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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).


  1. Barnaby Dorfman 08/17/2011

    Beautifully written post! Question, fruit peel as garnish doesn’t count as fruit? I kinda wondered.

    I also loved the NY audience participation element of this. I grew up at 98th & West End, which was a pretty rough area in the 1970’s. We used to love to go to horror films at the now-closed Metro Theatre, between 99th & 100th on B’way. Bordering the South End of Harlem, it was a place with sticky floors full teenagers who screamed warnings about axe murderers under the bed to summer campers on screen as if they could be heard.

    Good luck with the book!

    • BTP 08/18/2011

      Thanks, Barnaby! On the “no fruit” tip, I’m giving a pass using an orange or lemon peel as garnish since you’re introducing just the essential oils and aromatics rather than introducing muddled fruit to the drink itself, or what bartenders call a “fruit salad” old-fashioned.

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