How Do You Spell Holiday?

Meet Your Maker: notes on (not) drinking bourbon

There is an old joke about two buddies, Frank and Jim, who go out for after-work libations.

Frank proceeds to get blind drunk and vomits all over his own shirt. He laments that his wife will be infuriated when she sees him in such a state. Jim, being a generous and ingenious pal, tells Frank to tell his wife instead that it was Jim who got bombed and barfed on Frank’s shirt. To corroborate this story, Jim instructs Frank to plant $10 into his shirt pocket, from Jim, to pay for the estimated dry cleaning.

The last drink of alcohol I ever had was Maker’s Mark bourbon. To be pedantic, the last drink of alcohol I ever had was an entire bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon. It all started with one shot. Then another. Then another. I was at home, alone, and you would think that you can’t get into trouble drinking at home alone. But no.

I vaguely remember that the police arrived, then departed. More bourbon shots followed, which I do not recall. Yadda Yadda Yadda, and I found the bottle upside down in the sink the next morning. Of course I’m Yadda-ing over the worst part.

I don’t know why I was drinking. Perhaps it was the extreme loneliness of the pandemic. Perhaps it was the frustration around the extreme loneliness of the pandemic. Somehow the pandemic had something to do with it. But if I’m being honest, the pandemic was just another excuse, an easy target, like the solution to a 1930s social problem film. The real motive was the spirit in the bottle.

The reason they call spirits ‘spirits’ is because there is a powerful spiritual essence in there. It can take any form, any gender, any identity — it is fluid, after all. The spirit can be charming, clever, courageous, affectionate, amorous. But the spirit can also become impetuous, angry, even violent. And there is a point at which the spirit in the bottle can and will completely take over the spirit in the human being. The spirit assumes one hundred percent control, leaving behind nothing resembling that person, and the spirit will do whatever it will. Fundamentally, its will and our will are out of sync. No one ever says, ‘I’m glad I did X while drunk.’

I am not absolving myself of any responsibility here. It was I who invited the spirit into my life in the first place. I’m the one who drank the bourbon. And I drank everything that I ever drank leading up to the bourbon. But once that particular bourbon entered my bloodstream, I knew to whom its mark belonged. It was not the bourbon’s distiller; the “Maker’s Mark” was of the alcohol’s apposite creator. You know, that guy, from south of the border. (Hell, not America.)

I was invited earlier this month to an exclusive event at the brand new Hyatt Centric hotel in Old Montreal. A pre-Christmas tour of the facility was announced, and abruptly cancelled, for media personnel ostensibly covering the travel industry for various publications. I emailed the Hyatt to find out if the tour had been rescheduled and discovered that there was indeed a visit that very night, if I’d hustled to the property, followed by a tasting of a batch of Maker’s Mark bourbon produced especially for The Burgundy Lion’s sister restaurant, Cartier Arms. I was under the impression that journalism was dying. But it’s encouraging to see how many people consider themselves journalists when someone is administering journalists free bourbon shots.

The Hyatt Centric, the majestic, off-kilter, white cube that looms high on the horizon over Montreal’s most historically rich neighbourhood, seemed a fitting venue for the Maker’s Mark unveiling. Because of its architecturally anomalous design, its hallways appear to veer sideways. It is undeniably an admirably built edifice. But there is something Death Star-ish about it. Maybe it’s the fact that it is perpetually under construction. Or maybe it’s the fact that this Hyatt represents another giant corporation planting its flag in the heart of Montreal, thus marking yet another slide down the world’s slippery slope of ultimately toxic inclinations.

Toby Lyle, the restaurateur, and the aptly named Lindsay Wood, Maker’s Mark’s diplomat, were on hand to give their respective spiels describing this niche bourbon blend, called Adrianna, after Lyle’s daughter. They regaled the audience with details about how the bourbon is made, about how Maker’s Mark distillery boasts its own water source, about how bourbon needn’t be manufactured in Kentucky, but has to be blended using a minimum of fifty-one percent corn to be considered bourbon proper. Lyle divulged to the crowd that he’d planned to gift his daughter a bottle of her bourbon on her eighteenth birthday. I hope Adrianna respects the spirit that is now her namesake. I pray she understands the potential curse bottled therein.

A number of recent studies have concluded that, contrary to popular belief, there is no healthy amount of alcohol for humans. Nada. Zero. Zilch. All of the positive effects previously associated with booze — decreased blood pressure, antioxidation — can be better achieved with many other safe and effective methods that do not involve intoxication. We might have normalized alcoholism in modern society, but statistics suggest that young people are consuming far less alcohol than previous generations, and soft drink industry efforts to entice young consumers back to habitual boozing by introducing alcohol are both indicative of those trends, as well as proof of capitalism’s pure evil.

