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Is This the End of the Golden Age of Dining?

Is This the End of the Golden Age of Dining?

“Heraclitus once wrote that it is impossible to step in the same river twice. In Los Angeles, it can be nearly impossible to eat in the same restaurant twice. This is, I believe, what the economists call creative destruction. And it is not impossible here to experience extremes — restaurants that are born and die in a single evening; restaurants in suburbs so distant that they may as well be theoretical; restaurants so hard to get into that they may not actually exist outside of blogs.

"Los Angeles is where the modern restaurant was born, the good, the bad and the ugly of it, and we’re too far gone to stop now.” - Jonathan Gold

Recently I watched City of Gold, the 2015 documentary detailing legendary food critic Jonathan Gold’s culinary contributions to Los Angeles. Directed by Laura Gobbert, the doc follows Gold as he traverses the freewheeling freeways of LA, zooming through the belly of the beast in his old Ram 1500 in search of a good bite.

Flashes of mom and pop spots, food trucks, and sidewalk tortillerias dance on screen in a dizzying dream of charred meat and paper plates. Bludso’s, Mariscos Jalisco, Jitlada – places that are less restaurants than they are cultural institutions – weave in and out of frame as Gold barrels down Pico, Sunset, anywhere, his left hand resting on the wheel as his right gesticulates to the camera.

Over the past couple decades, Los Angeles has undergone a culinary renaissance led by the late Gold, whose critiques put hole-in-the-wall spots on the map and breathed a new life into the city’s food scene. The “Gold effect,” as some have called it, saved countless struggling restaurants long before other major critics and publications were even looking their way. What Anthony Bourdain did for the far-flung food stalls of Chiang Mai and bountiful banquets of Reykjavik, Jonathan Gold did for Los Angeles.

And then, like a flash in a pan, both of them were gone. Gold and Bourdain died in the summer of 2018, just one month apart and two years before the hospitality industry would crumble under the mandated closures of bars and restaurants and an economic recession that would rival that of the Great Depression. As heart-wrenching and deeply personal as the loss of Gold and Bourdain felt in 2018, somehow it’s even more palpable now, as restaurants shutter their doors in alarming numbers and headlines blare the sad siren song,

“Is this the end of the golden age of dining?” 

It’s a declaration critics have been swift to jump to ever since it was first decreed that we were, in fact, in the midst of a golden age. But the promise looms larger now, its fate seeming more and more inevitable. Which restaurants will weather this storm? What will become of the state of dining as we know it? With Gold and Bourdain gone, who will advocate for the busboys, the bartenders, the band of misfit toys that make up this industry?

Trois Mec, the Gold-approved, Michelin-starred, and Ludo Lefebvre-led tasting menu in Hollywood was one of the first of many upscale, inventive restaurants to close in the wake of the pandemic. Its sister restaurant, Petit Trois, still stands, though its future – like so many of the bars and restaurants that already barely get by on paper-thin margins – becomes less and less certain every day.

Others, like Here’s Looking at You in Koreatown and Broken Spanish Downtown, have suffered the same fate.  Ma’am Sir, a modern Filipino restaurant in Silver Lake that did for Filipino food what Night + Market did for Thai, just recently joined their ranks. Every day the number swells, not just in Los Angeles but in cities and suburbs and small towns around the world. Our cultural meccas are dwindling as fast-casual chains continue to survive and thrive, threatening to take over.

As a newcomer to Los Angeles, one of the millions who have trekked from some small town somewhere to this City of Angels, I have felt a peculiar sadness over the loss of these restaurants that were never mine. Restaurants that were erased from my list of places “to try” almost as quickly as they were added. It’s a strange phantom grief, mourning something you never – and will never – know. And of course, it applies to more than just food; this year has brought with it countless trips that will never be taken, memories that will never be made. But there is something about the fleetingness of a restaurant that makes its loss especially devastating; Italy will still be there when you inevitably take that trip. The Coliseum will still stand. But will the corner pizzeria?

According to writer Kevin Alexander, the end of the golden age of dining began before COVID even hit. In
Burn The Ice, his 2019 book, Alexander argues that the golden age started in 2006 with the rise of farm-to-table restaurants in Portland and the launch of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. What followed was a decade-long stint of fine casual dining, a “golden age” in which good food and good drinks were championed above all else. Of course, it had to come to an end. Everything does. But the timing of that ending feels startlingly ominous, the future far too bleak.

At the time Burn The Ice was published, Alexander wrote that there were 100,000 more restaurants in the US in 2019 than there were 10 years ago. In the past six months alone, another 100,000 have closed. It’s grim, sure. An erasure of a decade of dining in America. But if we’re back at square one, so to speak, if we’re starting over exactly where we were in 2006 when farm-to-table was a new concept and Anthony Bourdain was just some sly, rough around the edges chef we had never heard of, then maybe it means that we are on the precipice of another golden age. That when this is all over – when restaurants get back up on their feet and start again – they’ll be stronger than ever.

During the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Jonathan Gold penned an essay for the LA Times on his neighborhood, Koreatown, “a neighborhood just west of downtown.” He wrote of the Bangkok-style buffets and Filipino fish joints that were burned to the ground, entire livelihoods diminished to ashes. The picture he painted then looked stunningly similar to what it looks like now: neighborhoods in a state of unrest and upheaval, boarded up buildings, signs that have always read “open” turned to say “closed.”

