel as though I am being looked down upon.  Maybe they are judging me on my clothes, perhaps on my baby face... maybe they are constipated, tired, bored or just genuinely hate their life?  Or could they actually be shunning me?  Not that I give anyone good cause to belittle me but lets face it, they work in retail, not in the C-suite of an investment bank... nor are they creative geniuses, scientific prodigies or captains of industry.  You're selling me a shirt, put a goddamn smile on your craggy mug and offer assistance when needed.  "Excuse me ma'am where can I find unearned entitlement?  Ohh, anywhere in the store.  Excellent.  Does it come in a Small?"  Don't ignore me because you think I have no money!  And you better tell me to have a nice day when I exit...and mean it.

I levitated to the second floor, found the lavender Extra Slim Fit Oxford port shirt I was after and proceeded to chase salespeople around the floor to ask for a fitting room.  A slim man in a suit 4 sizes too big for him finally assisted with my request and offered sizing recommedations... which I justly ignored.  

Jackpot! - the medium shirt fit snuggly without being too small.  Contoured nicely on the sides creating a clean silhouette, complimenting my slight frame.  I'll be damn.  Clench, click, swing, swipe, sign and out the door... $80 in the hole and back on course for the journey home.

There are currently only 12 versions (styles/patterns) of the Classic Cotton dress shirt and 1 Sport Shirt in the Extra Slim Fit, most of which are button down and none in french-cuff.  I pray that more of my slim peers will take note of their efforts and show support to encourage continued developments in tailored fits. While the brand is rooted in its stuffy heritage and near 200 year history, I see ever growing potential for it to gain ground among the fashionable and stylish gents who gravitate towards European labels.  This new found concentration on fit could be exactly what the company needs to survive for the next 200 years and bring some much needed swagger back to the classic American label.

Brooks Brothers is only one of hundreds of purveyors that I stroll past on my 40 block walk uptown. Here's hoping another cold front moves in. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Liquid Gold

“I feel sorry for people who don't drink. When they wake up in the morning, that's as good as they're going to feel all day.” - Frank Sinatra

Not even an hour after I arrived in DC two Fridays ago I had a Glenlivet 12 and a PBR aptly lain before me.  It was a welcome refreshment sampler after a 4+ hour bus ride surrounded by chatty Germans, creepily laughing and rubbing each other's shoulders.  I settled in to converse with my most trusted confidant, his girlfriend, and three of his co-workers that I had just met for the first time.  Everyone else was enjoying sudsy microbrews, so inevitably one of the co-workers leaned in to see what I was drinking.  A few snickers came as they learned it was the most expensive drink in the bar and the least... as you can tell I like extremes.

Refined tumbler meet rugged can - it would behoove you to get to know each other... we're going to be spending a long night together...

Lately I have been trading up - sacrificing urine producing, hangover inducing beer for the evolved taste of a solid single malt scotch. Seriously, what is more masculine and gentlemanly than a tumbler of scotch?  By anyone's standards, it's a damn respectable drink order and one that comes with a certain amount of class and style.  I challenge anyone to look as debonair as a man in a well tailored tuxedo cradling a glass of scotch.

As with wine, the aficionados can sniff and swirl to extract many layers of flavor.  The spirit has been distilled over many hundreds of years and carries with it rich histories in taste as well as branding.  Those who imbibe tend to be loyal but curious.  They have their favorites but are always intrigued by different vintages or various distillery's offerings.  While I am an extreme novice, I have embarked on a tasting spree in hopes of becoming a quasi-connoisseur, having enjoyed 14 different scotches to date.  It has proved to be a bit of an expensive hobby, but one that I believe adds to my pursuit of all things refined.  In its essence, the spirit itself is both rugged and refined.  Like a grizzly sailor fighting a suave spy, many hit your palette with a sharp bite but finish smooth in a wash of oak, spice or other various endnotes.  To be quite honest, for better or worse,  I feel like more of a man enjoying a neat glass of the brown liquor.  

It all started a few weeks before Christmas, when my dad mentioned that he and a few friends would be attending a tasting at the historic Garrett-Jacobs Mansion, which now houses The Engineer's Club of Baltimore.  The previous year the same group had attended a Macallan tasting which they constantly reference for the enjoyable time they'd had together.  Not ever having tried scotch before, I nervously expressed interest and a ticket was bought for me. Christmas night, at one of my parents many dinner parties, and as time had whitled away towards the event date, I popped the cork on a bottle of Macallan 12 that was in their newly acquired bar.  I poured a stingy portion over a few rocks and began to sip.  At the risk of sounding like a real schmo, it was harsh and I struggled not to cough after each swallow.  "How was I ever going to get through this looking like a refined gentleman?" I thought.  But, determined to hang with the big boys I resided myself to the fact that, like anything I undertake, all I needed to do was practice, practice, practice.

