Tuesday, October 30, 2012


Yesterday I went to Tom Bergin’s, an “Irish tavern” here in LA that opened in 1936 before it moved to it its present location where it’s been for the last 63 years.  There’s been a recent, clever refit that still manages to make the place look as though it’s been there forever, and the menu, though updated, is still very old school, corned beef and cabbage, cottage pie etc.  The cottage pie was pretty decent.

But the most remarkable thing about the place – and I’m not sure if this came with the refit or whether it was always like that (somebody will perhaps tell me) – were the double bar stools.   See above.  Things must get quite intimate when two people sit on one of those things, which I suppose is the whole point.

 This reminded me of the great photographer William Claxton, who died in 2008. I used to see him at parties once in a while with his wife Peggy Moffiitt - that's the two of them above - and we’d exchange a few words, though I wouldn’t claim I even made it to the status of acquaintance.  Bill had heart problems for some years, and eventually had a defibrillator implanted in his chest.  The notion was that when his heart slowed or threatened to stop, the device would kick in, zap him with a bolt of electricity and get him going again.

I said that must be quite a shock to the system.  And he said, “Oh yes, sometimes it throws me right off my bar stool.”  I’m sure it was a line he’d used often, though I don’t doubt it was true.

And thinking about him in Tom Bergin’s yesterday I did wonder whether being on a double bar stool would make things better or worse.  On the one hand your partner might be able to hold onto you, but equally the pair of you might end up on the floor together.  Still, a small price to pay, I suppose: definitely better to be alive on the floor than dead on a bar stool.

Claxton took a lot of people of musicians, actors, models, the kind of people who don't like to be seen eating.  And he took many, many photographs of Steve McQueen.  But McQueen didn't worry about being seen eating, which was no doubt because he could still look the epitome of cool (if frankly a little studied), even when eating a doughnut.

Monday, October 22, 2012


If you ever decide to motor to Mono Lake (that’s it above) from Los Angeles you’re almost certain to pass through Bishop, a town that figures somewhat in the Charles Manson story.  It was the place where Manson family member Bruce McGregor Davis was first arraigned on a charge of “purchasing a firearm with fictitious identification,” i.e. he was using stolen checks.  Davis turned out to be Manson’s “enforcer” and was duly convicted of two murders, though not the most famous ones. 

 In fact the folk in Bishop don’t make much of this part of their history. Far more celebrated these days is Mahogany Smoked Meats, who’ve been in business in one form or another since 1922.  If you want a smoked ham or pork chops, an elk salami or buffalo jerky, then this is the place.  And as the name suggests they apparently really do use mahogany logs in their smoking.

 We had some of their smoked bacon just this morning – the kitchen smelled like a campfire.  And – and this really made the trip for us – they also make their own Landjager – the legendary “walking sausage” which looks exactly like this.

 Now, having been to Mono Lake, probably rather few people return to L.A. via Tonopah, a rugged though still functioning mining town in Nevada, but we did.  Dinner at the Mizpah Hotel was pretty good.  They have a restaurant called the Jack Dempsey room, which wasn’t open, but the bar looks like this:

Tonopah also still has a real honest to goodness book shop – Whitney’s Bookshelf - and there I scored a copy of Conversations With Joan Crawford 
by Roy Newquist.  I’m never sure if I’m a true a fan of Joan Crawford, there’s always something compelling about her but there’s usually something faintly absurd as well.  Think Johnny Guitar, which according to the book she absolutely despised.

 Still, having read Conversations I’m rather more or a fan that I was.  Newquist says to Joan, “Yesterday we had lunch at the Chinese restaurant in this building and in the next booth there was that woman with the two small children she absolutely couldn’t control, and she turned to you and said, ‘I really don’t know what to do with them.”  And you looked at her and smiled and said, glacially, ‘Have you considered infanticide?’”

Ah yes, the Joan Crawford school of childrearing.

Friday, October 12, 2012


And there's this : my latest on Gourmet Live - some ramblings about rock music and wine.