History repeats itself, again and again in an infinite time loop. That much we know. And as much as I wish Gold – and Bourdain – were here to offer their sage wisdom, in a way they have already given that to us.

“And yet the neighborhood survives,” Gold wrote in 1992, his words echoing through time and space to a moment 28 years removed that is more alike than it is different. We have rebuilt before. We can do it again.

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Meet The Woman Who Took Her Pleasure Seriously: A Proper Intro To Ray Eames

Meet The Woman Who Took Her Pleasure Seriously: A Proper Intro To Ray Eames

Ray Eames was many things to many people: a designer, a painter, a true artist, a vehement Fire sign, a wife, an Episcopalian, a woman whose life – both personal and professional – revolved around play. She was born in Sacramento in 1912, before it was Didion’s Sacramento, and grew up governed by the firm yet often challenged belief that life was meant to be enjoyed.

That belief followed her to New York, where she studied abstract expressionist painting under renowned artists Lu Duble and Hans Hofmann. Ray’s list of close confidantes from the time reads like a who’s who of the New York art scene, and includes bigwig painters like Lee Krasner and Mercedes Matter. Her time in the city was short lived, however, as just a few years later she hatched a plan to head back west and build a house in California.

It would become the Eames House.

Ray met and quickly married her creative partner in crime, Charles Eames, in 1941 after working together on the display panels for the exhibition "Organic Design in Home Furnishings" at the Museum of Modern Art. The two honeymooned in Los Angeles and never left, the rest of their lives spent together frozen in a sweet honey haze. While Charles had a child, Lucia, from a previous marriage, he and Ray never had their own. It was like they never came home from vacation.

A few years into their lifelong Californian honeymoon, Ray and Charles were asked to participate in the Case Study House Program, an initiative sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine with the goal of showcasing examples of modern yet modest homes that utilized wartime and industrial materials. They were assigned Case Study House Number 8, one of 28 homes throughout the greater Los Angeles area.

Addressing the swift switch in her career from abstract expressionism to architecture, Ray said, “I never gave up painting, I just changed my palette.” During the building of the Case Study home, Ray and Charles spent days and nights in the eucalyptus groves overlooking the sea from the Pacific Palisades. They shot arrows, picnicked in meadows, lounged about with friends and family. And on Christmas Eve, 1949, they moved in. Like their initial relocation to Los Angeles, this was a permanent choice; Ray and Charles would live together in that house on the hill for the remainder of their lives.

As much as the Case Study house became a milestone of modern architecture, perhaps its most significant role was as a backdrop for the creative endeavors that would come to comprise Ray and Charles’ careers.

There, in the light-dappled studio by the sea, they devised design after design. Ergonomic seat shells, the instantly classic Eames lounger, animal masks; these were the things they crafted on Chautauqua Boulevard. Practical commingled with playful, and novelty was rejected at all costs. Instead, they followed the design principle coined by Louis Sullivan that form should follow function. “Why design a beautiful chair that you can’t sit in?”, their work seemed to ask.

This philosophy manifested in their teachings, too. Often their first assignment was to build a kite, a simple task with  an even simpler grading scale: design a beautiful kite that can’t fly and you fail. Design one that flies and you pass. Always ones to favor simple childhood pleasures, Ray and Charles used toys extensively as a means of experimentation and investigation in their work.

“Toys are not really as innocent as they look,” they said. “Toys and games are the prelude to serious ideas.”

While their work was a true collaboration, Ray is credited for establishing what is generally recognized as the “Eames look.” She didn’t do drawings – that was all Charles – but her keen sense for form and color from her days as a painter guided her and Charles’ work. She designed everything from magazine covers to textiles to game boards with the same nonchalance and simple joy with which she and Charles built everything. Nothing was done for vanity. Everything was done for pleasure – both theirs and others.

Like most famously pithy intellectual types, Ray and Charles have some great one-liners, the kind that are swiftly declarative and often tattooed on bodies, held up on posters, printed in coffee table books. “Anything I can do, Ray can do better,” Charles once said, and the historians took note.

And another, this one more a call to action than a passive claim: “Take your pleasure seriously.”

If you wanted, you could take this sentiment at face value, a superficial interpretation on par with “carpe diem” or “you only live once.” To take your pleasure seriously, though – in life, in love, in work – demands a much more thoughtful approach.

In an article published by the Eames Office, the quote is explained further,

“It means choosing work that you enjoy. It means doing a deep dive—taking the time to delve into your pursuits and explore them fully. It’s an encouragement to analyze objects, ideas, problems, and subjects from every angle with a playful, exploratory openness that allows you to reap the joys of the process.”

Whatever it meant to live a life like that, Ray did it with grace. The joy lied in the process: of the honeymoon, of the days spent frolicking among eucalyptus, of the things she built with Charles – a chair, a house, a life.

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Small Footprint, High Design

Small Footprint, High Design

Architecture is at odds with nature. Condominiums are built in the ashes of meadows, parking lots on the beds of forests. To design is to undo. To build is to take away. And so treetops are phased out in favor of sharp lines and concrete.

But within that rigid dichotomy, there are architects and designers striving to bridge the divide between the natural and the man-made. They seek out innovative solutions to incorporate a site’s landscape into the final design; boulders exist in internal spaces, trees are rooted in courtyards, medieval moats are made modern. The natural and artificial commingle and are made better for it.

While many modern-day architects use organic materials and glean inspiration from native structures, the following designers and firms create strictly with the intent to preserve. In this new sustainable mode of design, cliffsides are not obliterated, but carved to fit a space for something human.

PETER ZUMTHOR

Take a look at the exterior of a Peter Zumthor building and prepare to be unimpressed. The Swiss architect’s work is notoriously spare, devoid of the flashiness we’ve come to expect from architecture bigwigs like Frank Gehry and Norman Foster. There are no elaborate skyscrapers or sculptural amphitheaters. But inside Zumthor’s buildings, entire worlds unfold.

Built in 1996, Zumthor’s Therme Vals is a hotel and spa situated over the only thermal springs in the Graubünden Canton in Switzerland. Like most Zumthor works, the exterior is stark, utilizing harsh grey stone to mirror the cold landscape of the Swiss countryside.

In conceptualizing the spa, Zumthor’s initial idea was to build a structure that mirrored the form of a cave or quarry, marrying the site’s Valser Quarzite slabs and water into a space designed for guests to luxuriate.

“Mountain, stone, water – building in the stone, building with the stone, into the mountain, building out of the mountain, being inside the mountain – how can the implications and the sensuality of the association of these words be interpreted, architecturally?” — Peter Zumthor

The result is a space revered for participating so seamlessly in the transcendental experience of a hot spring. In Zumthor’s world, senses are heightened: the sound of bubbling water, the touch of hot stones, the dramatic contrast of darkness and light at every turn. It’s a space that very much is what it is – one governed by element and ritual.

Peruse Zumthor’s body of work and you’ll notice this is not incidental – he has a thing for site-specific materiality. Perhaps his most famous work, Bruder Klaus Chapel in the rural countryside of Germany, utilizes natural elements of tree trunks and frozen molten lead to honor the patron saint Bruder Klaus. Tree trunks were bundled to form a wigwam and the interior wood was ignited to create a hollow space. The inside of the chapel shows residual texture and lingering char, pulling the gaze up to the open roof peering out at the night stars.

It is a fitting feature for a chapel, utilizing simple features to point us to a godly sky. It’s also classic Zumthor; a minimalist, naturalistic structure that is utterly uncompromising. From the wigwam formwork to the ignited interior, the construction of Bruder Klaus seems to follow Zumthor’s every farfetched whim. While this unflinching vision can make him somewhat of a controversial figure (Zumthor’s recent LACMA proposal landed him in hot water for being both outrageously expensive and reducing the gallery square footage), it’s also what makes him and his work so widely lauded.

OLSON KUNDIG

Based in Seattle, Olson Kundig is a contemporary design firm whose work “expands the context of built and natural landscapes.” It’s a line taken straight from their website, and if it were any other firm, you could probably discard it as empty corporate-speak. But for Olson Kundig, it rings sincere.

When founding partner Jim Olson was 18, he bought a plot of land on Puget Sound amidst the towering forest and built a 200 square foot bunkhouse. That was in 1959. In the over 60 years between then and now, the cabin has undergone numerous remodels, each working with and around the surrounding trees. Three mature firs grow through openings in the deck, with one exiting through an opening in the roof. In this way, the interior blends seamlessly into the outdoors.

“Our homes and cities are as much a part of nature as birds’ nests and beehives. Our role as architects is to fit human life into the world in an intelligent and meaningful way.” — Jim Olson

While Olson Kundig produces cultural and commercial buildings, they are best known for their exquisite residential homes. A personal favorite is the Costa Rica Treehouse, an open-air surfer hut built entirely of locally harvested teak. Inspired by the jungle, the structure engages with its surroundings at every level: “the ground floor opens to the forest floor, the middle level is nestled within the trees, and the top level rises above the tree canopy.”

The owners of the treehouse are avid environmentalists, and their commitment to sustainability reverberates throughout the home. A rainwater collection system, thoughtful shading, and a 3.5-kW photovoltaic array make the house’s environmental footprint even lighter. These features don’t exist simply to better the Earth, however. Each and every design choice is also made with human experience in mind.

“Architecture not only provides shelter but also enhances the human experience. It creates pleasure, provides meaning, and inspires. Buildings are an extension of our dreams and aspirations, being both about us and for us.” — Jim Olson

This philosophy is central to Olson Kundig’s mission: a humanistic approach to sustainable design. Their buildings are extensions of the outdoors, connecting people to nature and serving as daily reminders that we are one with our environment, even when we’re in our own domestic cocoons.

HARIRI & HARIRI

Iranian-born sisters Gisue Hariri and Mojgan Hariri are known for imbuing each of their projects with a sense of “sensual modernism.” It’s a philosophy they picked up back when they were architecture students at Cornell in the ‘70s, and it’s one that’s served as a guiding light as they’ve designed everything from jewelry collections (for Swarovski) to architectural renderings (for an exhibit at the Guggenheim).

The Hariri sisters believe in architecture that awakens the senses, in taking natural elements and transforming them into a conduit for pleasure. They perhaps do this best with Jewels of Salzburg, a development that is less a development than it is a microcosm of the Austrian city itself.

Recipient of the American Architecture Award in 2015, the striking housing development is inspired by the natural elements of Salzburg. A small waterway cuts through the center of the miniature city, mimicking the Salzach River, while a rock face towers over the structure just as the defining mountains loom over Salzburg. The shrunken city offers more than just novelty, though.

The creek that cuts through the site acts as a natural boundary and guide, inviting the public through the space in a meditative journey. Water travels from the highest elevation of the site through a small waterfall, which serves as a collector of melting snow, icicles, and rock. From this pedestrian path, the splendor of the forest and rock face can be taken in.

And the buildings themselves? They simulate the rock formation, chiseled rocks stacked one on top of each other in a seemingly random fashion, just as they would sit on a quarry site.

“The buildings we have proposed here are set back from the rock-face. They hover over their bases just enough to create a tension from where one could almost reach out and touch the rock.” — Hariri & Hariri

The resulting domiciliary maze is one that is in conversation with its surrounding landscape. Buildings bend to jutting rock formations, the creek winds its way around courtyards and terraces. It’s poetry, materialized. And while this structure is an indication of the Hariri’s own principles and design philosophies, it’s also an indication of where architecture is heading.

Gone are the days of architecture for architecture’s sake. In an age where forests are regularly being set ablaze and our planet is in shambles thanks to blatant denial and inaction from government officials and the continuous burning of fossil fuels, it’s not enough to simply design around nature. Instead, designers must ask themselves: how do we preserve what we already have? What steps must we take to remain connected to the nature that surrounds us? Where, and how, do we choose to build? And who will take us into this new tomorrow?

These architects may have some of the answers.

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6 Black Creatives To Support Right Now

6 Black Creatives To Support Right Now

As a young brand in an industry that has long been steeped in racism, sexism, and economic inequality, it is our responsibility to acknowledge the injustices embedded in hospitality and drinking culture.

We want to hold ourselves accountable to ensure our anti-racism education reverberates beyond this current moment. Anti-racism work is never over. From our internal team, to our partners and freelance creatives we work with now and in the future, we are committed to amplifying BIPOC voices through diverse and inclusive hiring practices, creative campaigns, and editorial voices.

We are a maker-driven brand, and that starts with the creatives we partner with, from the photographers who bring our brand to life to the small studios whose beautiful ceramics and glassware we stock in our own homes. The creative industry has historically been white-dominated–of the 26% of BIPOC who hold a job in the creative sector, only 8% of those are Black. We are committed to using both our platform and our spending power to support Black makers. Below are some of our favorite Black-owned businesses you can and should support right now:

• Oak & Melanin —

One of our longstanding creative partners, O&M is a creative agency with elevated visual storytelling at its heart. 100% of the profits from their online art shop go directly to the team member who designed it.

• Estelle Colored Glass —

Estelle Colored Glass is a luxury brand of hand-blown, vintage-inspired glassware now available in cotton candy colors like blushed pink and lavender. The champagne coupe is perfectly suited for a gimlet.

• Shop Yowie —

YOWIE is a Philadelphia-based shop that sources homegoods and apparel from independent designers and artists. Founder Shannon Maldonado offers consultations on prop styling, art direction, and interior design.

• Goodee World —

Founded by designers and creative directors Byron and Dexter Peart, Goodee World is a curated marketplace offering sustainable, thoughtfully made homegoods, from bold textiles to delicate woven light fixtures.

• For the Culture —

Founded by Klancy Miller, For The Culture is a biannual print magazine that celebrates Black women in food and wine. All of the stories in For The Culture are about Black women, written by Black women, and photographed and illustrated by Black women.

• Nur Ceramics —

Dina Nur Satti makes ceramics inspired by the daily rituals of the Sahara. From handcrafted incense holders to elegant whiskey and mezcal cups, Satti’s collection thoughtfully pays homage to the Somali and Sudanese traditions she grew up with.

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6 Organizations Providing Healing Resources to BIPOC

6 Organizations Providing Healing Resources to BIPOC

As a young brand in an industry that has long been steeped in racism, sexism, and economic inequality, it is our responsibility to acknowledge the injustices embedded in hospitality and drinking culture.

We want to hold ourselves accountable to ensure our anti-racism education reverberates beyond this current moment. Anti-racism work is never over. From our internal team, to our partners and freelance creatives we work with now and in the future, we are committed to amplifying BIPOC voices through diverse and inclusive hiring practices, creative campaigns, and editorial voices.

At AMASS, we believe in taking care of our community–mentally and physically–and want to support organizations that share that same value. Right now is an incredibly painful, exhausting time for the Black community, who often have little or no access to healthcare, a long-standing reality that’s recently been exposed by COVID and its disproportionate impact on BIPOC. The following non-profit organizations are doing the important work of providing therapy and other healing resources to BIPOC right now:

• NQTTCN —

The National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network is committed to increasing access to healing justice resources for Queer and Trans BIPOC.

• House of GG —

The Griffin-Gracy Educational Retreat & Historical Center offers a transformative and healing space for Trans BIWOC.

• Black AIDS Institute —

The Black AIDS Institute provides resources and support for Black folx living with HIV.

• Harriet’s Apothecary —

Harriet’s Apothecary creates accessible, affordable, and inclusive community healing spaces for BIPOC.

• The Unplug Collective —

Unplug is a digital space where Black and Brown womxn and non-binary folx can share their stories without being silenced or censored. 

• The Loveland Foundation —

The Loveland Therapy Fund provides financial assistance to Black women and girls seeking therapy.

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25 Local Black-Owned Farms & Food Suppliers

25 Local Black-Owned Farms & Food Suppliers

As a young brand in an industry that has long been steeped in racism, sexism, and economic inequality, it is our responsibility to acknowledge the injustices embedded in hospitality and drinking culture.

We want to hold ourselves accountable to ensure our anti-racism education reverberates beyond this current moment. Anti-racism work is never over. From our internal team, to our partners and freelance creatives we work with now and in the future, we are committed to amplifying BIPOC voices through diverse and inclusive hiring practices, creative campaigns, and editorial voices.

We talk a lot about plants–where we source them, how we use them, and why it’s important that our ingredients are 100% organic and non-GMO. As of 2012, Black farmers made up only 1.4% of the country’s 3.2 million farmers; the amount of Black farm-owners is an even more grim and yet still dwindling number. Below is a list of Black food purveyors and farmers from across the country that are committed to providing their community with fresh produce, as well as working to end food apartheid. If you don’t see your city listed, you can find a more exhaustive list here.

• Los Angeles:

· Suprmarkt
· SummaEverythang Community Center
· Logan’s Garden
· Sam Cobb Farms
· Seeds of Xanxadu

• San Francisco:

· Black Earth Farms
· City Slicker Farms
· Farms to Grow
· Phat Beets Produce

• New York:

· Black Urban Growers
· La Familia Verde
· East New York Farms
· Brooklyn Rescue Mission Urban Harvest
· Corbin Hill Food Project

• Philadelphia:

· The Philadelphia Urban Creators
· Soil Generation
· Mill Creek Farm

• Chicago:

· Healthy Food Hub
· Urban Growers Collective
· Trinity United Church of Christ Farmers Market
· Your Bountiful Harvest Family Farm

• Washington DC:

· Good Sense Farm
· Sylvanaqua Farms
· Soilful City
· Three Part Harmony Farm

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The Dawn of The Digital Drink

The Dawn of The Digital Drink

Once the first wave of bars and restaurants began to shutter their doors mid-March, at the start of what would become a months-long period of social distancing, the thought occurred to us, “But where will we gather?”

It’s a question we’ve continued to ask ourselves as feelings of loneliness set in, as the LA Times makes predictions like,

“Make a list of your top 10 restaurants that you would hate to see close and support them at this time. Because 75 percent of them may eventually close.”

It’s a startling statistic, and one that has forced us to consider what the world would look like without the dive bars and mom and pop shops and Sunday breakfast spots we know and love. With patronage out of the question, we are supporting these brick and mortar shops and stops we used to frequent in a new, very online way. We’re following along on their Instagram stories for new-to-us market offerings and to-go cocktails, making donations in an effort to support waitstaffs, even personally checking in on the teams of our nearest and dearest spots.

It seems that just as the premise of the IRL dining experience was wiped clean, we have been presented with an ever-expanding list of ways to engage with our local food and drink purveyors.

The same is true within our social circles. We are adapting to the current climate at a staggering rate, and this immense change can be felt most in the ways we are connecting with each other. Under quarantine, we have turned to technology to find community in ways we haven’t since the days of blogs and forums and AIM. In this new normal, we spend our Friday nights on Zoom happy hours clinking glasses with no one. We watch Alison Roman dole out cooking tips and chop shallots on Instagram Live, tuning in at set times like we did back when we still watched cable TV. We are, in small but significant ways, using the digital landscape again as a tool for connection as opposed to self-promotion.

It’s rare that change looks like reverting back to old ways of doing things. But alas, here we are–searching for ways to communicate with each other online in the same ways we did when the Internet was new and the words “influencer marketing” were still lightyears away.

In a Zoom happy hour I attended the other week, someone posed the question to the 15-person group, “What are the small things you’re delighting in now?” Answers varied, but several pointed to a shared truth–people are connecting with friends, family members, and yes, even strangers, online in ways they would have never done pre-pandemic. I listened to stories of foregone friendships being revitalized, deep-seated sibling rivalries resolving themselves, strangers striking up real conversation on dating apps without any intent of meeting up in-person. Even friends I was already speaking with on a weekly basis have become daily fixtures in my quarantine life.

It seems that being relegated to communicating via screens alone has spurred people to communicate even more. In the absence of communal spaces, we have transformed the internet into our own dive bar, mom and pop shop, and Sunday breakfast spot, partaking in happy hours and virtual brunches with a regularity that rivals the lives we led pre-pandemic. The social rituals we once turned to for comfort in the “old world” have followed us into our homes and onto our screens. Happy hour has not been postponed–our meeting places have simply become digitized.

It may seem like a cheap substitute at first glance, gathering around our computer screens for a drink as opposed to the bar down the street. But truth be told, it’s something we have already been doing for quite some time now. In an increasingly global world, we lean on technology as a way to connect across cities, states, time zones. Long distance friendships and relationships have thrived and survived under this model. Searching for connection through our screens is not a particularly novel idea–it’s just that our desires to connect have been heightened and our traditional means to connect have been erased.

When this is all over, I’m sure we will return to our posts at the bars and restaurants where we once gathered, or at least what is left of them. IRL nights out will resume. We’ll revert, in some ways, to the lives we led pre-pandemic. But we’ll return with a newfound understanding that the ways we connect with each other and the restaurants and bars we patronize are less limited than we thought. Happy hour–or at least the connection to people and places it provides us with–is withstanding of circumstance.

Written by Nicole Carullo

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How I Get Undone: Caitlin Zenisek

How I Get Undone: Caitlin Zenisek

We are constantly bombarded with productivity hacks – tips and tricks on how to cross everything off our to-do lists while also being a person/partner/colleague/parent. Here at AMASS, though, we are far more interested in how people get undone. We want to know the nightly rituals that happen after 5PM, from the cocktails drunk to the books read. To us, it’s those small moments behind the scenes that really count, because in them lies a glimpse into who we want to be.

To kick things off, we asked AMASS’ LA-based Marketing Coordinator, Caitlin Zenisek, to share the ways she’s taking her pleasure seriously off the clock.

With quarantine in place, how has your evening routine changed?

I think everyone is adjusting to a much slower pace of life in general right now, which is weird and bizarre but also a blessing. I’ve tried to take this as an opportunity to reflect the extra space and time we have on our hands back into myself. I’ve been cooking much more, which has always been very therapeutic for me, experimenting with fun cocktails and working my way through our wine supply, and checking in with friends and family. Before bed, I’ve dedicated much more time than I’d like to share to a pretty indulgent skin care routine, and I’m attempting to journal or meditate – even if it’s just five minutes – to really unwind and quiet my mind. I’m not quarantining alone, so giving myself a little pocket of time completely to myself every evening is vital - you can’t water flowers from an empty bucket, right?

WHAT ARE YOU NORMALLY UP TO AFTER WORKING HOURS?

When I leave the office, if I don’t have an event or happy hour, I’m usually heading to dinner with my boyfriend or friends, or home to chill tf out. Making sure I allow myself to turn off after work is super important to me – whether I’m doing something active, creative, or mindless, my “after hours” time gives me the balance I need. I love being social and am such a foodie, so going out with friends and trying new restaurants is my jam, but I also can’t resist curling up on the couch with a glass of wine, ordering in (Vietnamese is my favorite), and binging Netflix. Totally depends on my mood!

WHAT ARE THE RITUALS YOU PRACTICE TO DECOMPRESS AND TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF AFTER A PARTICULARLY STRESSFUL DAY?

Exercising regularly has always been the most effective and reliable way to manage my stress and anxiety. I usually run in the mornings, when LA is still quiet and I can get some fresh air, to start my day on a positive and productive note. But if I’m really needing some TLC after work, nothing calms me down like a hot yoga class. By the time I’m home, I’m already so relaxed, I’ll light a candle (I love the AMASS Mateo candle) or burn some incense, take a long shower, tidy up my apartment (also super therapeutic for me), and then read before bed. These are the days I really try to leave my phone out of sight, so I’m not tempted to mindlessly scroll through social media! That part can be hard but makes a world of difference.

IT’S 7PM, YOU’RE IN PJ’S ON THE COUCH–WHAT ARE YOU DRINKING? WATCHING OR READING? EATING?

If I’m not having an AMASS martini, I’m drinking a glass of skin contact white wine - the funkier the better. As of late, I’m either watching Ozark, Tiger King (because you can’t not), or any of the Oscar nom films I haven’t seen yet. I’m slowly working my way through Sapiens, which I will finish before quarantine is over. And if we’re really getting cozy, I’m probably waiting on delivery from Nong La or Night + Market.

ARE THERE ANY AT-HOME HOBBIES YOU’VE PICKED UP OR ARE HOPING TO TRY WITH ALL THIS NEWFOUND TIME ON YOUR HANDS?

I’ve been crocheting for years – my grandma taught me how when I was little – so I’ve finally had some free time to sit and work on a few projects I’ve had sitting around. I just finished a giant cardigan that conveniently feels like a blanket – perfect for wrapping up and snuggling in during this time. My grandma, who also happens to be a huge fan of an AMASS martini, has been calling to check on my work –  it’s really nice to have that family connection tied in as well :)

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Meet Master Distiller Morgan McLachlan

Meet Master Distiller Morgan McLachlan

Morgan McLachlan grew up on the side of a mountain in Vancouver, a place so beautiful that when she visited Yosemite for the first time years ago she thought to herself, “Oh, this is just like where I grew up.” She spent most of her days under her grandparents’ watch, playing and hiking in the forest, forging what would become a lifelong relationship with plants.

It’s a childhood straight from the storybooks, and one that makes perfect sense once you know where Morgan is now: distilling spirits from botanicals growing in her Echo Park backyard here in Los Angeles. The most striking of the plants growing in her yard? The California Bay Leaf, a plant more commonly found in Northern California that somehow made its way down the coast, into Morgan’s backyard, and eventually into a bottle of AMASS Dry Gin.

Before she got her start as a distiller, Morgan followed in her father’s footsteps working in the film and television industry as a camera operator. At just 17-years-old, Morgan was the youngest person at the time working in IATSE, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, and one of the only women. “It’s always interesting talking about gender issues if you just get into it by the numbers,” she says. “In IATSE, when I was in the union, it was five percent women.”

When she left the movie biz a decade later to pursue a career in distilling, she found herself yet again in the minority, although this time on her own terms. In 2012, Morgan co-founded The Spirit Guild, a DTLA-based distillery that specializes in making a variety of spirits from California’s diverse flora. Since founding the distillery, Morgan has helped build seven beverage brands, establishing herself as one of the leading independent distillers and, once again, one of the only women.

On why more women aren’t distillers, Morgan theorizes that most women are probably too intelligent for the job. “You’re basically a janitor,” she explains, citing the hours of cleaning and back-breaking labor as one of the reasons the industry has remained so male-dominated.

Morgan, though, is an exception to her own theory, proving that women–even and perhaps especially intelligent women–have a place in distilling. Growing up in British Columbia, Morgan knew what every plant was–which ones were poisonous, which were edible, the conditions they grew best in. So when she moved to Los Angeles over a decade ago, she sought to learn as much as she could about Southern California flora, striving to become a resident expert on the region’s lush terroir.

Morgan’s partner at the time came from an old California ranching family dating back to the 1860s, and Morgan’s knowledge of the area’s agriculture blossomed from that tie. She started experimenting with various botanicals, including citrus, something she thought couldn’t be distilled because she had never seen it done before. She went on to distill the first gin and vodka from clementines, an innovation that came from the simple question: “What would a spirit distilled in Southern California be made from?”

Unlike other distillers that prioritize experimentation above all else, Morgan knows that innovation can only follow knowledge. Distilling, much like filmmaking, relies heavily on craft, a now overused descriptor in the alcohol world that nonetheless remains the most precise, as it encompasses both technical skill and artistry. Morgan elucidates on the matter,

“You can be a really good technical distiller where the spirits you’re making are missing a certain je ne sais quoi. And then you can be a very artistic distiller, but if you don’t know the techniques or the traditions… you can make a very sloppy product… It’s sort of like art. You learn how to draw and then from there, once you know the aesthetic rules, if you break the rules you’re breaking them intentionally.”

Morgan certainly knows how to break the rules–she’s been doing it since she first started working in movies at 17. But she also understands that distilling tradition is rooted in historical context. Take bourbon, for example. Back in 1938, the Coopers Union Lobby prohibited the reusing of barrels in the production of bourbon in an effort to create jobs and spur the lagging timber industry. Now, nearly a century after the law was first put in place, we’ve become accustomed to the taste of New American, charred oak barrel bourbon. To discard the rules surrounding the production of bourbon would be to disrupt the unique, now-expected flavor of the liquor.

Trace back to the origins of most modern spirits and you’ll find a similar trajectory. What we eat and drink are reflective of the times before us, but also the times we live in now. And in order to be a thoughtful distiller, it’s important to understand the symbiotic relationship between what we make and who we are, not as individuals but as a collective.

Morgan is deeply concerned with this relationship, as is evidenced by her near encyclopedic knowledge on the history of distilling. And luckily for her, the times we live in now are a beautiful place to be on the spirits front. We’ve entered into an era of thoughtful consumption, with consumers caring deeply about what they’re putting into their bodies. The decentralization of distilling away from large industrial practices has freed makers from rigid spirits categories and allowed for unprecedented creativity and innovation. Our drinking traditions are evolving with our culture and taking us to places no one has thought to go before. The lines between non-alcoholic, low-alc, and traditional spirits are being blurred, giving consumers of all kinds an opportunity to connect.

That ability to connect over food and drink is what entices Morgan most. She tells me, “My family is Scottish, so we’re lucky if we get black pepper on our roast beef, maybe some horseradish [laughs]. If you look at the history of the spice trade, spices and botanicals were really the first thing people knew of other cultures. I think in general, food and beverage is a calling card of culture and is something everyone can appreciate and connect over.”

AMASS–a word that simply means “to gather”–celebrates the power drink has to bring people of all walks of life together. Here in Los Angeles, a multicultural city with a recently booming food and beverage scene, this rings especially true. So much of AMASS Dry Gin, AMASS’s premiere product and Morgan’s personal brainchild, is inspired by the natural terroir and diverse cultural landscape of LA. The city is felt in the spirit’s indigineous botanicals like California Bay and Cascara Sagrada, as well as in the worldy, vibrant flavors of hibiscus and cardamom. It’s not difficult to see the influence of place–it’s also not difficult to see the influence of Morgan.

Morgan never thought she’d become a distiller, nor did she ever think she’d live in Los Angeles. She tells me that on one trip to LA in her 20s, she met with a corporate psychic at 21st Century Fox, where her step-mother worked at the time. It was the early 2000s, and Morgan had big plans to move to Berlin and play in an art-rock band (on the keyboard, naturally), to which the psychic told her, “Oh honey, you’re not moving to Berlin. You’re moving to Los Angeles.” Morgan quickly disregarded the prediction: “I thought, well that’s funny, because I hate Los Angeles.” Within a few years, she was living here, sleeping on a friend’s couch, and attending parties in the Hills.  It’s a classic story of “little did she know…”, but I’d argue that it’s more than that–it’s a story of Morgan and her ongoing capacity to change, like a snake in the habit of shedding skins.

Since co-founding AMASS with CEO Mark Thomas Lynn in 2018, Morgan’s role has shifted several times over. Now AMASS’s Chief Product Officer and Master Distiller, Morgan is still in the business of distilling and developing spirits, but she now oversees larger business operations as well. It’s not an entirely new realm for her to inhabit–she learned the ins and outs of how to run a business when she first founded the Spirit Guild nearly a decade ago. Outside of the office, Morgan’s life is similarly in flux–she is expecting her first child this spring, to which she says,

“I don’t know what you’re supposed to do when you’re pregnant, but I’m just going to keep working.”

When I ask her about the new direction her life and career are taking, she responds earnestly, “I’m just really excited to do everything all the time.” And that’s the truth of it. It’s not that Morgan is striving to be the best–she knows better than to strive for such empty aspirations. Rather, it’s that she wants to be the most thoughtful distiller she can be.

Distilling, at its core, is about taking simple ingredients–herbs, spices, fruit–and transforming them into a conduit for the senses. And if there’s anyone well-suited for that job, it’s Morgan. She’s read all the books. She’s learned the hard lessons. And perhaps most importantly, she delights in creating quotidian pleasures through drink. It’s a passion that does not seem to be fading, even as AMASS continues to evolve. Morgan is currently in the process of developing an aperitivo, the brand’s first foray into the low-alc space. More products–including, eventually, a non-alcoholic one, as well as a line of botanic hand washes and lotions–are set to follow. Such tremendous change could overwhelm some, but Morgan remains nonplussed. In fact, it seems that this ongoing change is what excites her most, as in it lies the possibility to transform the way we connect.

Written by Nicole Carullo

Photos by Cara Robbins

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Finding Ritual In The Age of Corona

Finding Ritual In The Age of Corona

We’re several weeks into quarantine, which means my supply of clean sweatpants is running low, tensions between family members are running high, and I’ve been drinking… a lot. I’m not the only one–in a New York Times article published last week, it was reported that Drizly, an alcohol-delivery service, has had its sales increase by 50 percent since news of COVID-19 began to spread.

I’ve seen similar trends within my immediate social circle–on a FaceTime call with a friend last week, we commiserated over our newfound lifestyle, with meal and drink time acting as an anchor for the otherwise mindless passing of days. I flipped the camera to display my ever-diminishing array of booze, an assortment of wine and liquor that had begun to overtake my rather large dining room table. An even more dismal sight was to be found in my recycling bin, which overfloweth with discarded bottles of pinot.

Pre-quarantine, I was maxxing out at 2–3 drinks per week–a glass of wine with dinner here, an after-work cocktail with a friend there. But about a week into work-from-home life, the ratio of days passed to drinks drank was inching closer to 1:1. It’s not that I was drinking as a way to dull the senses–although, yes, if there was ever a time to crave distraction, now was it. More than that though, I was reaching for a glass as a way to mark the hazy line between afternoon and night, work and play, weekday and weekend.

It’s something we do habitually–after hard days and in celebration of good ones, we drink to commemorate and signify a moment. It’s why happy hours exist, after all (which you can read more about
here). If you want to and are able to, pouring a drink is not the worst way to maintain some semblance of normalcy during an unprecedented global pandemic. But there are other rituals to practice to stay sane (and safe) that don’t involve another trip to the liquor store…

1. Set the light

When you’re sitting in the same room day in and day out, mood lighting matters. Open up your blinds during the day and burn candles at night to keep the distinction between on and off crystal clear.

2. Put a pot on to boil

Whether you’re making pasta or a cup of tea, there is something about the gentle simmer and eventual bubbling of a pot of water that has the power to soothe. It’s a ritual I’ve found myself retreating to on days when it’s comfort I’m craving most.

3. Play some tunes

Instead of pouring a glass at the end of the day, put on a record or strum on a guitar. The effect is similar so long as you opt for smooth and easy music.

4. Read poetry aloud

When spoken, a poem can feel something like a prayer. Read to yourself, read to someone you love–read because the news is loud and the rest of the world feels a little too quiet right now.

5. Stretch, breathe

Get back in your body by touching your toes. It’s simple, but taking the time to slow down your breath and stretch your limbs can transport you to a calmer place.

6. Preserve your perishables

Make an afternoon out of pickling veggies and sauerkraut. It’s a meditative practice that’s good for salvaging any farmer’s market treasures you have hanging out in your crisper drawer.

7. Take sunset walks

With social distancing in mind, take walks down the side streets you don’t typically trek at the end of the workday.

8. Bubble a bath

Baths are the perfect way to escape–from your screens, from your roommate, from the messy corners of your home. Low light and soft sounds are key here.

9. Mindlessly play

Whether it’s watching Youtube videos or going deep into an Animal Crossing rabbit hole, give yourself permission to delight in the mindless pleasures you typically chide yourself for. In a time where so much of our headspace is being taken up by worry, granting yourself simple comforts is an essential practice.

Written by Nicole Carullo 

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