January 7th, 2009

The mainstream media discovers drinking

Has anyone been following the New York Times’ recently launched blog on drinking, Proof? Here’s its mission statement:

“For the past 10,000 years or so, wherever humans have gathered, there has been alcohol. Some never touch the stuff. But most do. It is used to celebrate, commiserate, mourn, remember and, often, to forget. It is different things to different people: libation, anesthetic, emotional crutch, social lubricant, addictive substance, sacred potion, killer or commodity. In ‘Proof,’ contributors consider the charms, powers and dangers of drink, and the role it plays in their lives.”

OK, now read between the lines: “We acknowledge that alcohol is a legal substance consumed by most of the people on earth for reasons too numerous to count. But the Times is not — we repeat, NOT — using this space to promote booze. In fact, we talk about how bad it can be. A lot.”

Actually, I am thrilled that the New York Times has a blog about drinking. As far as I know, the only other prominent newspapers with a regular, substantive space devoted to this topic are the Wall Street Journal (Eric Felten’s “How’s Your Drink?”) and the San Francisco Chronicle. However, with seemingly over half the posts since October devoted to alcoholism and its aftermath, Proof has largely been a solemn read. Even the posts written by active drinkers have been underwhelming. Until Christmas, that is. The NYT brought the excellent Paul Clarke of Cocktail Chronicles into its stable of bloggers, and the man gave us imbibers a nice, shiny gift box of love. Paul talks about his formative drinking years in New York, then being swept up in the classic cocktail movement upon moving to the West Coast, and closes with a survey of improved cocktailing habits in locales across the nation (with a shout-out to Boston).

Also, the Atlantic Monthly has a two-issue-old column on drink. It’s called Drink. And this month, it discusses Drink, the Boston bar. (God, I’m glad I named this blog drinkboston.com.) The column, written by the awesome Wayne Curtis, has the intro: “Our correspondent toasts a growing trend: the return of the classic cocktail.” It’s so adorable when magazines notice a trend three years after it becomes hot. But honestly, I’m thrilled that a publication launched in 1857 — during the first cocktail craze — has come back full circle!

Permalink | Filed under Booze in the news, Cocktails |

10 Responses to “The mainstream media discovers drinking”

  1. Frederic

    I was surprised when I first read Paul Clarke’s column how many comments there were criticizing him (and the NYT) for glorifying drinking, but with that historical perspective on the blog space, it makes a lot of sense.

  2. ljclark

    Yeah, you know, I didn’t even bother to slog through the comments on Paul’s post, but I did notice that he mentioned them on his blog. The funny thing is that the commenters on another Proof post, which described a drinking ‘binge,’, were along the lines of, ‘Are you kidding? You only consumed two shots and three beers? That’s so lame.” Ah, the wonderland of critical commentary in the blogosphere!

  3. Arnold

    Felten has been a must-read of mine for years. I save his columns on drinks that perk my interest and at this point have quite a large folder on my laptop. I especially enjoy the historical background he provides for the drinks, while at the same time displaying a willingness to experiment with recipes and not bind himself blindly to tradition–or the “I can only have that drink with exactly these ingredients” mantra that I see as the cocktail version of a wine snob.

    I’ve glanced at a few of the Proof pieces, but didn’t feel like getting depressed about my drinking habits so generally skipped them for Krugman or Dowd.

    Which, I think, may be the reason for the difference for the two columns–location, location, location. Felten is found in the Journal’s living arts/weekend section, while Proof (at least online) is found on the main opinion page. So different editors with different goals and perspectives. Eric Asimov, also of the Times, in addition to his many articles on wine has a blog on the site found in the living arts section that is generally pro-drinking. But while he occasionally writes about beer or cocktails, his primary focus is on the wine.

    The Times used to regularly run a Felten equivalent called “Shaken and Stirred,” but that has become less frequent since the byline passed from William Hamilton.

    Thanks for the heads up on the Atlantic columns.

    One question: how did you date the cocktail trend’s “hotness” as beginning three years ago?

  4. ljclark

    Location, yeah, but also audience. WSJ’s audience is mostly affluent white men in finance. In other words, not a politically correct, nanny-state bunch. The ‘three years’ figure? Pulled it out of my hat.

  5. Pink Lady

    You should rework this post and pitch it to the Onion! The headline is hilarious.

  6. Arnold

    The two papers’ opinion pages are definitely on different sides of the political spectrum, but I would bet a dollar that Bill Keller is not a teetotaler. Felten’s articles are richer in content, but not much different in spirit from the Times’ “Shaken and Stirred” series. Probably remarkable that two of probably the three most influential papers in the nation have had pretty consistent cocktail articles since around the turn of the century. Even more remarkable if you consider that as popular as cocktail culture has become, it still lags far behind wine drinking and micro-brewed beers in terms of audience (and the papers have to keep the most readers happy in those lifestyle sections so that they can charge the most money for ads).

    The Proof series is interesting because its very different from those series. Its not about specific drinks or bars but the act of drinking and its effects. If anything, that discussion in what remains the “paper of record” is important.

    The Atlantic has always dabbled in short food/drink/travel articles. I’m more surprised that the correspondent is in Boston reviewing Drink instead of DC reviewing PX or whatnot, since the majority of the operation moved down to DC several years ago.

    Ahead of his time, Fareed Zakaria (of Newsweek and now CNN) wrote about his appreciation of wet martinis in Slate way back in 1998: http://www.slate.com/id/3517/.

  7. ljclark

    Ha! That’s a high compliment, Pink Lady. Arnold, about cocktails catching up to wine and beer: in the case of the latter, it took decades for the press to take craft beer seriously. It is really only just now happening. Hopefully cocktails won’t have to wait as long.

  8. Br. Cleve

    Now I know why I prefer the NY Post over the so-called “paper of record”. What a depressing blog. “Proof that alcohol is evil” should to be the full title. I’m all for balanced reporting, but %&# me! Do they have a food/restaurant blog where over half the entries and comments are about overweight people/diabetes/trans fats/gluttony etc? Give me the Wall St Journal’s crew over this “politically correct, nanny-state bunch” of whiners anyday. Is Prohibition ready for a revival yet?

  9. ljclark

    Cleve, there is a point, and you are the pin.

  10. Arnold

    Neither the Post (though Page Six is always good for a laugh) nor the Journal has an article extolling the virtues of an Old Fashioned prominently displayed in the upper right hand corner of its home page. Today, yesterday, or ever really.


    And while the Journal has great reporting, let’s never mention the Post in the same breath as its an insult to the serious work done at both the NYT and the WSJ…

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