Geoff Nicholson tunes in to rock stars, including Dave Matthews and AC/DC, who are turning out vintage pours

Foreground, popular bottles from the Wines That Rock vineyard; background, Blenheim Vineyards, founded by Dave Matthews outside of Charlottesville, Virginia.

The best music, like the best food and wine, is mood-changing—and sometimes even consciousness-raising. Certain kinds of music lift you up like a fine Champagne; others make you feel as soft and mellow as a good Burgundy. (And some music, admittedly, leaves you with a headache and nausea, just like a bad wine.)
Wine and rock 'n' roll have more in common than might be immediately obvious. Both deliver pleasure in the moment, but often that's the result of a long and painstaking process. Both involve a complexity and a kind of magic that you can never wholly explain. "Lightning in a bottle" may apply to both. Neither age nor youth guarantees success in either area. Some vintage rock acts seem to have become "corked" along the way, and we'll have to see whether acts that are currently fresh and exciting will still be palatable in a few years' time. Sometimes subtlety is the name of the game, but there are times when you want wine and your music to make a big splash and leave the taste buds and/or eardrums throbbing.
In an age when so many celebrities are peddling clothing lines and fragrances, for a rock star to put his or her name to a range of wines seems positively old-school —maybe even borderline punk-rock. Artists as diverse as Sting, Madonna, Mick Fleetwood, Boz Scaggs, Simply Red's Mick Hucknall, and Maynard James Keenan of Tool (along with many others) all have interests in vineyards, and although I think you're unlikely to find these people stomping grapes à la Lucille Ball, in most cases we're talking about more than just an endorsement deal. For a growing list of rock stars (some of whom may surprise you), winemaking has become a surprisingly legit second act.
As a winemaker, David Coverdale, of Whitesnake—which, in case you didn't know, is very much still a band—has addressed the aspirational, status-making nature of wine connoisseurship head-on in interviews about his own extracurricular activities. In Wine Spectator, he explained that he sees wine drinking as an issue of social mobility, perhaps even class warfare (and what's more rock 'n' roll than that?). Born to a humble household in the north of England in the 1950s, he remembers when only the aristocracy drank wine. But Coverdale, who fronted Deep Purple before starting White Snake in 1978, grew up as English society was growing up too, and being in massively successful rock bands that toured the world by private jet, stayed in the best hotels, and ate at the best restaurants, he soon discovered that otherwise ordinary people could well appreciate the extraordinary pleasures of wine. And in his case they could make it, too.
In 2010, Coverdale released Whitesnake Zinfandel, in partnership with winemaker Dennis De La Montanya, and it was an immediate success. The first run produced 300 cases, and they got orders for a thousand. A Merlot is now promised. On the winery Web site, Coverdale describes his Zinfandel as a "bodacious, cheeky little wine, filled to the brim with the spicy essence of sexy, slippery Snakeyness… I recommend it to complement any and all grown-up friskiness and hot-tub jollies." Showmanship and a sense of humor may be as essential to the winemaker as to the long-surviving rocker.
Few combine the two things better than Les Claypool of Primus, the man who among numerous achievements wrote the theme music with his band to the TV show South Park. He describes himself as a "fella who drinks vino until his teeth turn purple," and if his Web site is to be believed, he's pretty hands-on in his winemaking: An activity that he first thought of as a "home winemaking project" quickly developed into something that required him and his partners to be "sorting in the field at 4 a.m. with lamps strapped to our heads and me standing over a massive stainless-steel vat a couple of times a day, for the following 12 days straight, lovingly punching the cap down into the glorious Burgundy-colored juice." He evidently has gifts as a poet, too. "Frankly, it came out pretty damn good," he says. Claypool Cellars make what he calls "fancy booze for semi-fancy folks," including Purple Pachyderm and Pink Pachyderm (a Pinot Noir and a Pinot Noir rosé). The winery's tasting room is in a converted Southern Pacific caboose. Well, why wouldn't it be?
Despite all the smart marketing and hard wee-hours work in the world, it remains a challenge for a celebrity wine producer, particularly a musician, to be taken seriously, especially since rockers have famously short attention spans (this year it's wine, next year it may be saving the hedgehog). But there's certainly nothing frivolous about Dave Matthews' Blenheim Vineyards. He bought more than 1,200 acres of land near his home in Charlottesville, Virginia, to save them from developers, then turned some of those acres into vineyards, where he has created more than a dozen different wines, all of them extremely affordable. Expanding his wine reach, recently Matthews—along with his winemaker Steve Reeder—set up a California label, the Dreaming Tree, with the first wines released last year. The name comes from one of his songs, and you can see why he chose that title over some of his others, such as "Shake Me Like a Monkey."
The lads in AC/DC have no such inhibitions, however. Their wines, newly available in the U.S., include Back in Black Shiraz and You Shook Me All Night Long Moscato. You may wonder if you want your wine shaken all night long (or at all), but since the AC/DC catalog also includes tracks such as "Inject the Venom" and "She's Got Balls," you know it might have been a lot worse.
If your favorite band isn't yet producing its own vintage and you have anxiety about which wine to drink while listening to various albums, a company named Wines That Rock aims to put your mind at rest—it produces wine that supposedly matches classic albums. It reckons its Cabernet Sauvignon goes with Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, the Merlot accompanies the Rolling Stones' Forty Licks, and its Chardonnay is the very thing to capture the feel of several days spent in a muddy field at an event that was eventually declared a disaster area, a.k.a. Woodstock. I can see even bigger challenges ahead. What goes with the Stones' Goats Head Soup, Frank Zappa's Lumpy Gravy, or Snoop Dogg's The Last Meal? Perhaps they're working on it right now.
There are two songs I'd personally nominate to inspire rock-loving winemakers. One is "A Bottle of Wine and Patsy Cline," written by Lindy Gravelle and a hit for Marsha Thornton in 1990, a fine song about the things you need to get you through the night—but it doesn't specify what kind of wine is in that bottle. The other is Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "Alligator Wine," the lyrics of which even contain a recipe of sorts: alligator blood, frog skin, the left eye of a fish, and a cup of "green swamp water" are all involved. It may not sound immediately appetizing, but with the right musical winemaker behind it, I believe it could be number one with a bullet.

