Interview with Misty Kalkofen, Harvard Divinity School Grad Turned Bartender

Misty KalkofenEach week, we post short interviews with interesting people about their thoughts and feelings on women and drinking. There is such a wide array of perspectives about this topic, and we are excited to gain insight into as many as possible and to share them with you. 

Misty Kalkofen first stepped behind the bar while studying theology at Harvard Divinity School. Shortly thereafter, she joined the opening staff of the B-Side Lounge, the first bar in the city to focus on classic cocktails and vintage spirits. Kalkofen teamed up with a few fellow enthusiasts to create Boston’s first modern day cocktail club, the Jack Rose Society. In 2007, Kalkofen founded the Boston chapter of Ladies United for the Preservation of the Endangered Cocktail (LUPEC), fulfilling her desire to make a “cocktail for a cause.”  Rooted in the belief that everyone loves a good drink, people like to do good things, and broads can accomplish anything, the ladies of LUPEC have raised over $40,000 for local Boston women’s charities by throwing the best parties in town.

Kalkofen has been featured in Bon Appetit, Imbibe, Food & Wine Cocktail editions, Wine Enthusiast, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Tasting Panel, Wine & Spirits, and more. Cultivating a spirit of camaraderie among cocktail lovers (while showing everyone a really good time in the process) is Misty’s mission across the many communities she touches.

Drinking Diaries: How did/does your family treat drinking?

Misty Kalkofen: Growing up, alcohol was openly appreciated in our home.  It was never treated as something off-limits.  Don’t get me wrong.  My parents weren’t dishing out gin and tonics, but if I asked for a sip as a child I could have one.  My parents knew that I most likely wouldn’t enjoy it and I would move along.  And as I got older (high school and early college) I would be offered a bit of wine when my parents and older sisters were having some with dinner.  I think this has a lot to do with why I never felt the need to go behind my parents’ backs and binge with friends in high school or college.  I knew what it was and I knew I could have it in a controlled way that was acceptable to my parents.LUPEC logo

How do you approach alcohol in your every day life?/Have you ever had a phase in your life when you drank more or less?

I’m going to answer these together. As someone working in the bar industry it’s a careful balance.  Work always involves the presence of alcohol.  Nights off frequently involve events sponsored by brands where spirits are plentiful.  Moderation and balance is important but at times can be very difficult to attain and maintain.  I’m forty and I’m still figuring it out.  What I’m learning is that it’s important to take times to leave the alcohol behind for a period.  Obviously my job will continue to involve tasting and working on cocktails but sometimes it’s important to have social drinking be minimized to come back to equilibrium.  I’m currently on a self-imposed ride on the wagon to allow my body to breathe and reset.

What’s your drink of choice? Why?

I love agave distillates.  Tequila, mezcal, bacanora.  I love the connection of agave and the history and people of Mexico.  Some of the producers of mezcal are using the same methods that their families have been using for nine or more generations.  It’s culture in a glass.

Can you tell us about the best time you ever had drinking?

Every time I’m drinking mezcal in Oaxaca it’s perfect, but I would say my favorite trip thus far was for dia de los muertos in 2010. I was surrounded by old friends while meeting new friends.   From building an altar to visiting the families of mezcal producers it was an amazing experience.

Has drinking ever affected—either negatively or positively—a relationship of yours?

I’ve definitely had relationships where rules had to be in place.  For example, I once had a boyfriend who was only allowed one gin martini.  Two gin martinis always led to fights and tears.  But I think there are a lot of things one needs to learn when starting a new relationship.  One’s ability to imbibe is one of them especially when you work in this industry.

What do you like most about drinking?

I love the social aspect of drinking.  I love sharing a bottle of wine with my girlfriends.  I love being able to serve my friends a drink when I’m working.  In my life it brings people together for good times and good reasons.  The best example of this is LUPEC.  LUPEC stands for Ladies United for the Preservation of the Endangered Cocktail and I am the president of the Boston chapter.   We are a women’s cocktail organization that throws great parties to raise money for women’s charities in the Boston area.  We have supported Jane Doe Inc (the MA coalition against domestic violence and sexual assault), the Friends Boutique at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and the women’s wing of the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans.  Most recently, we have been supporting an organization called On the Rise based in Cambridge.  On the Rise, a day program for homeless women, takes a long term relational approach to help women find long term solutions based upon a whole life context.

