With visions of snowflakes of dancing in my head in anticipation for Christmas spent back east, I decided to do this week's column at the Hayes valley tiki haven Smuggler's Cove, granting myself one last gasp of tropical air before the long winter. Once we got situated in the crowded basement bar of the bustling three-story hideout, there was a good deal of discussion between my companion and I about who our contact, Dane, would be. My money was on the a guy in a Hawaiian shirt, decisively crushing mint leaves and turning out complex drinks in mere moments.
A quick inquiry revealed I was right. Despite his low-key demeanor, Dane has the sort of convoluted backstory that Lonely Planet guides die for: He's finishing up a law degree down the street at Hastings, but did time as both a garbage- and lobsterman in the cold North East and once opened for provocateurs The Queers back when he was a part-time punk in a series of bands with cheeky names like "Capitalist Abortion." Without missing a beat, he churned out drink orders as we chatted about this week's picks:
Acclaimed nature photographer James Balog, once a climate change agnostic, takes director Jeff Orlowski along for the ride when he's tasked by National Geographic in 2005 to document climate change first-hand in the Arctic. The project ultimately became an installation of multiple cameras set to capture one frame each hour in remote locations in Alaska, Greenland and Iceland–and has placed the photographer and his work at center stage in the political seesaw of climate change. With a beauty similar in scope to Ed Burtynsky's Manufactured Landscapes, but even more emotionally devastating for their implications, Balog's exquisite photographs lay plain the reality of climate change, visible in time-lapse over periods as alarmingly short as one year. Orlowski captures Balog's personal tribulations, including blown knees and the numerous health concerns that arise as he tackles physical feats barely surmountable for a man half his age, but the main principle guiding this excellent doc is an abiding sense of awe that accompanies the imperiled edge-of-the-world landscapes on display. Playing at Embarcadero Theaters, 1 Embarcadero Center, (415) 352-0835.
Dane recommends the "Rocky Shores"
The first of Dane's off-menu concoctions appeared in a small saucer glass, not looking quite as arctic as I may have imagined but the metaphor was perfect. Concocted of Orgeat (a sweet almond-flavored syrup), lemon juice, dry gin and foamed egg whites which dissipate at a precipitous rate as the drink is enjoyed–"they should melt before you're done," Dane told us–with four precisely placed drops of bitters atop the foam, the drink was more celebratory than sad. We tried to express all appropriate regret, but the easy-drinking tropical essence of the drink had us grinning as it disappeared.
North Sea Texas
Despite the relatively static set-up to which it binds itself, this gay coming-of-age tale set in a tiny Belgian outpost is an unequivocal delight, thanks to its mature, unhurried pace and the cinematography by Anton Mertens. Contrasting often steadfast, stoic youth against a cast of adults who are entirely unreliable in everything but their propensity to disappoint, director Bavo Defurne betrays an uncanny understanding of the interior lives of children seldom found on film (Roy Andersson's A Swedish Love Story remains a glowing example). It accomplishes what seems like a small task but actually isn't–documenting the vicissitudes of adolescent love without falling into cliché or begging melodrama. Plays at Opera Plaza Cinemas, 601 Van Ness, (415) 267-4893.
Dane recommends the "Bon Chance"
The main character in North Sea Texas, Pim, often sits alone at the bar from which the film takes its name, waiting for his errant mother while sipping his favorite drink, grenadine and soda. Dane took this tasting note and one-upped it, creating a tipple from a mixture of homemade pomegranate grenadine, Cognac, Dry Vermouth, and maraschino cherry. The concoction fits the film to a T, being both simple in construction but deceptively potent.
Those unfamiliar with the ups and downs of Russia's Post-Soviet history of hyper-capitalism will find themselves a bit afloat in Victor Ginzburg's drug-and FX-fueled interpretation of Victor Pelevin's satirical novel. The sheer spectacle of the film, which might be described (with only a little accuracy) as the Russian block-buster Night Watch as re-imagined by cynical post-modern-leaning literati, seems to only be augmented by confusion. Cocaine carpets, hallucinated correspondence with the god Ishtar, and a shadow organization of malevolent ad men are only part of the machinations that keep this sublime top spinning, mostly to our delight. Playing at Embarcadero Theaters, 1 Embarcadero Center, (415) 352-0835.
Dane recommends the "20/70 Swizzle"
At odds to describe Generation P to Dane over the bustle of a crowded bar I fall on a crutch and start talking Postmodern Lit 101. Between the heat down in the basement and the drinks, I'm forced to admit that I can't quite remember the correlation between "Gravity's Rainbow" and the tall glass that slid across the bar into my hand, but it certainly felt right. Like its cousin the Zombie, the drink is mixed in a tall glass on crushed ice from high-proof rum, lime juice, honey, bitters and aged rum, with a splash of liqueur somewhere in the mix. Before it's served, the drink is "swizzled" and topped with mint and ground all spice. The swizzle is a peculiar, rakish device that itself seems a bit fantastical. I'm not sure what it really did to the drink, but, by all appearances, the magic has worked.