Sunday, February 22, 2009

LeNell Part 3

So the store is packed up, the apartment is trashed after a most enjoyable party, LeNell still has a ton of stuff to do but LeNell's at 416 Van Brunt Street is now officially closed. The space looks forlorn, there is a sign on the door that says 'We've lost our lease at this location but continue to search for the perfect new home. Thanks for almost 6 beautiful years. I have the best customers in the whole wide world, if you would like to keep up with our news then send an email to My heart LeNell.'

The last day of the store was well attended and nearly all her stock got sold, many friends of the store popped in with gifts or amazing nips and drams of whisky. LeNell served one of her legendary punches, played music, hugged people, shouted at people, cried. I also managed to persuade her to take a rather saucy picture to mark the occasion. This in its self was done in typical Smothers style with her happily parading through her shop in some very beautiful underwear (that was designed by a customer who designs knickers for Hustler) and then waving at people as they walked whilst she was buck naked in the bath tub that used to be full of gin. We had her friend and professional photographer Scott Baker on hand to take the pics.

I asked LeNell what she had learnt. She said that its important to have a good accountant and lawyer, she had tried to do both on her own when she opened the store and she now realises that she can't do everything by herself. Her store was the coming together of lots of different elements and a large dash of magic. LeNell mused on her identity being so wrapped up with the store but in fact LeNell is far more known now for her character, bourbon knowledge and adventurous spirit than any building. LeNell feels that due to her virgo nature she often has tunnel vision especially when in pursuit of a goal. Losing the lease reminded her that life is about people and that nothing exists without them, a lot of people gave their time and energy to her store and her business over the last 6 years and she could never have done it without them.

The following evening she had a small gathering which was entitled 'LeNell's send off to the world of the uncut cock'. Friends and customers gathered at her home to enjoy more punch, lots of bacon, bourbon cake, vintage porn cartoons and a jeroboam of champagne which she sabered out on the street. She also debuted her new stripper thigh high boots which will be travelling to London and Amsterdam with her.

There will be a new LeNell's in the future and she will be putting a new space to even better use, for now she is off to Europe to travel, learn and clear her head and heart, she is also going to the Whisky Live Icons of Whisky awards to pick up her third award 'US Retailer of the year single outlet'.  There will be more on travels with LeNell soon, if you're in Portobello on the 4th March come down the Star for Lady and the Tramp (you will be surprised as to whose who) to see LeNell and myself making drinks under the watchful eye of Jake Burger.

Friday, February 20, 2009

LeNell Part 2

Greetings from Red Hook in Brooklyn, I arrived late Wednesday night and had the lovely surprise of finding Miss Misty Kalkofen of LUPEC Boston hanging with LeNell at the store. The store is looking
 empty but still very much loved. 

LeNell, myself and Misty relocated to LeNell's apartment and put the world to rights for a few hours whilst eating liqueur chocolates, cheese and drinking Duchess cocktails made my Lenell. 

I awoke on Thursday morning to Earl Grey tea and home cooked muffins, yep she bakes too. I also had a good look around her amazing apartment and her impressive drinks cabinet/shelves and book shelves. I'm currently reading a book called Dirty Helen which tells the story of a bar owner Helen Cromwell, sometimes Madame, who owned the Sunflower Inn in Milwaukee between the 1930's and 50's. She served only bourbon and scotch and had no seats just a very plush carpet for her guests to sit on.

We then went to the store to do the final cleaning, packing away and hopefully sell off the last few bottles. LeNell's store has 
been a real labour of love from start to finish, as we packed away various items, I realised that everything in this magical store has a story. I started with the chandalier, this had been in her house in Alabama. The building of the store dates back to early the 1900's no official date has been found, its a large square space with a kitchen out back and a large basement.

When LeNell got the store she put paper up on the windows one day and spent a day or 2 by herself stripping the plaster of the walls to expose the brick work, she discovered the original ceiling and restored it to its former glory. She spent 2 months removing the modern linoleum and exposing the beautiful hand tiled floor. In total it took her 5 months to get the store open.

