New York's cocktail culture invaded Austin Saturday with, from left, Charlotte Voisey, mixologist for the distributor William Grant & Sons; Employees Only's Steve Schneider, "Hey Bartender" director-writer Doug Tirola; Connecticut bar owner Steve Carpenteri; and "Hey Bartender" producer Susan Bedusa. 

 

Douglas Tirola is a huge Joe Jackson fan. To him, Jackson's music has "the essence" of going out even if he isn't necessarily singing about steppin' out for a night. He wanted Jackson's music in his movie, "Hey Bartender," which premiered Saturday at SXSW and furthered the notion that the modern mixologist has rock star potential.

Tirola made a film on the craft cocktail scene of the last decade, "Hey Bartender," that focused largely on the bars and bartenders of New York City along with a struggling pub in his hometown of Westport, Conn. The bartenders made it out to the premiere and party at Icenhauer's in the trendy Rainey Street section of Austin where different rooms were set up to showcase different spirits.

While the DJ mixed in some Jackson, David Bowie and Toto with the techno he was spinning, Tirola explained not only his passion for Jackson's music, but the way the musician ultimately helped shape the film.

"Beyond his commercial success he is appreciated by fewer people, but the people who do appreciate him are beyond passionate," he said at Icenhauer's. "There was a moment when I asked 'is this just me?' "

The answer from his staff of mostly people under 30 was no.

"On the Radio," "Got the Time" and material from his album of swing covers, Jumpin' Jive, were all prime candidates for Tirola's film, so he reached out to Jackson's manager to solicit interest. A positive response got Tirola to think bigger: What if we used Jackson's music -- reaching into obscurities from Big World and Volume 4 rather than a smash like "Is She Really Going Out With him" -- as a score for the entire film?

"We needed an answer quick and I'm sweating it out during a meeting and it's coming to the end and I look down at my phone and my face got all red," Tirola remembers. "My producer asks what's the matter? Joe Jackson is emailing me. He asks would I be interested in meeting to talk about the film."

They met at one of the key bars featured in the film, Employees Only, and had a two-hour conversation about content, music placement and selections. "He started to give me suggestions and I went back and added seven more songs and we wound up with 20 songs in the film. At first I couldn't really find that signature song for the opening and then I realized how great 'I'm the Man" is. The bartender is the man. As a fan I was extremely happy."

It goes beyond the music, too. Tirola was so enamored of the way exteriors were shot in Jackson's video for "Steppin' Out" that he instructed his crew to go after a similar feel as they shot Manhattan bars such as the Flatiron Lounge, PDT and Milk & Honey.

"Hey Bartender" opens June in select cities.

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