So, what was the worst part of my last drink?

When Frank arrives home, his wife is predictably enraged and immediately rebukes him. Frank, though, proceeds to unravel the alibi concocted earlier — that it was really Jim who had drunkenly vomited on Frank’s shirt. Frank implores his wife to check inside his pocket in which she will find $10, from Jim, for the dry cleaning. She inspects his pockets, but instead finds $20. To which Frank replies, “Well, he took a shit in my pants, too.”◼︎

Help is available if you or anyone you know is suffering from addictions.

Imbibe Adrianna exclusively at Cartier Arms, where there is also a selection of delicious virgin cocktails.

How Do You Spell Holiday?

Heart Like a Wheel: notes on the Fancy Free Corvette

America in the late 1950s must have been an incredible time and place to be.

It was an historical sweet spot between two world wars and Vietnam, after rock n’ roll but before the British Invasion, still Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan and not quite The Beatles. You could go for burgers and malted milk at the drive-in, twist your bobby socks off at the hop, and if you had the means, you might even be able to afford one of the finest and most beautiful automobiles ever produced, an upstart little sports coupe called the Chevrolet Corvette.

In 1958, General Motors produced 9,168 of these babies. But only one was known as the “Fancy Free” — a stunning metallic olive coloured prototype, all curves and chrome, upon which Ruth Glennie literally cut footloose. Glennie’s one-of-a-kind Corvette is part of an exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts entitled Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design, celebrating the contributions that women have made to the world of design, industrial and otherwise.

Glennie was among nine women working for GM, part of a unit known as the “Damsels in Design.” The corporate thinking at the time was that women drove most of a nuclear family’s expenditures, consumer durables like automobiles, furniture, musical instruments, and home appliances.

A number of the Damsels were allocated to Frigidaire, a GM subsidiary, to imagine the Kitchen of the Future. But Glennie worked on the ‘Vette, conceiving of features such as seasonal seat covers, retractable seatbelts, and of course a strategically placed ashtray. Glennie mightn’t have made the fenders nor the motor, but she designed an interior fit for a life of leisure, a pleasurable place to travel, sat comfortably in America’s second home — the passenger seat.

Everyone knows that the fossil fuel industry is rapidly destroying the planet. Our world has a significant oil problem that’s responsible in large part for deadly international conflicts and climate change among other catastrophes. Nonetheless, I have a cheesy bone in my body for classic American cars, those engines of internal combustion. It’s like alcoholics say about booze — we’ve got a problem with this stuff, let’s just finish it up.

I drove a Corvette only once. It was the plaything of an ex-girlfriend’s father, an unremarkable 1990s model, sadly, made of plastic and fiberglass and as unlike the Fancy Free as possible. But the first and only car that I ever owned was a 1968 Chevy Camaro, white with blue interior, the kind of automobile you might imagine the baddie driving in a Steve McQueen movie, definitely designed by dudes, as fast as the Devil himself, and yet with a trunk spacious enough to hold several dead bodies.

The Corvette and the Camaro had a common option: the Powerglide transmission. This was a racing gearbox with two speeds: go, and go faster. Although there was actually a secret “low” gear as well that I only discovered when a golden yellow 1970s model Chevy Nova Super Sport pulled up alongside me, its driver shouting out the window, “kick ‘er down, buddy!” I had no idea what “kick ‘er down” meant, until I shifted the centre console into “low” and felt the chassis shudder like an airplane in takeoff mode.

I blew off a Porsche in that car. Granted it was only a 928, but still. And I can attest that ladies loved the interior, too, especially the backseat, a crucial omission of Corvettes. The Camaro had a 327 cubic inch engine. The Corvette possessed a more modest 289, because no one man should have all that power. It’s only right that at least half of it should belong to the fairer sex.

Corvettes were classier, not driven by deviants and film villains. Glennie’s Fancy Free harkens back to a simpler time, when American modernity fostered optimism rather than cynicism. There was a sense in the ‘50s that the future was bright and full of possibility. In those halcyon days, the Mad Men might have appeared in control, but women were in charge by design.◼︎

Parall(elles): A History of Women in Design runs 18 February – 28 May 2023 at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

How Do You Spell Holiday?

NYE @ Tbsp.

I was relieved to discover that the “Boogie Night” New Year’s Eve event at Tbsp. in the W Hotel has little more than disco and a ‘70s motif to do with the 1997 movie Boogie Nights.