Bottles are displayed in beautiful antique cabinets, an old bath tub is her gin display.

People came in and out of the store all day and the endless questions of 'what's happening?' and 'where you moving to?' are tiring but also highlight how well loved the store is and how it has become a real highlight of the neighbourhood. LeNell's opened on the 13th September 2003 (LeNell's birthday) and the area was very different then, the area 'came' up around LeNell's store and is now peppered with smart restaurants, wine bars and antique stores. The range at LeNell's has always been amazing and many a bartender over the years have made a pilgramage out there to find rare bitters and cocktail ingredients. LeNell's was also a centre of education with the good and the great of the spirit world holding masterclasses and tastings.

The end of Thursday ended with an unnecessary official eviction notice from her landlord, he seems like a sensitive charmer?! LeNell took it on the chin and served the last few customers with her normal charm and grace. Tomorrow is the final day of trading eased with a big bowl of punch to say 'until the next time' to her customers.

Ohhh check out LeNell's new haircut and tattoo for her European adventures.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

LeNell Smothers

A couple of years ago I was in New York on a work trip and I had the pleasure of meeting Miss LeNell Smothers. I had heard of her liquor store, LeNell's, a well kept secret by the global bartender community but had never encountered her in the flesh. She has a rather outrageous reputation that proceeds her but I was intrigued to meet this much talked/gossiped about woman.

We met at restaurant before hitting a few bars and in person she was much more demure that I had expected. LeNell is born and bred Alabama, she has the most awesome Southern twang that is charming even when she is regaling you with lewd stories, of which she has many. The below is copied from her latest bulletin regarding her store and her words are better than mine.

'Over eight years ago, this starry eyed country girl came to New York just hoping to some day get her foot in the door of the booze business in the big bad City. I never dreamed that a short while later this ole gal that grew up around a hog farm and a chicken hatchery would be able to say that she shared a sunset with her hero Dale Degroff in the Rainbow Room and helped Christian Moeuix of Chateau Petrus pour wine at a tasting on Madison Avenue. The memorable moments with people I had only admired from afar back in Alabama are too numerous to recount here. Many dear friendships enriched the journey to success.

Near six years go I signed a lease to open my shop in Red Hook. My time in this current space is officially coming to an end, celebrating the grande finale at 416 Van Brunt, Friday Feb 20th from 12pm-9pm'

I'm flying to New York on Wednesday 18th February to spend the last few days of the current site of LeNell's with its name sake, I will be blogging regularly throughout my trip with what we get up to and then she is hitting Europe! Whilst she's here do come down the Portobello Star for The Lady and the Tramp on Wednesday 4th March 2009.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My First Class of Bikram Yoga

As the title of this blog includes the word 'yoga' I should probably introduce you all to the world of Bikram yoga and tell you about my first class which was nearly 4 years ago. I had been training for my 2nd marathon and my body was in bits.

I was introduced to Bikram yoga by a friend who had done one class and become quite hooked, I had vaguely heard about it and the only thing that had really registered was that it was done in a room that was heated to 105 degrees, it sounded quite ridiculous but intriguing none the less.

I arrived, as nearly all Bikram rookies, in proper sweat pants and a t-shirt, I was slightly amazed at how skimpy the clothing was of some of the other attendees, some in just bikinis. I lay down on my mat with my 2 litre bottle of water and didn't really know what to expect. I must admit at this stage vanity had brought me to a Bikram yoga studio, my friend had informed me that it was a fast track route to weight loss and toning up. 

Bikram yoga is a 90 minute class comprising of 26 postures that are repeated twice, the room is heated to 105 degrees to both protect you from injury and increase flexibility. Bikram's thinking was that this would replicate the climate in India and make it easier for Westerners.

