New York Press' Gut Instinct: Gin Yummy

Type in "gin drunk" to a search engine, and this is the result. Huzzah, Internet!

Nine years ago, or maybe it was eight, I met my cousin Jennifer for a wintery dinner in the West Village. We dined at dearly departed, Prohibition-flavored Grange Hall, which has since become Commerce (50 Commerce St., 212-524-2301). It lost Grange’s neighborhood intimacy and my business, but that is neither here nor there.

What matters most is Jennifer’s question. I was standing at Grange’s bar, bottles of amber nectar glowing with the promise of an elevated mood, performing my best imitation of a New Yorker: black Gap slacks, an onyx button-down and obsidian dress shoes as shiny as wax-coated apples. In my Ohio-reared head, I assumed donning this Dracula dress code was the key to making it in the bright lights, big city.

“What do you want to drink?” Jennifer asked. She was a decade my senior, a seasoned vet at a respected publishing firm.

“I’m buying.”

I froze, the question like an icicle stabbing my cerebellum. At the time, I wasn’t indoctrinated into the pleasures of craft beer; to me, a pint of Brooklyn Lager was as exotic as an ostrich. I was better versed in flaming Dr. Peppers and crappy canned beer bearing a 99-cent sticker. Still, I knew that consuming a blazing concoction was not the height of dinnertime chic.

“I’ll have a… gin and tonic,” I said, “with, uh, Beefeater.” A gin and tonic had long been my default cocktail.The vaguely floral beverage spoke of British class, a step up from the proletariats’ preferred vodka tonic. And during those early days of New York living, I drank gin and tonics nearly daily at the sultry, red-hued lounge Sin Sin (248 E. 5th St., 212-253-2222).

My pal Aaron discovered the bar a few weeks into his NYC tenure. He was drawn in by the $3 happy hour (till 8 p.m.). Most evenings, Aaron and I met at Sin Sin around 6:30.We’d quick-drink three or four gin and tonics, before decamping to old-man-dive Holiday Cocktail Lounge or college haunt Blue and Gold. At each venue, the clear, bitter G&T—given a citric edge with a lime twist—was our preferred intoxicant, dulling the edges of our workaday reality.

“Really?” Jennifer said. She was as taken aback as if I’d ordered an Irish car bomb with a chaser of baby’s blood. “That’s a spring and summer drink. What’s your winter cocktail?” Summer drink? Winter drink? I’d never pondered the possibilities of seasonal imbibing. Gettin’ drunk was gettin’ drunk, especially if you were buying. I sipped my gin and tonic quietly, carrying a burning shame as if I’d secretly soiled myself.

Soon afterward, I ditched the gin and tonic. Goodbye, old friend. I experimented with craft beer (why are IPAs so bitter?), bourbon (what happened to my pants?) and old-timey cocktails (where’d my money go?). Gin was a reminder of an earlier era of bad decisions, like that time I ingested psychedelic mushrooms and slept in a park in Amsterdam filled with bike-riding cocaine dealers. I’ve never prayed so hard for sunrise. “I was better versed in flaming Dr. Peppers and crappy canned beer bearing a 99-cent sticker. Still, I knew that consuming a blazing concoction was not the height of dinnertime chic.”

Misguided as my youth may have been, I’m feeling nostalgic for it nowadays. I’m a bona fide thirtysomething, with the gray nose hairs to prove it.Thus, in my dotage, I’m rekindling my teenage love affairs: indie rock, writing typewritten letters and the botanical-scented waters of gin. I’ve discovered that these bright, warm days of early spring are designed for the crisp, sour bliss of the Greyhound. (Squeeze some fresh grapefruit juice, add a dollop of decent gin, finish with a seltzer splash. Drink, sigh, repeat.)

Since I’ve developed a crush on dark spirits, I now adore Ransom Old Tom. Aged in pinot noir barrels, the tawny, mellow potion is a little bit whiskey, a little bit gin and 100-percent delicious. Served straight up or on a rock or two, the flavors of honey, cardamom and vanilla-hinted oak are as revelatory as that religious burning bush.

Continuing my gin-styled explorations, I sampled Bols Genever. Much like whiskey, it’s made with fermented rye, corn and barley; it’s rich and lush, with a malty-sweet current that helps create a novel old-fashioned. But now we get to my much-maligned G&T. Instead of relying on bottom-shelf hooch, I’ve reinvented the old standard with a quality gin such as Martin Miller’s.The British brand packs prickly citric flavors of limes and orange zest, and it marries well with top-notch tonic like the citrus-perfumed Fever- Tree. You scarcely need a lemon squeeze.

