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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

This month has been a whirlwind, of sorts—as I suppose it is for everyone.

Friends and family in town … work … the disappearing and reappearing illnesses—December is tough. Since it’s not going to get any easier as it winds up, I figured I would focus on the much-loved and oft-maligned corner of cocktail culture: the breakfast tipple!

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t care for Bloody Marys. This wasn’t always the case, but somewhere along the line, I started finding them to be too aggressively savory for morning consumption. Most of them are so shoddily constructed that they aren’t fit for consumption at all; a glass of congealed horseradish and tomato soup just isn’t what I want when I have a hangover. And don’t get me started on most of the commercial mixes out there!

But when friendship calls, I answer, and I had a very hungover houseguest the other day who happens to love Bloody Marys. So we jumped in my car and headed out to Sloan’s in Indio, the home of the “Frankenmary.”

As the bartender put her gloves on and proceeded to assemble the veritable appetizer sampler precariously sitting on top of 32 ounces of my nemesis—the entire bar watching and glancing occasionally at the two gluttons in the corner who ordered it—I started second-guessing the whole idea. Then the two monsters arrived at the table in the hands of the smiling and proud bartender. Imagine me, local cocktail snob and curmudgeon, faced with this tower of excess.

The beverage itself was too much, a giant flagon of breakfast booze. Sticking out at all angles was a collection of various bar favorites: chicken wings, cocktail shrimp, mozzarella sticks, bacon, a slider, various cocktail-tray garnishes … and a piece of asparagus. You gotta eat your veggies!

So, I hate this, with every atom of my being, right? Actually … I thought it was fun. Sometimes you have to put your inner critic aside and embrace your inner Guy Fieri.

Why is all the food hanging off the drink? Isn’t this just the same as getting three Bloodys and an appetizer sampler on a plate, like a (somewhat) normal person? Answers: I have no idea, and basically, yes. But there was something so classically Americana about the whole thing. It doesn’t make any sense, but we create something like this because we can, dammit! If a screaming eagle had driven by in a monster truck painted red, white and blue, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It felt silly, and excessive, and just plain fun. Any time you can bring an element of fun to fixing a hangover, or just to our current milieu in general, I am all for it.

Do you prefer a little less drama with your restoratives? Well, there are plenty of other options out there, but you might have to make them at home, as I haven’t seen many on local menus. So … let’s start with the Red Snapper.

Originally from the Hotel Regis in New York in the 1930s, the Red Snapper was more or less a plain old Bloody Mary with a different name; it seemed some of the guests found the name more palatable. These days, if you order a Red Snapper, you’re going to get a Bloody Mary with gin instead of vodka … or you’ll get a strange look. This might be a time when you get to educate your bartender (gently, please), as I have found this baby to be a little obscure.

Less obscure is our Canadian neighbors’ contribution to the field, the Bloody Caesar. The drink, widely considered the national drink of Canada, it is generally considered to have been created in 1969 in Calgary, Alberta, by Walter Chell, for the opening of an Italian restaurant. Having tended bar in two places incredibly popular with Canadian tourists—Palm Springs and Boston—I have seen the general confusion caused by the similarities and differences in the drinks.

The Caesar, although there are many variations, is defined by the Clamato and vodka that make up its base. Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce are also included—but leave out the horseradish, please! Canadians enjoy drinking this one anytime and anywhere—morning, night, at the beach, whenever. We in the States consider ordering a Bloody after 3 p.m. a faux pas, leading to a lot of dirty looks from bartenders when a savory tomato-juice drink is ordered in a busy nightclub. Canadians tend to think the Caesar is a superior drink, and they just might be right—but if you are going to drink one at night, it might be best to do it at home. Your bartender (and the rest of the bar) will judge, and hard.

Another fun variation on the Bloody is the Bull Shot. If tomato juice isn’t savory enough for you, the Bull Shot replaces the tomato juice with beef broth! This one became the celebrity brunch drink of the ’60s and ’70s, only to fall off the map in the ’80s. Years ago, I came across an original menu from a restaurant in Boston where I was working, from when it was a ’70s local celebrity hangout. I was intrigued to see they had not only a Bull Shot prominently on the menu, but also a chicken-broth variation, and a mix of the two! I would love to see this one come back, with the bone-broth trend still chugging along. If any bartenders working at a daytime spot get cracking on it, I will come check it out! Basically, it has the same recipe as a traditional Bloody: Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, celery salt, black pepper and a little lemon perhaps; just substitute the broth for the tomato juice. It’s not advisable for those with hypertension.

