REVIEW: Milk & Honey

One phrase that has recently been added to the long lists of things I despise is “I’m over (insert something even fleetingly popular here)”. Never before has one collection of words so strikingly tapped in to so many different attitudes I found abhorrent. It’s not the assertion of a dissenting opinion, as anyone who reads this blog with any regularity can tell. What drives me up the wall is the sneering condescension, coupled with the implied fact that the person who is “over” the thing in question used to very much not be “over” it. As all hipper-than-thou wastes of oxygen can attest, once something has become even mildly entrenched within the zeitgeist, it begins to lose perceived “relevancy” (another terrible phrase) amongst a certain class of people.

ANYWAY, I open with this disclaimer because the following is a review of what some call a “speakeasy” style bar, and while this concept is still novel to the whole of the country, it’s been well-worn here in New York City, prompting many a self-appointed gatekeeper of coolness to announce that they are “over” speakeasies. That’s all well and good for trend-chasers, but those who are invested in the kind of atmosphere, service, and most importantly, quality that is rare enough in bars anywhere, let alone New York City, might want to take a second look.

I first became aware of Milk & Honey when my good friend Jacob Sloman recommended it to me on my first trip to New York City as an adult. He knew exactly how to hook me in, telling me that it was dark, quiet, and that they had an entire list of house rules on their website concerning the proper behavior of potential clients. Legend has it that none other than Quentin Tarantino was ejected from Milk & Honey, but this tale, sadly, remains unconfirmed.

Here’s how things work at Milk & Honey: you send an email message, indicating the desired time for your reservation and the number of people in your party. Generally speaking, it isn’t too difficult to get a reservation for a small group, but I’ve always made my inquiries weeks in advance. If one of your offered times is acceptable, someone will e-mail you back within a day to confirm, and then will send you a follow-up confirmation email on the day of the reservation, along with the location of the bar, if needed (in keeping with the speakeasy theme, Milk & Honey’s address is “secret”, but easily obtainable in the age of the Internet). When you arrive at the front door, an unmarked (save for the stenciled letters “M & H”) steel affair in the middle of a street that boasts mostly Laundromats and noodle shops, a buzz will get you inside, where a hostess will ask for the name your reservation is under (being somewhat new to the speakeasy myself, I have to admit to a certain petty glee aroused by watching the uninformed trudge into the bar in cargo shorts and flip-flops, only to be turned away once they admitted they had no reservations).

Once seated, or even before, the hostess will fire off a brief series of questions designed to equip the bartender with enough knowledge to make you the perfect cocktail. You can also opt for a classic cocktail of your choice, but odds are the mixologists here understand what you want as well or perhaps even better than you do. I’ve never been one for sweet drinks, but at the bartender’s urging, I tried a cocktail that had a rich, chocolaty taste combine with the robust flavor of scotch and other ingredients my palate isn’t well-trained enough to pick out. My friend Kate Brown who accompanied me claims to have discovered her favorite cocktail here, a concoction called a Penicillin that neither of us had heard of before. While sitting at one of the small booths is the most intimate and cozy option in the bar, sacrificing the comfort for a bar stool means that you have a front-and-center view of the entire process, and a brief education about each drink and ingredient from the person making them. Fascinating stuff, if you’re in the mood.

The atmosphere at Milk & Honey is dignified and restrained. Supposedly the place used to be lit entirely by candles, and while that’s no longer true (if it ever was), the bar is indeed very dark, both in terms of lighting and the various materials used to construct the beautiful bar, tables and booths. There’s something decidedly old world about a place so often derided as trendy or pretentious. The shadowy light level, combined with the tight but comfortable seating and the lounge music pumped in at low volume makes for an incredibly relaxed and, if need be, romantic setting. The bartender, if you elect to sit at the bar, is incredibly personable and attentive, and the waitresses and hostesses are charming and gracious to a degree that is almost absurd in this day and age. All of these elements are achieved through design, by owner/operator Sasha Petraske.

