Dive Bar Jukebox with Tim McKirdy
"Do you remember the first time?"
Welcome to Dive Bar Jukebox, where bartenders, writers, chefs, musicians, and a cast of cool characters answer the question: If we were hanging out together at a bar and I put ten credits on the jukebox, what songs would you punch in and why? The answers reveal thoughts on their favorite dive bars along with a hand-picked, annotated playlist for your weekend listening pleasure.
Please welcome today’s special guest…
Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Tim McKirdy now calls Sunnyside, Queens, his home in New York, where he is the Managing Editor of VinePair and also the host of the popular podcast series, ”Cocktail College.”
I first met Tim when we were seated next to each other at a dinner party hosted by Simon Ford at Hawksmoor and he asked why I wasn’t writing for VinePair and invited me to send along some pitches. I’m grateful for that ice-breaker as I’ve been filing stories and fielding assignments with them over the past year-and-a-half. Tim and I have developed what he describes as a Paul Thomas Anderson/Daniel Day-Lewis creative partnership—though I definitely see myself more as Philip Seymour Hoffman (RIP).
McKirdy’s path to drinks media started in the hospitality industry, working as a food runner at a local restaurant during a gap year in Lincoln, England. “At the time I had been accepted to study English literature at a few universities in London,” he says. “This job gave me my first glimpse into a world where food and drinks were taken seriously—as a kind of art. I loved the camaraderie and the general idea that there might be a profession where my first task of the day wasn’t firing up a computer and answering boring emails but instead doing something creative (and via a computer or screen).”
This led him to a chef’s apprentice program (founded by Auguste Escoffier) at London’s Westminster Kingsway College, where he attended college one week of every month and then spent the other three working as a full-time apprentice chef. One of his highlights was working for Bruno Loubet, a French-born chef and one-time enfant terrible of the London dining scene, who had returned to London after a hiatus in Australia.
“In our first year, Bistrot Bruno Loubet was named the third best restaurant in the country by the National Restaurant Awards,” says McKirdy. “We were the hottest table in town and the nation’s preeminent food critic was hailing ‘chef Bruno Loubet’s return to Britain [as] the most exciting comeback since Jesus appeared on the road to Emmaus just hours after the Crucifixion and said, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over..’”
McKirdy worked with Loubet for the rest of his London culinary career, helping open the now-shuttered Grain Store in 2013. “My most memorable night was probably when Gordon Ramsay, A.A. Gill—the nation’s other leading food critic at the time—and Gregg Wallace, host of MasterChef in the UK, all turned up unannounced,” recalls McKirdy “They were dining separately and it was purely coincidental. I recall a few ill words between Gill and Ramsay, who’d been in a very public battle over the years for reasons that escape me now.”
McKirdy later left London to move to Argentina, where he became the head chef at a French restaurant, despite not being able to speak Spanish in a kitchen where no one spoke English. But is was there where he first became interested in wine and spirits, primarily through post-service, family-style meals where the staff would share a bottle or two of the house wine (“Siete Vacas—a Malbec, naturally,” says McKirdy).
“I left the kitchen to pursue wine education and pitch and write bad articles for Vice Munchies that I have no desire to ever revisit,” says McKirdy. “But I had no idea I could eventually make this my full-time job.”
And now he’s the Managing Editor at VinePair, where he first started as an intern five years ago. These days, you’re more likely to find him courtside at New York City cocktail bars with a Martini in hand, arguing the merits of a certain spirit or asking the bartender for a variation on a favorite modern classic. Though I can confirm he also knows his way around neighborhood watering holes on the dive bar spectrum, where a beer and a shot are the local currency.
Read on for Tim McKirdy’s thoughts on dive bars (and his concerns because he didn’t come of age experiencing proper dives back in Scotland and England) along with a terrific Dive Bar Jukebox playlist, featuring an eclectic mix ranging from Amy Winehouse and Seu Jorge to Led Zeppelin and Sammy Davis Jr.