The Bloody Bull is mostly forgotten, but is perhaps the king of this family of drinks. It traces its origins to New Orleans, as do so many cocktails, and specifically to Brennan’s. As with most cocktails, the history is murky, but not as murky as this beauty actually is. Basically, take a traditional Bloody Mary, and a substitute a little of the tomato juice for a slug of good, rich beef broth. It’s all in the proportions, but an ounce or so should do it. This is a drink that should make everyone but the vegetarians happy, featuring the nose-opening pungent-ness for the Bloody fans, and the extra-savory brothiness for the Caesar adherents.

Now, about those garnishes! While I don’t suggest using a whole appetizer plate on skewers, pickled vegetables are always nice; I prefer green beans or asparagus. The traditional celery adds a nice aromatic as you crunch; olives are OK, too, but celery, in my opinion, adds more to the drink. If you are using bacon (or a hot wing!), make sure you skewer it over the drink; nobody wants wet bacon or greasy cocktails. My companion on the Frankenmary expedition was famous for adding a freshly shucked cherrystone clam to make an ersatz Caesar that we derided as “The Yucky Jeff,” but it sold like crazy, so it seems the sky’s the limit with garnishes. I am also fond of the fizzy beer sidecar popular in Wisconsin; a little beer sip here and there does wonders to break up the spice and salt.

New Year’s Day is nearly upon us … so however you decide to recover, garnish with abandon.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Truss and Twine, and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

I was feeling a bit nostalgic. Perhaps it was due to a post-holiday malaise; maybe I was simply succumbing to the general trend in popular culture.

Whatever the cause, I began reminiscing on my first experiences drinking in public places: a smoky blues club, Chinese restaurant lounges, fancy dinners out with family, etc. While I was unable to locate a smoky blues club here in the Coachella Valley (send me suggestions!), I did visit two analogues of the other places to see how they matched up with my first memories of drinking.

I had never been to Melvyn’s before, but I felt like I had: So many people have told me about the place that I had a pretty good mental picture before walking in for the first time—and that picture was pretty spot-on. It was busy for a weekday (judging by the comments of the regulars surrounding me), but I managed to snag a prime barstool. I usually can; it’s kind of my superpower.

Surrounded by pictures of faces of celebrities living and deceased, I settled in and made friends with a couple of Canadian teetotalers next to me. They said they came here all the time, and were wondering if I was here to see it before the new ownership possibly changes things (which is apparently a big concern among regulars).

The bartender, Michael, was working the whole restaurant alone. I got anxiety just watching him, but he kept his cool. The maître d’ made the rounds and knew the guests by name. I asked the maître d’ what time the music started, and he pointed at the piano player: “At 7, or whenever the spirit moves him.” A minute or two later, the tinkling of ivory floated out from the corner. I guess the spirit was moving him—as it was beginning to move me.

I got a dry martini … what else am I going to put on a napkin featuring Frank Sinatra’s face? I ordered Bombay gin—craft gin’s not an option here. Shaken lightly, giant olives, hardly any vermouth … yeah, this is not the way you’d get it at my bar, but there are eras to cocktails, and they need to be acknowledged. For a place from this era, the tinkling of chip ice against the thin walls of a three-part shaker was a sound of success. I’m sure even Dale DeGroff was shaking plenty of gin martinis once upon a time. (That said, if you work at any place built in the last 20 years, and you shake my gin martini … well, let’s not go there.) Cold gin, a shrimp cocktail, piano music, Old Blue Eyes regarding me warmly from his paper prison … how much more old Palm Springs does it get?

The bartender suggested a Maker’s Mark Manhattan next, as though he were reading my mind; this drink was a mainstay of my early-to-mid-20s. Just like the ones I drank in my early-to-mid-20s, it was also shaken and light on vermouth, with nary a bitters bottle in sight. I didn’t come here for a Death and Co. Manhattan; I came for the kind my dad made at his bar—and I got it. (Again, bartenders: Don’t you dare do this if your clientele is younger than 75, on average.)

All and all, it was a lovely journey back to an era that we will never see again, since modern restaurant philosophy has changed so much—and so irreversibly.


