I was in a store on the Washington coast a couple weeks ago when I saw a bottle of Old Crow. I haven’t seen one in a long time. I had just started working on the post-sound for Eric Byford’s film, Straight Up: Kentucky Bourbon and an old memory come screaming back to me.
Years ago I was staying at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley. I’d live there for weeks at a time when we were mixing some of Gus Van Sant’s films at the Saul Zaentz Film Center. I walked in to the small bar one night after a really long day. “Bourbon and water please.”
“That’s an old man’s drink.” said the bartender as he winked at me. “If you ever want to know if a bartender knows their stuff ask for a Dirty Bird in a Bath. That’s Old Crow and water.”
The Bartender was in his late sixties with bright white hair and a twinkle in his blue eyes that was pure mischief.
“Michael Sullivan.” He said as he extended his hand. I heard a hint of an Irish accent.
The place was empty so we talked. He used to have an Irish Pub in the City (figures) and he regaled me with stories from the old days. He sold his bar a while back and worked at the Claremont a few nights a week cause he didn’t like retirement. I saw him from time to time and he always had great stories.
About a year and a half later I’m mixing another picture at Zaentz’s and staying at the Claremont. The Post-Supervisor was up from Columbia Pictures as well as two Executives. She asked me to meet them for dinner at the hotel after we were finished mixing for the day. There were some things they wanted to discuss.
I was late of course cause we never stop working right at 7 pm. They’re all waiting for me in the restaurant when I finally show up. I’m not sure what’s going on and why we’re meeting but it’s their money so they can do as they wish.
The waiter asked me what I wanted to drink and without thinking I said, “A Dirty Bird in a Bath.” Everyone including the waiter did a double take but no one asked what it was. I’m sure they didn’t want to appear unhip.
A few minutes later from behind me I hear a familiar Irish accent.
“I knew it was you. How you doin Kelley?” I turned around and there was Michael, he had brought my drink personally in to the restaurant.
I got up shook his hand and we talked for a bit while the Executives just looked at me thinking, “What the hell is going on? We’re the important ones here. You’re talking to an old bartender?”
After a few minutes I gave Michael a hug and told him I’d be by to see him later. He looked at the Executives, “You take good care of this guy, he’s a good one.” And he turned and walked away.
I sat back down at the table and the whole atmosphere changed. The Executives were very friendly and when I asked them what they wanted to talk to me about they told me not to worry about it. They left the next day and the Post-Supervisor told me everything was good.
I saw Michael a few more times while I was staying there. No matter how busy he was he always had time to tell me a good story.
I haven’t thought about him in years and the last few times I stayed at the Claremont he was no longer there.
I bought that bottle of Old Crow.
Michael, I have no idea where you are or even if you’re still walking the earth. But I remember your voice and that twinkle in your eye. I haven’t added water to any whiskey in a long time. But I poured myself a Dirty Bird in a Bath tonight and I’m toasting you. Wherever you are.
Eric Byford, I’m also toasting you tonight. I hope your premiere goes well. You’re a good man and you’ve made a good film.
Cheers to you both!