Bikram yoga was invented by Bikram Choudray in 1965, it is a series based on hatha yoga which he had learned since he was a young boy. Bikram yoga is designed to heal your body inside and out, Bikram's theory is that if you heal the body the mind will follow. The series is designed to heal knees, backs, blood pressure, cholesterol amongst pretty much everything else. Some pretty big claims but from my experience and the many testimonials on the web he could just be on to something.

The teacher came in and introduced herself, she was Francesca, who at the time co-owned the studio. She was very tall, lean and glamorous, everything you would wish for and expect from a yoga teacher, she also had incredible energy. She explained to us nubies that the room would get hotter, that we were to take it easy, drink water after the warm up when we wanted but above all we must stay in the room, even if it was in a sweaty, hyperventilating puddle on the floor. Bikram yoga is a dialogue lead class and its very important that you stay with the dialogue and don't try and rush ahead of the teacher. In an ideal class everyone moves together and the energy is amazing.

Half the series is done standing and half on the floor, I had no idea what to expect other than that it was 90 mins long. I had naively thought all the positions would be impossible and everyone would be bending themselves into pretzels. Bikram yoga is as much about strength and stamina as it is about flexibility. The first couple of postures weren't too difficult but the heat was something else, I could barely breathe and within minutes rivers of sweat were dripping off me, this was somehow very cathartic and spurred me on to the next postures.

The third posture in the warm up series is awkward pose, never was a posture more aptly named, award pose is incredibly difficult both mentally and physically and I still struggle with it 4 years later, this is apparently because its the posture I need the most, urgh!

I staggered and grimaced through the standing series, glared daggers at the friend that had bought me, slipped on my mat, felt like running out of the room (still get that feeling when particularly hungover) and generally prayed I was anywhere but in that hot room with the other Bikram nutters.

The beginning of the floor series starts with a 2 minute savanasa, this is 'dead body pose' and never had hard ground felt so good, I had also accidentally placed myself near the door which the teacher kindly opened, the breeze was like angel kisses. The floor series was an exercise in concentration and 'stay in the room' but somehow I managed to get through the whole class, I had had moments of 'this is the most insane thing I've ever done' and 'these people are all nuts, I'm never coming back'. Explaining to Bikram virgins that Bikram yoga is one of the most intense full on work outs imaginable is difficult, as did I, most people think that yoga is a tree huggy, navel gazing pursuit of pierced and dread locked drop outs. Bikram yoga has been described as type A personality yoga. Athletes now combine their training with Bikram yoga and I have never experienced a work out where you heart is pounding but your breath is total measured and controlled.

Somehow though at the end of the class as I lay in the final savanasa, in the dark, with the air cooling around me I felt an amazing euphoric feeling of both peace and accomplishment (not to mention a healthy amount of pounding endorphins). I realised for the first time in years I had been entirely 'present' for 90 minutes. I tend to live my life in the future as in 'what's going to happen next?'. The freedom of being 'present' is quite profound.

Needless to say I returned to Bikram soon after but its only in the last year that my practice has become regular (at least 5 times per week) and that I'm really finally even beginning to get my head round what its really all about.

Bikram yoga for me is the perfect ying to my drinks trade yang, the detoxing effects are wonderfully efficient and the lessons it has taught me in the last year and the noticeable affect it has had on my body speak for themselves. I have never been fitter, less stressed, softer skinned (great side affect of sweating each day) or balanced in all areas of my life. My yoga practice has guided me through some trying times and that 90 minutes of freedom each day frees up so much space in my life for other positive things to flood in.

There are 10 studios in London and over 600 around the world, go to to find a class near you, go on, you won't regret it! The class is the same where ever you go in the world, I have practiced in London, New York, Miami, LA, San Fran, Chicago, Boston, Washington and Tokyo. 

I will write about my adventures in Bikram yoga again including a very special retreat in the South of France which I will be attending for the 2nd year this year

Namaste (the light in me sees the light in you).