How has alcoholism affected your life?

My oldest sister’s husband is a recovering alcoholic.  I’ve watched as she’s been an absolute rock through the whole experience – being supportive of him when appropriate, the hard ass when it was necessary and a loving mother to three kids through the whole experience.  Between watching her and talking with her about her experiences in contrast to the amazing experiences I’ve had as a result of the spirits industry, I’ve seen the spectrum of how alcohol can be good or evil.  It’s a constant reminder of the importance of balance and moderation.

If you could be any drink, what would it be? Why?

An old fashioned.  When you see the ingredients written on paper it seems very simple.  Spirits, sugar, water and bitters.  But when prepared with care it has layers of complexity that unfold over the course of experiencing it.  There is a reason that even though it has been around since 1806, it is still one of the most frequently called for cocktails.

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The Bar That Almost Closed

In the Fall, we ran a bar series during which a group of writers shared stories and memories of a particular bar. Although the series has technically run its course, we are always happy to feature work by our contributors that’s related to our blog.

In last Sunday’s New York Times, Helene Stapinski wrote a piece about Max Fish, a Lower East Side bar that was scheduled  to close at the end of January. In her article, The Max Fish Magic: Will It Travel Well? Stapinski recounts her history as a regular at the 21-year-old establishment, and what specifically makes it such a special place.

“Will Max Fish still be Max Fish if it moves?” she writes. “Can the magic be recreated in another space? Is it the people and bartenders, or the walls and the windows and the tin ceiling, that make the place cool — or some mystical combination of them all?”

Read Helene Stapinski’s posts for Drinking Diaries here.

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Adding Bartender to Your Party List

In a recent piece in the New York Times, Tim Murphy writes that among the 30-something New Yorker set, hiring a bartender adds class to a party, no matter how small the apartment and its reading-corner-cum-bar.

In addition to polishing your act (no more keg and chips for you), hiring a bartender for an at-home party can have pragmatic purpose–relieving the host of having to deal with all of your guests’ beverage needs.

In every city, there are professional services that can provide you with bartender sources–the Times piece reports that for four to five hours of work, bartenders charge between $100 and $200. Or, you could do what we do: hire a relative, give him a quick bartending education (or refer him to any of the Bartending 101-like classes on line), and unless he tests out too many of his concoctions and forgets how to mix a cocktail, you should be all set. Party on.

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What do you mean you won’t serve me?

images-2When I was pregnant–all three times–I drank the occasional glass of wine with my obstetrician’s blessing. I waited until the first trimester to indulge, and subsequently reveled in every last–albeit limited–sip.

It seems that many women, according to a recent article in the New York Post titled “I’m Drinking for Two,” continue to do the same despite the continual controversy. But what to do when you are faced with the almighty waiter, or bartender, who thinks they know best about you and your baby’s health?

I recently heard a story about a pregnant woman who was at restaurant and when she asked the waitress for a glass of wine, the waitress answered, “We don’t serve alcohol to pregnant people here.”

Needless to say, the customer was angry and wondered where this waitress got off telling her what she’s allowed, or in this case, not allowed to drink.no-drinking-while-pregnant-sign-300x300

Why is that bartenders and waiters wield such great power in the world of consumption? I suppose it’s they’re the ones in control of all those bottles, glasses, soda fountain dispensers…and peanuts.

But when an obese diner orders an ice cream sundae for dessert, does the waiter suggest they go for the fresh fruit? I don’t think so.

I have a good idea how I’d respond to a waiter who thought it was okay to take those kinds of liberties.

But I’d be curious to hear what people think about that scenario—should pregnant women be able to order a glass of wine at a restaurant?

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The Grinder

72873013MT002_Retailers_HopBy Deirdre Sinnott

Much like the Mickey Mouse Club, I too had my “Anything Can Happen” days. When I was drinking, Mickey might not have made an appearance, but other rodents did.

