• Amaro Talk & Book Signing

    October 28, 2016
    6:30PM - 7:30PM

    Omnivore Books
    3885 Cesar Chavez Street
    San Francisco, CA 94131

    Learn More »

  • "Haunted Hangover" Bitter Boozy Brunch Party

    October 30, 2016
    Time TK

    The Carlile Room
    820 Pine Street
    Seattle, WA 98101

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  • Amaro Talk & Cocktails

    November 1, 2016
    6:00PM - 7:00PM

    4743 Ballard Avenue NW
    Seattle, WA 98107

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  • Amaro Power Hour: Cocktail Party & Book Signing

    November 1, 2016
    7:00PM - 9:00PM

    4743 Ballard Avenue NW
    Seattle, WA 98107

  • Amaro Talk & Tasting

    November 2, 2016
    6:00PM - 7:30PM

    Hot Stove Society
    Hotel Andra
    2000 Fourth Avenue
    Seattle, WA 98121

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  • Amaro Talk & Book Signing

    November 3, 2016
    6:30PM - 7:30PM

    Book Larder
    4252 Fremont Avenue North
    Seattle, WA 98103

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  • Amaro Power Hour: Cocktails, Pizza & Bowling Party

    November 5, 2016
    12:00PM - 3:00PM

    Highland Park Bowl
    5621 North Figueroa Street
    Los Angeles, CA 90042

  • "Taste the Book Cover" Vintage Amaro Tasting

    November 13, 2016
    3:00PM - 5:00PM

    Billy Sunday
    3143 West Logan Boulevard
    Chicago, IL 60647

  • Amaro Talk & Tasting with Paul McGee

    November 13, 2016
    7:00PM - 9:00PM

    The Milk Room
    Chicago Athletic Association
    12 South Michigan Avenue
    Chicago, IL 60603

  • Book Release Party: Cocktails & Book Signing

    November 14, 2016
    7:00PM - 10:00PM

    Billy Sunday
    3143 West Logan Boulevard
    Chicago, IL 60647

  • Book Release Party: Cocktails & Book Signing (with Don Ciccio & Figli)

    November 19, 2016
    4:00PM - 6:00PM

    1340 4th Street NE
    Washington, DC 20002

  • Amuse with Amaro: Cocktails, Tasting & Book Signing

    December 3, 2016
    2:00PM - 4:00PM

    Abe Fisher
    1623 Sansom Street
    Philadelphia, PA 19103

My Happy Place

Momofuku John McEnroe Shrine

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

Like my father before me, I am a creature of habit. Especially when it comes to dining out. I prefer to keep a handful of haunts in heavy rotation rather than race to have my ticket punched at the latest, must-try spot. And if it’s Friday night you’re likely to find me at Momofuku Ssäm Bar. If you’re friends with me on Facebook you probably already know this as I have a (surely annoying) habit of checking in with a choice lyric from whatever song might be be blasting from the speakers as I settle in. Sometimes it’s utterly random but, being a sentimental sort, you can’t discount synchronicity. Pull up a stool and you might hear the Pixies’ “Debaser,” the Stones’ “Shattered,” Bowie’s “Queen Bitch,” the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll,” or Pulp’s “Common People.” And since this is a David Chang restaurant you can count on at least one Pavement song per half-hour. So if I’m on a date or feeling particularly wistful when “Spit on a Stranger” comes on, I hope you’ll cut me some slack if Stephen Malkmus singing “Honey I’m a prize and you’re a catch / and we’re a perfect match” makes it seem like the movie of my life is being backed by a killer soundtrack.

One late night this summer I was sitting across from Ssäm Bar’s John McEnroe Shrine, the framed painting of McEnroe that stands sentry over the bottles of brown whiskey and amari. The picture represents six different McEnroes: five smaller action shots orbit around a grinning portrait of the man in his tennis whites. (Note: This is not to be confused with the oversized framed Nike poster of McEnroe that hangs on the wall opposite the bar.) And depending on how long you sit across from the McEnroe Shrine (and how many drinks you knock back) that portrait can possess an angel/devil-on-your-shoulder quality. The grin might be interpreted as a reassuring smirk, warning “I think you’ve had enough tonight, buddy. Let’s get back to Brooklyn,” then quickly morph into a mocking sneer, “Man up, brother. It’s Friday—another Pappy Van Winkle isn’t going to kill you!” As I was finishing the last OB of the night the fellow next to me gave a quick survey of the room. He then motioned with his chopsticks to the McEnroe portrait and asked, “So, what’s the deal with McEnroe here?” Without looking up from my beer, I volleyed back: “Spirit animal.” He nodded, instantly getting it.

More on McEnroe from my 2009 interview with Dave and his Momofuku co-writer and partner-in-crime, Peter Meehan.

BTP: Your restaurants are pretty boisterous and filled with a great energy but the design aesthetics are pretty austere. Each place has a simple decoration—a photograph of the Band at Noodle Bar, John McEnroe at Ssäm Bar. What’s the story behind those particular images and what they mean to you and the energy of the restaurant?

Chang: Everyone thought that we had this minimalist approach because we wanted to convey something about our food, about our aesthetics. But, as usual, it was a simple answer: we had no money. When you have no money you can’t really decorate anything. The first version of Momofuku we literally had nothing, there was nothing on the walls.

Meehan: That Tsukiji poster in the bathroom…

Chang: I stole a poster from Tsukiji fish market in broad daylight in Tokyo.

Meehan: It was of a sushi chef with a lazy eye—

Chang: No, it’s not a sushi chef. He’s a famous comedian from Osaka… with a lazy eye. I remember jumping up on a trash can and ripping it down and nobody really caring what I was doing.

Meehan: Oh, that’s good, I didn’t realize it was all stolen art. And the McEnroe poster—

Chang: Peter Lano, my good friend Luka Lano’s older brother, moved to Switzerland—he and his friend stole it off the side of a bus stop in 1984. It had been passed down to Luka. When we were figuring out Ssäm Bar and in the initial days of construction really my only concern was where can we put John McEnroe? I wasn’t concerned really about anything else. I was infatuated with this big giant lifesize poster of John McEnroe and that was pretty much it.

Meehan: But you later followed it up with an additional John McEnroe poster.

Chang: That was because John McEnroe’s dad called and he gave us a bunch of stuff—John McEnroe, Sr.

BTP: So do you have a particular affinity for that particular poster or the man himself?

Chang: Both. But that poster’s amazing, just because it’s totally, utterly random. But also because McEnroe’s ridiculously hilarious.

Below: It takes more than one photographer to distract McEnroe from his game. Ed Anderson sizing up an old-fashioned on Day One of the photo shoot for Bitters.

Momofuku McEnroe

Photo: Brad Thomas Parsons

And in the far corner of the restaurant, near the pass, you’ll find another framed poster that completes the John McEnroe Ssäm Bar Spirit Animal Trilogy. Cast in a haze of early-80’s purple, McEnroe—in jeans and a leather jacket, clutching two wooden Dunlop rackets—slouches in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, with the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers standing tall across the East River. The whole violet twilight tableau lands on the line of equal parts Cocktail one-sheet and the Vintage Contemporaries edition of Bright Lights, Big City. And it’s a thing to behold.

John McEnroe WTC Poster

Photo: Posters57