Behind the Bar Bar Talk

Ben Schaffer, Author of The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual, on How to Write Your First Book

Ann McCranie

It’s pretty undeniable that writing a book of any kind, from a children’s picture book to a bustier-ripping novella, is challenging. The thought of penning a multi-thousand-word tome while still running a top-flight bar program? It can seem almost impossible.

For Jack McGarry and Sean Muldoon of The Dead Rabbit, though, a book from their much-lauded turn-of-the-century-inspired outpost was almost a foregone conclusion. From the very beginning, the duo has operated one of the most literary history-reverent cocktail dens in the country, reimagining menu narratives and illustrations (comics, anyone?) to create a more enriching, deeper experience for guests who want to be fully immerse in their surroundings.

Jack McGarry, Sean Muldoon and Ben Schaffer, from left, of The Dead Rabbit.

McGarry and Muldoon’s partner-in-crime in crafting their engrossing stories is Ben Schaffer, who also helped the duo bring to life their first book, The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27). Below, Schaffer shares creative tips for bartenders hoping to brainstorm, then commit to paper, their first work. The biggest takeaway? Double-down on your own unique story, and don’t be afraid to get outside the “normal” cocktail book box.

1. Stay true to your passion.

“There’s always pressure for a book to conform to perceived trends in the industry, but bartenders should tackle a subject central to their own passions. The goal should be to create areas of interest that readers (and editors) didn’t even know they had.”

2. Find your niche within the larger picture.

“Even though the topic of The Dead Rabbit Drinks Manual was a much-discussed bar inspired by a well-studied era of bartending history, we felt we had a different way of looking at that material, and some ideas that weren’t out there yet. That was true of Jack’s distinguished approach to creating recipes, and I think it’s true of how the stories for each drink were told.”

3. Don’t be afraid to get weird with it.

“It’s a delight to come across books by authors who talk about weird stuff only they would think of and do so brilliantly. Like Kenny Shopsin’s cookbook, Eat Me, especially his recipe for Patsy’s Cashew Chicken, which spends more time detailing his falling out and firing of Patsy, the cook, than what is in the dish.”

4. ... and take a big risk.

“In Kingsley Amis’s essay ‘Mean Sod’s Guide’ in his book Everyday Drinking, it helpfully outlines not just how to parsimoniously underserve cocktail party guests but how to cover up any evidence that’s what you’re doing. We need more food and drink books that no one is expecting.”