So … there’s craft tiki; there’s tiki; and there is what I grew up drinking at the (long-gone) Aloha and other lounges that once peppered the Northeast: a sort of tiki/American-Chinese chimera with sour mix galore, and with loose interpretations of recipes by Trader Vic and Donn Beach (the creator of Don the Beachcomber), along with lots of greasy pork and noodles to sop up the ample booze. Oh, and ID checks were lenient, too. It was heaven. Luckily for me, some pockets of California held on to tiki in its more-or-less-original form. I’d heard that Tonga Hut, with a location in Palm Springs, was one of those places. I went to investigate.

First of all, it totally looks the part, aside from a balcony overlooking Palm Canyon Drive, but that’s a nice touch my Aloha could never have had. Everything was just as I imagined. I ordered a mai tai, which was made according to the Trader Vic recipe. (With all due respect to Donn Beach, I prefer the Trader Vic recipe, too—mostly because it’s way less complicated.) It was tasty and citrus-forward, with plenty of rum and a backbone of orange liqueur and almond—thankfully nothing like the pineapple-juice-and-rum versions of my youth! They had crab rangoons and beef teriyaki, and these dishes were actually much lighter-tasting and way less greasy than what I grew up eating (although I am not sure how I feel about that).

Next, I had bartender Josh make me a painkiller, one of those rarely seen tiki concoctions which was actually trademarked by Pusser’s Rum. It is a tasty mix of rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, coconut cream and a garnish of nutmeg. Because glassware is crucial to proper tiki, Josh even served it in a classic Pusser’s enameled metal mug. If you haven’t had one of these, give it a try: The ample nutmeg may seem a little odd at first, but once you get used to it, it really makes the drink feel festive. It has the DNA of a piña colada, but ends up tasting very different; the orange juice and nutmeg offer it a unique flavor.

Tonga Hut is definitely a good spot for those seeking a classic tiki fix, or for those, like me, who are just trying to scratch that itch for nostalgia.


Nostalgia cured, I went back to work.

I felt like I left the Bloody Mary debate a little unresolved last month, so I set about trying the drink at various places around town, despite my aversion to it in general. I felt it was my duty to know where the best one was; call it a sense of journalistic integrity, if you’d like.

I had been hearing over the last few months that Sparrows Lodge was a nice place to grab lunch, so when a friend called me up on a sunny afternoon, we decided to give it a go.

I had been to Sparrows once before, for an evening event, so I already knew the environment is unreal: You literally cannot take a bad picture here. I have tried. I ordered the Bloody Mary, knowing it could make or break my experience. It was wonderful, light and almost refreshing, with a sensible garnish of pickled okra. There seemed to be chili oil floating on top; I tasted mustard seeds and citrus. The vinegar was bright but not overpowering, with no congealed horseradish chunks in sight. While I would not have a second one in succession, because it’s still a Bloody Mary, I was impressed—so impressed that I am calling it the best one in town (at least that I have had so far).

So … goodbye nostalgia (and goodbye, Bloody Marys); time to move on and explore some new ground, even though it has been a fun trip down memory lane.

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Seymour’s/Mr. Lyons and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

Welcome to the bar lull, the time when thirsty, hard-working citizens’ insidious New Year’s resolutions interfere with my ability to ply them with high-quality wares.

Is your humble bar correspondent succumbing to such self-deception? No, no false resolutions for me. Instead, I am using the New Year to explore some new-to-me places—perhaps making a questionable decision or two along the way.

My first stop of the evening was an early dinner at Rooster and the Pig (356 S. Indian Canyon Drive, Palm Springs). I would be lying if I said that I was going there for cocktails and not for the food, and this brings up an important issue: There are great restaurants all over the country without a full liquor license. I imagine that for every over-ambitious restaurant popping up with a confused menu and an unnecessarily overwrought craft-cocktail program, there are 10 places without a full liquor license making focused and passionate cuisine—and it is always interesting to see what bartenders can do with wine, sake, lillet, etc., when forced to compromise.

Bartender Trish mixed me a Green Lantern—a tasty mix of cilantro, cucumber, lime and what chef/owner Tai referred to as “gin-ish,” a 20-proof non-distilled gin. Boozy? Well, no, but it was oh-so refreshing. It went down smooth, like an agua fresca or a green smoothie, hold the kale. The freshness complemented the flavors of plate after plate of Vietnamese-American cuisine and accompanying sriracha. This seems like it could also be a great non-alcoholic drink—perhaps for you “resolution” people. If you are looking for boozy, they clued me in about some exciting plans for the near future, so stay tuned.