I returned to NY a few days later and bought myself a bottle of Macallan 10 Fine Oak.  Again... cough, scowl, choke it down remained the consistent pattern.  I was starting to get a little more jittery.

One night, not having any ice in the freezer of my tiny 6th floor apartment, I decided to try it neat with the slightest splash of water instead of trudging down the spiral of never-ending stairs.  It was worth a shot, I thought, as apparently it opened up the flavor, or so I had read.**  Bingo!  I was actually starting to enjoy it.  I could taste the oak and hints of various caramel/vanilla endnotes - it wasn't all bite anymore.  This was good... really good, and a relatively low-end single malt at that.  What was in store for me at the more aged vintages and slightly higher price points, I wondered? Then, as I always do... I became obsessive.  I googled and googled and googled until my head was overrun with information of production regions, tasting notes, intro courses, and pronunciation keys.  I couldn't digest things fast enough and became hungover on scotch knowledge.  I now possessed log-in information for most of the major brand's websites and "Welcome!" e-mails crammed my inbox.  What scary Cracken had I released?

Subsequent outings around the city now involved scotch, trying to get a quick cross-section before the tasting. I could do this... and maybe even teach these old dogs a few things.

A Macallan here, Glenfiddich there.  A Laphroaig for good measure.

"Barkeep! What single malts do you have?" I would constantly inquire as my fellow drinkers would look on with an eyebrow raised.  

"YOU drink scotch? When did this start??" they would ask, quizzically smirking.

I left for Maryland the night before the tasting and arrived in Baltimore via the Bolt Bus ready to up the ante on my refinement. No longer would I sport a beer bottle or cumbersome martini glass at a soiree - scotch would now cling to my curved palm, complimenting my suits and putting the finishing touch on my Draper-ian quest.  

The time had come to assemble the troops.  One by one we arrived at a friend's house.  Outfitted in gray flannel, with an outstretched hand I greeted them one by one.  A jolly Greek patriarch opened the door and embraced me like a warm pita and I the seasoned lamb.  He was giddy at the thought of a night out with the boys... his tall, shaggy-haired son shaking his head behind him.  

"Ryan, haiya dyoing?!!!" he exclaimed, his melodious accent exploding in my ears.

Next, the tweed clad carpenter and organizer of the event along with his animated attorney of a son-in-law, followed closely by a stout and moustached drum corp vet with his freshly legal son.  And last buy not least, my polished yet rabble-rousing father.  Off we went.  

The event proved to be a valuable experience in my education.  While the previous tasting had featured different ages of one brand, this tasting featured 5 different brands, all of different vinatages.  The flight included: Glenkinchie Distillers Edition 1991, Crangganmore 12, Oban 14, Talisker 10, and finally Coal Ila 25 Cask Strength (all 116 proof of it).  We were informed of the regions, ingredients and distillation processes of each and given insight into the flavors we might be introduced to upon swallowing.  Each scotch was unique and really allowed me to identify the regions that I preferred.  I found that I tend to gravitate towards the Highlands and Speyside, and shy away from the Isles and their briny, peaty taste.  No two men at our table of eight had the same reaction to the full flight.  My dad favored the heavily spiced Cragganmore, another the high-tide taste of Talisker and a few, none at all - preferring their original brand ties to Macallan. 

The Flight.

We were given a small book in which to jot down tasting notes and help us organize and remember our preferences:

Classic Malts Tasting Notes Guide.

The notes are broken down into 4 categories - Appearance, Nose, Taste and Finish.  A grid was also provided ranking the scotches on a vertical axis of Delicate to Smokey and on a horizontal axis from Light to Rich.  Tasting notes from my incomplete assesment included (no doubt I'm wayyyy off compared to an expert's dissection):

Glenkinchie (Lowlands): Sherry and Caramel Nose.  Warm toffee aftertaste.  Light in appearance and dry in taste.  Light and delicate.

Cragganmore (Speyside): Good "legs".  Nose, complex with Sandlewood and Christmas Cake.  Spicy, Cinnomony, Buttery taste.  Smooth but spicy aftertaste with hints of evergreen.  Smokey and Rich.

Oban (Highlands): Thin, dark color, no "legs".  Honey and floral nose.  Undistinguished, thin, slight honey taste.  Smooth finish.  Light and delicate. 

Talisker (Islands, Skye): Thin in appearance.  Nose of salty sea air, brine.  Very smokey/peaty taste, overly distinguished - like nothing I have had.  Rough, choking finish.  Smokey and rich. 

Coal Ila (Islay): Appearance is light and thin.  Floral, salty sea air nose with a sharp and briny taste.  Burning aftertaste.  Smokey and light. 