A quick visit to the bar’s official website reveals a list of house rules, which read as follows:

  1.  No name-dropping, no star fucking
  2.  No hooting, hollering, shouting or other loud behavior.
  3.  No fighting, play fighting, no talking about fighting.
  4.  Gentlemen will remove their hats. Hooks are provided.
  5.  Gentlemen will not introduce themselves to ladies. Ladies, feel free to start a conversation or ask the bartender to introduce you. If a man you don’t know speaks to you, please lift your chin slightly and ignore him.
  6.  Do not linger outside the front door.
  7.  Do not bring anyone unless you would leave that person alone in your home. You are responsible for the behavior of your guests.
  8.  Exit the bar briskly and silently. People are trying to sleep across the street. Please make all your travel plans and say all farewells before leaving the bar.

I was once engaged in an ongoing argument with my very close friend Jeff DeSouza: I have a soft spot for bars like Milk & Honey and The Cedar Social (Dallas), places in which a certain manner of dress and decorum is expected, if not explicitly enforced. Jeff frequently characterized such rules or encouragement as pretentious and image-focused, and perhaps in some instances they are, but we finally saw eye to eye on the issue (while drunk inside of a Whataburger, ironically enough) when my brother Alex put it into better words than I could. In a place like Milk & Honey, the rules, the dress, the expectations, are a matter of respect. As Alex put it, a person like Petraske, who puts the utmost care and consideration into crafting the perfect experience for a certain type of drinker—from the meticulous production and presentation of the cocktails to the impeccable service—deserves to have that consideration returned to him in the form something as insignificant as dressing like a grownup. The hassles of making a reservation days in advance, of dressing in something approaching your best, of paying $16.00 for a cocktail are a fair tradeoff for the joy of enjoying an incredible drink, mixed by an incredibly talented and gracious bartender while you enjoy the company of a close friend in a small, quiet corner of the city that never sleeps.

REVIEW: “The Sea is My Brother”

First published at LitReactor on March 20th, 2012:

A lost novel is a very strange thing. The term implies that the author’s career carries or carried (as is often the case) enough weight to justify the publication of a previously unreleased work, which creates problems for a critic. How should one judge a never-released, not-quite-finished book? Is it fair to judge this “lost” novel through the lens of the author’s legacy, and more importantly, is any alternative even possible?

Jack Kerouac died over forty years ago, in 1969. His last novel was published almost as long ago (Vanity of Duluoz, 1968), yet Kerouac remains, for better worse, in the collective literary consciousness. On the Road, far and away his most popular work, has come to represent not only Kerouac himself, but an entire generation of people who found themselves caught between the worlds of unbridled political and intellectual idealism, and fulfillment in worlds more immediate and tangible. The central question of On the Road is perhaps best summed up by Sal Paradise himself: “Hey now, what’s this thing we’re all doing in this sad brown world?”

This question is certainly revisited (or is it “pre-visited”?) in The Sea is My Brother, which was completed in 1942, a full eight years before The Town and the City, which launched Kerouac’s career, and almost twenty before On the Road, which cemented his place in literary history. At a little over 200 pages, it’s hardly a meaty read, especially compared to the two previously mentioned titles. However, The Sea is My Brother is a fascinating read, both in its own right and as part of Kerouac’s canon.

The novel begins with Wesley Martin, a young merchant marine, wandering the streets of New York City, having blown through most of his pay in a few nights of wild revelry. He stumbles into a bar, spends his last bit of change on a beer, and easily chats up a young woman who drags him over to her table, where he meets Bill Everhart. Through these two characters, the wild-eyed, fiercely intelligent but somewhat cautious and reserved academic (Everhart), and the salt-of-the-earth, wandering everyman (Martin), Kerouac presents the two clashing sides of his own personality. The autobiographical slant continues throughout the book, as Everhart leaves his graduate studies at Columbia behind to join Martin for a tour of duty in the Merchant Marine. The conflicts are almost all internal, as in this passage, in which Everhart ruminates over what it means to truly live a responsible and worthy life:

A confused intellectual, Everhart, the oldest weed in society; beyond that, an intelligent modern minus the social conscience of that class. Further, a son without a conscience–a lover without a wife! A prophet without confidence, a teacher of men without wisdom, a sorry mess of man thereat!

