James Beard Award winner/author/mixologist Jim Meehan of PDT in New York has opinions on Milwaukee. The UW-Madison grad is also a fan of denim and Japanese fashion. We caught up with Meehan for our style blog.
OnMilwaukee.com: The first time I stepped foot in PDT I fell in love. Describe a night in your establishment.
Jim Meehan: Every night is different! We’re the beneficiaries of a diverse group of guests from all over the world visiting for different reasons. Some come for the secret phone booth entrance, some are cocktail geeks there to taste our latest creation, and others just want a nice quiet place to catch up with a friend. We’re happy to have them all.
OMC: What did you wear when you accepted the 2012 James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program?
JM: I had my friends Alex and Betty tailor one of their tuxedos for me. We outfitted our opening staff with shirts, vests and ties from Lord & Willy’s: it was here that I experienced tailor-made clothing for the first time. Shopping for dress clothes has never been the same. I bought a pair of Ferragamo loafers from Barney’s to complete the look. Always wanted a pair, so I figured I splurge for the big night.
OMC: You make cocktails that my great-grandfather loved. Is your clothing style behind the bar also influenced by generations passed?
JM: To be honest, I let my staff wear what they feel comfortable in. The Lord & Willy’s clothing budget is long gone, so a year ago, I bought the bar staff leather aprons from Moore & Giles; a leather company I collaborated on a bartender bag and rollup with a few years ago. Some chose to wear it, and others prefer to wear their shirt, vest and tie. When I hire, especially women, I tell my employees to dress as if they were hosting a cocktail party in their home when they come to work.
Occasionally, I have to pull people aside to tell them to up their game; but in order to attract a diverse audience; I feel it’s important to support diversity and independent style among my staff. Everyone has a different body type, making it tough to get them all in the same gear. With that said, a recent meeting with a designer could change all of this.
OMC: Madison was once your home. How many black North Face fleeces and grey New Balance did you own?
JM: Picked up the North Face Denali fleece my freshman year and an emerald green North Face shell a few years later when I could afford it: Madison is not shy about the elements. I had some amazing orange suede New Balances in college, but I was more of a Nike Air Max type of guy back then with all the work on my feet. New Balance is most definitely my sneaker of choice now … really glad to see them bringing back the old stock. Currently rocking the navy blue 990s: hope they make more.
OMC: The Midwest is embracing selvedge denim (finally) and there's so many brands to choose from. What's your favorite jean?
JM: That’s a tough question. We have a great place called Jean Shop that makes their own jeans: that would be my local. I recently discovered Self Edge, which has the best selection of Japanese denim in the city. I also have great pairs from the Stronghold in L.A. and The Real McCoy in Tokyo. Sam & Ryan have a world-class selection of jeans at Context in Madison, and they’re dear friends.
OMC: I would describe your style as "understated educated." You research the brands you wear. How important is knowing what you buy?
JM: I’m a bit of a cross between Fred Rogers, Bill Belichick and Steve McQueen, style-wise. I bet there are those that don’t think much of the way I dress, but you’re right: everything I wear was carefully considered when I purchased it. Whether it’s clothing, food, wine, cars or a house: the way you spend your money says a lot about your values. Understated educated is a complement and I appreciate it.
OMC: When you hear the name "Milwaukee," what comes to mind?
JM: Brewers games, Miller High Life, Harley Davidson, and a lot of really good friends I went to college with.
OMC: You were recently in Tokyo. What was the most over-the-top fashion you witnessed?
JM: On a packed Sunday afternoon in Shibuya, I saw a man, who was obviously in the fashion business, wearing the same outfit as his dog. The dog had a mohawk and sunglasses, and was walking without a leash. Insane.
OMC: You're a dad now ... does your daughter own any Prada yet?
JM: I bought a pair of Prada boots when I moved to New York City and they fell so far out of style I tossed them. Prada (obviously) makes a lot of classic pieces, but I learned my lesson: invest in gear that will never fall out of fashion.
OMC: Who are your style idols? Why?
JM: Tough question. I do not have a build that makes it easy to idolize: I’m broad shouldered, not as narrow-waisted as I used to be, and I have leg muscles. I’ve recently jumped in with both feet into the classic American workwear culture you see fetishized by ACL and in magazines like Free & Easy. It makes sense to me because I work with my hands in an environment (a bar) that is unkind to formal wear.
In many ways, the men I mentioned above (Bill, Fred and Steve) could stand in here. I wear hoodies like it’s my job, and no one seems to be as committed as Coach Belichick. I love the way Fred Rogers wears so many different varieties of the same thing: I buy multiples of a lot of my favorite pieces! And Steve McQueen is rugged and sporty like I wish I was … like many New Yorkers, I work too much, and rely on all my bones to do my job.
OMC: What's the best advice you can give to aspiring mixologists aside from purchasing the Meehan Utility bag from Moore & Giles?
JM: Think about everything: God is in the details.
Prior to joining OnMilwaukee.com as a style writer, James studied Art History at the University of Milwaukee. Since 2005 he has worked as a personal stylist in both Milwaukee and Chicago. In 2009, James co-founded HollenWolff, LLC.
The company specializes in precision machined cufflinks and coordinating stud sets. Produced from a solid bar of surgical grade stainless steel or marine bronze, the cufflinks utilize ball bearings to secure and release the halves.
From a young age James realized he was born into a stylish and influential Milwaukee family. His grandfather, Dr. Stanley Hollenbeck (namesake for his cufflink line) was known throughout Milwaukee County Hospital and Blue Mound Country Club for his vibrant sport coats, bold plaid trousers, impeccable taste and genuine nature.
James has been a guest lecturer for the Creative Alliance of Milwaukee, a favorite topic on menswear blogs and was voted one of M Magazine's "2012 - 11 People of Style."