There are few people in the world as well versed in the history of mixed drinks and the culture surrounding them as David Wondrich. A former Shakespeare professor, he’s been an iconic figure in the cocktail world since he began writing about it nearly two decades ago. As Robert Simonson wrote in his history of the modern cocktail revival, A Proper Drink, “[Wondrich] has arguably taught more mixologists how to build classic cocktails than [Dale] DeGroff, Dick Bradsell, and all their disciples put together.”
It’s not an exaggeration. Not only has Wondrich authored a number of books, building on his own research into the history of cocktailing (among them, his James Beard Award-winning Imbibe! and Punch), he’s responsible for reviving a growing number of historic spirits, liqueurs and recipes. In fact, per bartender Julie Reiner, it’s Wondrich who’s partially responsible for her own twist on the Clover Club; as she was opening her famed Brooklyn bar, he suggested adding half an ounce of dry vermouth to its namesake drink. The reason? He’d recently happened upon the oldest recipe in existence, and was able to provide her with the original specs.
So what does Wondrich do when he’s not drinking, writing, consulting or drink-making? And what’s the one thing he knows now that he wishes he’d known years ago? Here, the author takes a stab at our Lookbook Questionnaire to share his strangest hobbies, his favorite bar and his go-to drink in a dive.
Senior Drinks Columnist, the Daily Beast.
What do want to be when you grow up?
I don’t know, but it’s going to involve blowing things up and I’ll get to wear a cool hat.
Best thing you ever drank:
There are many candidates, but today I’ll go with, It was a 30-plus-year-old unblended cognac from Maison Surenne that was as soft and lovely as a sleeping kitten.
Worst thing you ever drank:
Centipede wine. A dead, completely intact centipede the size of a kielbasa curled up inside a bottle of hooch. Tasted suspiciously of bug spray.
First time you ever got drunk:
My friend Jon was from Texas. He filled up an old Army canteen with cheap tequila, orange juice and grenadine and we drank it out in the woods, where there were a bunch of other kids hanging out. There may have been some Columbian gold smoked, and some warm beer. I was laughing—everyone was laughing. Suddenly it didn’t seem so bad to be in high school.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
David Wondrich, Live in Lagos with Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Africa 70.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
I collect strainers. Strainers.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
That it would be really, really worth trying to get hold of one blowhard NYC real-estate developer’s tax returns.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
I made this thing for Esquire about ten years back I called a Whiskeyburger: ground chuck fat-washed in Jim Beam rye, up, with housemade mustard bitters and tomato syrup, topped with a lettuce-onion foam. It was done as a joke, but you know it wasn’t half bad.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Pitching quoits—oh, wait, that involves drinking. Ambling around and looking at things. Or reading about pirates.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
Somebody once asked me for a “vodka-soda.” That’s vodka and soda water. Soda water! Weird.
Your favorite bar:
McSorley’s Old Ale House, New York. I’ve been drinking there since 1978, so they must be doing something right.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
Le Globe d’Or, Rue. St. Honoré Paris, 1990. Frisée aux lardons, duck confit, duck-fat potatoes, a bottle of Côtes de Blaye, cheese, cognac, coffee. Perfection.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
It changes pretty often, but right now I’ve been ordering a lot of Rob Roys.
Wait, they have wine bars? Nobody tells me anything.
In a dive bar?
I always try to drink the wine of the country, by which I mean a shorty of whatever beer is local and not too hop-bound and a shot of whiskey.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Shame, regret, self-recrimination and a long, brisk walk.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
I wish each drinks list was only allowed one rocks drink, which had to be labeled as such. That way I could easily avoid it (I’m heartily sick of all my cocktails being served on ice; again, I collect strainers).
The last text message you sent:
“I went with ‘Set Cointreau for the Heart of the Sun.’”