Video: A midwinter wagon ride with Dry January
After a whirlwind of holiday parties and Champagne flutes, Nicole Brodeur embarks on a Dry January and talks to some local acquaintances about the benefits (or drawbacks) of an alcohol-free month.
Seattle Times staff columnist
On New Year’s morning, I mindlessly tipped the bottle of bubbly left over from the night before into my orange juice, and took a good, long sip.
It was a high-end hair of the dog — and it was to be my last taste of alcohol for the next 30 days.
It’s January, which has become a dry month for me. No wine, no beer, no Ketel-One-up-with-three-olives martinis. (As Dorothy said to the Scarecrow, “I think I’ll miss you most of all.”)
But just as my social calendar has quieted after the Sturm und Drang of the holiday season — JJ McKay’s annual clown-car of a Christmas party, more than a few fundraisers where the wineglasses never stayed empty and the bar never closed — it seems time to quiet my mind and body. To sleep free of mental sloshing, to wake free of that dull ache and to sit on the sidelines while the boozy gala games play on.
It’s a tradition I picked up from music maven Kerri Harrop, who knows a thing or two about shaking and stirring and sleeping in — and who stops all that when the new year starts.
“You just start out so clearheaded and focused and it becomes that marker of time,” Harrop said. “It’s good to say, ‘That was last year.’ ”
Not that 2013 was a bad year: After Macklemore allowed his “Same Love” to serve as the theme for the 2012 Music for Marriage Equality campaign (at Harrop’s urging), he went global and was nominated for seven Grammy Awards.
“It was nice to see Seattle continue to gain some national recognition, and (Macklemore) was a big part of that,” Harrop said. “It was nice to see that the adage ‘Hard work pays off’ is true.”
Not only that, some 3,600 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples in Washington state last year.
“It’s nice to think that almost 10,000 people who had previous been denied,” Harrop said, “have seen their dreams come true.”
One person whose dreams didn’t come true is former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who was defeated in November by former state senator and new Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.
You’d understand if McGinn spent his first month of unemployment in his cups, but he says he’s fine.
When I called the other day, McGinn had “nothing of magnitude to share” about life post-City Hall. But he is indeed drinking.
“If it’s a challenge,” McGinn said of Dry January, “I didn’t know about it.”
No Irish Car Bombs or boilermakers, however. Just some nice red with his grilled eggplant with Bolognese, “So, you know, come on!”
McGinn called himself “a boring drinker” who has only a few drinks a week. Wine with dinner, an occasional scotch. At public appearances, though, he didn’t drink until after he had finished his remarks or left the room.
McGinn did hint at a couple of Seattle mayors “known to open a bottle of scotch at the end of the day.” Ask Charles Royeror Wes Uhlman, he suggested. (I passed.)
A.J. Rathbun , on the other hand, drinks on the job all the time — and gets paid for it. He’s a self-described “dipsographer” who has written about drinks in 11 books (his latest is called “Ginger Bliss and the Violet Fizz”), a blog and a column in Seattle Magazine.
“I heard Julia Child say she takes a lot of tastes, but not a lot of full meals,” Rathbun said, “and in the same way, I take a lot of sips, but not a lot of full drinks.”
Nevertheless, he is a believer in Dry January, though he’s “occupationally prohibited” from abstaining himself.
“Much like a good cocktail, life should have a nice balance to it,” Rathbun said. “If you’ve overindulged during the holidays, then it is definitely a way to even the scales. But if you drink more in February, it’s not a good idea.”
He gave me a few suggestions for making sobriety scintillating: Miles Thomas’ Seattle-made Scrappy’s Bitters and soda. The Apricot Cardamom Fizz at Cafe Flora. The Sour Cherry Phosphate at Stoneburner in Ballard.
At 44, Rathbun has been drinking for 23 years (“Sure, let’s call it that.”) and has no intention of stopping now.
“I have to drink,” he said.
So do the folks over at the Oola Distillery on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, who don’t necessarily endorse Dry January, for obvious reasons.
“We definitely understand the need for balance; you can’t drink every day,” said Jeana Harrington, Oola’s managing director and co-owner. “But we do encourage people to drink quality and drink local. That is something you can aspire to. Maybe buy something better with your money.”
On that front, Oola is now preparing its “cask-strength” — 118-proof — whiskey, called Waitsburg Bourbon Whiskey, named for the town in Eastern Washington. It will be released next month.
“We are getting ready for everyone to fall off the wagon,” Harrington cracked. “You can go big when you start to drink again.”
But then there’s David Meinert, nightclub owner and promoter who thinks Dry January is a month of madness, even a threat to his livelihood.
Does he not dry out, then?
“Hell no!” he told me. “Why would I? I love alcohol. And I am completely against the idea because I sell liquor.”
Indeed he does, at the The 5 Point Cafe (“We cheat tourists and drunks” goes the motto) and the 24-hour Lost Lake Cafe.
He did have a small reminder, though, for those of us just settling into our seats on the wagon.
“When you get really bored in about a week,” Meinert said, “we’ll be open.”
Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Sunday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Nicole Brodeur's Names in Bold
On Tuesdays, I tell you about my travels through some of the week's social and philanthropic events — not just the ones for the swells, but those for work-a-day folks who care about making this region move and improve. 206-464-2334