Flatiron Lounge is a low-lit, swanky cocktail bar in a midtown neighborhood— we can’t remember which one at the moment— catering to young professionals and the bridge & tunnel crowd. We probably could have found a more appropriate place to treat Colbert Report writer Rob Dubbin, but he didn’t seem to mind. We discussed rye, our first drinking experiences, and something called a Teenage Riot.
Evan Simko-Bednarski (A/S): Lately if you walk into a bar, what is your cocktail or ingredient of choice?
Rob Dubbin: I usually will go for a scotch and soda. I have enough social anxiety that I always want to drink my drink kind of quickly, and if you’re just drinking straight scotch, you can put yourself in a horrible corner. I’m glad to see they have some rye drinks on the menu here. About a year ago, I bought a bottle of rye—
ESB: What’d you get?
RD: I was like, ‘Oh I’m such a hard ass, I’m going to drink rye like I’m in fucking Deadwood or something’ and it was the most humbling experience. Rye will fuck you up man. It was… god… I felt so accomplished by the time I finally got to the bottom of it. It had just been sitting in my cabinet, behind other stuff… totally neglected. So I think I might go for a rye to see what rye does to me in more of a cocktail scenario.
John M. Cusick (A/S): I believe rye was one of the original cocktail mixers. Prohibition era rye was a big thing.
RD: Well I don’t want to disrupt any process you guys have in mind.
ESB: No, no. The process is to ask what you like drinking, and then buy it for you.
RD: I also think starting with rye, starting with the paint thinner of liquors, might be a good way to start things off with a bang.
The server arrives on a cloud, conveyed by gin-blossomed cherubs.
ESB: I know it’s not on the menu, but can I get a Sazerac?
JMC: I’ll have a gin martini with a twist. Hendrick’s.
RD: What kind of rye cocktails do you have?
SERVER: Do you want something more boozy or something more—
RD: Boozy, yes.
SERVER: Usually you drink Old-Fashioneds or—
RD: Usually I’m just drinking scotch.
SERVER: Okay, it’s off the menu but we have a Teenage Riot.
JMC: A what?
SERVER: It’s called a Teenage Riot.
ESB: Man, two off-menu drinks; we’re off to an auspicious start.
The heavens part, the server ascends.
RD: Let’s talk about rye.
RD: I noticed that the effective dose of Rye is much smaller than other liquors. I find myself drinking the tiniest bit at a time, and then I feel like I’m about to die. Now, this could be some property of the liquor, or me being a mild lightweight.
JMC: Do you remember your first drink? And that can be the first time you got drunk or your first drinking experience.
RD: Um, yeah, the first time I ever drank anything that wasn’t Passover Wine, which I don’t think counts, I was at a tailgate at the Florida Orange Bowl. My uncle was there, the uncle I later learned was the misbehaving uncle, and he had a beer, and he was like “are you ready for this? Do you want to try some beer?” It was presented as, “you aren’t going to like this at all.” And I was like, I’m going to try it! So I took a sip of his beer— and that was it, that was all I wanted of that. The first time I had a couple of drinks was a complete by the book high school experience. I went to a party senior year and had two solo cup beers and waited an hour and half and then drove home, and then thought, “Ahh fuck! I’m fuckin’ crazy! I’m the nutsest guy! ” So yeah, that’s all it was. It was beer, pretty tame all around.
ESB: The first time I had a beer, it was akin to when my mom let me try coffee when I was four. It was a disastrous experience. It was the weirdest thing in the world.
RD: It tastes like another kind of element.
ESB: It really felt like an accomplishment the first time I made it to the bottom of a bottle of beer.
JMC: I’m sure the first beer that I had was the absolute shittiest bottom of the barrel beer. Misbehaving uncle beer.
RD: The misbehaving uncle IPA!
JMC: Everybody’s got one!
With a ringing of chimes and a gentle zepher, the server returns with a tray of beautiful cocktails.
JMC: So before you dive in, can we get your impressions on the visual presentation?
RD: I like that they went for a more understated glass, they didn’t go for a bigger glass and tart it up. The presence of drink to empty glass ratio pleases me. There is an unknown jellied fruit inside.
ESB: It looks like a little thing of ginger or something.
RD: A shaving of something.
JMC: Maybe an orange peel.
RD: So, high marks for presentation.
ESB: How is it?
RD: I went in expecting, “Fucking Rye, it’s me! I’m back!” But it’s smoother than that; it’s got a little rye around the edges. I can kind of feel it… I don’t know what region of the tongue it is, but that’s where it’s hanging out. And there’s almost an impression of raisin. Which is not something I’ve ever really tasted in a cocktail before. I would describe myself as…intrigued.
JMC: I like how serious the server was about whether or not you were seriously into strong drinks.
RD: I appreciated that. It was kind of funny though that if I ordered a rye drink and she was like, how do you feel about that, and I would be like, I don’t want to taste any rye. I would like a rye cocktail in which all traces of rye are eliminated.
Rob Dubbin has written for the Washington Post, Kill Screen, Longshot Magazine, and elsewhere. Colbert’s America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren’t is now available.