No, seriously. It is a great goddamn movie–probably the single drinkiest film ever, and features a young Mickey Rourke (before he became a poster child for plastic surgery gone wrong) playing Charles Bukowski, in a movie written by Charles Bukowski. And what’s more, it has a serious Philly connection: Bukowski spent three years living, working, drinking and getting his teeth punched out here before writing the screenplay, and used his time in our fair city as the basis for all the action that happens in the film. The L.A. bar in which most of the film takes place? Based on a place where Bukowski drank at 17th and Fairmount.
And what stunned me last night was that during the trivia portion of last night’s all-cocktails Open Stove battle at COOK, I asked for a show of hands from the crowd.
“How many of you here have seen Barfly?” I asked.
No hands went up.
“What about the bartenders. You guys have seen Barfly, right?”
No hands went up. The only two people in the entire place who’d ever seen it were me and Art.
So much for the trivia…
Last night’s event was our second-ever All Cocktail Competition, which pitted two teams of the city’s best bartenders against each other in a brutal test of drink-slinging, movie trivia and singing. Stepping into our alcoholic Thunderdome were Keith Raimondi from Townsend, Vince Stipo of a.bar, Sara Justice from Franklin Mortgage and Brian Kane from Abe Fisher and Zahav.
First order of business? Dividing the bartenders into teams. It went Justice/Stipo versus Raimondi/Kane.
Second order of business? Team names. Because how can you be a team without a great team name? When the teams themselves were too slow, I helped out, offering them the two awesomest team names ever: The Wolverines (Justice/Stipo) and the Thresher Sharks (Raimondi/Kane).
That settled, it was onto the drinks. Lots and lots and LOTS of drinks.
Under normal circumstances, the way these Open Stove nights work is, we have the chefs prepare an amuse bouche and a dessert in advance. Then the two middle courses–the app and the entree–are where we mess with them. We tie them together, duct tape utensils to their hands, force them to cook with Cool Ranch Doritos and gummi bears while answering final exam questions from the Drexel culinary school.
But when its bartenders on our stage? All four courses are fair game. They began with three excellent spirits in front of them–a rum, a gin and a whiskey, all provided by Manatawny Still Works. The deal was, they’d use one bottle for each of three courses (at our discretion), and then were told to expect a surprise bottle for the remaining course. And that was all the warning they got.
First round? We started out easy, ordering the teams to make rum cocktails with citrus. Both of them did daiquiris–a light lime and mint for the Wolverines, orange for the Thresher Sharks, dosed with some sort of pinecone juice and barbecue bitters. They couldn’t have been more different. And everyone in the crowd got served within the 15 minute limit which, considering they had to invent the drink, make the drink and name the drink (all in front of a thirsty crowd), is a fairly impressive feat.
Then it was time for round two, in which we asked them to make sorority girl drinks–using whipped cream-flavored vodka and plastic cups. The looks on the faces of the bartenders were priceless. These are professionals who regularly work with the finest liquors in all the land–with tinctures and essences that would make wizards jealous. So to force them to work with flavored vodka? That’s kind of like asking Frank Gehry to build your kid a treehouse. Out of old telephone books.
The only thing better than watching them do that? Asking them boozy trivia questions while they worked. Like what are the ingredients in a Flaming Homer (tequila, creme de menthe, peppermint schnapps, Krusty’s Non-Narkotic Kids Kough Syrup and fire) and what was the name of the bar opened by Tom Cruise at the end of the movie Cocktail (Flanagan’s Cocktails & Dreams)?
After surviving the sorority girl round (plus shots of whipped cream vodka for everyone, plus some intermezzo drinks tacked onto the game by both teams as they looked to sway the crowd in their favor), we moved onto gin cocktails with tarragon, more trivia (at which point I learned of the terrible lack of Barfly fans in Philadelphia), a brief break where everyone had to sing the missing lyrics to drinks-related songs (Gin and Juice, Brass Monkey, Margaritaville, that kind of thing), then the final round–whiskey cocktails utilizing that beloved spirit of the moment, Fireball.
Again, the bartenders were thrilled. Everyone else was just plain old drunk. The Wolverines did a flip. The Thresher Sharks did…something. Everything was a little bit blurry at this point, but luckily we had someone sober-ish to add up the final scores and, in the end, the Wolverines won the day by just a couple of points (their team’s mastery of James Bond-related booze trivia might’ve made the difference).
At that point, things were done. But no one wanted to go home. As with any great night out at the bar, no one wanted it to end, so everyone just kinda hung out, laughing and talking and knocking back the dregs of their cocktails until the hour grew late and we had to call closing time.
We’re gonna do another of these cocktail nights soon. Honestly, it was just too fun to not try again. So keep an eye on the COOK schedule for the next one and, in the meantime, maybe check out Barfly, huh? It really is one of those movies that everyone should see.
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