Meet & Eat: Allen Katz, Bartender Beard-Off Champion

Meet and Eat: NY

Conversations with chefs and food personalities in New York City.

Author's note: In mid-August, a group of bartenders at some of the city's best-known cocktail bars embarked on a challenge. They all shaved their faces on the same day and proceeded to grow some serious beards. On December 30th, those left standing competed in various categories--length, touchability, and absorbency, among others--all for the glory of the 2008 Papa Doble Beard-Off title. The event, held at Death and Co. raised money for charity and drew attendees from near and far. Despite some serious competition, Allen Katz's fuzzy face reigned supreme. When Allen is not showing off his whiskers, he can be found creating cocktails and teaching about spirits in his role as the Director of Mixology & Spirits Education for Southern Wine & Spirits of New York, on Martha Stewart's Sirius Satellite Radio as the host of The Cocktail Hour, or promoting sustainable food practices as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Slow Food U.S.A.

20090108allenkatz.jpgName: Allen Katz
Location: East Village, New York
Occupation: Spirits Expert, Cocktail Advocate and Educator

What is the connection between bartenders and facial hair? We grow beards simply because we can, and people will wonder what we're up to.

Why do you think that, of the 20-plus competitors who started out in August, only 8 made it to the finals? Lack of testicular fortitude (for some, of course).

Did you do anything special to get your beard to the length, texture, and fullness that made it a prizewinner? Daily meditation. No trimming.

As part of the competition, you had to eat a chili dog and drink a Ramos Fizz without leaving telltale signs on your beard. Any tips for avoiding beard mess while eating/drinking? Open your mouth as wide as you can and breathe through your nose.

Does the beard provide inspiration for creating cocktails or has it impacted the types of cocktails you create? There is a sense of channeling the great bartenders from the 19th century when you sport a beard. I still drink a lot of rye and gin cocktails (not much has changed).

Now that the competition is over, what are your facial hair plans? I'm going with a Victorian look for a while.

What's the best bar in the city for admiring bearded bartenders? Death and Co.

Best pizza in the city? Di Fara and Luigi's on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn. Great crust and sauce!

Favorite burger? Daddy-O. Perfectly cooked, great tater tots and iPod.

Favorite bagel? Absolute Bagels near Columbia University. Worth the travel uptown for a bagel that has perfect texture and is not too filling.

Best late-night eats? Momofuku Ssam Bar.

Undiscovered gem? Cha-An for tea or The Mercury Dime, which serves the best coffee I've had in the country.

Guilty pleasures? Rice pudding.

Food you won't eat? (or spirit you won't drink?) Artificially-flavored vodka.

Most memorable New York City meal? Home-cooked feasts with friends. Some of my favorite dishes have been grilled pizza with figs and caramelized onions and a whole baby lamb. Also, punch makes everything go down better.

Everyone has a go-to person they call for restaurant recommendations. Who's yours? I love Robert Sietsema's column in the Village Voice for suggestions.

What's the best recommendation you have gotten from it? Congee at 98 Bowery. My favorite dishes are the Razor Clams w Black Bean Sauce, Salt and Pepper Squid, and the Garlic Chicken. They are best when served with BYOB - Brooklyn Brewery's Local 1.