That film contains a disturbing New Year’s Eve scene that anyone who has seen Paul Thomas Anderson’s pièce de résistance porn-comedy-cocaine-tragedy will doubtless vividly recall. Something has always bothered me about that scene. But it’s not what you might think.

The action plays out in one long take, an homage to Martin Scorsese’s notorious Copacabana nightclub entrance in Goodfellas. Although rather than a happy couple laughing to Henny Youngman’s one-liners, Paul Thomas Anderson’s iteration ends with William H. Macy’s character murdering his wife and her lover, and then turning the gun on himself. It signifies the beginning of the 1980s, and an horrible new era in Boogie Nights’ hellishly heartrending plot.

The scene is acted, shot, and rendered masterfully. Though one thing about it never ceases to niggle away at me. In that segment, the camera follows Macy as he attends a New Year’s Eve party, which Burt Reynolds’ porn-director character hosts. Macy walks from his car to the house, mills about from room to room and mingles with other guests, gets a champagne coupe, and inquires as to his wife’s whereabouts. He eventually finds her in a bedroom having sex with another man, and calmly proceeds to go back to his car, placing his champagne coupe on its roof, retrieving a pistol, returning to the house, opening fire on the lusty couple, shoving the weapon in his own mouth, and pulling the trigger.

What bothers me about this is not so much the murder-suicide, but the fact that he leaves his champagne on the roof of his car. It’s just a little detail. But it’s the kind of thing that obsesses someone as OCD as me. Did the actor intentionally leave it there, thinking that his character might have been so engrossed in murderous rage that he would scarcely remember to take the champagne? Did Macy, in the heat of filming the scene, plumb forget that he was initially carrying a glass? Is it a deep-inside film-nerd joke — as in, “take the gun, leave the champagne?

At any rate, it is one of the most shocking pieces of 1990s cinema, up there with Quentin Tarantino’s infamous ear-cutting exploits in Reservoir Dogs, and approaching Scorsese’s Goodfellas descent into the mob inferno’s ninth circle. It snatches our attention.

But back to the W Hotel’s Boogie Night party. This isn’t that. Their New Year’s Eve celebration, ringing in what will surely prove a more pleasing epoch than the 1980s, is called Boogie Night because a DJ named Pat Boogie will be spinning dance platters until the midnight countdown and beyond. A five-course tasting menu, oysters, and champagne at the witching hour accompany the price of admission.

I enjoy hanging out at the W Hotel. Its vibe is more Wong Kar-wai than Paul Thomas Anderson, more hypermodern than retro chic. Local company Les Entreprises QMD completely revamped its interiors in 2015. Hotel lobbies and their adjacent restaurants and bars have enjoyed a resurgence in all-around hipness in recent years. Woody Allen’s 2019 film, A Rainy Day in New York, features the Carlyle Hotel’s iconic Bemelmans murals as exemplary of a more romantic age. The New York Times declared in its Where To Eat newsletter, “The Hotel Lobby Restaurant is Back.” There is also the Hennessy Sound Box happening at the W, and it’s actually worth doing.

Another unlikely film has come to accompany the holiday season in all its depravity, and that film is Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. It’s become a seasonal classic simply because it takes place at Christmastime (although, for my money, I’d rather watch The Apartment.) Still, I think a lot of people miss the story’s moral.

Most of this picture’s vocal proponents point to its depictions of libidinous women, its empowerment of the fairer sex, and its candid characterization of feminine desire. Throughout the film, the real-life and on-screen married couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman are tempted at every turn with opportunities for infidelity. Cruise surreptitiously attends a ritualistic orgy; an intoxicated Kidman flirts with an Hungarian impresario and, later while stoned, recounts a sexual fantasy that she indulged in with a stranger on a family holiday.

The upshot of the film, though, is that they don’t fuck around. They could. But they don’t. An alternate subtitle could have been, Eyes Wide Shut or: How I Learned to Keep it in My Pants. This philosophy might have saved William H. Macy’s wife from untimely death, and Macy from self-induced demise.

In the summertime, I was walking through Square Victoria when I came upon an empty champagne flute resting on a bench. I thought it must have been some boozy W Hotel guest who had snuck it outside in the park for a clandestine tipple under a starry Montreal sky. But it also at the time made me think of Boogie Nights, and I hoped to goodness that it wasn’t forgotten in a fit of jealous rage — or any rage, for that matter. The Times declared 2022 the “year of rage,” and no doubt, a pandemic, war, and all the other challenges we faced together have made us more than a little upset.