It’s a taste of the past, fit for my future.

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Gut Instinct: A Moving Tale

Boy, I love burritos.

It is no secret that my biceps and triceps are floppier than spaghetti, barely able to hoist an unabridged dictionary above my head.

Nonetheless, my muscle definition was no concern to my friend Matt, a first-rate cheapskate requesting the ultimate in unpaid labor:

“Can you help me move this weekend?” Matt and his girlfriend, Emily, were taking the leap to cohabitation, commingling their possessions and their cats.Two humans, three felines, 400 square feet—that’s a recipe for a sitcom.

I flexed, demonstrating the imperceptible twitch that passes for my puny guns.

“Perfect,” he said. “We’ll pick you up at 10 a.m. on Saturday.”

“How did I just say yes?” “Josh,” Matt said, “I will buy you beer and a burrito.”

“You better make mine with guacamole,” I sighed, resignedly.

New Yorkers are a transient tribe, relocating with the regularity of migratory birds. Not me. I despise moving like I do raw, squishy tomatoes on my burger. I’ve dwelled in a brownstone-Brooklyn apartment for seven years, surviving a succession of psychotic roommates (a category that, I’m sure, includes me) until I became leaseholder.Then in came the girlfriend. Since, everything’s been peaches and cream, provided she stops leaving her dirty coffee spoon on the kitchen counter.

But I digress, which is what I do best. Unlike moving. Bright and early on Saturday, my head fogged due to the previous eve’s tango with rich and luscious Eagle Rare bourbon, Emily drove me to Matt’s Bushwick apartment. It was an ancient industrial building, the sort that seems edgy when you’re 22.

By 30, the luster has dulled on living in a cold, drafty loft with bedrooms separated by particleboard and bands practicing long past bedtime.

I greeted my fellow laborers and began hoofing boxes of books into a freight elevator, along with crates filled with hundreds of CDs. “Who even has CDs anymore?” I moaned. “Stop complaining,” Matt said. “I could’ve hired any of 20 Mexican guys that were waiting around the U-Haul lot.”

“Instead, you’re going to pay your friends in burritos.”

“You’re moving the bookcase.” Matt gestured to a towering structure as wobbly as Jell-O.

Quiero mi burrito con mucho guacamole,” I said, dusting off my culturally insensitive high school Spanish.

The hours passed in a back-straining blur. After Emily made some judicious judgments (“We are not bringing that massive marble table,” she proclaimed, saving me from a gut-splitting hernia), the U-Haul was filled.Team Moving traveled to Emily’s apartment at the southern fringes of Park Slope, right near a power plant and Greenwood Cemetery. Energized death—that was a nice description of my physical state.

Team Moving commenced shuttling boxes and boxy furniture up the narrow stairs, gouging out chunks of drywall like a golfer does grass. “Careful!” Matt said. “I just painted those walls.”

“Perhaps you should’ve hired real movers,” I replied. I never miss a chance to make someone feel bad for requesting my help.

Finally, the truck was as empty as my growling stomach. I secured a perch amid the chaos (a desk blocking the bathroom, boxes of books that’ll never be read and underwear-stuffed drawers stacked to the ceiling) and snatched the plastic bags containing my reward: a growler of Captain Lawrence’s Freshchester Ale from Grab (438 7th Ave. betw. 14th & 15th Sts., 718- 369-7595; B’klyn) and overstuffed, California-style burritos from Taqueria D.F. (709 5th Ave. at 22nd St., B’klyn; 718-499-2969).

I bit into a folded flour tortilla, bursting with tender spicy pork, chubby pinto beans and half-dollar dollops of sour cream. I set a land-speed record in consuming my fat, fatty burrito, finding it uncommonly satisfying. While hunger is doubtlessly the best sauce, the spicy salsa verde was pretty tasty to boot.

I poured a second hop-tinged beer, which soothed my creaky muscles and hurtled me toward dreamland. I took the bus home, took a nap, then took the bus to Matt’s old apartment for his house-cooling bash. “Whiskey for you, buddy!” Matt shouted when I walked inside.

“A double, please,” I replied, sitting at the kitchen table. Matt poured me several fingers of amber liquid. I looked at the dusty bottle, recognizing it from the lower reaches of liquor-store shelving. Where was his Bulleit bourbon, much less Buffalo Trace?

