LAST CALL New Year's Rockin' Eve Special
"And this will be our year. Took a long time to come."
LAST CALL will be taking the week of January 2 off and will return to regular programming on Monday, January 9. Thank you to the thousands of subscribers, and especially the hundreds of paid subscribers who keep the lights on, for your continued support of LAST CALL. Wishing everyone a safe and very Happy New Year. See you on the other side.
Closing Out 2022
When I drafted the mission statement for LAST CALL to feature regular dispatches on bars and bar culture, drinks and spirits, restaurants and regional foodways, and popular culture I also included as an asterisk “and sometimes cats.” And my only two cat stories landed among the top three most popular posts of the year. While I realize not everyone is into cats, the popularity of these two deeply personal feline-focused stories makes me happy. While not a full-on Dick Clark-style countdown, here are some fun facts from the past five-and-half months of LAST CALL.
Top Five Most Popular Posts of 2022
“The Long Wondrous Life of a Cat Named Louis”
This tribute to my late, great Louis looked at how his memory, and legacy, continues to inspire me.
“Thanksgiving Eve Cocktail Inspiration”
A bonus holiday post about the busiest night at bars across America with a trio of holiday-inspired cocktails.
“A Little Holiday Magic with Cyrus the Bodega Cat”
A deep dive on the return of a 2017 New York State Lottery commercial starring a bodega cat named Cyrus who darts, jumps, and runs through a snow-covered Brooklyn Heights to make spirits bright, and bring a tear to your eye.
“The Rick Dalton Whiskey Sour”
I still haven’t completed my annual resolution of completing the Rick Dalton Whisky Sour Challenge, (my record is five, from New Year’s Eve 2022), but I still have til tomorrow at midnight.
“The Negroni Sbagliato: My Favorite Mistake”
I’ve been on Team Sbagliato for over a decade but there was no denying the viral moment when the the rest of the world embraced (or at least tried) this three-ingredient wonder.
Top Five Most Popular Dive Bar Jukeboxes of 2022
The writer and musician, and former guitarist for Dire Straits, shared an excellent “Dive Bar Day Drinking Hang” playlist that dipped around from Tears for Fears and Frank Sinatra to Marvin Gaye and the Rolling Stones.
Robert Simonson (Yule Log Jukebox)
Mr. Christmas himself shared a deep dive on his favorite Christmas songs, from Bing Crosby and Donny Hathaway to The Waitresses and Run-DMC.
The award-winning pastry chef shared her recipe for Hanukkah Sufganiyot as well as a nostalgia-driven playlist featuring New Order, The Strokes, Interpol, and LCD Soundsystem.
The award-winning photographer (and the guy who has shot all my books), proved to be a LAST CALL fan favorite, with stories about meeting his wife at a dive bar and a playlist with some somber songs that ultimately prove to inspire a bit of hope.
My dear college friend and Brooklyn neighbor dropped our first “double album” playlist that landed just right, with great songs from The Psychedelic Furs, The Pretenders, The Police, and The Pointer Sisters.
Dive Bar Jukebox Stats
LAST CALL featured 22 unique playlists from chefs, writers, bartenders, musicians, and all-around cool people who answered the question: If we were in a bar together and I put 10 credits on the jukebox, what would you play and why? There were a lot of fun themes, so many good songs, and solid advice on the art of creating a killer playlist. I loved it when a “new to me” song—like NRBQ’s “Ridin’ In My Car” or Robert Earl Keen’s “Feelin’ Good Again”—blew me away and went into heavy rotation on my own personal playlists. All of these LAST CALL Dive Bar Jukebox playlists are available to listen to on Spotify.
Most Frequently Appearing Artists
Songs That Appeared More Than Once
“Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass (BTP, Robert Simonson)
“Ridin’ In My Car” by NRBQ (Charlie Hall, Georgia Fulton)
“Feelin’ Good Again” by Robert Earl Keen (Damon Boelte, Mason Hereford)
“The Boys are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy (*This gets the New York Times Bestseller List dagger symbol because Emily Timberlake intentionally included it twice in her playlist)
Beyond LAST CALL
On the freelance front, I filed around 30 stories for publications, including VinePair, PUNCH, Imbibe, and Epicurious. Here are a few of my personal favorites (in publication-date order).
“The Cult of Amaro San Simone” (PUNCH)
“What Makes a Dive Bar a Dive Bar?” (VinePair)
“Slow Down and Sip a Negroni” (Imbibe)
LAST CALL is a reader-supported newsletter dedicated to bringing you spirited dispatches about bars and bar culture, drinks and spirits, restaurants and regional foodways, and popular culture. While both free and paid subscriptions are available, please consider a paid subscription to support our long-term sustainability.
What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?
