February 4th, 2009

Nips – 2/4/09

I’m finally getting my ass in gear over what to do with those little items that are worth mentioning but don’t warrant an entire post: I’m filing them in series of posts called Nips, after those little bottles of booze you get on airplanes, in hotel minibars or at liquor-store checkout counters. (Fun fact: Until 2005, South Carolina liquor laws dictated that bartenders make drinks with nips instead of free-pouring or measuring into a jigger. Holy idiocracy.)

1. Do you remember those ads for Miller High Life in the late ’90s and early ’00s? They were understated little vignettes capturing the modern alterna-male’s winking appropriation of bygone “guy-ness,” from an era when men had bowling trophies and dedication to a particular brand of beer. The ads were unlike anything else you saw on TV. That’s because they were directed by Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, Standard Operating Procedure). Since documentary filmmaking — even Oscar-winning documentary filmmaking — doesn’t pay the bills, Morris, who lives in Cambridge, has done lots of ad work. I’d like to thank A Continuous Lean, Michael Williams’ terrific blog on American design, for reminding me of the Miller ads. You can watch all the spots here.

2. Here’s another homework assignment. Read these two recent articles on Slate:

Change We Can Taste: Bush’s White House served terrible wine. Obama should do better.
Obama Raises the Bar: In politics, as in life, a little alcohol can go a long way.

3. How about the recession-induced proposal to put a 5% tax on liquor purchased at package stores? If it’s approved, will it make you drive to NH to buy booze?

4. More recession news. A little while ago, the Globe published what I thought was a detailed and fair article on Locke-Ober’s historic decision to close for lunch and what that signified for anyone who thought the old-fashioned business lunch (you know, the one with Martinis) was still alive. Well, that story sparked a rumble in the comments section between those who hold Locke-Ober dear as a Boston institution even though its food and service have been eclipsed many times over by competing high-end restaurants, and those who are seriously bitter over their financial and employment circumstances and want to mow down anything in their path that smacks of aristocracy, including Locke-Ober. Yikes. Personally, I love the place despite its silly prices, because it is a Boston institution. But resting on your laurels is not a business strategy. I wish, at the very least, that Locke-Ober would hire a team of bartenders who could bring cocktail hour at L-O back to the glory of the Gilded Age.

Permalink | Filed under Beer, Booze in the news, Boston bars, Nips | Tags: , , , ,

16 Responses to “Nips – 2/4/09”

  1. Arnold

    Just to connect this post with your last, I particularly enjoyed the article that accompanied the Locke-Ober lunch piece about the demise of the three martini lunch. It began with the story of how Arthur Schlesinger met a colleague for drinks BEFORE a scheduled LUNCH meeting with President Kennedy to talk about the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

    And of course your previous post mentioned Tom from Craigie on Main–who I’ve read is related to Arthur Schlesinger.

  2. Zach

    You have made my day with the link to the old High Life ads. My friends and I still talk about them to this day — “Hot, cold, Milllller High Life.”

    Just fantastic.

  3. ljclark

    Good eye, Arnold. Now if only Errol Morris would show up at S-G’s bar for a Martini!

    Zach, glad I could help.

  4. MC Slim JB

    Eerie timing: I dined very recently at Locke-Ober, had the exact same regrets for its bar. If ever a Boston setting cried out for the service of high-craft Golden Age cocktails, that is it.

  5. jacqueline

    Ironic that we can see the perfect fit of the golden age of the cocktail with the bar at L-O….where women and people of color were second class citizens…weren’t we even excluded from them altogether?

    They should inaugurate a new golden age, perhaps renaissance, inclusive and fabulous …the world needs historic places – but renovated in practice to keep up with change.

  6. ljclark

    We have synergy, Slim.

    True, Jacqueline, L-O’s downstairs bar and dining room were men-only until around 1970(!). One story goes that a female MIT prof called and made a lunch reservation for a Dr. so-and-so (referring to herself), and when the Dr. showed up and happened to be a woman, that marked the beginning of L-O’s much-delayed coed era.

  7. stephen

    when i worked at L-O i made their first real grenadine in decades… i don’t think they kept the tradition.

    we actually had a button for lunch martini’s and they were small and old school. probably 2 oz. people would order them before their corton charlemagne and smoked salmon.

    their prices on alcohol are really fair relative to the food. and if your a wine geek you can find cult aged gems from perfect years that make the franklin’s wine prices look like a bad deal.

  8. Hanky Panky

    “stay off the man juice or stay off the roof…”


  9. ljclark

    Thanks for the first-hand take on L.O., Stephen.

    Yeah, HP, they’re all pretty priceless. It almost makes you glad there’s no $$ in documentary filmmaking.

  10. Graham

    As a Boston resident born and raised in SC, I love your nip reference. You know, even though the law changed in 2005, quite a lot of bars still use nips, rather than redesigning their storage areas. It always surprises me to see those little bottles every time I visit.

  11. ljclark

    Ha! I was hoping someone from SC would chime in about this. Wow, some bars are still using nips. Amazing.

  12. Br. Cleve

    I played in clubs in South Carolina many times, and having cocktails made with nips proved to be very pricey, as each drink was charged by each bottle. For instance, a Negroni would be $9 (this is in the 90’s!), because each nip was around $3. I found the practice rather quaint, and I’m happy to hear they’ve joined the rest of the Union.

    Check out the movie “Our Man In Havana”, which has finally been released on DVD this month. In it, Alec Guinness has a home bar made entirely of nips. Best of all, however, are the scenes filmed at the legendary Sloppy Joe’s, where Guinness and co-star Burl Ives drink daiquiris by the gallon. What an incredible, beautiful bar. The story goes that its intact and still in its 1959 glory, all boarded up and waiting for Castro to die so it can reopen. Maybe the bar is still full of nice aged Bacardi, the real Cuban deal. I’m watching the obits and waiting!

  13. ljclark

    Wait — they actually had nips of Campari and sweet vermouth?!

    Let’s plan a drinkboston tour of famous Cuban bars when Castro finally rolls a seven.

  14. Br. Cleve

    You’d be surprised what kind of “Nipsy Russells” are out there (I like to call them that as he was my favorite party comedian when I was a kid. Back when you could carry booze on planes, we used to joke that “Nipsy Russell” was traveling with us and had his own seat. Just order those free mixers!). If you ever visit Las Vegas (and with a depressed tourism industry and a brand new and fab Tiki bar, now is the time!), they have some of the biggest nip stores I’ve ever seen. The Bonanza Gift Shop has, oh, thousands. It’s mind boggling.

    see you in Havana!

  15. james fox

    great post. L-O is due some more “ink”, and ACL is on fire as well…. miller time.

  16. dave

    Looks like the three-martini lunch is making a small come back: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_41/b4198085656723.htm

    Maybe L-O will start opening for lunch again 😉

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