There's been a lot of boozing on the culture front with NY Craft Beer Week in full swing. Last Friday, I sampled a number of rare brews at Freaktoberfest, a delightful combination of beer and burlesque hosted by Rock Shop. Brewers lined the walls of both levels, and the crowd spilled out onto the expansive roof terrace. What I liked most about the offerings is that they were generally special and rare brews that you can't drink every day. The results were varied -- a collaboration between Ithica, Captain Lawrence and Shmaltz called Geektoberfest fell short of impressive -- but the good definitely outweighed the bad.
My favorite, hands down, was the Bruery's Autumn Maple. It's a take on the standard pumpkin beer but made with yams instead and topped off with pure maple syrup for good measure. The result is astoundingly balanced for being such a rich and powerful (10.5 % abv) beer, and very easy to drink way too much. As luck would have it, the beer made another appearance at Get Real NY the following evening. The event was held in the Altman Building, and while it was incredibly hectic, there were many treats to combat the long lines and crowding. Foodwise, shrimp rolls from Luke's Lobster were insanely good as were Amy's Cookies' version of the Oreo with an intense fudge filling. The main draw of the event, though, was a center island that poured dozens of casks, including a number from the Bruery (my new favorite microbrew) as well as Stone, Pretty Things, Left Hand, and many others. The tasting glass was also quite nice.
Abita Beer, located in Louisiana near New Orleans, hosted a beer and barbecue dinner at Hill Country on Wednesday night to showcase just how well beer pairs with food. The four courses were each accompanied by a different beer. As we walked down to the basement room, people were milling about and it took us a little while to identify the table for the event. When we did, we were greeted with an immediate pour of the first beer of the evening, the Restoration Pale Ale. Soon after, we received the Tex-Mex taquitos to pair with it. They were a perfect amuse bouche, preparing us for the smoked pork belly, which was surprisingly lean. The accompanying spicy slaw was balanced with the mild Amber Brew.
These first two courses were served family style, but for the entrees they broke out the plates. A coffee-rubbed Texas tenderloin with au gratin potatoes and earthy mushrooms were paired with deeply dark Turbodog. The meat was cooked a perfect medium-rare and given a nice extra kick by the coffee rub. The peach cobbler for dessert looked like a bit of a train wreck but tasted great. The pecan praline ice cream served on top was a particularly tasty touch. Pairing it with the sweet Purple Haze was a bit too intense for my palate, but I enjoyed it after the meal as they kept pouring and a country-western band clad in cowboy hats took the stage. One beer of note they left off the menu is Abita's SOS, brewed after the recent gulf oil spill to raise money for the relief efforts.
Lastly on the boozy front, I took in a dinner hosted by Leblon at the soon to be unveiled tropical chic cocktail bar Lani Kai. The cachaca maker (don't call it rum!) waxed about the virtues of the refined Brazilian spirit that were evident in the drinks of evening, including the classic caipirinhas. I always thought rum was too jarring on the palate to drink in anything but a superbly crafted cocktail. To my delight, cachaca hits subtler notes without cutting the alcohol, and adjusts well for upcoming winter libations. The weather the night of the dinner was pretty muggy though, so the jalapeno spiced concoction was a bit hard to swallow. Damn global warming!
On the theater front, the results have been less successful. Sarah Ruhl's adaptation of Virginia Woolf's Orlando highlights the work's gender-bending themes but never comes together as a whole. The second act is far more enjoyable, though, and features some great farcical moments courtesy of the talented David Greenspan in multiple roles. Allen Moyer's cleverly minimalist set design conveys a lot of the magic Ruhl's script fails to, with simple props like a meticulously constructed miniature house. Many elements work as well in Carl Foreman's revival of Michael Frayn's Alphabetical Order, a frantic farce about the final days of a newspaper. The cast is quite good, especially Brad Bellamy who bears an uncanny resemblance to James Urbaniak. They handle Frayn's excruciatingly fast-paced dialogue with aplomb, but the play has tone problems that can't be overcome. It's structured like a farce, but it's only funny intermittently. The rest of the play has a melancholic tinge to it, which could work, but the farcical pacing never gives the characters the space they need to stretch out. Equally troubling is Lee Hall's wordy Pitmen Painters. The Billy Elliot scribe starts with a promising true story of miners who became painters and won the respect of the art world in the 1930s, but most of the scenes feel watered down at best and terribly trite at worst. At its heart, it's a show about what it means to be an artist, but Hall is never quite able to capture that excitement.
Aaron Sorkin's script for The Social Network draws the audience in from the first scene that races through nine pages in four and a half minutes without missing a beat. It's the breakup scene between Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his girlfriend. We see both how awkward and arrogant he is as well as his obsession of being liked and vaulting ambition that leads him to screw over countless people throughout the film. In a Q&A, Sorkin said that he thought the film could be viewed from many perspectives, but the placement of the opening scene suggests otherwise. It ends with Zuckerberg's now ex-girlfriend telling him that he's going to go through life thinking that girl's don't like him because he's a nerd, but she wants him to know from the bottom of her heart that it's not true. It's because he's an asshole, and it's through this sentiment that we view the nearly two hours the follows. It's highly enjoyable whether you update your Facebook status every fifteen minutes or still don't have a page like me.
Finally, on the music front, Belle and Sebastian played their first show in New York since 2006 on Thursday night. Taking the stage shortly after 8pm under ominous skies, the band launched into a wide array of songs with a strong showing from If You're Feeling Sinister. The only problem is that when I hear a song from that album, I need to hear the rest. "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying" closed the show with an infectious string of lyrics that flows off the tongue so effortlessly. It was an unexpected closer, especially coming off of the much higher energy "Me and the Major". Looking back on it, though, it was kind of a perfectly sardonic ending. Stuart, Stevie, and co. sounded great throughout the two hour set and brought along a string section to fill out the group nicely.
The great thing about their music is they sing somber folk songs in a way that can only make you smile. Part of it is their lyrical and musical skill, but there's also the sense that they're just really nice people. Midway through the show, Stuart asked if there were any young kids in the audience and proceeded to throw them footballs. Another bandmate playfully cautioned not to hit the kids. What's even more surprising: after announcing they're autographed, Stuart chucked one accidentally into the hands of an adult behind me who proceeded to give it to a kid nearby. They also seemed to be the only merch floating around unless I missed a table in my quest for a t-shirt. Hopefully, we won't have to wait another four years for them to come back. Combined with the Pavement show the other week, though, I'll be riding high for awhile.