Comprised of two core multi-instrumentalists, Joey Burns – who is a real wine lover – and John Convertino, Calexico is an alt-folk band with a penchant for eating and drinking well. The Arizona-based band, whose album, Edge of the Sun, drops on April 14th, blend the sounds of traditional Mexican music and American folk rock, and collaborate widely with other musicians. A few weeks ago I met up with Joey and John and they filled me in on notable bars in Tuscon, where they drink in NYC, and their band ritual.
Let’s get this out of the way, do you guys drink before a show to get ready and loosen up? If so, what?
Joey: Some of the band members have a shot of Jameson Irish whiskey or Maker’s Mark Bourbon before the show. Simple.
You guys are based in Tuscon, a great town, but one many readers probably haven’t visited. What are your favorite bars there that people should check out?
Joey: Unplugged Wine Bar downtown in Tucson is nice and relatively new. R Bar, which is also new is connected to the Rialto Theatre downtown and designed by our friends at Patch and Clark design. For something a bit more mid-century there is the Shelter Bar with enticing decor and for interesting wines and conversation, I like to hang out with my friend, Kevin, who is the sommelier at Feast Restaurant. Last night my wife and I checked out these two great wines: a white blend featuring Grenache Blanc, Picpoul Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne by Adelaida (Paso Robles, CA) and a 100% old vine Grenache from Domaine Gramenon (Côtes du Rhône, France). Both wines were exceptional and the food was fantastic.
John: I love the Tap Room at Hotel Congress, now called Tiger’s Tap Room in honor of Tiger, the bartender there for over 30 years. For a quiet drink on South 4th Avenue there’s a restaurant called Crossroads, in there is a small bar with Dos Equis on tap and a nice selection of good tequila
You both also spend a good amount of time in NYC, where would you head for a drink there?
Joey: I would start with toasting some wines at Terroir, since they’re awesome and have been around for a while. I’d also want to hang out at D.O.C. Wine Bar in Brooklyn. Then I’d go hang out with Mike Madrigale outside Bar Boulud and watch as he takes photos of wine bottles with people passing by. My list changes all the time. I asked our bass player Ryan Alfred, who used to live in New York, where he likes to hang out and he wrote:
My favorite bar in New York City was Mars Bar, which was an incredibly grimy place that anybody who’s lived in NYC for more than three years will know about. I used to get wasted there and write letters to my father, because I was poor and a whiskey coke there was $4, and had no coke in it.
Finally, for nicer, contemporary places, you can’t really beat Sycamore in Brooklyn. It’s part flower shop, super reasonable, and tons of musicians that live in that area frequent it.
You’re throwing a small album release party with friends/colleagues. What are you serving: food/wine? What music are you playing?
Joey: First, we need Tecate in cans especially if we are in Tucson. I would vote to bring in several food trucks (The Calexico Food Cart whenever in NYC!!!) and open a variety of wines and beers from around the world. Since our band consists of members from the USA, Mexico, and Europe (Germany and Spain) it would be fun to have everyone’s country represented. OK, I would vote to have a pig paella, some jamon serrano, manchego cheese, a slew of roasted veggies, bratwurst, salads and tacos of all variety. Let’s open some cases of Abadia Retuerta “Seleccion Especial” and Pintia “Toro” from Ribera del Duero Spain and some wines from our friends in Austria: Gut Oggau, Pittnauer and Heinrich. For local Arizona wine I would be pouring Dos Cabezas.
John: I would hire a local taco truck, grilled onions and peppers, carne, pescado, and carnitas tacos with rice and beans, maybe have Sandra Davilla from The Little Cafe Poca Cosa and cater it with iced cold beers – Tecate, Corona, Negra Modelo – and dry red wine – Malbec or Cabernet. I would also have Latin, jazz, and soul music with some ambient electronica thrown in.
Do you find you drink more when you’re on the road than at home?
Joey: Yes, and if I do I usually drink after the show at the hotel or on the tour bus with the crew and friends sharing a nice bottle of wine or beer. I have been encouraging winemakers to come to shows more recently to get to meet and talk about their creative process, which has been educational and fun. In Napa, Steve Matthiasson came to our Sebastapol show, and the day before I got to visit his home and vineyard. That was a nice window into his world and chance to see someone who I admire a lot.
Touring as often as you do, you get to a a lot of pretty amazing places. Where is one of the coolest places you’ve visited with the best food and nightlife?
Joey: San Sebastian, Spain is incredible. The town is nestled into the coastal nook in the north of Spain and there is a walk along the edge of the sea that leads you straight into the heart of the old part of the city, which is filled with excellent tapas wine bars. Anywhere you go there are amazing displays of food, and chalkboards listing incredible wines from all over Spain. If you don’t know where to go, follow the locals and hang out for a while. It is sort of our band’s tradition to take a walk in San Sebastian and then find a place or two for tapas and wine.
John: We were just in Berlin at a wine bar called Cordibar; there, we had lots of tastes of Austrian white wine, a French red that blew me away, and little plates of hand made food that were so good. It had nice, high ceilings and interesting light fixtures made out of old car parts. It felt comfortable but classy at the same time. Berlin has come a long way since the wall came down, and it’s really a fun and interesting city to explore
Finally, we’ve talked a lot about wine, which you both clearly love, but what about your favorite beer(s)?
Joey: Whenever I visit Ireland or England I have to try a pint of Guinness, because nowhere in the world does it taste as good. When in Germany I like Pilsners fresh from the tap. Kölsch is another beer that I like whenever I am in Cologne. I tend to go local when I travel. Fresh is best.
John: My favorite beer of all time is Guinness served iced cold at John Cleary’s in Kilkenny, Ireland.
Jillian Scheinfeld is a writer and interviewer living in Brooklyn. By day she’s a publicist for a nonprofit and by night you can catch her at a concert or practicing yoga. See past work here and follow her tweets @jillianschein