“After a year of pain and loss, it’s time to unite, heal, and rebuild.”
~ President-Elect Joe Biden on Dec. 26, 2020
As this post goes live, more than 300,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 – a horrible statistic that doesn’t come close to conveying the grief of countless family members and friends. We have a long road ahead to climb out of the dumpster fire that was 2020 – no one is naive enough to think that everything will suddenly be fine at 12:01am on Jan. 1, 2021. President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be able to drop “elect” from their titles when they’re sworn in on January 20, and hopefully that will galvanize our collective journey out of the wilderness.
We will always look at 2020 as one of the worst years of our lifetimes, but throughout the pandemic, I’ve been so lucky to have family, friends, and much more to keep me going. The following isn’t a “Best of 2020” list so much as “Things That Helped Me Get Through 2020.”
Take care, stay safe and healthy, and here’s to a better and brighter 2021!
ART BEYOND THE GLASS
COVID-19 Relief Fund
The hospitality industry was devastated by COVID-19. Across the country, tens of thousands of bars and restaurants were forced to close – many will never reopen. The heartbreaking losses in LA included Bibo Ergo Sum, Here’s Looking At You, Ma’am Sir, Beverly Soon Tofu, and Pacific Dining Car.
Bars and restaurants have demonstrated their resiliency throughout the pandemic – adapting to confusing opening/closing orders; launching cocktails to-go and food pickups/delivery; renovating spaces for outdoor dining; all while keeping the health and safety of staff and customers at top of mind.
With no support coming from the government, unemployed hospitality workers turned to national organizations like the USBG, Another Round Another Rally, and the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation for financial assistance. Locally, Va’La Hospitality launched the nonprofit No Us Without You to provide meal kits to undocumented back-of-house workers.
Art Beyond the Glass joined the effort in April with the COVID-19 Relief Fund, which supports bartenders suffering financial hardship due to loss of employment or reduced work hours. Beginning with a $12,000 seed donation from Bacardi, we’ve since provided micro grants to more than 180 bartenders across LA County. The fund is still accepting applications, and we encourage anyone who hasn’t done so yet to fill out the form.
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Sipping at Home
Along with countless other events this year, the ninth annual Art Beyond the Glass was canceled. Instead of our flagship event, we hosted a virtual telethon called Sipping at Home on May 3. The 12-hour telethon streamed live on The Hospitality Life Twitch and Facebook channels, while viewers sipped Cocktail Kits created by dozens of LA bartenders. Sipping at Home kicked off with a “Coast to Coast Martini,” featuring ABTG co-founder Zahra Bates and alums from across the country; then yours truly and ABTG Production Manager Clare Ward took turns co-hosting the telethon. It wasn’t the same as an actual ABTG, but it was a blast, and best of all proceeds went to the COVID-19 Relief Fund.
Friendsgiving & Festivus
The holidays are always a tough time for bartenders, who are usually working hard during one of the busiest seasons of the year instead of spending time with friends and family. Because of COVID-19, there would be more bar “orphans” this year than ever. In collaboration with USBG SoCal, ABTG gave away hundreds of meals and gift bags for Friendsgiving and Festivus – it was our way of saying “thank you” to the community that has given us so much.
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Last month, mi hermano en cócteles, Dave Stolte successfully closed the Kickstarter campaign for the 3rd Edition of his acclaimed cocktail book, Home Bar Basics (and Not-So-Basics). For the book’s 10th anniversary refresh, Dave collaborated with Jason Schiffer (Tradecraft Hospitality Collective) to create a new and expanded edition with more than 200 recipes for cocktails, sodas, syrups, cordials, liqueurs, and infused spirits.
Nearly 600 backers pledged more than $40,000 on Kickstarter, exceeding Dave’s goal by over $10,000. Those that pledged “The Works” received a signed copy of the book, a custom “Drinkify Me” portrait, and the iconic “four families” t-shirt.
If you missed out on the Kickstarter, not to worry: the 3rd Edition is now available at the Home Bar Basics website.
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Along with Home Bar Basics, several new cocktail books were added to the home library, including:
- Unvarnished – In proper Fear and Loathing style, The Varnish proprietor Eric Alperin and co-author Deborah Stoll reveal what the “glamorous” life of a bar owner is really like. Of course there are cocktail recipes, but the book’s focus is on stories that range from hilarious to poignant.
- The Craft of the Cocktail – Originally published in 2002, Dale DeGroff’s landmark book gets a major update with 100 all-new recipes (for a total of 500!), liquor brand recommendations for each recipe, and King Cocktail’s perspective on the changing cocktail landscape.
- Drink What You Want – In his foreword, Jim Meehan describes Drink What You Want as “the coming-out party the genre desperately needs.” Newbies and cocktail geeks alike will enjoy the 60+ recipes and easygoing approach of John deBary, who began his career at PDT, became the Momofuku group’s bar director, and is now CEO of Proteau and co-founder of RWCF.
