Barley + Rye: At the bar with councilmember Kwanza Hall

The District 2 rep says he’ll issue a proclamation for the city’s best hot toddy
Kwanza Hall

[As part of Barley + Rye, the magazine’s weekly beer and cocktails column, we bring you conversations with interesting Atlanta figures over drinks. This is our first installment.]

One dreary weekday evening following the worst of the Polar Vortex, I shared a drink with Atlanta city councilmember Kwanza Hall at Proof & Provision. Sniffling and bundled up, the 42-year-old Hall arrived all smiles. Every time I see Hall he is smiling. And talking. On the rare occasion Hall finds a stranger in the room, it’s not long before he makes friends.

Hall has represented District Two since 2005. If you’re a small business owner in one of his neighborhoods (which include Castleberry Hill, Downtown, Old Fourth Ward, Inman Park, and Midtown), chances are that even if you and Hall haven’t met, he’s somewhere nearby finding out who people are, what they do, and what they’re concerned about.

He is a friend of creativity, Hall has said to me, helping push forward community-driven initiatives like the Atlanta Streetcar, the development of the Beltline’s Eastside Trail, the popular Atlanta Streets Alive program, and Yo Boulevard: The Sequel, a continuation of Hall’s commitment to help clean up a crime-heavy intown street. The project began in 2012 and focused on resident cleanup days and activities for kids. The Hawks even donated $50,000 to repair basketball courts.

But on this day, just shy of a week into the new session, Hall was on a mission. For hot toddies.

Wait, I thought you didn’t drink and that we were going to discuss mocktails. Plus you just ordered a chamomile tea. Drinking can be hard because I have multiple events. If I drink at every event I attended I would have six to ten a night.

Ah. The CDC did just release a report about our drinking habits. Everyone’s drinking more than they should be.

And I’ve noticed mocktails are usually pink and bubbly, which is sad for us all, women and men alike. They are a little girly. It’s like, come on, where’s the manly version? Not that pink is necessarily a woman’s color, but you want something that feels like a bourbon.

Amen. So how’s the hot toddy research going? I’m on the hunt for Atlanta’s best. I’ve been a little disappointed. You get a dark liquor poured into a glass with a little bit of honey and lemon. But a real hot toddy has more to it than that. I’ve had a cold so I’ve ordered about six in the last few days.

You know what you’re talking about. Right. There’s a bartender at the Downtown Hyatt that’s been there for about 20 years. I didn’t know her, I just asked if she could make a hot toddy. It was the best I’ve ever had. I think there’s a definite need to have a conversation in this city about hot toddies. I’d love to give a proclamation to the bartender that makes the best hot toddy this season.

As if on cue, Proof & Provision bartender Alex Sher dropped by the table. People usually note Sher’s distinct accent—he was raised in Botswana, and had recently returned from a holiday trip to Johannesburg, where he was born. The barkeep was soon introduced to the Hall Q A. The two were soon discussing emerging markets. And toddies.

Hall: Do you make a hot toddy?

Sher: Yeah, all day.

Hall: This is serious now, we’re having a serious conversation about hot toddies.

Sher: I can change that tea into a hot toddy right now.

Hall: You can doctor this up? It is chamomile.

Sher: I’ve got you.

Sher quickly returns with a boozed up chamomile tea—citrus and rye whiskey, angostura, orange, and chocolate bitters, and some Demerara sugar.

How is it? He did a good job. Met my demands on the spot.

So—have you recovered from the Braves? Well—I don’t know how you recover from that.

What about your constituents? People haven’t said much. I think when the season starts up, that’s when people will really start mourning.

What’s on the horizon this year? The infrastructure conversation, and how we fund desperately needed improvements. Roads, bridges, streets—just to make the city feel nicer. Some things you can’t see but they still need to be fixed. I’ve been reflecting on how we grow the city’s international character.

In what way? Foreign investments, venture capital.

You had exposure to the world growing up. My dad traveled a lot. He worked in civil rights as a community organizer. He was actually a member of Dr. King’s staff from ’63-’68. When Carter was president my dad did a lot with peace talks during the cold war. So he would go to Berlin, Africa, Russia. I feel like I need to go to Russia actually. I might go to Sochi.

To the Winter Olympics? It’s going to be freezing. Then I can go get some hot toddies.

What are they, vodka-based? Whatever they are, it’ll be good when it’s cold.