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.


Chantal said...

I loved LeNells and am sorry to see it close. Looks like you and I have a lot in common, btw. Drinks, travel, and Bikram... there are worse ways to live.

J. said...


(The following posted to LUPEC a few minutes ago...)

I just found your blog post. It’s hysterical…and true about Dirty Helen too.

FWIW, my dad wrote the only authorized story of Dirty Helen’s life in 1966. He was one of the unsuspecting USN boys who dared order a martini at the Sunflower Inn. Dear Lord, what ensued was indeed a spectacle and they remained friends for the rest of her life. I met her many times as a child and even have a few stories myself.

I am following up on her zany story where my father left off and have found many unpublished adventures (written in her own hand!) including more tales of rum-running for Al Capone.

If any dear readers know more of Helen or the Sunflower Inn please do contact me. I would love to hear from you as I explore ways to re-ignite interest in the tale of this survivor’s life.