- Drinking French – For now, the 160 recipes featured in Drinking French will have to stand in for a trip to Paris. Author David Lebovitz – who worked at Chez Panisse for nearly 13 years before moving to Paris in 2004 – encourages readers to vicariously experience the café culture that he eventually fell in love with: “You can recreate the feeling and flavors of a French café at home, no matter where you live.”
- Good Drinks – In the summer of 2018, Julia Bainbridge crisscrossed the country to gather nonalcoholic recipes from bartenders. The 50+ recipes are organized by occasion – brunch, a lazy weekend afternoon, happy hour, a leisurely dinner, or a quiet nightcap. There’s also an extensive pantry section, tips for sourcing ingredients, and a list of bars to visit (when we can travel again).
- Spirits of Latin America – Speed Rack co-founder, Ivy Mix shares her passion for Latin American spirits and drinking culture with 100+ recipes from her Brooklyn bar Leyenda, along with cocktails inspired by her travels.
- The United States of Cocktails – No other book will make you long for the open road like Brian Bartels ultimate bar crawl, which features more than 100 cocktail recipes from all 50 states (and the District of Columbia). Prompted by Brad Thomas Parsons, Bartels posted a Spotify list “to honor a lot of the music I listened to while traveling, researching, writing, and post-publication of The United States of Cocktails.”
These selected books are just the tip of the (clear) iceberg – as he does every year, Alcademics founder Camper English has posted a comprehensive list of cocktail books published in 2020.
An unexpected benefit of the numerous deep cleanings during lockdown was getting reacquainted with my vinyl collection – mixing for hours was a salve for the soul, and a reminder of so many friends and good times from the DJ years.
Celebrated every April by vinyl nerds around the world, Record Store Day changed its format this year from a single event to three monthly “Drops.” Inspired by RSD, I put the band back together for this year’s edition of Booze and Vinyl, a wildly eclectic collection of albums and paired cocktails from bar industry friends in LA and across the country. As always, there’s so much music I hadn’t heard before – check out the Spotify playlist, which clocks in at 15 hours!
For diehard Prince fans like yours truly, Christmas arrived in September with the release of Sign O’ The Times Super Deluxe Edition, a mindblowing 13 LP / 8 CD collection that includes the remastered album, 63 unreleased tracks from The Vault, 120-page hardcover book, and a live concert DVD – the New Year’s Eve show at Paisley Park was the only time that Prince and Miles Davis shared the stage. Much love to my brother Andrew for the best gift ever!
A dear friend, Chuck Taggart launched a weekly streaming radio show, Safe at Home which airs live every Saturday at 1pm Pacific. Archived shows are available at Mixcloud. Chuck is a former DJ at KCRW and KCSN – his euphonious voice and wide-ranging music selection is just what you need for a Saturday afternoon.
And speaking of KCRW, a shout-out to their Program Director of Music, Anne Litt for hosting Morning Becomes Eclectic and helping to keep me (and millions of other listeners) sane during the pandemic.
TV / STREAMING
Staying safe at home during the ongoing pandemic is a great reason to chip away at the endless queue list, which continues to grow with the deluge of new and returning series.
The Mandalorian Season 2 (Disney+) – SPOILERS AHEAD: Yeah yeah, Grogu aka Baby Yoda aka The Child is adorable. But “Chapter 14: The Tragedy” made me feel like a kid again with the return of BOBA FUCKING FETT. Robert Rodriguez directed the best episode of The Mandalorian to date, which not only brings back the legendary bounty hunter (played by Temuera Morrison) but also new fan favorite Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen). Peyton Reed (Ant-Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp) directed the thrilling season finale – Luke Skywalker himself saves the day, and the post-credits scene announces a new Boba Fett series and features a cameo by Melrose Umbrella alum Rachel McDermott!
Bosch Season 6 (Amazon Prime, April) – Bosch has no equal in its authentic use of LA locations, and in the early weeks of the pandemic it was especially emotional to see places that we weren’t able to visit in person. The series’ penultimate season debuted in April, which was perfect timing for those of us that needed to catch up – guilty as charged. (Was I the only one that yelled at the screen when Titus Welliver guest starred on The Mandalorian?)
The Boys Season 2 (Amazon Prime) – Diabolical! This satire of the superhero genre is loads of fun, and Season 2 ratchets up the action, bloodshed and razor sharp social commentary. The Boys made Barack Obama’s year-end list of favorites, which delights me to no end.
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (Netflix) – In his intro, the legendary naturalist calls this documentary his “witness statement” – a retrospective of his extraordinary career, an unflinching look at humanity’s devastating impact on nature, and a message of hope for the future.