You can read it on the site here:


Wednesday, October 10, 2012


 One of the great, and slightly neglected parts, of the Bompas and Parr Drive Thru shindig was a display of photographs titled The Four Horsemen of the Oesophagus, taken by Rebecca Andrews.  I think they were neglected because they were right behind the fondue station.  They showed close ups of bodybuilders holding various food items, burgers, hotdogs, drumsticks, and there was something rather wonderful about the textures of the taut perfected human flesh when compared and contrasted with the textures of bun and patty and breaded chicken.  One of the models - Lisa Cross, I think – is seen here full length.

I haven’t met very many bodybuilders in my life, and the ones I’ve met have been mostly female.  I’d always assumed that bodybuilders lived on protein shakes and steroids, but one of them told me she did just fine by eating a lot of baked potatoes.  She wasn’t very keen on sandwiches or burgers however.  But you know, it does always strike me that there’s something roasted and crisped up about bodybuilders’ flesh, like you could sink your teeth right into it.

For reasons I can’t completely fathom, I was reminded of this when I had lunch at Marcona, a newish sandwich place on Melrose Boulevard, run by Collier Ulrich, and Matthew Moss is the chef.  Mr. U. was there at the till taking orders and making change. They’d run out of the pulled pork, so I had a Spanish Gyro.  It looked like this:

It confused me at first.  It looked like just a pile of arugula on pita.  Where was the flesh I could sink my teeth right into?  But a little excavation revealed a terrific sausage, actually a Spanish merguez, hunkered down underneath the greenery.  The menu says that sheep’s milk yogurt, piquillos, arugula, and cucumber are also involved.  A piquillo, I learn, is a small Spanish red pepper: the name means “little beak.”  A good 36 hours after I’d eaten this, the Loved One sniffed my flesh, and said, “When did you last have garlic?”  It was somehow very satisfying to tell her it was 36 hours ago. 