But New Year’s is a time for rebirth, a moment to reflect on what just happened, and an opportunity to make concerted efforts to incrementally improve ourselves and the world. New Year’s Eve is the only night of the year when we can collectively start anew, all at once. Let’s take a page from Kubrick’s playbook rather than Paul Thomas Anderson’s, and boogie sensibly into 2023, whilst shedding some of that misplaced indignation, with eyes wide open.

I believe, more than Boogie Nights, the theme for this New Year’s should be, “Love the one you’re with.” And if you can’t, at least remember to bring your glass inside.◼︎


How Do You Spell Holiday?

Sound Box by Hennessy, W Montreal

Everyone is familiar nowadays on social media with the meme format, “You can only keep three.” These rubrics are attempts at producing miniature best-of lists for the products or media forms in question: for example, you can only keep three HBO series, video games, chocolate bars, or potato chip brands. It’s as if we were all preparing imaginary time capsules of our most important cultural artifacts, to preserve, to protect, to define who we really are.

Hennessy’s Sound Box installation, now on at the W Hotel, is a gesture in that direction, a sort of fantasy Hip Hop Desert Island Discs—but boozy. The concept is uncomplicated: you can reserve a private VIP lounge decorated to resemble a plush baller’s living room on MTV Cribs circa 2002, and furnished with a selection of coffee table books, a turntable, a stereo, and a handful of Hip Hop’s most defining albums. Three Hennessy cocktails accompany the cost of admission.

Hennessy—otherwise known as the ‘H’ in the enormous Paris-based luxury goods holding company, LVMH, which also carries Louis Vuitton, Moët & Chandon, Dior, Tiffany & Co., Givenchy, Fenty, and many more objects of desire under its gilded aegis—organized this unique installation to highlight the relationship between the cognac brand and the musical genre.

Indeed, Hennessy bubbles up in many of rap’s iconic tracks, notably Tupac Shakur, who wrote an ode to his “role model in a brown bottle,” and rhymed in the song “Thug Passion,” “I’m going to turn this Hennessy into a robbery.” On Wu-Tang Clan’s now-classic 1997 double LP, Wu-Tang Forever, the opening number, “Reunited,” features RZA boasting, “[We] spread like plague, we drink Hennessy by the keg.” Ever since, everyone from Snoop Dogg to Drake has drizzled Hennessy into their lyrics, as a marker of social status, of financial success, and now as an homage to Hip Hop’s history.

There are other records available for listening here, too, by Eminem, a Tribe Called Quest, Run DMC, and more contemporary artists like The Weeknd and Nicki Minaj. The Montreal designer Madame Bombance decorated the Sound Box in swanky furniture, mood lighting, and curated the space with paintings of the Notorious B.I.G., Aaliyah, Nas, and other of rap’s most recognizable visages. Is it kind of cheesy? Yes. It is also fun? Yes! There are beautiful publications to leaf through, including a photo book of Hip Hop’s more photogenic artists, a bound history of Hennessy, and a collection of Ricardo-Cavolo Amarillo’s psychedelic Simpsons-inspired artworks. It is a cool and comfortable space to spend two hours in. Plus, they serve those delicious cocktails.

There is a bit of a dark side to consider here, however. Some of the artists represented suffered from drug and alcohol abuse and even succumbed to overdoses. Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Mac Miller are just two that come to mind. What level of cynical irony is pouring one out for the talent that was lost to addiction in a room sponsored by a major alcohol purveyor?

Nonetheless, as an ex-drinker myself, the W Hotel staff happily served me mocktails instead. So you can still have a great time in the Sound Box even without hitting the Henny. There is more than enough in this little Hip Hop time capsule to take in—the ageless music to appreciate, the fascinating literature to pour over, and a cozy niche to reunite with a fine beverage.◼︎

Reserve Sound Box by Hennessy on Open Table.

How Do You Spell Holiday?

HDYSH? Paul Patates

Now that the tourists have largely departed, shuffled back to their quotidian, boring, non-Montreal lives, those of us who live here can finally peek out from beneath our shells and once again begin to enjoy the bounty of beauty and treasure that this city has to offer. It is suddenly easier to get a table at the busier restaurants, the sidewalks are less congested, activity in the public squares has shifted down into a slower mode. ‘Tis autumn.

I am in love with Montreal in autumn. I mean, romantically in love. Montreal in autumn is a foxy lady, a hot beast, a graceful and ageless face, mother, Madonna, whore, lover. Montreal in autumn is a pretty French girl who lets you into her crooked apartment sometimes to drink tea and smoke cigarettes and spin dusty records whilst sat upon a dirty Persian rug, her cat rubbing up against you and the furniture and pretending to ignore the whole scene. You can’t have her. But you can hang out together in autumn.