Doom Patrol Season 2 (HBO Max) – You know you’re in for a different kind of comic book series when a recurring character is a sentient, genderqueer street – yes, street – named Danny. Doom Patrol wears its weirdness on its sleeve, and thankfully Season 2 loses none of that while exploring deeper emotional issues within the dysfunctional team of oddball heroes.
The Flight Attendant (HBO Max) – Kaley Cuoco is fantastic in the title role of Cassie Bowden, a hard-partying flight attendant who wakes up in a hotel bed next to a dead body and can’t remember what happened. Lots of fun twists and turns as Cassie tries to solve the murder, with help from her best friend Annie (Zosia Mamet, who steals every scene she’s in).
Great Pretender (Netflix) – If you’re a fan of cinematic cons and heists like the Ocean’s movies and The Sting, then Great Pretender is the anime series for you. Capers are grouped into “Cases” – Season 1 was released worldwide in August and featured Cases in Los Angeles, Singapore and London. Season 2 is a nine-episode Case that’s mostly based in Japan. With its 23-minute episodes, breezy style and saturated color palette, Great Pretender is perfect for a weekend brunch binge. And try to find a better end credits – go ahead, I’ll wait.
Kingdom Season 2 (Netflix) – I’m not much of a fan of the zombie genre, but I was hooked on Netflix’s first Korean original series from the get-go. Set during the Joseon period, Kingdom tells the story of the Crown Prince as he battles a deadly plague spreading across the country (sound familiar?) and struggles to save the royal dynasty from being overthrown. Season 2 was released on March 13, just days before LA went into lockdown.
Lovecraft Country (HBO) – Anchored by stars Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors, the pendulum for this wildly uneven series swings from “OH SHIT” awesome to “WTF just happened?” confusion. Lovecraft Country is never less than interesting to watch, and when an episode sticks the landing it’s irresistible.
Perry Mason (HBO) – Another series that makes great use of LA locations, Perry Mason is set in 1932 and tells the origin story of the famed defense lawyer, played by a superb Matthew Rhys, as he works to solve a sensational child kidnapping and murder. Originally intended to be a limited series, Perry Mason was renewed for a second season in July.
The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) – Making chess exciting is no small feat, and The Queen’s Gambit boasts the most memorable games since Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway flirted with each other in The Thomas Crown Affair. The Queen’s Gambit features an exceptional performance by Anya Taylor-Joy as the orphaned chess prodigy, Beth Harmon along with gorgeous Mid-Century fashion and production design. Taylor-Joy’s star continues to rise with the recent announcement that she’ll play Furiosa in George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road prequel.
Top Chef: All-Stars LA (Bravo) – For its 17th season, Top Chef returned to Los Angeles for an All-Stars edition that brought back cheftestants from previous seasons. World-famous LA locations are featured throughout the season, but for gourmands the second episode is really worth watching – it’s an homage to beloved food critic Jonathan Gold.
The Umbrella Academy Season 2 (Netflix) – The misfit siblings have to prevent the apocalypse again, but this time they’re trapped in 1960s Dallas, and the assassination of JFK is just days away. In many ways, Season 2 is a big step up from the series’ debut season. The Umbrella Academy has been renewed for a third season, which is great because Season 2 ends in a cliffhanger!
Warrior Season 2 (Cinemax) – Based on a concept by Bruce Lee, and executive-produced by his daughter Shannon Lee and Justin Lin, Warrior is a spectacular tale of the Tong Wars set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in the 1870s. For this Chinese American, there was no greater joy than watching the Asian lead actors kick ass through the series’ 20 episodes. Season 2 takes the martial arts action and production design to another level, especially the mind-blowing ninth episode, appropriately titled “Enter the Dragon.” Warrior will be available on HBO and HBO Max starting Jan.1, 2021 which should mean that it will get the wider audience that it deserves. Cinemax has ceased production of original programming, so here’s hoping Warrior eventually finds a new home for its third season.
Like concerts, performing arts, and sports, there’s nothing like the communal experience of watching a movie in a packed theatre. We won’t really be able to do that for the foreseeable future, but at least we have the convenience of streaming films from the comfort of home.
Soul (Disney+) – Pete Docter has directed some of Pixar’s most beloved and acclaimed films, including Monsters, Inc., Up and Inside Out. He may have topped himself with Soul, which he co-directed with Kemp Powers. The stellar voice cast includes Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Graham Norton, Rachel House, Alice Braga, Richard Ayoade, Phylicia Rashad, Donnell Rawlings, Questlove, and Angela Bassett. Soul‘s message about living life to the fullest is one we all need to hear, while the Big Questions it asks are presented with stunning visuals, Pixar’s trademark humor, original jazz songs by Jon Batiste, and an ethereal new age score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross.