These meditations are abruptly cut short (as the novel ends) when their ship sets out for sea. Fans of Kerouac’s work may find themselves in a quandary when deciding how they feel about The Sea is My Brother. The book is worth a quick read when taken as an origin story of sorts, but almost everything that hits close to the heart is somewhat half-formed, and was refined and executed with greater beauty and precision in Kerouac’s later work. The language is still hauntingly beautiful and lonely; in one chapter, Martin runs into his estranged wife, and Kerouac speaks to the innate tragedy of human relationships, and the failure to maintain them (themes that would propel the bulk of his work):

Edna was weeping…the tears were rolling down the back of Wesley’s hand. He turned up her face and gazed at it in the somber darkness, a pale visage gemmed with tears, a strange face that tore his heart with a tragic, irrefragable sense of change. This was not she! Once more she had drawn his face to hers; a wet mouth was kissing his chin. His cheek, pressed against her feverish brow, could feel a dull throbbing in the furrow of her scar. Who was this woman?

Fans of On the Road or, to a lesser extent, The Dharma Bums, may delight in the genesis of an artist who was constantly searching for the brutal but beautiful truth found in loneliness and heartbreak, but at the end of the day, the narrative jumps around aimlessly, in a way that makes the ramblings of On the Road read like Hemingway. In short, the book brings nothing to a fan of the beats but context and a little more insight into Kerouac’s early life as a writer. Those who find the author’s previous work blandly melodramatic or inconclusive would do well to skip The Sea is my Brother, as Kerouac’s premier novel shows even less restraint than his follow-ups.

The Sea is My Brother is not a great novel, but it is a great tool in understanding the development of one of the most iconic American authors of the 20th century. Perhaps this is the true function of the “lost novel”: as a supplement to an already rich body of work, something to help us understand and appreciate how the art came to fruition. In this endeavor, The Sea is my Brother succeeds handily.

The Dark Knight Rises: Review SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!

In the paraphrased words of Bill Simmons, there’s the initial wave of enthusiasm, then there’s the backlash, then there’s the backlash to the backlash. Repeat ad nauseum  until all media is stripped of any and all cultural impact. Rinse. Repeat. I saw The Dark Knight Rises last weekend. Beware: here there be spoilers.

I wasn’t always a comic book guy, but I’ve been generally enthusiastic about most of the filmed incarnations of the Caped Crusader, and particularly fond of Christopher Nolan’s contributions to the franchise. Nolan is a filmmaker I hold dear to my heart for a number of reasons. His breakout hit Memento opened up the narrative and mechanical possibilities of film and story-telling. At the time, there was nothing quite like it, and I went into the theater not knowing what to expect. Since then, his work has (usually) been stellar; massive but tightly wound machines of spectacle that engage the intellect as well as the senses. At his best, Nolan, makes movies that take my breath away, and make me marvel at the awesome power and majesty of motion pictures. At his worst, his movies are still generally OK, if a little boring.

As far as Nolan’s Batman goes, a recent rewatch of Batman Begins found me in a more appreciative place than I was upon its initial release. The dark and gritty (adjectives that have lately been thrown around with much eye-rolling, but are still appropriate descriptors) reboot accomplished something that its predecessors could not: a superhero film that weaved the impossible and fantastic world of comic books into the grim reality of post 9/11 America with frighteningly compelling results. At the time, however, I was a vaguely elitist college sophomore, and remember being begrudgingly supportive, but somewhat dismissive.

That being said, when The Dark Knight began to heat up in 2008, I wasn’t a disciple of Nolan’s Bat, but the closer it drew to July, the more intense my anticipation became. It dwindled with the announcement that Heath Ledger was playing The Joker (at the time Ledger was mostly notable for 10 Things I Hate About You and other light-hearted fare), and then surged back full force when I saw promotional stills and audio clips of the actor in full makeup. I snapped up a ticket for the earliest IMAX showing available, which meant I basically avoided all of my friends for three days after the premiere. I went to the theater, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best.