The best places to enjoy in Montreal at this time of year are not necessarily those that come first to mind. Notre-Dame Cathedral and Parc La Fontaine, the Old Port and the chalet on the top of the mountain are well worth a visit any time. The usual brunch spots can be identified by the lineups of well-dressed queens and kings waiting to get a table. But the real gems are the places that kings and queens will never go to, that they don’t even know about.

I am one of those people who finds things right on the cusp of blowing up. I found Nirvana’s first album on cassette when Seattle was a city and not yet a sound. I was the only kid in school wearing Dr. Martens boots and was ridiculed for them — “Is your mom in the army?”  — that is, until Nirvana’s second album came out. I moved to Montreal just as Godspeed You! Black Emperor were becoming a thing, Spin Magazine running that article on how Montreal was about to emerge as the next sound that used to be a city. I worked at the Telluride Film Festival with Barry Jenkins before he won an Oscar. I graduated from Concordia before it ceased being a real university by offering a course on Kanye West.

Now I fear I’ve found another of those things — Paul Patates in Pointe-Saint-Charles. It’s not like I found it. It was there before, since 1958. I often rode by on my bicycle or walked past on a neighbourhood stroll across the canal during the pre-pandemic decade when I lived in Saint Henri. For some reason I never went inside. But ever since, this place is my holiday.

I occasionally peered in through the windows at the prototypical lunch stand and row of stools, the checkerboard décor and stainless steel countertop, the jukeboxes that denote an authentic neighbourhood joint, the sort you might see in a film noir, or recreated in Back to the Future, or fetishized in The Sopranos series finale. Paul Patates is better. We don’t need TV series or the movies. What goes on in life is far more interesting, far more important. And we get to play characters in the story. The colours we see onscreen only become really authentic in real life. Paul Patates is a real-life, authentic “joint” in the truest sense of that word — on the corner, a burger and poutine joint, a steamie joint, a community joint, full of life and local colour.

One of the unique things about this joint is their Bertrand Spruce Beer, the non-alcoholic house brew sold in 500 ml swing-top bottles. Its recipe has remained the same since 1898, and it smells a little funky, to be frank, but tastes remarkable — not too sweet, not too carbonated. There is something mythical about this beverage that conjures another Montreal, in another time, before the wicked world caught up with us and blew up the spot.

Paul Patates isn’t fancy. On any given Saturday afternoon you might see working folks, families, seniors, hipsters, speaking English and French, gathered together in relative peace over lunch at the booth. The staff are mainly kids with their own ambitions beyond the restaurant. One is an aspiring musician; another is training to work in construction. I eat my burger and French fries, listening to their stories, their desires, their memories, thinking of all the lives that have come and gone through this place. It seems we cannot see how good we have it at the time.

Canada has never been as adroit as America at mythmaking. Since we agreed in the 1930s to cooperate with the US film market, America’s iconic images have been ours, too. Children weren’t even allowed to see movies in Quebec until 1960. But more than Canada, or Quebec, Montreal is its own myth now, a city-state second to none. An abundant enough crop of homegrown talent has headlined world stages, recorded the world’s records, directed the world’s films, and influenced the world’s influencers. Leonard Cohen is a stamp now, stamped upon Canada’s love letters and utility bills winging their way side by side through the post. If that isn’t mythical, what is?

Sitting amidst the patrons and staff at Paul Patates, amongst the jukeboxes that hadn’t worked since Corey Hart sang Never Surrender, with Virgin Radio instead pumping out the jams in 2022 while French fries fried, the kind of fries that range ideally from crispy to greasy, and the kind of burgers and hot dogs that appear identical to stylized photos on a menu, and taste even better, I found myself in in the middle of a mini myth, and I, too, was a character, the observer, perched like a ghost at the lunch counter, charged with the albeit niche charge to experience Paul Patates in this season, specifically, and how recurrent pasts had accumulated and settled in this particular place.

How the kids who worked here were much like the kids in 1958, and again in 1998, and again and again every subsequent decade, fresh faced and restless, living their perfect moments at this moment, golden light falling through the window at an autumnal angle, a sedimentary accrual of history, languages and cultures taking shape, the city and a nation assuming form, a crystalized instant, etched like a frieze in the ceiling of some magnificent chapel, a Montreal chapel, a newer-world house of worship, divinely inspired, worshiping not those unattainable celestial European or American Gods, but humbler Montreal-made myths that reside closer to home, like spruce beer and all dressed steamies. How the jukebox selection insists, Never Surrender.◼︎