Da 5 Bloods (Netflix) – Delroy Lindo gives the performance of his career in Spike Lee’s epic Vietnam War drama, which stars the late Chadwick Boseman as the fallen squad leader that the surviving “Bloods” are searching for, along with a buried cache of gold. Released in June, the movie’s nod to the Black Lives Matter movement could not have been more timely.
Extraction (Netflix) – Chris Hemsworth stars as a black market mercenary in the most-watched original film in Netflix history, which has a sequel in development and a potential cinematic universe according to the Russo Brothers. Some of the action sequences are among the best in years, though the sheer amount of relentless violence borders on numbing.
First Cow (Showtime) – The New York Film Critics Circle named First Cow the Best Film of 2020, and it’s been popping up on numerous critics’ best of 2020 lists, which is how I stumbled on this gem. Set in the Oregon Territory circa 1820, First Cow is the story of two outsiders who form an unlikely friendship and hatch a money-making scheme that involves the title bovine. Kelly Reichardt’s minimalist style asks you to recalibrate your usual viewing habits – she takes her time in telling her story, and if you can shut out the distractions for a couple of hours, you’ll be rewarded with a sublime frontier tale that will linger with you long after you’ve watched it.
Hamilton (Disney+) – Originally scheduled for an October 2021 theatrical release, Hamilton was moved up to Fourth of July weekend, and according to Variety it’s the most-streamed film of 2020. For fans of the blockbuster musical, watching the original Broadway cast perform at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in Midtown Manhattan will be a welcome trip down memory lane. And those that have never seen Hamilton will experience the next best thing to being in the theatre audience.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) – Based on August Wilson’s play of the same name, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom stars Viola Davis as the “Mother of the Blues” and in his final performance, Chadwick Boseman as trumpeter Levee Green. Davis is commanding in the title role, but watching Boseman – who died of colon cancer in August – railing at God in an incendiary monologue, it’s impossible not to think that he’s speaking as himself, instead of Levee.
Mank (Netflix) – Directed by David Fincher from a screenplay by his late father Jack, Mank stars Gary Oldman in the title role as Herman J. Mankiewicz, the infamous screenwriter of Citizen Kane. The film oozes Oscar bait, from historical figures like Marion Davies (Amanda Seyfried), Louis B. Mayer (Arliss Howard), and William Randolph Hearst (Charles Dance), to the striking black and white cinematography by Erik Messerschmidt. Incredibly, the evocative period score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross was recorded remotely during the pandemic.
The Old Guard (Netflix) – Charlize Theron as the leader of a team of immortal mercenaries? Yes please!
Small Axe: Lovers Rock (Amazon Prime) – Amazon is reportedly going to campaign Steve McQueen’s five-part film anthology for the Emmys in 2021, but that didn’t stop the Los Angeles Film Critics Association from naming Small Axe the Best Film of 2020. The second film in the series, Lovers Rock is centered on a house party, so obviously I had to watch that one first. Like the other films, Lovers Rock is inspired by true stories of West Indian immigrants in London – in this episode, it’s a 1980s “blues party” that’s a must-see just for the extended “Silly Games” sing-along.
The Vast of Night (Amazon Prime) – Andrew Patterson makes a sensational directorial debut with this old school sci-fi film that evokes The Twilight Zone and early Spielberg, as our young heroes investigate a mysterious radio signal in 1950s New Mexico.
“THE PRINCESS BRIDE” REUNION
Fezzik: Why do you wear a mask? Were you burned by acid, or something like that?
Man in Black: Oh no, it’s just that they’re terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.
In September, fans of The Princess Bride were treated to a marvelous virtual reunion of the original cast in support of Wisconsin Democrats. Mandy Patinkin was the MVP of the live table read, which featured Cary Elwes and Robin Wright, who looked like they time traveled directly from 1987 and into the Zoom; Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, and Carol Kane. Guest stars included Rob Reiner as the Grandfather, Josh Gad as Fezzik, Eric Idle as the Impressive Clergyman, Whoopi Goldberg as the Ancient Booer and the Mother, and Jason Reitman as the narrator.
LAKERS & DODGERS
On January 26, the world was stunned by the news that Lakers legend Kobe Bryant had died in a helicopter crash along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others. His memory carried the team through a season like no other, and on to the franchise’s 17th championship. A year that began with tragedy ended with the presentation of the Lakers’ championship rings on opening night of the 2020-21 season on December 22 (!).
Sixteen days later, the Dodgers won their seventh World Series championship – the franchise’s first since 1988. According to Wikipedia, it’s the shortest timespan for two championships in the same city. Minutes after the final out, landmarks across LA, from City Hall to the Santa Monica Pier, were lit up in Dodger Blue.
We weren’t able to watch the Dodgers and Lakers in person, or gather with friends to cheer for the home teams on the road to victory. But Angelenos can always look back at October 2020 with pride, even in a terrible year that had precious few moments to celebrate.