“We moved the good stuff, didn’t we?” I said, sipping the fiery, burning fluid.

“Just shut up and drink,” Matt said, exasperated. “I’m never asking you to help me move again.”

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New York Press' Gut Instinct: Thrift Whore

Ah, the joys of fatherhood.

“Daddy's thirsty,” I said, as my girlfriend and I emerged from our Brooklyn subway stop. Of late, I’ve referred to myself as daddy, though, much to my mother’s chagrin, we are not expecting children. “Daddy wants a beer.”

Understanding that a buzzed Josh is a content Josh, my girlfriend agreed to a bodega detour. We bypassed stacks of salt-and-vinegar Utz chips—their bright-red 99-cent stickers as alluring as the sirens’ song—and stopped at the coolers. Several years back, beer at Crown Heights bodegas consisted of malt liquor, 24-ounce cans of Coors and the odd sixer of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale or Brooklyn Lager—suds seemingly as misplaced as that coyote on the Columbia campus.

These days, the neighborhood’s new arrivals (read: recent college grads with fanciful facial hair and jeans as tight as sausage casings) have not cottoned to King Cobra. Bodegas started stocking microbrews from Harpoon, Speakeasy and Dogfish Head. I scanned the shelves, settling on a Stone IPA. It’s a bracingly bitter West Coast ale with a pleasingly high alcohol content—bang for your buck. Except this banging beer was no bargain.

“Come on, we’re hitting another bodega,” I told my girlfriend, returning the bottle to its refrigerated home.

“Uh, why?” she asked. I had to admit, it was quite a reasonable question.

“Because they raised their prices $.35 a bottle. They used to be $1.90. Now it’s $2.25,” I spat out viciously, as if I were cursing someone.

Her mouth slackened. She gave me the kind of long, cold stare to which I’ve become accustomed: Just who is this man I’ve been dating?

“Look, I can buy this same bottle for $2 at another bodega. It’s only a block away. Let’s go.”

“Let’s not. You save yourself a quarter. I’m heading home.”

I pondered protesting, but I’ve learned to pick my battles. I’ll wage a war of the words when it comes to, say, my right to patronize a strip-club steakhouse like Robert’s Restaurant at Scores or take a road trip to a topless-waitress breakfast joint in Montreal. Trudging an extra block to save two bits? I’ll happily concede defeat.

Now, I know what you’re eager to utter: “Great, another story about being a cheap Jew. Go on and bathe in your pile of tarnished pennies. What’s next? A story about your circumcision?” Actually, I do have a funny tale about my second circumcision at age 13, involving a needle, chanting rabbis and the acquisition of C & C Music Factory’s debut CD. Another anecdote, another time.

Instead of organized religion, my penny-pinching has its roots in my upbringing. I’ve been crazy about saving money ever since I helped my mom clip grocery coupons. Fifty cents off a box of Bisquick gladdened my little-boy heart as much as finding Ken Griffey Jr.’s rookie baseball card in an Upper Deck pack. (Sorry, readers younger than 25, for the dated reference.) I embraced thrift whole cloth, evolving into a frugal teen who bought T-shirts at Salvation Army, recorded mix tapes off the radio and filched half-smoked cigarettes from ashtrays. Nothing like puffing a lipstick-covered Newport to make a teenager feel badass.

Come college, I began applying my mom’s cost-conscious lessons at grocery stores, favoring dried beans instead of canned, generics over name brands. I tabulated each foodstuff’s price per ounce to the second decimal place, employing the sort of higher-order math favored by savants. I created a mental Rolodex of the stores with the lowest prices on rice, which places sold lettuce for less. I thought nothing of driving to different shops if it meant saving a buck—provided that I didn’t spend more on gas. Upon moving to New York, I sought out Chinatown’s cheapest and best open-air produce markets (Forsyth St. betw. East Broadway & Canal St.) and butchers (Deluxe Food Market, 79 Elizabeth St. betw. Grand & Hester Sts., 212-925-5766). Soon, I discovered New York’s secret, the key to a lengthy tenure in town:Though rent can be crippling, a pauper’s budget will permit you to eat like a king. Provided you don’t get ripped off by bodegas that overcharge. Which brings me back to my nice, frosty beverage.

“How’s your beer?” my girlfriend asked, watching me sip my Stone.

“It is,” I said, prepping my Borscht Belt punch line, “a little rich for my taste.”