I usually stay in New Year’s Eve and try to make a dinner that leans toward snacks and something on the more luxurious side, whether that’s a prime rib, a bone-in ribeye, or maybe a broiled lobster tail with drawn butter riding shotgun. And I always like to make a batch of twice-baked potatoes. Last year was the first time I actually went out to a bar on New Year’s Eve in years. It helped that it was just a block away. I joined my friend and Long Island Bar proprietor Toby Cecchini in the Lombardi Room for some beer and sake and basketball. They had brought in a large tin of Ossetra caviar and we split one of the specials, a twice-baked potato topped with crème fraîche and caviar. Toby left to join his family back home and as I was on my way out I saw some familiar faces and figured I’d have a Whiskey Sour or two before heading home. While I didn’t make it to eight [See “The Rick Dalton Whiskey Sour” ] I did make it til midnight and shared a Champagne toast with friends and strangers alike.
I plan to stay in this year (I ordered a hunk of prime rib from Winner) but I might stop by Grand Army for a Pornstar Martini and I’m sure I’ll wind up across the street at Long Island Bar at some point in the evening. But I wanted to check in with some spirited friends of LAST CALL to see what they’ll be up to this New Year’s Eve, what they’ll be drinking, and if they have any special traditions to ring in the New Year.
Leave a comment and share what you’ll be doing this New Year’s Eve!
David Wondrich (writer, cocktail historian, author of Imbibe! and Punch, and editor of The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails)
My New Year’s Eve plans are simple: Drink Punch* with friends. Since that’s pretty much all I ever want to do, I anticipate being pretty happy. Fingers crossed!
*Ponche Los Aguardientes de la Tierra
Seal the peels of 5-6 lemons in a Mason jar overnight with 1 cup fine raw sugar.
Then add 1/2 cup each lemon and lime juices and shake until sugar is dissolved.
Pour into a gallon bowl over ice.
Add 1/2 liter each of Mexican charanda (or rhum agricole) and mezcal.
Add 1 liter cold water. Stir, grate nutmeg over the top, and ladle forth until collective happiness ensues.
Ivy Mix (author of Spirits of Latin America, owner of Leyenda and Fiasco! Wine + Spirits, founder of Speed Rack)
I honestly have worked too many years to have many traditions beyond Champagne. But this year, I will be in Vermont and since it has only been in the last two or three years that I haven't had to work, my tradition has been to take a bath, Champagne in hand, and have a relatively calm evening. This will be my first year in my new house so I am hoping to start many traditions now!
John T Edge (writer, host of TrueSouth, author of The Potlikker Papers)
We plan to eat our way through a fat tin of Kentucky spoonfish caviar from Shuckman’s Smoked Fish in Louisville, a family business, going strong since 1919. It’s beautiful stuff with tight berries, and proprietor Lewis Shuckman is a gent. Spooned from the tin, with a glass caviar spoon my mother bought at an estate sale, we eat ours on kettle chips. Lewis also smokes salmon. We will buy a big hunk for breakfast bagels the next morning.
Patrick Miller (owner and distiller of Faccia Brutto Spirits)
Our "tradition" for the last 18 years has been working at our respective restaurants, so we are creating new ones now. My partner Claire and I aren't fans of dealing with huge crowds on New Year’s Eve so we are staying in this year. We plan on making a savory meat pie with aged beef, bone marrow, and some veggies for good measure. We always make sure we drink Champagne and are getting our hands on some nice grower Champagne, Agrapart or Christophe Mignon. Chocolate mousse is my Achilles heel so I'm probably going to beg Claire to make that too.
Aaron Goldfarb (writer and author of Brand Mysticism and Hacking Whiskey)
I have a 6-year-old and a 3-year-old, so I can't recall the last time I rang in the New Year outside of my home. Instead, by midnight I'm the only one still awake. I always like to drink French 75s on New Year's—with Cognac, not gin—but by the time the ball is dropping I will probably just be drinking Cognac neat. (Maybe I'll finally crack that single cask of Pasquet '71.) It's a weird feeling to ring in another year alone—I certainly can't yell out the countdown from 10; there's no one to kiss but the cat—and I'll inevitably regret staying up til midnight, and having that last glass of Cognac, especially when the kids start jumping on the bed at 6 a.m.
Robert Simonson (writer, creator of The Mix, author of Modern Classic Cocktails and The Martini Cocktail)
If all goes according to plan, I will be attending the annual Cherry Drop in Sister Bay, Wisconsin. The Cherry Drop is like the ball drop in Times Squares, only much smaller and more ridiculous. A big neon cherry descends from a height outside Husby's bar on main street in tiny Sister Bay. Cherries, by the way, are the main agricultural crop in Door County.
Louie Catizone (producer and co-owner of St. Agrestis)
Having worked for Skurnik, I am a bit of a Champagne snob one day a year (at least) for New Year’s Eve. Their growers Champagne portfolio is ridiculously good and since my days of getting a nice employee discount for those wines, I tend to celebrate the end of the year/ beginning of the next with Mousse Fils Blanc de Noirs. Better yet, I tend to have a magnum or two ready as I believe New Year’s Eve calls for large bottles.
I love to cook and my wife Beth and I have become a team—combining her baking with my dips and spreads. We will pair her breadsticks, which we lovingly call Beta's Breadsticks, with my whipped ricotta and hummus to snack on. We don't have a tradition for dinner on New Year’s Eve but the evening tends to be more about having good snacks and drinks throughout than a sit-down meal for us.