I look forward to further formal tastings, and just as many informal ones at the various bars that I have found to have expansive and intimidating whiskey lists, a few of which being: The Brandy Library, Char No. 4 and The Jake Walk

In full disclosure, I am usually sipping a scotch as I work on these writings - hence the poor grammar - but a fair trade off in my opinion.  So to somehow justify my indulgence I hope to highlight a few that I have tried in future posts and attempt to provide amateur tasting notes to the best of my ability.  I, in NO way, claim to be an expert, but rather an enthusiastic hobbyist.  Onward - to the bar! For who am I to stand in the way of education. Na zdrowie!

*Worth its weight in malted barley, check out whether you are a novice like me or as experienced as Hemingway.  

**I found out that while ice can dilute the spirit and water it down, it actually also closes down the flavors, which is probably why I was having a hard time drinking it on the rocks.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Men's Room Etiquette

Breaking the rules: where possible, leave a one stall buffer. 

This may be my masterpiece, my Atlas Shrugged - a discourse on the nature of a disturbing event and the errors I see with the current system.  I have had 5 solid years of contemplation on the subject and am ready to make it known. Wisdom and etiquette are, after all, a component of refinement. 

Nothing fills me with more anxiety or panic than a trip to the restroom of my 5th floor office - a place where all varieties of hot air converge, verbal and otherwise.  I'm not sure when it became appropriate to treat the men's room in a place of business as casually as a locker room at a neighborhood gym.  I'm not a fan of public bathrooms to begin with, preferring the silence and tranquility of private porcelain.  So as one might surmise, this distaste makes sharing a bathroom with the same people that I attend meetings with less than ideal.

I am always reminded of the hysterical scene from the under appreciated 
Along Came Polly.  Ben Stiller's awkward everyman character Reuben Feffer enters the washroom of his employer, Indursky & Sons Insurance with his boss Stan Indursky, played to perfection by Alec Baldwin. After side-by-side urinal urination, a quacking rip from between his cheeks and a hefty zip of his trouser ravine, the suspender-clad Baldwin proceeds to stand uncomfortably close to his penis cradling employee rubbing his ear, massaging his shoulders and punctuating the trip with a healthy pat on the rump.  The sweaty close up on Stiller says it all.

Image: IGN movies

The vulnerability of a bathroom and attempts at camaraderie are not meant to co-exist.  All it takes is the first click of the push-button code lock to get my heart racing.  Who is this person about to enter what should be my fortress of solitude? Will it be a chatty urinal mate? The lingering hair primper? An obsessive oral hygenist?  What sort of mind numbing banal conversation will I have to engage in?

"Beautiful day out, isn't it?"

"Did you get that TPS report?"

"How was your weekend?"  

Or my recent favorite, "Happy hump day!"... never... EVER say hump in a men's bathroom - Rule #1.  In my head I am thinking "Please, I beg you, just shut your spew hole and let me release whatever it is I need to in peace!"  I like to think that part of being a gentleman is knowing when and where to keep your mouth closed.  This is one of those times.  All that is needed is a head nod if anything. Like every other part of the building, this is a place of business - keep the chit chat to a minimum.

In general this trek from my desk is an uncomfortable experience at best.  There really is no situation that allows for a pleasant outing.  Awkward silences or cumbersome conversation are only the tip of the iceberg.  During peak times and high traffic, its nearly impossible to find repose when nature calls.  
One after another after another they enter - like pillaging orks.  Before you know it there is a full house. Trapped, either in dialogue or in a tiny stall, like a mouse on a glue sheet.  If stall ridden, gaping joints are a window inside your world.  The short door puts you on dispaly for all to see, distinguished shoes screaming from under the metal barrier... a leathey arrow of chaser lights revealing what the shiny door is supposed to hide. I hate that I crave unique shoes at this point.

In an attempt to teach as well as entertain I present the following rules.  There is an unwritten code that apparently has not been dispersed, so allow me to elaborate.  What is thought to be intuitive, apparently needs further explanation:

Talking: Easy - none.  A quick "hi" is allowed.  A "how's it going?" if you are entering or exiting at the same time. Save the rest for the lunchroom, where it will still be unwelcome but at least a more appropriate place for annoyances.

Stall usage: Simple - alternate.  If at all possible, one should never be next to another, especially in a seated position.  Based on size and allotment this can be tricky but efforts should be made to keep a one stall differential.  And if you sit down to pee you are a woman - be a man and stand up. Consider it an opportunity to display your rugged side.

Clothing: This is not your private master bath or a suite at the Bellagio.  No one should have to see your underwear.  Pants should remain on and around your waist in the presence of others.  You think I jest - ohh it happens.  Pants around the ankles at the urinal.  Belt and zipper open at the mirror.  This isn't fleet week, zip up and look presentable when emerging from your stainless steal tomb or after an about face from the hole in the wall. Period.

