This Catholic Priest Makes a Better Martini Than You
Father William Dailey is a noted priest and lawyer who is currently the Thomas More Fellow at Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics & Culture. During his off-hours, however, he’s a major cocktail geek.
Photo via Flickr user Premshree Pillai
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES in December 2014.
As far as I know, the only time my rabbi ever drank was when he had a small sip of Manischewitz after reciting the Kiddush. On the opposite end of the spectrum, though, might be Father William Dailey. In his day job, Dailey is a noted priest and lawyer who is currently the Thomas More Fellow at Notre Dame's Center for Ethics & Culture. During his off-hours, however, he's a major cocktail geek who was featured in the recent Death & Co. book and who has spoken at Tales of the Cocktail.
Between grading end-of-semester law school essays, he discussed mixology and theology with me.
MUNCHIES: Drinking is often part of religious rites. How do you separate religious drinking from drinking for "fun"? Should it feel different? Father William Dailey: For Catholics, wine is a part of our celebration of the Eucharist. It is a commemoration of the Last Supper and we believe, in the liturgy, it becomes the very body and blood of Jesus. So though the senses are deceived, as St. Thomas said, the occasion is reverent, not social, and involves only inviting in a very tiny amount of the precious blood. In this sense, yes, it would feel and look different and, though celebratory, not the same celebration.
Saturday night is the night most people drink. Sunday morning is the time most people go to church. How does this affect religious attendance? I certainly believe that having an evening mass on a Sunday encourages the attendance of many people under the age of 40 for reasons not unrelated to your question. In earlier times, Catholic parishes had masses at midnight on Saturday so that laborers finishing a night shift could get mass in and then go have a drink. Perhaps because we have fewer priests around we are not so accommodating today.
Do you ever drink socially with your congregants? Sure. My faculty colleagues here at Notre Dame regularly attend masses at which I preside. I have baptized their children, married off their children, or been in the hospital when a loved one was dying. They will frequently ask, "Are you pouring tonight?" I am happy to host them or to accept their hospitality.
Does a great bar offer any similar sense of community as a church? Absolutely! A bar with a good community of regulars is a place to find laughter in good times, consolation in bad times, and advice in confusing times. I have experienced all of these in wonderful places in New York, such as Death & Co. or PDT, and a place here on campus we like to call Murph's, after the bartender who has been at the stick for decades. Similarly, church is where we go to celebrate the birth of a child, to mourn the loss of a loved one, to find communion in a new place, and to offer and receive support.
What else do you look for in a bar? I look for a place where one can have a conversation. So an atmosphere that is warm and tends to be on the quieter side is most welcome. Sometimes it's a great place to bring friends and converse with them; other times one wants to arrive alone and catch up with a bartender. I prefer a bar with great vermouth and at least some familiarity with the basics of a classic stirred gin martini or Manhattan. I don't require a cocktail menu with housemade syrups and tinctures, though I certainly am delighted to find such a place. Far more important is respect for the classics, for good conversation, and warm hospitality. If a bar makes people feel at home and relaxed whether with friends or solo, that's more important than whether they know the specs for Phil Ward's Oaxacan Old-Fashioned.
How do you handle the often immoral behavior going on around you at bars? Perhaps it's because I've chosen good places, but I've never really noticed much immoral behavior going on around me. Usually we are dealing with responsible bartenders and responsible patrons who are not out to be overserved. I was once offered cocaine by a bartender in Manhattan; he did not know that I was a priest, but nevertheless it was off-putting! That bar is no longer open, not surprisingly. (It was, for the record, chosen by a law school classmate, not me!)
At bars we often find ourselves in conversations with strangers that enter the philosophical or therapeutic realm. Do you respond as Father Dailey or as Bill, a fellow drinker? I never hide the fact that I am a priest if there is some decent reason to mention it. If I am not in uniform, it's still common for people to ask what I do, or the bartender will generally call me Father Bill and then people know. I hope that whether people know I am a priest or not, since that is who I am, that is how I respond.
Do you ever go to bars while wearing your collar? Are you treated differently than if you just entered in a t-shirt? Once in a blue moon a stranger will send over a drink to the guy in the collar, and sometimes people react with curiosity if I'm at a place like Death & Co., but for the most part people treat me the same whether I am in clerics or not. I gather in the 1950s a priest in a collar would never pay for anything in a bar, as other patrons would love to pay. Times lamentably have changed!
You now live in South Bend. How does your drinking differ from how it did in Manhattan? Our local spirits store has an excellent selection, but unfortunately bars here have not yet discovered great vermouth, so I tend to steer away from cocktails. If I go to a bar in South Bend I often have a glass of wine, but thanks to Jim Meehan's PDT Cocktail Book, the Death & Co. book, and Robert Simonson's delightful book on the Old-Fashioned, I manage to pour a few decent things in my home.
What's your speciality drink at home? I love to make a martini, especially for people who have never had one stirred. When people taste that for the first time it is a revelation! So that is fun, to persuade them that what they learned from James Bond was entirely false.
Thanks for speaking with me.
- Jim Meehan
- Death & Co.