Monday, April 9, 2012

Scottish Theatre, Scottish Booze

I go to a lot of theatre, and am routinely disappointed by the bar found therein. The liquor choices are predictable and mundane. The skills of the bartenders are nil. You can't order a drink any more complicated than a gin and tonic. And when "custom" cocktails related to the show are featured, they are typically dispiriting vodka creations of overpowering sweetness. (I won't even get into the prevalence of alcohol-filled sippy cups.)

A class apart is E:Bar, the bar at the theatre complex 59E59 Theatres on the east side of Manhattan. Because the executive producer is a Scot, and because the theatre often hosts British and Scottish artists, the bar has a single malt collection to match nearly any bar in town. And the prices are in keeping with those bars. Here's a piece I wrote about it for the New York Times:
A Theatre Bar Fluent in Scotch
By Robert Simonson
The Scotch lover bellying up to a New York theater bar at intermission is lucky if he can score some Dewar’s White Label. At E:Bar, in the Midtown theater complex known as 59E59 Theaters, that same thirsty theatergoer can choose among 20 single malts. There are the bottles you would expect at any halfway decent bar, like Glenfiddich and The Macallan. But E:Bar also stocks also peaty Islay Scotches including Lagavulin, Bowmore and Ardbeg; the smooth, triple-distilled Lowlands whiskey Auchentoshan; and two briny specimens from high up in the Orkney Islands, Highland Park and Scapa.
This generous selection of nectar will likely sit just fine with the artists involved in “A Slow Air” and “Federer Versus Murray,” two Scottish plays that begin performances on Wednesday as part of Scotland Week 2012, a promotion of Scottish culture that runs from April 6 to 14 in several cities in the United States and Canada. 59E59 participated in its first Scotland Week last year, hosting a single show, “The Promise,” starring actress Joanna Tope.
Asked if Ms. Tope appreciated the tribute to her homeland’s native spirit, the 59E59 executive producer Peter Tear and the bar’s manager, Alberto Rosario, only laughed, as if the question needn’t be answered. “She and her husband have a house near Oban,” in Scotland, Mr. Tear said. “They’re used to nursing a whisky by the fire.” (E:Bar has Oban whisky, too.) As for the actors in the new plays, they have gotten wind of the bar’s offerings. “They come over on the trip expecting the best,” Mr. Tear said.
The thespians can thank Mr. Tear for 59E59’s unusually robust back bar. A Scot, he was born in a few miles from Kilmarnock, which for many years was home to a huge Johnnie Walker plant. Mr. Tear’s uncle was the whisky’s marketing manager in the 1950s. When the theater was being developed, Mr. Tear remembered, the bar area “was earmarked to be a cookie and coffee bar. Being a good Scot, I thought, that ain’t going to happen.”
E:Bar opened in early 2004. When it began hosting the annual theater festival Brits Off Broadway — which occasionally featured a Scottish play or two — Mr. Tear began adding Scotches to the bar menu. The collection grew from there.
“Many of our patrons are surprised to find these whiskys in a theater bar,” said Mr. Rosario, who began his career at 59E59 as a bartender six years ago. “Coal Ila and Scapa are good sellers.” All the Scotches cost $12 to $14 a dose.
59E59’s bar opens an hour before curtain, and you don’t have to buy a ticket to drink there. The best time to visit may be post-show, when the performers file in to relax with a wee dram. “We want the actors to mix with the patrons,” Mr. Tear said.

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