Q&A: Andre Darlington talks about new book and where he’s getting a drink while in town

Sibling authors to appear at book event on Oct. 20
Q&A: Andre Darlington talks about new book and where he’s getting a drink while in town
Photo by Jason Varney
Siblings Andre and Tenaya Darlington co-authored their new cocktail book "Booze & Vinyl: A Spirited Guide to Great Music and Mixed Drinks," their third book together. 

When Andre Darlington, co-author of the new cocktail book “Booze & Vinyl: A Spirited Guide to Great Music and Mixed Drinks,” decided to quit his day job to write, he had no idea what the next couple of years would bring.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Darlington says. After 17 years in Madison, Darlington moved to Philadelphia a year ago in June to finish working on “Booze & Vinyl” with his co-author and sister, Tenaya Darlington. While still living in Madison, Andre wrote the bulk of three cocktail books that were published in two years and also helped to open Field Table, the restaurant, bar and market located on Capitol Square.

Andre returns to Madison this week for an event on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 3 p.m. at State Line Distillery co-sponsored by 702WI. At this first Wisconsin “Booze & Vinyl” tour stop, the pair will hold a conversation moderated by State Line founder John Mleziva. Plus, there will be a DJ set by Andre, vinyl for sale from Strictly Discs and cocktails from the book made by State Line bar manager Mike McDonald, whom Andre brought to Madison from Milwaukee to build the bar program at Field Table. See 702WI’s event page for more details on the Saturday event.

I spoke recently with Andre from his home in Philadelphia about writing, getting a book published, and the drink he can’t wait to get his hands on when his plane lands in Wisconsin. The following is an edited version of our conversation.

When did you move to Madison?
I came to Madison in 1998 mainly because I had graduated from college and thought I would spend a summer there, and it ended up being 17 years. I went into IT and worked at a law firm for 7 or 8 years and then 7 or 8 years at UW Hospital.

At some point you started writing while you were here — I know you had a blog and did a cocktail column.
My first article for Isthmus was in late ’90s. I took a break from writing and came back into it slowly. I started to do lots of restaurant reviews. With those reviews I clicked into a passion that I knew I ha d– you could set up a sense of place, the characters and it had a critical edge to it. Those were my favorite things to do. I was a wine columnist, too. It was kind of unusual for a small weekly to have a wine column, but I really had fun with that. Around that time there was a lot of new energy in wine and Madison’s restaurant scene, too. Then cocktails got hot and we started doing that also. It’s a difficult thing to come up with a new cocktail every week. Cocktail writing is really hard! You say, “this is refreshing! Wait, I already said that.” And then I ended up quitting my job to write. The writing had always been a side job, but I decided I had burned out on my IT career so I quit. A few months later, we got the book deal for “The New Cocktail Hour.” It was one of those things where you jump and something will magically appear to catch you. I had always assumed that there would always be a cubicle for me to go back to — and I still may have to — but in the meantime the book happened and then Field Table came together, which was somewhat unexpected, and then the other two books have followed. It’s been a wild, wild ride.

How did you get the book deal for The New Cocktail Hour?
It was the craziest thing — I had been writing a wine column for Isthmus and we actually pitched a wine and cheese book (Tenaya wrote a cheese column) to our press and they came back and said “we love your voice, we love what you do, but would you write us a cocktail book?” It’s just one of those things that happens. You put an idea in the hopper and something totally different comes back. So we said, “Sure.” I had quit my day job at that point and we spent two years on Google Hangouts between Madison and Philadelphia working on that book and making every classic cocktail known to human kind. That was a wild project.

Were you inspired by Madison’s cocktail scene while you were working on that book?
Madison bartenders had a big hand in the creation of that book, especially Chad Vogel who now owns Robin Room and Mint Mark. A lot of people that were around at that time had an impact on that book, including Ed Hong (formerly of Gib’s who is now in Chicago). In 2016 there was a lot of action in cocktails in Madison. Craft cocktails had definitely come here which had put us in the mainstream.