To say I loved The Dark Knight would be an understatement. That film profoundly changed my fascination and understanding of the Batman mythos, Nolan, filmmaking, and expectations for screenwriting and set pieces. Even today, after I’ve had four years to back off my first impression, I still consider The Dark Knight to be the greatest comic book movie ever produced, and one of the greatest films, period, produced in the last ten years.

It’s with great sadness, then, that I have to raise bile in the throats of Batman/fanboys everywhere and say that I didn’t like The Dark Knight Rises. Actually, once again, I’m falling victim to understatement: I hated The Dark Knight Rises. The more time I’ve spent away from it, the more filled with ire I become. I say this as somebody who desperately wanted Nolan to top himself, who desperately wanted the trilogy to go out with an awe-inducing, explosive final chapter. Sadly, in my humble opinion, The Dark Knight Rises fails as a standalone film, as the closing chapter of an otherwise great trilogy, and as a film worthy of either Batman or Christopher Nolan. Without further ado, let’s jump right in:

The Dark Knight Rises is 164 minutes long. To be fair, my beloved The Dark Knight clocked in at 152 minutes, but the viewing experiences are strikingly different. Despite its mammoth length, every scene in TDKR seems to move at breakneck speed, with characters spewing exposition.  Parallel lines of action edited together with hyperkinetic energy, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion. The film is interminably long yet gratingly rushed. I get the impression that Nolan’s original cut was somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 hours long, and got cut down with slap-dash careless cutting. This is the only possible explanation for a film that feels tailor made for today’s attention-deficient teenagers being so damn long.

The story, as has probably been spread all over the Internet by now, is the main set piece here, but unlike TDK, TDKR’s script is a bloated mess, boiling over with half-baked, unfinished thematic proclamations, cheap, Shyamalan-esque twists and turns, and a steadfast unwillingness to take risks and make impacts. Once again, SPOILER ALERT. After the fim’s best sequence and introduction of Bane, we begin in Gotham, eight years after the events of TDK. The most corrupt city in the world has been blessedly crime-free thanks to a piece of (we later find out) rather Orwellian legislation called The Harvey Dent Act. The cleaner streets, coupled with the death of Dent and romantic interest Rachel Dawes has led Bruce Wayne to hang up his cowl and spend most of his days in a Howard Hughes like stupor, nursing an unidentified leg ailment. After a long and boring journey back to fighting weight, Batman tracks the catlike Selina Kyle (never referred to as Catwoman) to her employers, two vaguely evil businessmen who are purchasing Bruce Wayne’s fingerprints, so they can pay Bane to break into the stock exchange and make fraudulent trades in Wayne’s name that bankrupt the company and allow them to seize control, effectively shutting off Batman’s golden faucet. This is where the story starts to get a little hazy, but if any of this is already confusing, don’t worry: none of it will matter in the third act anyway. In order to get Wayne Enterprises back on track, Wayne, Fox and the rest of the Wayne loyalists convince French billionaire Miranda Tate to purchase controlling interest so that she might help them get their secret project, a nuclear fusion reactor, online. She agrees, but it’s then revealed that Bane’s master plan is to steal the reactor, use their kidnapped Russian scientist to weaponize it, and then use his army of vaguely ethnic revolutionaries to seize control of Gotham and hold the city hostage with their newly acquired neutron bomb. His demands? None, he just wants to watch Gotham burn (sound familiar?). Oh, and before this happens he and Batman fight and he breaks Batman’s back, and then throws him into a prison halfway across the world.