Gut Instinct: Daddy Issues

09-gut-instinct_daddyissues.jpgGut Instinct: Daddy IssuesAngioplasty? Colonics? What does the future hold for an unrepentant overindulger?

Just like lusty men fantasizing about performing pretzel-like acts with Barbie blondes, I sometimes daydream about colonics. Or doing the Master Cleanse detox diet. Or following the path blazed by my pal the Nucleus.

Nucleus: “I went to a month-long yoga camp in Arizona where I drank gallons of warm salt water.”

Me: “And?”

Nucleus: “I vomited. Repeatedly. Then we did yoga. I’ve never felt so pure and clean.”

Me: “…”

Nucleus: “I’d do it again.”

Me: “Goodbye.”

These are extreme remedies for overindulgence, that peculiar affliction enabled by venti mocha Frappuccinos, batter-fried Mars Bars and Wendy’s Baconator. Nearly one-quarter of Americans are classified as obese blimps, eliciting knee-jerk reactions like Herr Bloomberg’s trans fat ban. Newsflash, Mr. Mayor: Banning trans fats won’t diminish our shameless love of unhealthy grub and tasty, tasty fat. Sweet lollipops, my hangovers demand crispy sesame chicken, not wheatgrass juice and salad. Grease gives me the happy.

Thus far, I haven’t needed the Master Cleanse’s toxin-ridding, belly-slimming power. My furry body’s magical inner machinations have kept me at my buck-40 fighting weight, despite a diet heavy in dumplings and enough daily alcohol to help me anesthetize my neuroses, disrobe and engage in conjugal relations. With other people. And myself.

“Oh, you go to the gym. You’re a stair-machine maven,” you whisper, feeling my taut calves. “Up down, up down, up down.”

Scout’s honor, I’ve never been a Crunch bunny. Wait, scratch that: At 19, I puffed a very potent joint and played ping-pong at a gym. However, I counteracted any minute cardiovascular benefit by ingesting a family-size Cheetos bag soon afterward.

Like the game show of yore, I’m pressing my luck. Sure, my hairline hasn’t gone missing on a milk carton, and shaving my five o’clock shadow helps me pass for 25. (This almost makes it socially acceptable to eyeball subway-riding high school gals. Almost.) Yet I can see the writing on the scale, the whammies waiting to pop up. A nutritional intake centered on high-proof Dogfish Head beer and deep-fried Mama’s Empanadas will doom me. My heredity demands it.

My father was once a svelte scamp. Every day, he pedaled from Riverdale, the Bronx’s Jewish stronghold, to work at a West Village shoe store. Several hours of riding kept off poundage provided by his mom’s brisket. Then came college, medical school, marriage, three kids: At 35, his job whisked our family to Dayton, Ohio, land of suburban sloth. He developed an affinity for quarter-pounders and curly fries. He jonesed for jelly donuts and cheese steaks, too. His inseam expanded. His belts were re-notched. He looked like he swallowed a globe. “I’ve got my own built-in computer table,” he said one burned-into-my-brain evening. I was 14. My father was supine on his king-size bed. He wore clingy tighty-whities, his chest pelt scraggly and thick, with his laptop resting on his stomach mound. He typed away happily, contentedly, oblivious that in a decade his gut and arteries—as clogged as L.A. rush hour—would conspire to create agonizing chest pain. Shortness of breath. A frantic dialing of three simple digits. And miniscule balloons sent flying through arteries to cleanse a lifetime of super-sizing.

“I think I should start eating better,” my father announced during his convalescence.

“No shit,” I said. Jittery sarcasm is my preferred coping mechanism.

“And exercising more,” he added.

He kept his recuperating-bed pledge. My dad bought Spandex workout clothes and joined a YMCA. Chips were barred from the snack cabinet, and meats vamoosed from the freezer. Four years later, he’s made a mole hill out of his mountainous stomach.

A smarter me would view this saga as reason enough to curtail my double-cheeseburger addiction. But sweethearts, we’re living in a gilded medical age. If Hugh Hefner can have a hard-on, I bet I’ll receive a cloned, unclogged heart by middle age. I’ll spend my golden years recklessly indulging in Nathan’s cheese fries and dim sum at Chinatown’s Golden Unicorn, devouring early-bird dinner specials with a ferocity reserved for feral tigers.

