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Our Man About Town: Philip Dobard

on 16/12/15 at 12:25 pm

a woman walks into a bar...

Photo: Nino Andonis

Who is Philip Dobard and why is he everywhere? Well, pretty much wherever there are cocktails. You can spot him here, you can spot him there, his shiny pate and smiling face ubiquitous at bars around town. Does he drink at all those places? How many does he hit in one night? If there’s an event during the day, Philip is there, too. He’s the boozy version of Where’s Waldo? So, who exactly is Philip Dobard?

Listen up…he’s pretty interesting.

Coming from New Orleans automatically bestows an aura of ‘je ne sais quoi’ and so it is with Philip. Raised in a family deeply embedded in food and drink, his grandmother grew up on a sugar plantation, mom grew up on a farm, one uncle was a hunter (meaning fresh game at dinner), other family members farmed seafood and another uncle was a brewmaster. I’m just straight up jealous. Can you imagine what his meals must have been like? And there could have been a little moonshine thrown in to whet his interest in spirits.

Aside from alcohol, music is in Philip’s blood. He’s an accomplished musician who plays guitar – jazz and rock – formed a band when he was sixteen, The Murmurs (anyone?), discovered his true love opera, ran opera companies and happily sang until he realized he wasn’t going to be the next Domingo. So he became a conductor. Wow. He will not sing for a cocktail. I asked.

When did he have time to drink you may wonder? Started drinking at fifteen, got his first fake ID at sixteen and was done “being stupid” by twenty-one thus being freed up to do all those other amazing things. Obviously, he didn’t give up drinking entirely as he is now Director of The Museum of the American Cocktail (MOTAC) and Vice President and a tireless promoter of its parent organization, the National Food & Beverage Foundation (home of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum in New Orleans but active in food and drink programming across the country.) He plays an integral role in all its programs and directs the organization’s Los Angeles-based West Coast operations which encompass both MOTAC (The Museum of the American Cocktail) and the Pacific Food & Beverage Museum (PacFAB). And that’s why he is everywhere.

While Philip is busy educating us about spirits, he actually has to taste every one of them. Even his liver gets scared. So, how does he do it? He has a very smart ‘rule of thumb’ – he takes one sip of anything that’s presented to him, two sips if it’s good and rarely finishes a drink – the epitome of drinking responsibly. His schedule is packed with boozy events every night of the week, often more than one…or two! I got drunk just hearing about it.

Philip’s job is to educate us drinking plebeians about what the hell is in our cocktails and why the spirits therein make such a difference in what we’re tasting. Naturally, brands want to get in front of us imbibers and Philip sets up events to help us learn about the spirits that make up our delectable cocktails. Believe me, understanding spirits and learning about different brands and what they ‘bring to the table’ makes a huge difference in how we order cocktails and how we appreciate them. To me, spirits is ‘liquid food,’ so just as foodies demand to know about the food on their plates, we, too, should know about the spirits that go into our bodies. Here’s where you can get educated! https://www.cocktailmuseum.org.

I wanted to know what his take was on the cocktail scene and cocktail culture as we know it. “There’s unprecedented growth in the number of bars, brands and distillers. There will be a contraction and the best will survive. The artisanal brands will be bought out. It’s very hard for bars to stand alone, be independent. They need the scale of a group that knows how to run things to survive. Trending are restaurants beefing up their bar programs and new and old mainline bars will be adding more food to go along with their drinks.”

How is L.A. different from New Orleans? “L.A. is in no way bound by its past…which is a good thing. New Orleans is forever struggling to break free of its past. Some would think that the past is a source of strength, but New Orleans is being Disneyfied. Innovation is going on but not as much as one would like to see. It doesn’t have the critical mass of locals to sustain it.” This is revelatory coming from someone who is so deeply connected to New Orleans because, as tourists, we are all so willing to accept the mystique of New Orleans and thrilled that it survived Katrina in whatever incarnation. Looking at it through Philip’s gimlet eye, it is understandable how this son of New Orleans wants the city to be its best self and so his love/hate relationship tugs at him with a cocktail in one hand and a cudgel in the other. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

You can follow Philip @CreoleNarcissus.