Deep Breath So Batman watches on TV in his prison cell while Bane unleashes Blackgate Prisonand Arkham Asylum’s inmates and turns Gotham into his own lunatic-run police state (at this point, almost every police officer in Gotham except for Joseph Gordon Leavitt is trapped underground, in perhaps the most ludicrously bad decision ever committed by law enforcement in a non-comedy). In a weird, half-formed attack on the Occupy movement (I think? Everything is so murky at this point in the film), Bane sets up kangaroo courts and pillages the rich and powerful of Gotham, justifying his actions with a letter from Comissioner Gordon admitting that they covered up the true nature of Harvey Dent in order to pass that bill that magically stopped crime in the most heinous place in America. Every way in and out of Gotham has been destroyed, save for one bridge that is heavily guarded by Bane’s shock troops on one side, and the National Guard on the other. Still, Bruce Wayne, after recovering from A BROKEN SPINE manages to climb out of his prison, get across the globe with no money, transport, or ID, and waltzes into Gotham city because…he’s Batman, I guess (I lost count of how many times something utterly impossible is explained away with “I’m Batman” logic). With the help of Lucius Fox, Alfred, Selina, JGL, Gordon, and Miranda Tate, Batman devises a plan to hijack the bomb (which at this point is being shuttled around the city in one of three garbage trucks for undisclosed reasons) and shut it down. All goes according to plan but then it’s revealed that Miranda Tate is actually Talia Al Ghul, aka the daughter of Rha’s Al Ghul, and we find out that literally EVERYTHING THAT WE’VE BEEN TOLDA BOUT BANE is actually Talia’s back story and Bane is just some big dumb strong guy who helped her in prison. Both of them get bitchslapped, but now it’s too late for Fox to disarm the bomb, so Batman flies it out over the sea and courageously gives his life to save Gotham, except not really, because at the end we see that Bruce Wayne actually escaped the explosion somehow and now he’s living in Europe with Selina Kyle, who he is apparently in love with. THE END.

Yeah. So that’s the plot of TDKR. If that weren’t enough to turn you off of the movie, I’ll begin detailing all the other problems I have, starting with the biggest, both figuratively and literally: Bane.

Fair’s fair: Tom Hardy deserves credit for doing the very best he had with a terrible, terrible, terrible role. It’s truly a crime that a thespian with Hardy’s skills has been relegated to acting with only 1/4th of his face visible, and communicating to the audience only through a comically terrible ADR session. In some of the film’s better moments, Hardy perfectly captures the essence of the Bane character: someone who is entirely in control, and at ease with the unthinkable chaos unfurling before him. Hardy’s swagger and icy-cold calculating charm bring life to a character that, if handled by a lesser actor, would have fallen flat on its face.

That being said, Bane sucks. The worst sin of all is that all of the backstory given to Bane, which loosely follows bits and pieces of Bane’s original comic book origin, is rendered moot when it’s revealed that he’s nothing more than Talia al Ghul’s lapdog. Furthermore, the humdrum action and lackluster choreography do nothing to communicate just how awesomely powerful and badass Bane is supposed to be, even as set up by the grittier, more reality-bound world of the Nolan films. For someone who is supposed to be a physical specimen of unfathomable proportions, Bane’s fights are remarkably dull and unimpressive. It’s only in the third act, during the final fight between Bane and Batman, that we’re given some visual cues as to the sheer might of Bane, and treated to a few shots of him punching through columns of marble with relative ease. In TDK, the Joker is shown to be a master manipulator and a psychological terrorist, a skill set that is reinforced with almost every scene. The Joker is always in control. The Joker, while not without his minions, engages his enemies on a personal level, gets inside the heads of everyone he talks to, figures out their weaknesses and twists with sadistic glee. Bane just sort of wanders from scene to scene, punches a few people, and then has his army do the rest. He’s not a compelling character, he’s just a thug with an origin explained through a different character’s dialogue in a few slapdash scenes, and even this turns out to be false. Yawn. Oh, and that voice is terrible. Not only does he sound like some weird dying English dinosaur talking through a ceiling fan, it’s painfully obvious that Nolan decided to ADR all of his dialogue after the initial response to the teaser (people complained that Bane was nearly unintelligible, which I think could have been exploited in an interesting way).