One of my messiest nights began at Macy’s. It was just before Christmas. Mary, a friend from a theater group I worked with, and I sweated on a long line waiting to buy a pepper grinder. This was the first simple, hand-cranking pepper mill I’d found after searching in various stores.

Mary was due to sing at the Fulton Fish Market in Manhattan. Each year the businesses at the Market set up bleachers made to resemble an isosceles triangle. Choral singers wearing green and red holiday outfits crowded the steps and formed a living, singing, Christmas tree. Mary pulled away from the checkout line. “I’ve got to go or I’ll be late. You don’t want to see some naked cherub dangling off the tree do you?”

We made plans to meet after she was done singing, but once I finally purchased my pepper mill I didn’t want to go directly downtown.

Soon enough, I was elbows on a bar, drinking a shot of scotch with a beer chaser. It was the first of the evening and as the burning liquid raced down my throat, I felt like the night had endless possibilities. I agreed with the bartender that one set deserved a companion and slammed down another two drinks. Soon my Macy’s bag and I were headed downtown.

Once at the Fulton Fish Market, I followed the sounds of the chorus until I stood before the display. It was glorious. Mary was near the top, properly dressed in a pointed green felt hat, red collar, and elf-like green jacket, exactly like the rest of the singers. There was an outdoor café and I squeezed my way up to the bar, turning sideways so that I could fit between the white guys in suits that dominated the scene. I put my Macy’s bag on the bar, ordered a new shot and beer combo, and watched the tree vibrate with holiday spirit.

“Fun isn’t it?” asked one of the suits. As I sipped my scotch, I assessed him. He was sort of chubby with an unruly lock of hair that skittered around his forehead in the breeze coming off the bay. He looked like a boy dressed up for church by his mother.

“It’s not exactly my type of music,” I said. “I’m more partial to Blues than caroling.”

“You know a place?” he asked. I nodded and pitched my drink into my mouth, swallowing hard. I was ready to go. Mary was totally forgotten, secondary to an impulsive adventure. My Macy’s bag was almost forgotten too, only rescued by the quick-thinking bartender. Moments later we were in a cab heading to Dan Lynch’s on Second Avenue and Fourteenth Street.

At Dan Lynch’s I continued to indulge, putting down more drinks. When I stepped away from my stool and walked into the gloom to go the toilet, I realized that perhaps I had drunk too much. In the women’s room mirror, my pale reflection glowed blue from the fluorescent lights. I looked like the exhausted ghost of Christmas-yet-to-be.

When I got back to the bar, my suited companion was gone. “Is he in the bathroom?” I asked the bartender.

“Went the other way,” he replied, nodding toward the door. A large African-American man leaned against a barstool, surveying the action inside and giving the once-over to any new customers.

I asked him if he had seen my suit leave. He nodded. “Got into a cab,” he said.

Here is where it gets a little dicey. I can’t quite remember what I did next. I do remember the bouncer hugging me and, since I had been so unceremoniously dumped, asking me if I needed a little company. Apparently, with total willingness, I went downstairs into the office for sex. I remember a blowup mattress, already fully inflated, being thrown down on the floor. I remember, as I lay on my back hugging his solid body with my legs, seeing cases of beer and hard liquor ringing the mattress. I remember the smell of stale ale and the scratching noises of mice scurrying around the periphery. I remember begging the man on top of me not to come inside of me.

The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the subway traveling back to Astoria, Queens where I lived. I looked in my lap and saw the Macy’s bag. When I peeked into the box, my pepper mill was gone. I threw the bag onto the floor, much to the disgust of another passenger who loudly complained.

How could I explain myself? I opened my mouth to try, but couldn’t. Instead I sobbed.

This essay is a follow-up to Deirdre Sinnott’s well received Video Tour of a Few NYC Bars, a short, sassy “tour de glass” of her old drinking haunts. Deirdre’s work has appeared in the special nonfiction issue of the literary magazine Cadillac Cicatrix and she is a regular book reviewer for ForeWord Magazine. Her writing appears in Catskill Review of Books, World View Forum, Blue Collar Holler, Della Donna Webzine, and in two anthologies. Much more information and other stories can be found on her website www.DeirdreSinnott.com.

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