Articles by

<Christopher Ludwig>

03/15/05 2:00pm

This sprawling documentary explores the struggles of family vineyards as they confront globalized McWineries. Napa Valley’s Robert Mondavi is the film’s symbol of modernization, developing most of its flavor from lab techniques rather than terroir — the combination of vine, region and soil that characterizes French wine. This mass production is why, in the words of one French winemaker, "Wine is dead."

Such declarations are part of Mondovino’s charm, but Nossiter is interested in more than the personalities of old-world wineries and portrays their ideas about wine as noble and foolish compared with the marketing savvy of Californians and American-influenced European companies.

But at two and half hours, the film’s attentive style strains the narrative structure. At its best moments — and there are many — this is a Zola-esque tableau of class and change, but too often it becomes a poorly edited home movie.

Opens March 23

03/15/05 2:00pm

31 Second Avenue, 212-460-0992
Cheapest Drink: $4 Rheingold
Most Expensive Drink: $14 Single Malt
Extras: Best Po’boys east of Mississippi River

The mural of Bourbon Street in Patio Bar bears little resemblance to what’s happening now in the French Quarter, where in the March madness of spring break thousands enjoy public drinking and underage girls bearing it all from lovely Spanish balconies. In Patio’s depiction the depravity is muted, save for some girly clubs, and the street nearly empty except for a black teenager blowing a horn near a Cajun restaurant. It’s no great work of art, but does represent the New Orleans Patio Bar strives to capture: Bourbon Street stripped to its jazz, sex appeal, and hot food.

Patio adjoins a sister restaurant, Natchez, serving gourmet-style Cajun food; the chipotle-glazed oyster po’boy put on the bar was a lot better than the mayo-drenched versions I’ve eaten in the Quarter. The music is jazz and classical; the bartender played the front half of a cassette (yes, cassette) of Miles Davis’ Round About Midnight, before switching to a roaring Bessie Smith. Live jazz and rock (crappy rock, per the jazz-centric bartender) are featured weekly.

The crowd was mixed: trendy, European, a few NYU girls. But it’s spring break, so the beads-for-boobies-loving frat boys may all be vomiting in Louis Armstrong Park right now, hopefully moments from getting mugged. If they return for summer to drink on the outdoor patio next to gay-friendly Hole, there could be trouble. But Patio, with its dark, crimson lighting, its pool table and sofas in the back, its bartender happy to talk about anything from Jesus to String theory, is more New York than Cajun, thankfully.

03/01/05 2:00pm

497 Fifth Ave, Park Slope, 212-475-4600
Cheapest Drink: $3 pint of Yuengling
Most Expensive Drink: $7 Antioxidant Martini
Extras: Liberal, horny personal ads. Cheese.

A Commonwealth regular described the south Slope as primarily “middle class, over-educated white people.” Sounds more like Scandinavia than Brooklyn, but rings true for the young designers, students, and DPs sharing elbow room here. The bar’s patrons resemble the usual clientele of a Williamsburg/East Village casual bar, but out here in the suburbs of hipsterdom, Commonwealth is apparently a relief from investment-banker bourgeoisie and log-cabin-lesbian mommies occupying brownstones along Prospect Park.

Every first Wednesday of the month, a left-leaning group called “Drinking Liberally” meets at Commonwealth to bemoan Bush and pursue Democratic one-night stands. The bar has become — in the words of another regular — a “safe haven” for gays, straights, minorities, etc. I will note that during my time there the one black gentleman in the bar sat alone in the corner, staring into the happy crowd. But lonely men come in all colors. The place is otherwise filled with friendly people, including a bartender happy to play her necessary role as half political pundit, half shallow-party girl (what’s the difference, anyway?)

The mahogany wood bar aside, Common-wealth is unadorned, with an indie-rock jukebox and ripped cushion seating (too charming to be accidental, perhaps). To the left of the bar, a wall features “Brutally Honest Personal Ads,” where the over-educated Slopers advertise their longings and wit. “31-year-old pysch student with violent STD seeks violent lover.” “Wake up with an erection? Call me.” There is also a self-described “limited snack selection” of either Hungarian spiced or Kentucky beer cheese. Both are delicious, but $6 is a more market-driven than socialist price.

03/01/05 12:00am

In this multi-layered spy film, director Fox successfully takes on some serious issues, from Israeli sexual politics to the Holocaust. Eyal is a Mossad agent assigned to befriend the grandchildren of a Nazi who escaped Germany 60 years ago. “I want to get him before God does,” Eyal’s commander tells him. There is an intriguing cultural justification for this revenge, which the film deconstructs rather than exploits. The Holocaust haunts Eyal and the young Germans, but the film portrays it as an unhealthy abstraction in their lives. The narrative is structured around Eyal’s repressed emotions, a trait depicted as peculiarly Israeli. Axel’s homosexuality becomes a catalyst to Eyal’s growth, and sexual ambiguity elevates his emotional complexity, but also muddles him. When Axel takes a Palestinian to bed, an obviously-jealous Eyal rages, cursing Arabs.

The film wisely only dangles this homoerotic tension, but an absurdly gift-wrapped epilogue undermines the film’s sustained complexity. Still, Walk on Water  ties together the troubled elements of the Israeli national character: the specter of the Holocaust, Arab conflict, and the hyper-masculinity bred from a culture perpetually at war.

02/16/05 12:00am

204 Avenue B, 212-475-4600
Cheapest Drink:    $1.50, 8 oz can of Bud     (2 for 1 during Happy Hour)
Most Expensive Drink: $9, Hennessy Martini
Extras: Great Juke, pool table, and flattering lighting

B-Sides masquerades well as a dive bar: sweaty, blue-collar old men drinking Bud from a can have been replaced with sweaty 20-somethings drinking Bud from a can. But a few things separate B-Sides from your average stripped-down-LES-hipster haunt.

For one, occasional mustached locals of an older Alphabet City do make their way into the crowd, apparently to preach conservative politics to young girls, like the gentleman I encountered. He ended the conversation by telling an Asian woman to go back to China. And while charming relics like him are far from the norm here, B-Sides does keep the best casual qualities of a true dive. The bartenders move freely from behind the bar to engage with the crowd, and it’s tough to tell the difference between the owner and a regular. Though the pool table in the back is a popular draw, the jukebox, built into the column adjoining the two rooms, is the centerpiece. Its music collection is an appropriate b-side to modern trends, a mix of alt-rock and classics, like Built to Spill, Serge Gainsbourg and Ella Fitzgerald.

In the dimly lit front, chandeliers made from red Christmas bulbs cast a hazy glow across the room. Fun-house mirrors behind the bar contribute to the pleasing sense of disorientation. As one bartender remarked, “Everyone looks better in red.” And so everyone here does, particularly after drinking the B-Side special: $5 for a can of Rheingold and a shot of whiskey. There are no beers on tap, which may over-fetishize the hipness of canned beer (at least they don’t sell PBR) — but in the end, a can rests better on a pool table anyway.