Sunday
Jun282015

Too Cool For School

One of the reasons I love working in the booze industry is because of the opportunities it allows me to be out and about. Socializing, traveling, having a cocktail at a nearby restaurant—these are all aspects of my job that require me to interact with other people, both professionally and personally. I love talking to people; it’s always something that’s come very naturally to me. But what a few people have noticed lately is the movement of my eyes, constantly scanning the room for action while we’re engaging. I’m listening, but I’m also observing.

“Are you trying to find someone?” a person asked me at an event earlier this week.

“No, I’m just watching this guy over in the corner while we’re chatting,” I said. “He’s putting on quite a show.”

I love people-watching when I’m out on the town, both because I think human behavior is a fascinating thing and the fact that I’m constantly looking to improve my own understanding of certain personalities. Working with the public requires you to morph into whatever incarnation of customer service your client requires, and there’s no better classroom in my opinion than the public sphere. When you watch people behave in various social settings, you get a better idea of what motivates their intentions and how they expect you to react in turn. From there, you can decide whether you want to play along or not.

For example, there’s a very particular personality out there that I call “too cool for school”—a person who is constantly trying to downplay their enthusiasm, especially in relation to the enthusiasm of those around them. Whatever excites you doesn’t excite them, and what might arouse you will bore them to death. You can imagine my run-ins with these people considering I’m like an excited young puppy sometimes, unabashedly enthusiastic about numerous things in life. What’s ironic is that these folks who are “too cool for school” think that by acting uninterested and unmoved by the scene around them, other people are taking them more seriously as a result—like when someone who tells you they don’t watch TV honestly thinks that: 1) you actually believe them, and 2) that people who don’t watch TV are smarter than people who do. It’s the opposite, however. When it’s an act people can tell instantly, and many of us do our best to run from such behavior—quickly and quietly.

As you might guess, the wine and spirits world is full of such people, but there are just as many honest and genuine folks to balance them out, which is nice. At a party I attended in LA earlier this week I met a prominent restaurateur who just opened his ninth successful establishment in the city. As a theme, his bars are incredibly atmospheric and center around fun rather than the more serious pre-Prohibition approach that’s so popular at the moment.

“I can make you a kick-ass Manhattan. That’s not an issue,” he told me as we shared a drink. “But so can five thousand other guys around the country. Proficiency isn’t enough anymore. It’s expected. What about fun? Don’t you want to have a memorable time when you’re out?”

“What’s funny, is people think you have to do one or the other,” I said, taking a sip of my cocktail. “They think only intensely-straight-faced bartenders are going to be taken seriously. Smiling, showing emotion, and being enthusiastic mean you don’t know what you’re talking about, and that’s the kiss of death for snobby booze people.”

“Everyone’s too cool for school,” he answered.

“Hey, that’s what I say!” I yelled in response. “But you’ve really put yourself out there with your thematic elements. You’re inviting people to make a judgment as to whether they’re going to feel comfortable doing both simultaneously. Anyone who can’t have a good time at your bar isn’t someone I want to hang out with anyway, so I’m sure you bring in a pretty laid-back crowd.”

“I think if you can strive towards quality while having fun, people will ultimately respect you for it.”

“Amen, brother,” I said. “You and I are cut from the same cloth.”

As a retailer, I want people to enjoy coming to K&L. It should be fun, and our customers should feel comfortable, which is why I make an attempt to learn everyone's name who shops there frequently. I remember going to Manhattan a few years back and visiting one of my favorite clothing stores, only to find that the salesman working there was the same guy I had been dealing with in San Francisco for years. He had apparently switched locations, and yet here I was running into him 3,000 miles away.

“Hey, how’s it going?” I asked with a smile. “I didn’t expect to run into you out here.”

“Do I know you?” he replied with a frown. This coming from a guy who clearly recognized me, and who had sold me dozens of shirts, pants, sweaters, and suits on numerous occasions.

“Oh, we’re playing that game,” I thought to myself as I walked off.

“I knew that guy was too cool for school;” my wife said to me as we left.

“I bet he doesn’t watch TV either,” I replied to her with a smirk.

“He should,” she answered, “Because he really knows how to put on a show.”