And if science fails? You’ll find me in the desert performing the Downward-Facing Dog, chugging salt water and upchucking uncontrollably, as the hot sun beats down on my unrepentant back. digg NewsVine

Gut Instinct: Bad Company

Gut Instinct: Bad Company Eating with me can put you off your food

Driven by08_gut-instinctwork-food.jpg dire economic straits and insanity-wreaking solitude, I occasionally don pants and an unstained shirt and join the office corps. This is frightening for co-workers, because I loathe mankind.

I don’t despise every mouth-breather. I love my girlfriend and pals, but my love—by which I mean buying cohorts’ drinks and gently mocking their shortcomings—is only possible by spending 12 hours a day sequestered in my drafty Brooklyn apartment. When 6 p.m. hits, I’m so desperate for camaraderie that I embrace compatriots with new-puppy affection.

Consequently, in seven-plus years of city dwelling, I’ve held just one full-time job. Those nine months were among my most woebegone, inebriated days. Of course, scholars may contend that my melancholia was fueled less by the daily grind than my profession: editing father-daughter smut, interviewing bimbos about double penetrations and penning pearls such as, “Shove your egg roll in my combination box, soldier.”

Ever since I quit that gig following 9/11, when I realized the bleakness of a career built on facilitating prisoners’ self-pleasure, I’ve been allergic to the 9-to-5 trudge. Still, being a freelance food-and-drink writer is decidedly non-lucrative, as compared to distributing fliers and flame-broiling Whoppers.

To make ends meet, I marshal my grammar-hound skills—a lifelong fixation since finishing third in my sixth-grade spelling bee, for misspelling bicentennial—and sell myself as a magazine copy editor. I’m an English-language janitor, tidying up errant semicolons and misplaced modifiers. It’s a thankless, tedious profession that tethers me to work until 9 p.m., 10 p.m., sometimes as late as 2 a.m. To compensate for late hours, my employers ply us with something sadder than the American dollar: catered dinners.

While morning donuts or bagels are aces (more everythings, please), work dinners are an experience no less enjoyable than coughing blood. The work day’s sole pleasure, besides stealing pens and toilet paper, is mealtime. For an hour you regain free choice: Will today be Wendy’s? By-the-pound salad bar? General Tso’s chicken? Or maybe sit in a quiet park and tabulate the years, hours and seconds until retirement?

Eventually, corporate bean counters decided to goose productivity by eliminating the need to grab grub outside. Welcome the catered meal, often presented as a “perk” you’re expected to be thankful for. Except for Google’s ludicrously high-quality Chelsea-headquarters cafeteria (offering a raw bar and ceviche station!), free dinner is typically available in two inferior forms. The first is the buffet, which gives humans a crash course in feeding like barnyard critters.

During high school I worked at Ponderosa, a Midwestern steakhouse crossbred with an all-you-can-eat buffet. My job was deep-frying the blue-ticket item, chicken wings. No sooner did I refill plastic troughs with crisp, oily wings than diners, turkey necks and bellies jiggling violently, stampeded the steam table. I was scarred by the experience. But I was not as scarred as diners would’ve been had they known I often scooped frozen, deformed wings off an unmopped floor.

At work, buffets bring employees uncomfortably close. Folks you’ve avoided all day are lined up beside you, bellies growling, bleating unwanted opinions.

“Chicken parmesan? I hate slimy chicken parmesan.”

“I can’t eat steak. I’m a vegetarian.”

“Beans give me gas in the worst possible way.”

People mutter approval. Or disapproval. It’s lowest-common-denominator conversation. No one utters what they’re really thinking: “Hurry the fuck up and scoop up some mashed potatoes so I can get a biscuit and get back to ignoring you.”

Dinner option two is ordering from a work-selected restaurant you’d never choose (say, an Americanized Mexican eatery offering fake sour cream). The food’s arrival is as dignified as sharks attacking a bloodied seal. Leaky takeout containers are acquired and then squired back to desks, whereupon folks resume work or numbly click on websites, hoping for news of another Spears pregnancy, of a blockbuster sports trade, of anything but the obvious: You’re eating together but you’re alone, surrounded by individuals as seemingly randomly selected as lottery balls.

Each week, I’m afforded maybe 15 meals to chomp through, lest I dream of becoming a little Jewish Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. Work-mandated dining robs me of one meal. That’s depriving me of another chance to uncover a rootin’-tootin’ dumpling depot or revisit my favorite hand-pulled noodle dive.

It’s with vast misery that I order a gloppy taco salad. And a Diet Coke. And a side of guacamole. And hunch over my glowing computer screen. I eat until full, eat until I’m disturbingly full, hungering to go home and regain my appetite for people and food alike.