Of course there will be cocktails. We have had some more rambunctious New Year's Eve celebrations that called for a St. Agrestis Spritz kegger—tapping a keg of our aperitivo Spritz like a backyard kegger—which is always fun and tends to be more of a summertime activity although we have done it twice for New Year’s Eve. This year, I am planning to make some Manhattans and may even use the Barrell Bourbon finished in St. Agrestis Amaro casks to mark the celebration as the base whiskey.
Chris Shepherd (Houston chef, author of Cook Like a Local, founder of Southern Smoke Foundation)
My wife and I will be spending New Year’s Eve in Barcelona! We got married during COVID, so we’re finally taking a honeymoon—Christmas in London, New Year’s in Barcelona, and Madrid in between. It’s the first time in years I haven’t been working in a restaurant on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, so we’re taking advantage of the opportunity and heading overseas. We’ll be following all Spanish New Year’s traditions for good luck and looking forward to a happy and healthy 2023.
Frank Caiafa (bar director and consultant, author of The Waldorf Astoria Bar Book)
I truthfully expect to work every New Year’s Eve, so when I get one off, I usually enjoy the night home with my family. During the many years I spent opening countless Champagne bottles and filling even more glasses, I appreciate the intimate evening just trying to slow the night down. This year we may play board games and pick on some simple cheeses and maybe open some wine we wouldn’t normally drink as a treat while we wait for the year to turn. I have to admit that working New Year’s Eve is always one of the most satisfying though. Taking that cab at 3 or 4 a.m. represents the end of a hectic holiday season and the (somewhat) slower couple of months ahead to assess any changes that one would like to make. Mostly it is a good time for reflection and to anticipate the New Year's bagel and lox I’ll have the next day. And of course, more Champagne.
Jack Sonni (writer and musician)
Like so many musicians, New Year’s Eves from my late teens to early 30s were spent playing gigs. Amateur Night as it was known among us. Seemed that folks always felt they had a license to overdo it in often high-larious and spectacular ways. Second only to bachelorette parties in sloppy drunkenness, relentless calls for the band to play songs we hate, and the sullied backseats of countless taxis.
I played bars, nightclubs, private parties and New Year’s Eve 1986 with Dire Straits in Edenborough, Scotland which, as one might imagine, was an exceptionally drunken bacchanalian evening. I gave up playing on that night after my daughters were born in 1988 and since 1989 have failed to see the ball drop or even leave the house, more often than not fast asleep by 10 p.m.
Until a new tradition of mine was born during that time. New Year’s Eve became an evening for making a pasta dinner using my grandmother’s recipe for Sugo Calabrese. This a spicy tomato sauce that I grew up on calling for braised pork necks and sausage. It goes onto a bowl of rigatoni then topped with copious amounts of Parmigiano-Reggiano, crushed red pepper, and a dollop of fresh ricotta.
A bottle of Sangiovese or Chianti Riserva gets opened, a few good-sized chunks of ciabatta get ripped off the loaf, and I settle in front of the big-ass TV and fire up The Godfather. Usually Parts I and II. Later years the marathon has included Part III which I don’t mind as much as some folks. I’ve watched every version over the years—theatrical releases, Director’s Cuts, and my fave being the 7-hour long re-edited in chronological order “The Godfather Saga.” More than once, I’ve watched the final scenes as dawn breaks on the New Year.
This ritual seems to ground me, connecting me to my family and friends scattered across the country. The wedding scene, the dinner gatherings, sauce-making instructions when they’ve gone “to the mattresses” all bringing back so many sweet memories while looking forward to making more in the coming year.
These movies are filled with violence and vengeance but also a passion for life, family, and food. They remind me of my own immigrant grandparents, their struggles surviving in a strange new world and that life is not always kind, fair or just but the most important thing, above all, is family and embracing the moments we spend together.
They embody a resolution I carry with me every day: “Hug them while you can, chilluns. Tomorrow Never Knows.”
Recipe: Yesterday, Today, and Amaro
Brian Kane, Abe Fisher | Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
One of the best-named cocktails from my book, Amaro, Yesterday, Today, and Amaro was created by bartender Brian Kane when he was working at Abe Fisher in Philadelphia. Kane told me the drink’s name was an homage to the history of passing down recipes for amaro production from one generation to the next.
Over the years making this bittersweet Manhattan variation on New Year’s Eve has become a personal tradition. It’s a terrific cocktail, but the name is just made for symbolically looking back to the year that’s in its final hours while embracing the company you’re with and a bit of hope for what’s to come.
(Most bars have all these ingredients on hand, so don’t be afraid to politely ask your bartender to make this for you. I’ve done that a few times this week and the bartender will likely give a nod of approval when they try it, and in all cases other people at the asked about the drink and ordered one for themselves.)
2 ounces rye (preferably Wild Turkey 101)
1/2 ounce Cynar
1/4 ounce Averna
1/4 ounce Bénédictine
Combine all the ingredients except the lemon zest in a mixing glass filled with ice.
Stir until chilled and strain into a chilled coupe or Nick & Nora glass.
Express the lemon zest over the surface of the drink and discard.
LAST CALL logo and design by Ed Anderson.