Whisky, Chinese Food & Unicorns: Drinking With Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain regularly allows the masses into his life, interests and inner thoughts – through TV, documentaries, books, The Balvenie’s Raw Craft Series, and even social media. His unbelievable quotes about food, culture, and life in general – and his delivery – leave us smiling for days and thinking, “yeah. He’s spot on.” (Well, most of the time, at least).

During the fifth annual American Craft Council Rare Craft Fellowship Awards, at The Wythe Hotel in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, we went drinking with the man, myth, and legend, Anthony Bourdain. With the exception of revealing the name of a former heartbreaker (who lead him to drink a little too much whisky), he, unsurprisingly, had No Reservations.

Drinking With Anthony Bourdain

Drinking with Anthony Bourdain

How do you take your whisky?

If it’s as good as the, [The Balvenie] Tun 1509 –or the Doublewood; neat. I have been guilty of throwing one rock in now and again, but, try to do that when no one is watching, especially a Scotsman.

Do you remember your first whisky experience?

[Sighs]. Yeah. It was probably a bad one.

Care to elaborate?

I mean you know, I was 17 years old, at Vassar. A bottle of Dewars. I didn’t know what I was doing. I mean it was… yeah, I drank too much. Ended in shame.

What about the first time you were drunk? What was that experience like?

Jack Daniels, a fifth [of a bottle]. Two days in the bathroom. Regrets again.

How old were you?

17. I was drunk before that, but this was, you know… Drank a fifth in half an hour. I was heartbroken. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

What was her name?


Where are your favorite places to drink in New York?

Well, I like a good dive bar and there are precious, genuine dives left. I would do The Distinguished Wakamba Lounge, on 8th Avenue. For an example of one of the last true dive bars, I love Bemelmans Bar, in in the Carlyle Hotel. Those Bemelmans murals on the walls are just beautiful. It’s really old school. It is exactly the kind of place that I would never see anybody I know, but I love kind of slipping into an alternate identity and going there and losing myself in the experience. It’s another universe, but one that I – maybe because of the décor and the environment – it’s a world, not my own but one that I am comfortable in. And it’s a good place to go in for a classic cocktail, martini or a good single malt.

Where’s your favorite bar or place to get a drink, internationally?

Wow. Maybe the Oxford Bar in Edinburgh. It’s a pub, old school, surly, a landmark. Unchanged over the decades, maybe even the centuries. If you are looking for a pub, Scotland is a good place to look – late afternoon, single malt, alone at the bar – if you are feeling really good about yourself, or really bad about yourself, it doesn’t matter. Either, or. It’s kind of the perfect environment to drink whisky.

What are your favorite drunk foods?

Anything like mapo doufu, like super spicy Sichuan food.


Yeah, it’s a chef thing, I think. Chefs like to get hammered and then go out and eat really spicy food. Because Chinese restaurants traditionally were often open late. So, spicy Sichuan food, Korean barbeque. You don’t want a lot of starch. You want protein and heat – at least I do.

What about hangover foods?

Nothing beats cold, leftover Chinese food like leftover General Tso chicken or pork fried rice. Basically, you wake up, two aspirin right away, smoke a joint [narrates smoking joint], drink a Coca-Cola – a nice cold Coke. As your worldview starts to improve and you develop appetite, tuck right into that leftover take out Chinese. That’ll seal [it].

What are your go-to places in New York for Chinese food?

In a perfect world, I would have Mission Chinese’s so-called fried rice, their mapo doufu, or, Han Dynasty would be a good option. But you know, it’s such a New York thing. If you are outside New York, and you get chinese food online order and it comes in a plastic container rather than the classic white carton with the handle on top, it tastes different. The vestigial cardboard aroma is an integral pride of the experience.

It’s a contributing ingredient.

It is. I spent a fair amount of China and in Sichuan Province. There is a particularly New York aspect that I find comfort in to eat my Chinese food cold, or hastily microwaved when hung-over that makes it, you know, feel good.

Any guilty cocktail pleasures? Anything people usually find embarrassing?