Perhaps the biggest failing of TDKR, especially in relation to its predecessors, is how inorganically the script moves along. In a move worthy of freshman screenwriting students, the Nolans throw all logical character development and motivation out the window for the purposes of advancing the silly, nonsensical, and plodding plot. Selin Kyle’s entire back story boils down to “she’s poor”. The actions undertaken by Talia al Ghul, Bane, and the League of Shadows are puzzling at best, and nonsensical at worst. If the ultimate plan is to blow Gotham sky-high, why wait 5 months to set off the bomb? Pre-emptive rebuttal to the person reading this thinking: “THEY WANTED TO MAKE A STATEMENT”: the League of Shadows/the Al Ghul’s are not in the business of making statements. They’re all about restoring balance to the universe and inflicting justice on an unjust world. None of that involves making grand sweeping gestures to…who, exactly? Nobody knows who they are. That’s why they’re called THE LEAGUE OF SHADOWS. I didn’t realize secret clock and dagger organizations had newsletters. Sheesh. In similar fashion, the leaders of Gotham decide to send every single police officer into the sewers to track down Bane because…well, I’m not really sure. This is the single dumbest thing anybody has ever done in a Chris Nolan Batman movie. Almost as dumb as the CIA agent at the beginning of the film who lets some anonymous masked men on board his aircraft without even seeing who they are first.

The runner-up failure prize goes to action sequences and choreography. With the exception of the first scene, the big action set pieces are only mildly entertaining at best, and at worst confusing and headache-inducing. The hand-to-hand combat in Nolan’s Batman films has always been a little lackluster, but he’s had the good sense to hide a lot of it in the shadows/use it sparingly before. Not so in TDKR: Batman throws headbutts, elbow drops, and right crosses with reckless abandon, and every scene ends up looking like an old Bruce Lee film: lots of armed men standing around dumbfounded, holding their apparently useless guns as they wait in line to be punched in the face by Batman. Even worse is the final fight between the Gotham police and Bane’s Occupy Wall Street army, which begins as a Revolutionary War style charge in the middle of the streets and ends with everybody punching and strangling each other. I’m half-convinced this is supposed to be a throwback to the Adam West TV series. Gigantic multi-colored animations saying “Pow!” and “Zort!” wouldn’t have been out of place here.

There’s not much to say about TDKR. I find it truly baffling that there are people who claim it is even better than TDK, and even more baffling that some people admit all the faults but claim they enjoyed it regardless. My kneejerk reaction is to say many nerds were just too amped up about the release, and when the film disappointed they were unable to admit to themselves that they had worked themselves into a frenzy over nothing.

Needless to say, I didn’t like this movie, but it irks me on a level greater than a plain old bad movie. I’ve heard from more than one friend working in Hollywood that Nolan never wanted to do a third installment, and that TDKR was a favor he owed the studio after getting Inception greenlit. I can’t say how likely or unlikely that story is, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me. Everything about TDKR feels phony, mailed-in, lazy, and sloppy. It’s insultingly loose and limp considering the proven chops of Nolan, a man who, love him or hate him, has displayed a fanatic discipline to filmmaking in the past. I get the feeling that at this point, Nolan just didn’t care and wanted to move on. I’m not sure if I can really blame him, but one would think that the man would be a little more thoughtful when ending what was, by all rights, his baby. I guess that’s what happens when you get kicked around by the studio system, but unliked Batman, Nolan didn’t care which innocent viewer bystanders got caught in the crossfire.

REVIEW: Midnight Cowboy Modeling

Been a while, whoever reads this page. Many things have happened, not the least of which is the good George Arun Chirayil being safely married off to Ashly Harrell. It was a beautiful wedding, I cried, shut up. Thoughts on that later, but for now, I thought I would follow up on my last post regarding the newly refurbished Midnight Cowboy Modeling, a former brothel-in-plain-sight that has been reopened as a speakeasy style mixology bar.

