Jackson Cannon’s Stuff
by Adam Tokarz
| March 23, 2012
Photo: MICHAEL DISKIN
“I don’t have a lot of downtime,” admits Jackson Cannon, laughing. It’s hard to imagine that he would. Cannon juggles demanding duties at a Kenmore Square trifecta: he’s bar director at Eastern Standard (which has made the best-bar lists of both Esquire and GQ) and Island Creek Oyster Bar, and he’s an owner at his latest venture, the Hawthorne, which serves innovative cocktails and small plates in a loungy living-room-like space. But when he does get a break in his busy schedule, Cannon enjoys hitting the road to experience new cultures and cocktails. His passion for travel was instilled by his father, who saw the world as a renowned journalist, and fostered by Cannon’s time as a touring musician. (A onetime Berklee College of Music student, he slapped the bass with several bands and spread sweet music from Iowa to Ireland for nearly two decades.) During more recent journeys, the rock-star mixologist has amassed a collection of 300-plus cocktail menus. We asked Cannon to sound off about his impressive stash of souvenirs.
How did you start collecting menus? First and foremost, it’s the traveling element that’s really important here. When we were musicians, we used to say it would “feed our heads.” In the restaurant business, you really get locked into location. And that’s great. There’s a ton of experience you gain in your own place, and Boston’s a city where there are a lot of other good places to go to be inspired. But there’s really nothing like stripping that away and getting down to another city. . . . About seven and a half years ago, before Eastern Standard opened, I took a trip to New York City, where I had a three- or four-day agenda of 20 places to visit. And I got kind of good at pinching menus. This is a little bit of a dirty little secret that goes on [in the industry]. And for me, it’s been really funny over the years to watch someone go and swipe menus at Eastern Standard. They’ll pull the paper out of the jacket, and I’ll tell them to take it in the plastic. And they’re like, what? Look, the plastic costs $1.50. In the back of my mind, I know that that menu, protected, will live on in a collection or on a coffee table or a desk. And it’s kind of great advertising.
So you actually encourage the pinching of your own cocktail menus? Well, I have a little bit, one on one. It’s not as overt as at one of my favorite bars in the world, Trailer Happiness in London. In the Trailer Happiness menu, there’s a little paragraph that says, “Steal this menu. Everyone deserves a little happiness.”
You once worked at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, booking bands. That’s when you first started bartending, right? That’s the first menu I wrote, and I believe I have that in my menu collection. [He shuffles for a moment, searching.] This little laminated menu with five cocktails — I basically themed them all for different artists who played at the bar. There was a martini and a sour that was kind of margarita-like. And I even had a mocktail, which I’m very proud of, in ’98 or whenever that was.
What are some of the far-flung locales featured in your collection? I’ve got a great little menu from Oslo, Norway, which I refer to for a few different reasons. It’s really a long-form example, and they have an unbelievable Scotch menu, in addition to this encyclopedic cocktail approach. My London menus are really important to me. They’re probably the ones that are dearest to me, and I keep them together. The furthest one away I have is probably from Auckland, New Zealand. That one is a menu that somebody saw, thought of me, and brought back. And I’ve got some favorites, too. From Seattle, I’ve got a Zig Zag menu from a long time ago that I still refer to that [famed bartender] Murray Stenson wrote.
How do you use your collection? I have it organized into a few different realms: there’s the “remember the experience” use of the menu. There’s the purpose of looking at the physicality of them, from a design perspective. And then there’s looking at them for cold-hard content. Within one read, you never see all the things that are poking around in a well-done menu. So that’s kind of why I have it, how it started, and how it grew.