Leading Cocktail Expert Is Visiting Houston
For A Proper Drink
On Sunday, November 13 at 3 p.m., writer Robert Simonson is speaking at Anvil Bar & Refuge (1424 Westheimer) to discuss his new book, A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World. The event is open to the public; no reservations are required.
Simonson is a regular contributor to the New York Times, as well as other national publications like GQ, Imbibe and Wine Enthusiast. A cocktail social and book signing will follow Simonson’s hour-long talk, which includes a Q&A session.
Thank Fate and a whole lot of rain for his visit to Houston. It was by sheer happenstance that Simonson met Anvil Bar & Refuge owner Bobby Heugel. “I was doing an event for the book in Kansas City,” said Simonson. “I went to a bar there named Manifesto. It’s kind of an underground bar in a basement. In order to leave Manifesto, you have to go out through this restaurant called The Rieger. It had started raining—this torrential downpour, so much that the streets very quickly turned into rivers.
I couldn’t go back to my hotel. I didn’t have an umbrella. So, I said, ‘Okay, I guess I’m stuck here so I’m having dinner at The Rieger restaurant.’ I sat down at the bar and who was sitting next to me but Bobby Heugel! After a while, we really couldn’t leave because the water rushed into the restaurant. We ordered more drinks and food and, ‘Okay, we’re here until this stops.” I told Bobby about the book and the book tour and he said, ‘Well, you’ve got to come to Houston. I want you to talk about your book to my bartenders.’ If it wasn’t for that flood in Kansas City, I wouldn’t be coming to Houston.”
Simonson was a theater writer for 15 years. It was another fortunate meeting that led to him becoming a cocktail expert. He was covering an event in Manhattan’s SoHo district when he met publicist Ann Rogers, founder of Tales of the Cocktail. She invited him to the festival. “I was curious and I’d never seen New Orleans before,” said Simonson. “When I got there, I realized there was this whole movement going on. There were all these people who were deadly serious about cocktails and bartending and having a lot of fun with it. When I came back [to New York], I decided to switch my focus and I’ve been writing about cocktails ever since.”
Simonson worked almost three years on A Proper Drink. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a writer,” he said. Simonson interviewed over 200 bar professionals (and, of course, had to transcribe all those interviews) and traveled to three countries to gather the history of the cocktail revival.
Simonson says this is the first time the history of the cocktail revival has been put in book form and thinks there is a wide range of people who will be interested in the topic. “We’ve all become more interested in what we put in our mouths as far as food and drink is concerned,” he said. “We’re interested in food, beer and wine. If you’re interested in those things—if you’re at all a “foodie,” if you go to restaurants, if you watch the Food Network, it seems to me that you’re probably also interested in cocktails and maybe curious as to why the cocktails you’ve been drinking over the past 50 years have gotten better and better, and why it’s easier to get a good cocktail.”
Speaking of good cocktails, Simonson ranks among his favorites the Sazerac, the Old Fashioned (of which he wrote a history entitled, The Old-Fashioned: The Story of the World’s First Classic Cocktail, and a modern classic, the Penicillin, a Scotch-based drink created by bartender Sam Ross in 2005 while working in notable venues like Milk & Honey and Pegu Club. (Ross went on to found Attaboy.)
The list price of A Proper Drink is $27 and it is also available on Amazon.