Monday, October 1, 2012


By far the most exotic food and drink experience I had in London (and this will hardly surprise you) was organized by Bompas and Parr, formerly jellymongers, now something a good deal grander.  The majority of the images here are courtesy of Bompas and Parr.

The event was titled The Mercedes Drive Thru, and it was in the old Selfridges Hotel, a place I’d always wanted to visit but never had till now.  It was part of Fashion Week and, in Bompas and Parr’s own words, they “pushed cup holders to the limit … As part of the Avant/Garde Diaries curatorial programme we worked with light artists Jason Bruges Studio to create a vast pulsating light installation which illuminated as diners drove through it, picking up emotionally compelling food. The Drive Thru featured a revolving restaurant, troupe of roller girls (The Doughnuteers), uniforms by Tour de Force, triptych The Four Horsemen of the Oesophagus, specially choreographed soundscape and the only cheese-trolley in the world capable of sprinting from 0-62 mph in around 6.6 seconds. The design of the installation and menu itself (including the Big Merc) was developed following meta-research into the gustatory implications of in-car dining by Dr Rachel Edwards-Stuart … Bompas & Parr further collaborated with renown nose Dawn Goldworm of 12.29 to create salami-based artisanal air fresheners, designed to dangle from visitors’ rear view mirrors.”

I was aware of at least some of these things, and certainly picked up on the general idea that this was all about eating in cars.  Actually the best part was just getting inside.  Entrance was via a kind of air lock with flashing lights and dry ice, and on the other side you were in a packed bar with roller skaters, a really good off-the-wall band - Dom James and His Masticators, and waitresses who came around bearing canapés featuring tongue, and jellied or fried quail eggs.     

There was also a fondue counter, though I’d have thought fondue is not quite the food you want in a car.

Anyway, it was all good stuff, and the cocktails were suitably recherché: martinis with sausage or octopus Garnish; VS Shake - ice cream, milk, cognac; Alchemical Mountain Brew – Tanqueray, green Chartreuse, green tea, pineapple syrup, Yellow 7, and best of all, The Eagle Tail After Aleister Crowley – consisting of Ron Anejo Pampero Aniversario, Old Kirsch, absinthe and syrup of ether.  You don’t get to drink that every day.  they looked like this:

Spirit of ether, I discover, is two parts alcohol, one part ether, and seems to tie in with Crowley’s Tarot in ways I don’t begin to understand, but I’m sure Bompas and Parr, and indeed Mercedes, would never be involved in anything satanic, although a girl did stagger up to me as I was sipping my Eagle Tail and said, “I feel so drunk, and I don’t know why, cos I’ve only had five of those.”  Love is the law, indeed.

I’ve always thought Crowley was a fairly ludicrous character.  I mean if the News of the World calls you the “wickedest man in the world” you know you’re not really all that wicked.  True, he was involved with dubious sex, and some unpleasantness involving cat killing and blood drinking, but by the standards of higher wickedness this is surely pretty tame.

Still, for my money, the most convincing account of Crowley comes in Anthony Powell’s volume of memoirs Messengers of Day.  That's him above, and I'll bet he's not drinking spirit of ether.  The two met for a business lunch at Simpson’s in the Strand: Powell was working for the publisher Duckworth’s at the time.  Powell writes, “There was much that was absurd about him; at the same time it seems false to assert – as some did – that his absurdity transcended all sense of being sinister.  If the word has any meaning, Crowley was sinister, intensely sinister, both in exterior and manner.”

Powell also records that they both had saddle of mutton for lunch.  Powell drank a pint of beer with his.  Crowley drank a glass of milk.  Crowley’s father, incidentally or not, had once been a successful brewer.