For those of you unfamiliar with these kinds of setups, the speakeasy style bar is designed to make everybody feel extra special and glamorous, and to also maximize the pleasure of the fine drinking experience. To that end, there’s a lot about Midnight Cowboy Modeling that will enrage your typical Austinite.

Reservations are required. 2-8 seats can be reserved at one time, depending on availability. This is partly to discourage drunks from wandering in off the street and ruining the “oasis on dirty sixth” vibe of the place, and partly because the joint is frigging SMALL.

I won’t give away the exact location of Midnight Cowboy (even though you can probably find it through a quick google search), but it is smack in the middle of the riff raff of dirty sixth. I have to say, I was endlessly amused when I spied the tell-tale red light that marks the front entrance (there is no signage). It’s a simple doorway, with a series of call buttons alongside it. Some drunk was standing there, looking at the buttons, trying to figure out exactly what they were for, and quickly scuttled away when I pushed by and pressed the appropriate button. Makes a man feel important and in the know.

To repeat, this place is small. Small and dark, the way a bar should be, in my not-so-humble opinion. The door opened and a very pleasant hostess took my name and offered us a few chairs to wait in while they prepared our room for us, giving me a chance to take in the layout. It very much brings to mind a…seedy joint, which is appropriate given the building’s history. 2 person booths line one wall, with four persons lining another, and a narrow pathway in between. The bar lies beyond the booths, where two impeccably dressed barmen mix it up. Beyond that are the rooms, for parties of 5 or more. The rooms are carved out from areas that presumably used to be “massage rooms”, cordoned off by black curtains that can be drawn or opened based on preference. Once we were seated, we realized, once again, that the place is tiny: we couldn’t have fit a 7th person in there if we tried. This might sound uncomfortable, but in practice it forces conversation, which is very nice. No TVS, jukeboxes, or other distractions here (although they do pipe jazz and ragtime into the rooms). House rules even forbid cell phone conversations, but texting/email, etc is allowed though seemingly discouraged. Other rules include: no loud conversations, no guns(!), no public displays of affection, and no untoward interaction with members of other parties. In short, it’s a bar that expects its clientele to compose themselves as gentlemen and ladies. Frankly, in this day and age and especially in this city, where a shirt with a collar is deemed “semi-formal”, it’s a refreshing policy.

On to the drinks themselves. Midnight Cowboy requires a 2 drink minimum from every guest in attendance, and these drinks are not to be trifled with. I can’t remember the name of every cocktail I tried, but most of the original specialties were great, with only a few wandering off the mark (the expected fallout of a bar that takes chances). The talented barstaff can handle any classic cocktail you throw at them. My first drink, a Manhattan, was perhaps the best I had ever had in my life: exquisitely mixed, with sweetness that was present but did not overwhelm the bite of the bourbon. Certain drinks, marked on the menu, are mixed tableside, which adds to the overall pampered, jazz-age atmosphere. A nice touch: rather than interrupt your conversation every five minutes to see if you need anything, the staff at Midnight Cowboy pointed out that there is a switch inside each room that, when thrown, activates a red light on the exterior of each room, signaling that you’re ready for another round.

The service is impeccable, though expect to wait a little bit for your drinks. These are high quality concoctions, not rum and cokes, and it takes time to get everything just right. That said, the waitress and bartenders couldn’t have been more pleasant and helpful throughout the evening. When one person in our party asked about food, he was informed that they had no kitchen, but did offer sausage runs to the nearby bestwurst stand for a nominal fee. Now, THAT’S service.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love fancy drinkin’ holes, and in my view, any opportunity to get a little dressed up in Austin should be celebrated. I only regret that I time and circumstance prevented me from wearing my suit, which surely would have blown that one guy’s off-the-rack job out of the water. If you’re in the mood for a great time with some close friends and riveting conversation over some good music and great cocktails, make a reservation, throw on a tie, and ignore the tides of Tyler’s t-shirt wearing morons who are calling you pretentious for wanting quality.

 

NOTE: Sorry for lack of pictures, but it is really dark in there.