Loitering: Get in, and get out.  Although it might get hot and steamy in there, the Turkish baths are in Queens.  So fluff your chest hair, grab your gold chains and hop on the 7 train if you want to lounge.  Don't overstay your welcome.  If you are looking for a respite from your desk, might I suggest a leisurely walk or a trip to the snack machine?

Judgment: You will be critiqued.  Yes, all that transpires in the bathroom is normal to the human body.  However, everyone will know that you had 2 bran muffins and an x-large coffee this morning to expedite the cure for that PBR induced hangover and taco dinner from last night.  Just try to be discreet.  Be conscious of your TP dispenser rattle and two words: courtesy flush.  Lastly,  everyone notices when you skip the sink - EVERYONE.

Let this be a lesson and please digest the information deeply and wholly.  This is serious business and should be treated as such. Now go forth and spread the news.  Tell it on the mountain.  Evangelize... and practice what you preach.  

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

3D Style?

A few weeks back I bit the bullet and went to see Avatar.  I'll admit, I was a doubter.  I had no real desire to cave to the pressure of seeing this "epic" or to boost the box office stats with my presence and in turn inflate James Cameron's ego further.  I don't generally enjoy sci-fi.  I've never seen Star Trek, Star Wars or anything star related.  I am nerdy and weird enough without having that monkey on my back.

I was wrong. Avatar was truly entertaining and visually stunning.  The movie equivalent of seeing Miranda Kerr naked (which would be equally awesome in 3D IMAX).  My opinions of Cameron aside, he is a master of his craft.  I'll never deny him that.    

As much as I enjoyed the movie I was glad to see Avatar romped at the Oscars.  The real accomplishment of the film was in the imagination and technical prowess of the fictional world, which was was justly honored with many gilded naked man statutes.  The story, however, has been told 100 times and did not deserve a Best Picture win.

Image: Bam's Blog

Perhaps the other crowning achievement was oddly enough in style. Avatar brought with it a resurgence in the 3D movie experience and in tow a chance to upgrade the accessories.  I mean, is it me or have we have made some serious advancements in the style points awarded to 3D glasses?  I felt like Scorcese screening a rough cut instead of a geek engrossed in a campy horror flick.  These natty frames combine the likes of the Rayban Wayfarer with a pair of Moscot Originals!  I know they ask viewers to recycle them, but with a slew of 3D movies to be released this year, those specs left with me.  Not to fear, they will be recycled (in use)... much to my movie going enjoyment.



 3D glasses: a classically cool love child.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Refined: Behold! Tom Ford

photo credit: Kevin Mazur / WireImage

Each year I sit down to watch the Oscars with two things in mind:
1) Become inspired by all the creative talent and channel that into writing and idea development.
2) Oggle fancy, completely unattainable tuxedos.

This year I was successfully able to acheive my first goal but the second was left lacking, except for the work of one man... none other than Tom Ford.  The man can do no wrong when it comes to cutting a flawless penguin suit.  He is seen here wearing a shawl collar version, while Firth sports the usual wide peak lapel:

photo credit: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Photo: Retna Ltd.

On a night where even George Clooney looked subpar, Ford himself, his star Colin Firth and show host, Alec Baldwin all reigned in old school swagger with Ford's undeniably classic designs.  Baldwin is no stranger to making a tuxedo look good.  His character Jack Doneghy on (the funniest show on TV) 30 Rock, is frequently found donning an evening suit. He once remarked, upon being asked why he was sporting such attire in his office: "For god sake Lemon (Fey), it's after 6 p.m., what do I look like... a farmer?"
Photo: Kevin Mazur/VF1/WireImage

In my opinion, Ford's tailoring stole the show and made all the others look as though they were adorn in rumpled sacks pulled from a wardrobe hurt locker. Just search for a picture of Robert Downey Jr. or any technical or musical specialist - I refuse to post one here.  I like to try to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume their minds were so focused on their creative genius that they couldn't be bothered with their shirt tails or attempting a real bow tie.

As stellar as Ford's tuxs were, I have to give the best dressed honour to Bradley Cooper.  Unfortunately, I am unable to find who is responsible for his tuxedo (if I were to guess I would say RL Purple Label) but, b-r-a-v-o!  Perfectly tailored, unique bow tie, the right amount of cuff gracing the wrist, tame hair and the pièce de résistance - the 6 button, scoop front waistcoat.  The only thing I might change is the lapel from notch to peak... the more formal peak lapel would have better complimented the sophistication of the waistcoat.  Either way, no contest.

For more images of Brad's winning wardrobe see the full slideshow here.