Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Hirschfeld of the Saloon Set

The theatre had Al Hirschfeld. The cocktail crowd has Jill DeGroff.

Jill is cocktail pioneer Dale DeGroff's wife, and can be seen accompanying her husband at various cocktail events. As her husband's better half, she's had ample opportunity to meet the eminent bartenders, mixologists and "brand ambassadors" of the world, and has caught their essences in ink and paint.

Jill has just published a compilation of some of her sketches in a book titled "Lush Life," published by the invaluable cocktail imprint, Mud Puddle. On the cover is seemingly universally beloved cocktail author and eccentric Gary Regan, in long hair mode (as opposed to long beard mode). Inside, you'll find portraits of such figures as Audrey Saunders (above), Julie Reiner, Jim Meehan, David Wondrich, Simon Ford, as well as bartenders Chris McMillian, Misty Kalkofen, Giuseppe Gonzalez, Chad Solomon, John Myers, Chris Hannah, and others. They're accompanied with brief biographical sketches that range from the perfunctory to the revealing. The best are ones written by the subjects themselves.

There's little chance that the average reader will be familiar with any of the subjects. But that doesn't matter much. The caricatures are a pleasure in themselves. DeGroff's likenesses are ripely drawn and colored. There's a bit of haziness around the edges and the lines, which is appropriate, given most of the people spend the bulk of their time in bars, where lights are low and eyesight gets fuzzy as the night goes on. Having met most of the people in the book, I can testify to DeGroff's ability to capture the essence of a person—not necessarily exactly how they look, but how they look when you think of them. Too many of today's caricaturists err on the side of naturalism or are Hirschfeld manques; that is not the case here. There's something about her style that reminds me of Jazz Age Vanity Fair caricaturist Miguel Covarrubias.

Dale DeGroff is depicted a couple times, and son Leo gets a page. Dale penned the Foreward. (Wonder how hard it was to score that coup.)

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