Anthony Bourdain Talks Scotch, Tattoos and the Perfect New York Bar

If Anthony Bourdain loves it, it has to be good. The man has traveled the world and consumed thousands of delicious things, yet still finds wonder in the people who care deeply about their craft. Whether it’s baking with the inventor of the Cronut or riding motorcycles with a guy who builds them from scratch, he gets personal with these artisans in The Balvenie-sponsored series Raw Craft, a search to find America’s most talented and dedicated craftspeople. We recently attended a screening of episode 13, featuring baker (and the notorious Cronut inventor) Dominique Ansel, and got a chance to sit down with Bourdain to talk scotch, tattoos and drinking with Green Day.

Supercall: What do you think are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about scotch?
Anthony Bourdain: I hate to think that maybe, like with Cognac, people are intimidated, thinking, “These are deep waters. I'll look like an idiot.” I just approach it by saying, don’t put too much importance on it. It’s a beautiful thing, but does it make you happy? That’s all that matters. I don’t claim to be an expert or particularly knowledgeable on scotch at all. I’m learning, and I just don’t see anything wrong with that.

SC: Do you have to know a lot about scotch to really enjoy it?
AB: No. There’s a lot to learn, and it’s a very big subject if you really want to jump into it, but I don’t think it’s important or essential, necessarily. It’s nice to know where it’s made, how it’s made, what’s different about it than the stuff the neighbors are making, what they’re doing in Japan, what they’re doing with whiskies around the world, the difference between a blended and single malt. Those are all useful, but again, is it good? Does it make you happy? Does it surprise you? The same way that you don’t need to know a lot about wine for wine to make you happy. You might find yourself at a table drinking a glass and say, “My god this is really good.” And someone will say, “Well you have very good taste. That’s a very expensive motherfucking wine.”

SC: In that case, when it comes to scotch, what makes you happy?
AB: For me, the context of where I’m drinking scotch and when, the atmospherics, are really important. There are certain environments that really seem to call for it. It’s not an August-in-the-Caribbean drink for me. But a chilly afternoon in Scotland, or New York for that matter, at the right bar or pub, with just the right music playing in the background—it just seems like the perfect thing at the perfect time.

SC: What music would you play with the scotch you’re drinking right now? [The Balevenie Port Wood 21 Year.]
AB: “Simple Twist of Fate” from Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan.

SC: In which New York bar?
AB: A nice old man’s bar at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Nothing but solo drinkers, not crowded, in the late afternoon, alone.

SC: Do you have specific places you have to hit up when you’re in New York City?
AB: I have a small group of go-to places that are very low impact where they don’t care who I am, where I get the same treatment as everybody else. There’s no extras. There’s no freebies. Nobody blinks. Nobody cares. They’re Korean or Japanese places for the most part. I keep it really simple. I’m not looking for anything fancy.

SC: During your travels for this season of Raw Craft, was there a particular drinking experience that really stood out to you?
AB: I went backstage with Green Day. I was with these guys that make custom drum kits and they made one for Trey Cool, and I got to enjoy drinking whisky with him. But I think the most delicious drinking experience was when we were shooting in L.A. with Max Hazan, who makes handmade motorcycles, and I may or may not have had a slight mishap with one of the motorcycles. I put it down and really mashed my hand. I mean badly, I really fucked myself up. After I wrapped myself up and got back into town, that first whisky was good medicine.

SC: In episode 11, after you got the tebori tattoo with Takashi in Bushwick, were you drinking at Cobra Club?
AB: Yes, really great playlist at that bar. That was like right in my happy zone. That’s a good bar with good music.

SC: I love that place. Did that tattoo hurt less than a traditional tattoo? Because the sound the needles make is really intimidating.
AB: Yeah, it does sound the same as when you’re making steak tartare—chk chk chk. It’s like meat being chopped. But it didn’t hurt much. First of all, the shoulder is not a particularly sensitive spot, and I found it to be less painful than the gun, which is not that painful except it depends where. I had a tebori tattoo on my hip, and there are parts of that tattoo, especially when they got to the third color, that hurt.

SC: So, what’s up next? Is there a particular maker that you’ve been dying to meet or interview for next season of Raw Craft?
AB: I don’t want to give it away but there are some people I’m looking at, pretty arcane specialized stuff. It’s tough because the line between art and craft sometimes gets a little hazy on the show. There are artists I’m interested in, and it’s hard to shoehorn them into a craft series. But yeah, I have a few weird obsessions with objects and tangible things. If we can explore those on the show, great.