Bitters on the Big Screen

angostura bitters

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Last Friday I caught a late afternoon matinee of Crazy Stupid Love. Much of the action takes place at a slick pick-up joint of a bar, where Ryan Gosling’s Jacob prowls the room looking for a new conquest using his closer, “Let’s get out of here.” While Jacob always has a timeless old-fashioned in his hand, Steve Carell’s sad sack Cal nurses an emasculating vodka and cranberry through a skinny straw. (On straws in alcoholic drinks: unless it’s a tropical drink or a mint julep, whose intentionally short straw serves as a lure to get your nose closer to the aromatic bouquet of mint garnish, I do think a gentleman should part ways with the straw.)

But in addition to the dialogue on the screen I was treated to two hours of not-so sotto voce back and forth between the elderly couple seated directly behind me as the gentleman repeatedly demanded a replay of the action from his wife.

Him: What?!?
Her: “Bat shit crazy.”

Him: What?!?
Her: “Tiny schwanz.”

Him: What?!?
Her: “Mr. Miyagi.”

My favorite audience-participation moment, though, was when Jacob brings Hannah, played by Emma Stone, back to his place. He makes two old-fashioneds, the camera fetishizing the ritual: dotting the sugar cube with Angostura bitters, muddling the bitters-soaked sugar cube (with a bespoke muddler!), ice, bourbon (Pappy Van Winkle 20-Year Reserve!), and finishing with a thick swath of orange peel.

When the bottle of Angostura, with its distinctive yellow cap and oversized label, made its big-screen cameo, Mr. and Mrs. Miracle Ear piped up once again:

Him: “What’s he doing with that?!?
Her: “Slipping her a Mickey.”

Esquire recently called “old-fashioned, no fruit” the manliest drink order a fellow can ask for at the bar, so it’s natural that too-cool-for-school Jacob doesn’t make a fruit salad out of his drink by adding a muddled cherry and orange to the mix. My favorite version of the old-fashioned is served at Prime Meats in Brooklyn: Rittenhouse 100 rye, simple syrup, housemade pear bitters (made with pears picked from the pear tree next to the restaurant), a big chunk of hand-chipped ice, and a lemon peel garnish. The last time I encountered fruit in my old-fashioned was at John Currence’s Snackbar in Oxford, Mississippi. Made with Blanton’s bourbon, Demerara syrup, homemade bacon bitters, and a muddled cherry and orange slice. The sweet-and-smoky cocktail went down like boozy candy and I went back for two more (and didn’t question my manhood one bit).