I’m sure there is a douchey cocktail that I like. Look: I love Caipirinhas – that’s not even a guilty pleasure. But I like a classic Caipirinha. I don’t want any, what’s it? The ones with vodka. A Caipiroska. That’s heresy to me. I deeply love Caipirinhas. Dark and Stormy, if I’m listening to reggae or dub, I like a Dark and Stormy, or a Rum Sour. And I am in a completely un-ironic deep, deep way – if you are talking about a mixed drink…Scotch: neat. Especially a good single malt.

But I think the Negroni is the perfect cocktail because it is three liquors that I don’t particularly like. I don’t like Campari, and I don’t like sweet vermouth and I don’t particularly love gin. But you put them together with that little bit of orange rind in a perfect setting… It’s just: It sets you up for dinner, in a way it makes you hungry, sands the edges off the afternoon. In an after dinner, it’s settling. It is both aperitif and digestive. It’s a rare drink that can do that.

When you wake up in the morning, what is your first beverage? What do you drink?

Coffee. And I want utility coffee, coffee with a picture of the Parthenon on a cardboard cup. Strong, but with cream and sugar. The guy selling donuts out of the cart, that’s what I emulate at home when I brew coffee on my Mr. Coffee.

NYC Bodega Coffee Cup

Fact: years ago, I bought one of those monster ‘ world’s greatest Italian coffee machines’ that grinds the stuff fresh, and at the end of the day I ended up with a cheap Mr. Coffee and some Chock Full o’Nuts coffee. And I drink it out of the cardboard ‘cause I don’t wanna wash the cup. I think New York does coffee right.

Are you into any of these trendy things coming up? Like unicorn lattes?

I’m offended in principle. Why would I want to introduce even the thought of a unicorn?

What do unicorns taste like? Right?

I’m a classicist. I am against all of it. It’s, you know, ‘Get off my lawn, you kids,’ when it comes to coffee. I don’t even like any flavor ingredient other than coffee, and dairy, and sugar. I’m against it. If it takes you more than a few minutes to make my coffee if you want to talk to me about how you made the coffee and where the beans were, my eyes are already glazed over. I like coffee a lot. It is an essential, necessary part of my day. But I’m not gonna sit around like the guys in Friends. They spend half their fucking life in a coffee shop. What’s wrong with you man?

Are you a fan of the Instagram culture surrounding food and beverage?

Oh, I’m totally guilty of it. I mean, I mock it, all of my chef friends who used to complain about [emulates accent] ‘Oh, oh, they are taking pictures in my restaurant and you know they are not appreciating my food.’ Now, I go out with like eight chef friends. We all sit down at the table. Everyone whips their cellphones out. [Imitates camera shutter noises] They are all taking pictures and tagging me. Like, ‘Mother fucker, I’m sitting right in front of you, and I’m eating the same thing.’ Yeah, no. This is the world we are living in now, and if you didn’t Instagram it, it didn’t happen.

This is the most incredible thing that I have encountered. The most extraordinary phenomenon. Literally, I could Instagram a picture of me with Keith Richards and the Dalai Lama in a hot tub – I’ll get 8,000 likes in an hour, maybe 15 minutes. If I take an isolated picture of an In-N-Out burger on a table – not even identified- it’s 60,000 likes, immediately. People respond to it in such a powerful, emotional way, recognizing. It’s extraordinary.

Any bartenders you want to give a shout out to? Any people who are doing creative, amazing things or just awesome people in general?

The guys at PDT [Please Don’t Tell]. They are pioneers. Oh my God, Dale DeGroff. He told me how to grow the fuck up and how to recognize what a martini is all about. He taught me how to drink. Tracy Westmoreland. The greatest barkeep proprietor of all time, owner of the last truly disgraceful, legendary dive bar New York. The Siberia Bar from the 50th street subway platform. The greatest bar ever in the history of the universe.

Tell us about your involvement with The Balvenie Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

Balvenie came along at a time when I had been resolutely resisting all approaches by anybody who’d ever approached me with anything resembling an endorsement, an alignment, a partnership, or anything like it. But these are people who made whisky that I actually drank, and appreciated, and liked, and respected, and has a project that I thought was really cool. [It was] an opportunity that would make me feel good. So, here we are three years later.

Craft Raw Series

Social Call

Instagram: @AnthonyBourdain


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