Dive Bar Jukebox with David Wondrich
"Rock, rock, Rockaway Beach."
Welcome back to Dive Bar Jukebox, where every Friday bartenders, writers, chefs, musicians, and a host of dynamic people will stop by to talk about their favorite dive bars and share a hand-picked, annotated 10-song playlist for your weekend listening pleasure.
A few weeks ago when I started reaching out to some of my favorite people to see if they would be interested in participating, the first person to respond (within a few hours) was David Wondrich, who wrote back: “Well that just got me out of half an afternoon's work! How do you know when a writer really, really doesn't want to write something? When they immediately bang out something else.”
Former English professor David Wondrich is an award-winning author, cocktail historian, mixologist, and educator, and is hailed as one of the world’s leading authorities on the modern craft cocktail renaissance and the history of spirits and their production, cocktails, and bars.
Wondrich was Esquire’s first drinks correspondent and was later the senior drinks columnist at The Daily Beast. As an author, his library of books includes Esquire Drinks, Killer Cocktails, Imbibe! (the first cocktail book to win a James Beard Award) and Punch. In November 2021, Wondrich, along with writer and editor Noah Rothbaum, published the 10-years-in-the-making The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails. The three-and-a-half-pound, 864-page book features 1,150 entries from more than 160 contributors (Wondrich wrote 250 of them and co-authored another 50).
As someone who writes about drinks for a living, I’ve been inspired by Wondrich’s work from the beginning of my career and I’m truly standing on the shoulders of giants like him who have raised the bar and paved the way with continued inspiration. When I interviewed Wondrich for PUNCH on the release of The Oxford Companion to Cocktails and Spirits he talked about the intimidating shadow cast by some of the previous Oxford Companion volumes while he was writing his own, saying, “I’d look up at these huge, polished, incredibly well-done books and I had to kind of put them aside. Harold Bloom’s anxiety of influence was just too high.” That’s exactly how I felt after reading Wondrich’s books and articles while I was writing my first book, Bitters.
I got to know Dave when I moved to Brooklyn in 2010 and still light up when we cross paths at a bar and have the chance to catch up and talk shop. When he signed my copy of his ground-breaking book, Imbibe!, he inscribed “To a friend and colleague…” I know he was probably just being polite but those two descriptors made me feel like I had been anointed into this spirited orbit of writers. He’s one of the most big-hearted writers I know, whether he’s sharing research, answering a few questions for a story, emailing you a compliment (or a quick fact-check note) on a recent story, or compiling a list of some of his favorite songs to play in a dive bar.
In October 2019, on the eve of the publication of my book Last Call, there was a book party held at The Long Island Bar that was packed with writers, bartenders, distillers, chefs, friends, and family. At one point, among the iced buckets of Miller High Life ponies and baskets of fried cheese curds, Wondrich commanded the room to offer a toast, sharing some impromptu and inspiring words about me and the book. I was incredibly moved and remain forever grateful for Dave’s kindness and generosity of spirit. Like Huck Finn, it was the closest I’ll come to witnessing the eulogy at my own funeral.
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