-David Driscoll

Friday
Jun262015

Magic Mike

Magic Mike was one of those movies that caught a lot of people off guard—its cast of Hollywood hunks, glistening under the neon lights, with washboard abs and huge biceps, making most women weak in the knees and sending their husbands into a self-conscious sulk. I still know people today who don’t really understand that film and think it was just some slick studio flick about strippers. Which it was, by the way. But it was so much more than just eye candy for the pleasure of our smarter sex. For me personally, Magic Mike was one of the most striking and forward-thinking films of the last ten years; combining athleticism, wit, good looks, and an off-beat storyline more inclined for the independent cinema than the multiplex. It’s a tour de force of top-flight dance and choreography, matched with smart camera work (by Mr. Soderbergh, of course), a script that meanders effortlessly between dark and silly, and a collaborative cast that couldn’t have been more fun to watch on screen. “You liked that movie? I thought it was just for girls!” people still say to me when I express my appreciation for Magic Mike today. Come on. That’s like saying cocktails or white wine are just for girls. Please. Grow up.

When the sequel to the film was announced a while back—Magic Mike XXL—I never dreamed I’d be invited down to Hollywood for the premiere. However, since Steven’s booze company Singani 63 was sponsoring the event, I got the chance to be a part of the festivities. So here I was, holed up in the Mondrian Hotel on LA’s famous Sunset Strip, looking out over the city from high above, drinking a cocktail in my boxer shorts while ironing out the last few wrinkles in my suit; my wife applying her make-up in the glamorously-lit bathroom behind me. Yes, it was going to be quite the scene, and I had no idea what to expect. In these situations I find it’s best to just relax and let the night take you where it will. I poured another drink and gazed out towards the skyline.

Our official Singani 63 pre-party was by the Tropicana pool at the world-famous Roosevelt Hotel. We gathered for custom-made Singani cocktails (I had a delicious one that resembled a Negroni using Carpano Antica vermouth and orange bitters) and a bit of chit-chat before the film started. David OG and his wife rolled in a bit after us, looking dapper as always. We snacked on cheese and various pickled vegetables before we got the call to head across the street. The TCL Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard beckoned.

What we quickly realized upon our exit was that our current location (the Roosevelt) and our final destination (the theater) were separated by a gigantic wall of on-lookers and star-gazers; packed onto the sidewalk, holding signs and squirming towards the guard rail for a glimpse at the red carpet. We weren’t sure how to part that sea and get into the theater, so we mistakenly tried moving through the back of the crowd, hoping to flank them from the opposite side of the entrance. Bad idea. About five minutes into that attempt we were smashed against the side of a shop by Christian protesters, picketing against the pre-conceived smut that awaited us (and the fact that one of tonight’s guests Sofia Vergara had frozen her embryos). After one of the more claustrophobic experiences of my life, we retreated back the way we had come, and found a security guard to escort us in through a side entrance. We were in.

As a film, Magic Mike XXL builds on everything you loved about the first movie, intensifies it, and increases that intensity to a fever pitch with a grand finale. If you think it's just a bunch of greased-up bods with gyrating hips, think again. Magic Mike XXL is just as much a bromance road trip as it is a female striptease, and it's one of the most feel-good buddy films I've seen in years. The entire experience is meant to pull the stick out of your ass, and put a gigantic smile on your face; but tastefully and with charm. Over the course of the trip, the film's theme mimics the crises and quests of the characters themselves, as the guys look deep within themselves for their own personal definitions of happiness. There's a scene where Joe Manganiello goes into a liquor store, hell-bent on giving the gloomy checkout girl a bit of man-powered sunshine. I've never laughed so hard. That moment ends up being a metaphor for the flick itself; a message to let your guard down and open yourself up to life's possibilities. The most touching moments are incredibly sentimental, which is another reason the women love it. The men of Magic Mike are completely in touch with what women want, both physically and emotionally, in a way that never appears hackneyed or clichéd. I also can’t fully express to you how much fun it was to see Magic Mike XXL in a gigantic theater with hundreds of screaming ladies. 

At the after party, it was all Singani 63—another reminder from Mr. Soderbergh to let your hair down a bit. There's a similar motif that threads between Steven's film and the handling of his liquor brand. It's always about quality, of course, but never at the expense of a good time. All of the cocktails on the menu were named after characters in the film, and were incredibly refreshing against the sultry Hollywood night.