Tell me about your latest book, “Booze & Vinyl.”
The inspiration for that was while we were working on “The New Cocktail Hour,” Tenaya and I sat around and listened to albums together and realized there was a connection between the analog nature of vinyl, the cover art and how tactile it is and these retro drinks that have a great history and a great story to them. We wanted to explore that more. And then we thought, “Well, the time it takes to drink a cocktail is the about the side of a record. Why don’t we pair albums with an a side and b side cocktail?” That’s how “Booze & Vinyl” was born. We had pitched a few other books to our press but they called us back that same day and said, “This is it, this is the idea we wanted to hear.” We sort of pitched it like, “Maybe … wouldn’t it be amazing if we could do a book on music and cocktails?”

We have a lot of writers here in Madison — can you talk a little about what that process of getting a book published was like?
I have played with self-publishing on my own for other projects and I don’t discourage people from doing it especially if you are doing something local. Again, this was a bit of a fluke — we had pitched a wine and cheese book since that was our area of expertise. Part of what I have learned is that you go down a path of writing and you think you know what your direction is and you think you are guiding your own career, but I think you have to be open to being blindsided and trying something totally different. At the time, I sort of thought cocktails were over for me as something I would write about. I had moved on to wine and yet here comes this book deal and I just said yes to it, kind of blindly. If I had known how much work it would be I don’t know if I would have done that, but we always have to be open to opportunity and change. For writers in the area, take assignments that expand you in another direction. You just never now. If you write about food, try writing about the outdoors. Try something else. You never know when two hobbies or interests will combine. You also realize how much is being in the right place at the right time and then having people that can help complete the vision — we wrote the book but it took an incredible photographer, designer and marketing person and it just all came together. And it’s an incredible blessing. We also had a relationship with Running Press already. In publishing, it is who you know. And another thing for writers — get out to those conferences. You may not meet the person who is going to publish your book but you might meet the person who knows the person who is going to publish your book.

Any other tips?
Get out there and make face! In this day and age we think everything can happen over email, but it’s only so true.

When was the last time you were in Madison?
I haven’t been back since I moved over a year ago in June.

Are there places that you are going to be sure to visit while you are here?
The Tornado Club for sure for the classics. Some new stuff like Mint Mark. We’ll definitely go to Gib’s. We’ll stop in at Heritage Tavern and Merchant. You know, the usual suspects.

Is there one drink that you have to have?
Definitely have to have an Old-Fashioned. You have to come back and have a brandy Old-Fashioned.

Probably at the Tornado Club.

Is there a song/ pairing from “Booze & Vinyl” that sticks out in your mind?
One fun one is a fish bowl paired with a song from Wilco.

Was your fish bowl inspired by Wando’s at all?
[Laughing] Yeah, it was! So the trick [for the pairings] with Wilco was the lyrics — there is a song called “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” with a line that says, “I am an American Aquarium drinker” from the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot album. The whole album is about the loss of innocence, so we thought, “Let’s do a fish bowl! Let’s try to make a good version of it.” We worked hard to do that. It’s still electric blue, but it’s all fresh citrus and tastes like a Wando’s fish bowl with way less sugar and all fresh ingredients. That was really fun! It takes a lot of work to make a quality ingredient fish bowl. It’s way easier to just pour in blue Hawaiian Punch.

You must be super excited to get back to Madison.
Yeah, we do a couple more places, but we are considering this our grand finale for this 15-city tour. I’m really looking forward to being back. There’s nothing like Madison. Every time I’m in another city I think, “Well this is great, it’s kind of like this place in Madison.” But it’s really hard to find anything like Natt Spil. I’ve been across the country for these book tours and Madison just has this level of intelligence and commitment that is really hard to find. The drinks in that town are really, really good and people really care about what is on their shelves at a lot of places. It has a really strong drink community.