One was easy. Though I might share innumerable photos of the insides of diners and dive bars, colorful images of gravy slathered breakfasts and late night burgers, I actually try to eat relatively well. I love to make colorful salads. I am a big believer in finding balance. The grosser the meal the night before, the better I try to eat the next day. I haven’t done the best job this year, what with my job taking me in and out of many of the best bars and restaurants in the country on a frequent basis, but on my days off I’ve learned to simplify: cut out salts and sugars, cut back on coffee and drinks, load up on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lots and lots of water.
I was excited to see how my guests might take to my plant-based cocktails.
The first person I thought to invite was Michael Ciapciak, whose Bang Bang Pie & Biscuits in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood has become something of a community center for me and my friends. Michael and I are both from St. Louis, and yet he and I have only a passing familiarity with one another. I loved having the opportunity to work with Michael on a gathering such as this one, and he definitely brought his A game: housemade pickles, a zucchini crudo (served on a roast board), a crudité of romesco with an assortment of tri-color carrots (served in a cast iron skillet). This red pepper sauce had a delicious, nutty quality. It was so filling. He also made a special Rhubarb Syrup just for me (!), which I put in a cocktail with Basil Hayden’s, basil leaves, mint leaves, amber agave and soda water.
The next two guys have long been heroes of mine. The co-founder of Goose Island Beer and the founder and current owner of Virtue Cider, Greg Hall is — to say the least — a major factor in the United States’ impressive growth of both microbreweries and the emerging boom in cideries.
Upon moving to Chicago, one of the first things I signed up to do was volunteer at the Green City Market, the city’s biggest farmer’s market, and one of the best in the country. At the end of my shift, Peter Klein of Seedling has always provided me with my traditional treat: a fruit smoothie made entirely using ingredients from his Michigan farm and orchard.
I’d only met these guys on a handful of occasions, and we’d never actually spent any time talking at length. To have the opportunity to learn about their businesses was a true treat. Greg brought two of the driest ciders I’ve ever tried, one of which a single orchard variety, The Ledbury, made its way into a cocktail he told me about, the Stone Fence, one of the very first “cocktails,” which is simply equal parts whiskey and cider. Pete brought the spiciest brandied cherries I’ve ever tasted and some special cherry bitters he made in collaboration with the guys at Bittercube in Milwaukee.
Mike Ader of Midnorth Mercantile recently moved to Chicago from Minneapolis / St. Paul, where he was famous for his haircuts, his vintage clothing bazaar, and, well, his mustache. “My fiancée says I can’t call myself ‘Mustache Mike’ any longer.” Probably a good thing, Mike. I am always enamored with Mike’s finds. He has a treasure trove of vintage sporting goods, canvas sneakers, leather deck jackets, army fatigues, and recently, according to Instagram, a bevy of truly antique men’s and women’s swimwear.
Grant Legan the photographer and brand strategist whose travels inspire lush, interesting compositions which he graciously shares via Instagram. I’ve been a Grant Legan fan for a couple years, and though we live in the same city, our paths never crossed. I was determined to make it so, and he graciously accepted my invitation, regaling us with stories from his time driving a luxury car around the streets of New Orleans. Rough life.
And last, but certainly not least, there’s Mr. Super Danger, Alex Maier, the musician and and filmmaker whose photos you’re currently enjoying. Alex and I have been in the mutual appreciation club for some time, and I’m happy to report since hanging out at Bang Bang, we’ve had occasion to share bourbon and burgers on a windier-than-expected day in Chicago’s West Loop.
The relationships we make as men are hard fought, owing mostly to the realities of growing up, settling down, over-committing at work and at home. It goes without saying, I really appreciate these guys. And of course, none of this would’ve been possible without one really special woman. So thanks to Jessica Murnane and all these dudes for taking time out of your weeks to spend it with the likes of me. It was a true pleasure to share this simple story of a plant-based fellowship.