I went first for a coconut drink with lime juice and mint. A bit of fusion between a Mai Tai and a Pina Colada. It was delicious, and the floral notes from the Singani actually held up beautifully against both the tartness of the citrus and the sweetness of the coconut. I truly believe that you can mix Singani into just about anything and make a great drink. I cannot stress enough how versatile this stuff is.

The burning question, I know, I know: David, did you get to party with the Magic Mike XXL cast? Yes, I did. Sofia and Joe were on one side of the room, Channing on the other, and Andie McDowell was chilling out at a table right in the center. It was pretty cool, I won't lie. While I was waiting for my wife to come out of the restroom, however, I spotted one of my all-time heroes standing humbly in the corner, about to pour himself a glass of Singani over ice. It was "Big Daddy Cool" himself, Kevin Nash—the seven-foot tall, former WWE Champion who plays Tarzan in both Magic Mike films. I instantly got butterflies in my stomach as he approached the drink cart and stood there on my right, towering over me, checking out the new artwork on the bottle.

I took a deep breath, threw another glance at the bathroom line (no sign of my wife), and let it out:

"Kevin, do you mind if I take a photo of you drinking the Singani? I'm going to write a little article about the party tonight and I'd love to get a picture of you enjoying it."

He couldn't have been nicer. We ended up chatting for ten minutes about various things—drinking, watching Team America, Florida, etc—and I was like a kid in a candy store, beaming with rosy cheeks and a huge grin.

"I'm on my third glass, already, and I don't normally drink hard liquor," Nash added before we parted. "You can't shoot this stuff; you have to sip it, which I like."

"You prefer it straight?" I asked.

"It tastes so good on its own, I don't really need to mix it," he responded.

And what type of Magic Mike XXL after-party would it be without live male dancers, removing their clothing for a screaming crowd of celebrities, on a stage recreated from the film itself? This was easily one of the best nights of my life. My wife and I were all smiles from ear-to-ear by the evening's end. The movie itself was hilarious and uplifting. The Singani 63 put me in the best of moods. The post-film party was epic. I felt like Channing Tatum himself was going to walk over and say, "Now there's that smile I was looking for," just like he does in the movie.

You got me, Mike. Your magic definitely worked on me. Another round of Singani please.

-David Driscoll 

Wednesday
Jun242015

The Real Beverly Hills

Since I had Wednesday off in Los Angeles I decided to take my wife out for lunch at a restaurant of her choosing. Being a fan of the Real Housewives and most Bravo reality programmingshe asked if we could go to Villa Blanca: the Italian-themed eatery owned by Beverly Hills housewife Lisa Vanderpump (also the setting for her spin-off Vanderpump Rules). Neither of us expected anything out of the ordinary. As two people who regularly watch the show, we just wanted to get a sense of the atmosphere and do a bit of people-watching near Rodeo. The setting did not disappoint. The table of women next to us were decked out in classic housewife garb, celebrating a birthday with Champagne and cocktails. We were having a ball just eavesdropping on them and watching the people stroll by through the window.

When Lisa's husband Ken Todd walked in, however, things started to get a little nuts. The ladies wanted to take a picture with him and Ken was more than happy to oblige. I was impressed by how polite he was. He didn't mind if any of us took photos as he came over to talk with the crowd.

Halfway through our meal when I saw a camera crew beginning to set up, I knew the shit was really going down. "They're about to tape in here," I told my wife. "Let's eat a little slower and see what happens." Sure enough, in walked Lisa herself a few minutes later to film a scene in the restaurant's dining room. I heard a producer say to her, "This will be a great way to begin Season 6." It looked like we were catching the initial filming for a new season of the housewives.

We stuck around for a cup of coffee, watched the crowd gather a bit, then decided to head out and go for an afternoon stroll in the neighborhood. What we didn't realize, however, was what had been staged outside the restaurant while we had been eating. As we turned to make our way down the street we walked right into a camera crew filming the arrival of Lisa's co-star Kyle Richards. When I realized my faux pas, I backed up against the wall of the nearby storefront and let the entourage pass by. Kyle smiled at my politeness and gave me a nod, as the camera crew kept taping.

I just kind of stood there awkwardly, and said, "Hey Kyle."

"How's it going?" she answered with a grin. 