Belly full, I went to meet some friends at the Dråughtsman (1501 N. Palm Canyon Drive). I was anxiously waiting for this place to open—like everyone else, it seems. Unlike everyone else, it seems, I waited to check it out. (I hate waiting for bar seats, as you might know.) Despite my gluttony at Rooster and the Pig, Paul and Robbie behind the bar convinced me to try some “off the menu” pretzel bites with ale-cheese sauce—who could say no to that? Thinking I required Irish whiskey, because I often require Irish whiskey, I ordered the Delorean. This is a mixture of Powers whiskey, lemon, house Irish cream, Guinness syrup and sarsaparilla bitters. It came out with spices grated on top—looking quite like a dessert cocktail or eggnog. The looks were deceiving, however, because the flavor was bright, with citrus as the main note, whiskey coming through, and the cream just adding a little mouth-feel. It drinks like a whiskey sour with an Irish-American twist.

Knowing this was a Chad Austin menu (best known as the drink engineer of Bootlegger Tiki), I went for a rum drink next. The Tubular Dude is Banks 7 rum, Cynar 70, pineapple gomme syrup and tiki bitters served over a large ice cube. It’s part tiki old-fashioned, part stripped-down Jungle Bird—a 1970’s tiki classic from the Aviary Bar in Kuala Lumpur that features Campari and pineapple, also one of my favorites. If you are looking for a sweet and sour tiki drink, look elsewhere; this one is for an amaro fan, a Negroni lover. Don’t fret if you don’t like bitter; it looks like they have options on the menu for all kinds of palates, and a really nice back bar to boot!

I finished the evening at a nearby dive bar, not to be named by (possibly tongue-in-cheek) request. Some kind soul with a Prince Valiant haircut bought the bar a round, in between muttering to himself and watching TV. Two 21-year-olds celebrated their new legal tippling with Flaming Dr. Peppers and Incredible Hulks (Hennessy and Hpnotiq … yeah, I started my bartending career in a nightclub) amongst other drinks with which I am not so familiar.

Here’s a poorly kept secret: Craft bartenders don’t always drink craft. When I see a round of sugary, hangover-inducing booze-bombs appear and think about the year gone by, I often say: “To hell with it; give me one of those!” I ask the bartender what’s in it, he says: “Alcohol!” Fair enough!

I put a ’90s hip-hop song on the jukebox. One of the guys says, “You like this music? You must be my mom’s age!”

Cut to the next day. My head was in a proverbial vice, and I walked the rainy streets of Palm Springs in search of a remedy. I pulled up a table for one at Farm (6 La Plaza), where the rain, chansons d’amour and rustic ambience transported me away from downtown Palm Springs and last night’s follies. I ordered a Bloody Mary—advertised on the menu as the best in town, with jalapeño-infused vodka, house-made hot sauce and bacon.

An aside about the Bloody Mary: Nearly every time I order one, I wish I’d ordered something else. At best, I like the first one and order a second, and I generally regret the second one. Why? Well, most of them are horrid. The mix has sat too long, congealing the horseradish and tomato into an astringent gel, with the vodka drawing those offensive flavors out and delivering them straight to the palate. The tabasco sauce turns the whole thing to a vinegary mess, garnished with a pale stick of what was at one point celery, limply hanging over the side of the glass. I made my living for a period hawking Bloody Marys to hungover tourists, so I am a tough critic. Still, it is one of the most popular cocktails around, so I would be remiss to ignore it.

After all that, I must say … this was a darned tasty Bloody Mary! The jalapeño was subtle; the tomato juice was thin, not pasty. The horseradish, if there (the server wasn’t sure, but I thought I tasted a tiny bit), wasn’t overbearing, and the hot sauce wasn’t just vinegar. The drink tasted super fresh and light, rare for the species. Only complaint: Bacon should stay dry and never go into the drink. Nobody wants soggy bacon.

So … is it the best in town? Let’s go find out!

Just kidding … I know better than to push my luck. Instead, I am going to make myself my a Oaxacan Brunch, a great way to get rid of that leftover sage (and hangover) from the holidays.

• 2 ounces of mezcal

• 1 ounce of lime juice

• 1 ounce of simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water)

• 1 egg white

• Fresh sage

Muddle several leaves of sage into the simple syrup in the small tin of a metal shaker (the back of a spoon works nicely), and add the rest of the ingredients. Shake without ice, and then with ice. Pour on the rocks, and garnish with a sage leaf. Enjoy with an omelet … and Happy (Belated) New Year!

Kevin Carlow is a bartender at Seymour’s/Mr. Lyons and can be reached via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails