I think my friend at the record company sold me a bill of goods. “Jillette can drink me, you, and all the Virginmarys under the table,” he told me. I had my doubts, but was willing to give Jillette Johnson, the fetching young singer-songwriter, a chance. Yet here we are at Rogue & Canon, sampling no fewer than five cocktails, and she’s drinking … responsibly. Drinking like a mature, level-headed individual who makes her career a priority and has to go home later to work on some songs. A few sips of this, a few sips of that, pleasant banter, thoughtful answers, and a generally healthy attitude toward work and life. As Dorothy Parker would say: what the hell?
It would help the story if she fell off her chair, or at least got sozzled enough to dish some dirt on the celebrities she’s worked with, but no such luck. I made up for it, soaking up every drop of my cocktail quintet and even stopping by another bar on the way home for the world’s most ill-advised nightcap. So, which one of us just sold out Rockwood Music Hall and has a stellar debut album, Water in a Whale, coming out on Wind-up Records next month? That would be Jillette. And who woke up the next morning with his shoes still on, feeling like a cat had used his tongue as a litter box? No comment.
Irresponsibly responsible behavior aside, Jillette’s a pleasure to have a drink with, and Rogue & Canon in downtown Manhattan is a fantastic venue to do it. The latest spot from Johnny Swet and Larry Poston of Jimmy at the James, Cole’s Greenwich Village, and the late Hotel Griffou (RIP), it’s a casual-cool restaurant and bar with creative takes on comfort food like the Rogue Burger: crispy pork belly, peanut butter, onion marmalade, and aged cheddar. Swet, the visionary behind the cocktail menu, embraces an ethos he calls “accessible mixology.” That means the bar’s all about upscale, innovative drinks that aren’t too precious, with a healthy mix of classics and fresh new ideas. We’ll get to those soon enough.
As for Ms. Johnson, it’s impossible not to be taken by her work ethic. “My philosophy,” she explains, “is to tirelessly work, and forgive myself if I fuck up.” She began playing piano at 6, writing songs at 8, and playing out at 12. Her debut EP, Whiskey & Frosting, came out last year, unleashing a slew of heatseekers like “Pauvre Coeur,” a light yet melancholic ode to ephemeral infatuations with a video that features Jillette looking nice in her underwear.
Water in a Whale comes next, for which she’ll be touring the U.S. with a variety of different acts, including Delta Rae and the Saint Johns. She’ll even perform at Bonnaroo in June, a high-profile enough gig to explain her circumspect approach to a booze-soaked Tuesday night interview. After steadily growing her career for more than a decade, she’s got a lot to lose.
She’s got a lot to drink too, and even though she won’t see the bottom of any of her glasses, she gracious and articulate as she samples each one of Swet’s luscious libations and offers a few words of critique. Let’s get guzzling.
Cocktail #1: Spring Awakening
Tito’s Vodka, Cucumber, Parsley, Lemon, Honey, Seltzer
“This is the kind of thing I could get in serious trouble with. It’s delicious—it feels like I’m eating a salad. It’s something to drink on a Sunday afternoon when you’re hung over. It could be sold at the Olympics as Gatorade.”
Cocktail #2: Bourbon Rose
Bulleit Bourbon, Dry Vermouth, Cassis, Lemon
“Ah, this is my kind of drink. I gravitate to hearty, holiday-ish cocktails. The lemon makes it more of a happy hour drink. It reminds me of being in the East Village right after dinner and right before I get in trouble. The finish is like red wine. Whiskey’s my drink. The reason I got started on whiskey is my dad, who drinks Johnnie Black on the rocks. There’s nothing more gratifying than going home to visit my parents and having a tumbler of Scotch with my dad.”
Cocktail #3: Applejacked
Zubrowka Vodka, Laird’s Applejack, Cranberry, Lime, Agave Nectar
“It’s love at first sip with this one, then over the long term it becomes like an apple Jolly Rancher. There’s so much flavor in it, even in small doses. This would be a good Kentucky Derby drink.”
Cocktail #4: Mint Sazerac
Templeton Rye, Herbsaint, Muddled Mint, Peychaud’s Bitters
“This I love. This is my favorite. It has such a smooth finish. It doesn’t burn. I would order this every time. It’s a real drink.”
Cocktail #5: Boulevardier
Knob Creek Bourbon, Campari, Sweet Vermouth
“I love this one too, but I think I’d only have one of them in a night because it’s bitter. I like the depth of it and the citrus element. This drink is me getting dolled up on a cool night for a hot date. [Jillette says she’s single.] It’s interesting to think about who wins in this drink, the sweet side or the bitter side. My favorites tonight, in order: 1. Mint Sazerac 2. Boulevardier 3. Bourbon Rose 4. Spring Awakening 5. Applejacked. All in all, excellent."
Photo: Rebecca Miller
[For more great spots to drink responsibly, check out the BlackBook New York Guide; Listings for Rogue & Canon, Jimmy, Cole's; Jillette Johnson Official Site; Wind-up Records; More by Victor Ozols; Follow me on Twitter]