-David Driscoll

Wednesday
Jun242015

Steven Singani XXL

Last night was our highly-anticipated Singani 63/Steven Soderbergh dinner at Delphine on Hollywood Blvd; an event I was hoping would showcase the passion behind the product and the versatility of the spirit itself, rather than just function as another educational seminar. I can safely and proudly say that all goals were accomplished. Not only were Lindsay (Singani's brand manager) and Steven completely prepared and ready to rock, but so were our wonderful customers. Last night might have been the best K&L spirits-related party I've ever attended. Everyone was happy, talkative, friendly, excited to drink, andmore importantly—completely open-minded to the experience ahead of them. There were some serious whisky guys in the house, more than happy to step outside their comfort zone and give this whole Singani thing a shot. Seeing that willingness in person was exhilarating for me. I live to break down booze barriers.

Steven's Singani team again had a number of clever marketing materials scattered around the outside patio, where we met to begin the evening. Since day one the primary focus of Singani 63 has revolved around fun. Don't take this too seriously. Sure it's good, but let's not geek out about it. Let's recognize it for what it is, enjoy it, and then have some fun. I'm completely on board with that media plan. It's everything I believe in when it comes to booze, and if a recreation of the Sistine Chapel with Steven and Singani doesn't put a smile on your face, then hopefully you didn't buy a ticket to last night's dinner!

The man of the hour was there early helping us set up and plan out the night's events. Before starting the Singani 63 brand, Steven had a meeting with Dan Aykroyd (who's also in the booze biz), where the actor told him: "If you're not going to show up and be a part of this thing, then don't bother doing it." Mr. Soderbergh took that advice to heart. He was right there, front and center, ready to be the biggest Singani cheerleader in the world. He's currently lobbying the TTB to give Singani it's own separate classification, for God's sake! Since retiring from directing, I think Steven needed a new mission in life, and Singani is definitely the focus of that mission. He's here to change hearts and minds, and he believes in the product so deeply that he's convinced Singani will succeed. His energy is infectious.

Our ticket-holders arrived, we greeted them on the patio, we passed out ice-cold Singani sours with lavender and maraschino liqueur, and we basked in the warm Hollywood evening. The weather was perfect, the mood upbeat, and the atmosphere cool and relaxed. You could tell right from the beginning that we were going to have some fun. 

I have to say my favorite part of the night was meeting all the SoCal customers whose names appear in my email box each week. "Yes, I know exactly who you are!" I would say as people introduced themselves. Putting faces to names is always such an enjoyable experience for me, and I was truly moved by the commitment those folks displayed to the K&L cause. It was humbling, to say the least. And what wonderful conversations I had! Everyone down here is fascinating! Is this always what it's like?

Dinner included a series of cocktails designed by Eric Alperin and Max Seaman, using input from Steven's time in Bolivia. They gave a few quick introductions when each new drink was served, and explained the significance of the origin. They were all super tasty, including the Season Finale made with lime cordial and Champagne. It was a fancy take on Singani and Sprite; a Bolivian national favorite. 

Dinner was also delicious, and the energy from the patio carried right over into the dining room. Communal tables kept the conversation flowing, but people were comfortable moving around, dropping by Steven's spot to say hello, and passing plates from end to end. David OG spoke, I spoke, and Steven did a presentation in between courses, but we kept our talks brief and basic. We were more there to thank everyone for coming, than lecture about specifics. 

I got the honor of being the left-hand man for the evening. The first thing I said when we sat down was, "Steven, I'd like to start by asking you about your early career, the making of the Yes documentary, then move right into Sex, Lies, and Videotape, before taking a detailed look at each of the Ocean films. Sound OK?" I laughed, and patted him on the back.

"Listen David, you give me enough Singani and I'm up for anything," he replied with a smile. And that he was.

-David Driscoll

Tuesday
Jun232015

Sneak Peak

I was just minding my business, hanging around the Hollywood sales floor today, when in walked these two charismatic ladies carrying a bag full of records. Oh wait! I know you! It was Frontier Records owner Lisa Fancher (part of our D2D interview series) and the label's general manager Julie Masi. They were there to say hello, grab a glass of wine at the tasting, and let me see the goods. What goods, you ask?

Why were they holding three different 45 RPM, 7-inch vinyl copies of famous Frontier punk bands, with adorning imagery that corresponded to a Bourbon, gin, and absinthe? That's a very good question, actually. I might have more information about that query as the summer goes on.

-David Driscoll