Why Paul Calvert has a “three-ingredient goal” for cocktails

Plus 12 more things we learned from the co-owner of Ticonderoga Club

13 Questions is a weekly series where we ask chefs and bartenders 13 questions to get to know them outside of the kitchen and bar. Paul Calvert, formerly of Paper Plane, is the co-owner of Ticonderoga Club.

Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee
Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee

Why did you switch from teaching English to bartending?
I taught 12th-grade English for six years in Atlanta and Boston. The goal was bartending would be the way to get back into the [dining] industry and eventually open a restaurant of my own. Bartending helped me build a career in Atlanta, and that’s awesome.

Why did you move to the South?
Affordability—the idea that Atlanta seems to be a place where I could try to buy a home and open a restaurant. There was a real and vibrant middle class. I’m from New England, but I went to college in Charleston and grad school in Atlanta. I’ve been back here longer than I was before, and it’s definitely changed a lot over the past five years in ways that worry me a bit. Atlanta is certainly not a city that is known for smooth and thoughtful transitions. I lived in that Inman Park/Old Fourth Ward/Cabbagetown/Grant Park area, and I hope it continues to be a place where young people of modest means can settle.

What do you do when you aren’t running the restaurant?
I read a lot. I run, not as much as I would like, but three to four times a week. I hang out with my nine-and-a-half-month-old son, Wally, and my family [Little Tart Bakeshop‘s Sarah O’Brien]. I did not expect to love someone as much as I love my son; it’s a different quality of affection that I didn’t know existed. We read, go to the farmers market and to the park together, and play with the dogs. I love reading Goodnight Moon to him because it’s way more bizarre than I remembered. It’s like if Samuel Beckett wrote a children’s book.

What’s your snack food guilty pleasure?
I eat way too much ice cream. I say this as a huge fan of Jeni’s and a friend of Jeni Britton Bauer, but Talenti’s salted caramel is better than Jeni’s salted caramel, probably because there’s some terrible shit in it. It’s an absolute grand slam of an ice cream.

What’s the last TV show you bingewatched?
I don’t bingewatch. Sarah [O’Brien] will make these delicious bowls of popcorn smothered in butter, olive oil, and salt, and we’ll sit down to watch an episode or two. The last show we watched was Stranger Things. It’s a lot of fun.

What’s your hangover cure?
 A lot of water, a long run, and a lot of food. I tend to eat way more food than I should: burgers, fried chicken, etc.

What was the last great book you read?
I just reread The Periodic Table by Primo Levi. It’s an amazing memoir about being a chemist and surviving the Holocaust. What was really amazing to me was that when I opened the book up, there was a receipt in it from when I had purchased the book at a Borders in Brooklyn in early August 2001 when I used to live there. To pull that receipt out and look at the date on it—[with this year being] the 15th anniversary of 9/11—then to read a book about a man who had survived a great tragedy was incredible.

Are there any cocktail trends you can’t stand?
A lot of molecular mixology stuff is executed so badly that I wonder if it’s worth it. That’s a lot of work to clarify all that grapefruit juice that tastes like shit, and then I just feel bad for some poor barback spending hours on it for little pay. If you’re doing it because it’s trendy, then that’s stupid. But if you’re doing it because you’re really loving it, then that’s cool.

What’s the worst drink you’ve ever made?
So many. I had a tendency for years of adding small amounts of things to drinks until they just tasted blah. Now I’m on a three-ingredient goal ever since.

Where was the last place you traveled?
I went home to Maine to see my mom. Maine is a restorative destination for me. I need to go there every year to feel like myself.

What’s your favorite dive bar, and what do you order there?
I love the Righteous Room very much for the jukebox. I really like ducking into 97 Estoria on a Monday night when there’s not many people there. I love Luis the bar manager there; he’s such a nice guy, and so many of his bartenders are really nice. Also J.J. Foley’s in Boston. It’s just a great townie bar with very strong elements of diveiness and a fantastic breakfast on weekends. I always get a beer and shot, Guinness or a good lager that isn’t garbage beer, and Powers Irish whiskey.

What was the first drink you ever had?
Rum and tonic, when I was not old enough to be having it legally. I was just hanging out with friends, probably drinking at the marina we all worked at.

How many Little Tart Bakeshop pastries do you eat a week?
Five on average. Sarah doesn’t sell day-old pastry, so when they have some pastry leftover, they have this thing in their kitchen called “the snack tray.” I steal whatever’s there.