Robert Gordon Talks About Drinking and Politics 

As we near November 8th, the battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton is rising to new levels — and so is our blood alcohol content. We turn to Memphis-born author and filmmaker Robert Gordon, co-director of Best of Enemies, the 2015 documentary about the 1968 political debates between ideological opposites William F. Buckley Jr. and Gore Vidal, to see what wets his whistle this election season.

It's well documented that Gore Vidal favored 12-year old Macallan single-malt Scotch and that the conservative William F. Buckley Jr. preferred fine wine to hard liquor. What's your favorite drink?

My summer drink is usually vodka with soda water and some squeezed lime or lemon juice. But as we transition into shorter, colder days, I shift over to the browns, usually beginning the season with Scotch and a splash of soda water and then eventually getting rid of the polluting soda water. And red wine always warms the heart.

click to enlarge Robert Gordon - JUSTIN FOX BURKS
  • Justin Fox Burks
  • Robert Gordon

During the summer of 1968, when Vidal and Buckley debated, Scotch and soda, dry gin martinis, and Manhattans were on every bar menu. What have you been drinking as you've watched this year's presidential debates?

When we were making Best of Enemies, we changed the question from, "Who would you rather have a beer with?" to, "Who would you rather have a martini with?" That seems to get at the difference between those guys and our present pundits. As for a drink during the final presidential debates, I'd go with a bota bag full of tequila and an open throat. There is no hope.

Whom would you rather have a drink with, Vidal or Buckley?

I'd have thought Vidal, until I had a drink with Vidal, and so now I think Buckley.

If your candidate doesn't get elected, how would you handle the next four years?

I'm unable to believe that a majority of this country would fall for the bluster of a sexist, racist, selfish demagogue. Unless Trump abdicates the race, I see it as steady cocktails ahead. What time is it?

You've become a prolific filmmaker as well as an author. When you're in work mode, do you tend to drink anything in particular? Does that choice change as you shift between mediums?

I rarely drink while working, unless the work is public speaking. My drink choices are determined more by the clime than by my mode or medium. A day editing video is usually more tense than a day of writing. Writing, it's unmediated. It's me and the laptop.

Film, first off, there's another person involved. And we're working toward a mutual vision that hasn't yet formed, so the communication is intense. Plus, there's the machine. When you're moving big pieces of data around, the machines get clunky. So the rhythm you and your editor are creating can be crushed by the machine. A drink is a lovely way to take the edge off. Really, I'm only drinking for the benefit of everyone around me. Writing is intense, but it never requires a boilermaker. Sometimes the editing room does. What's your favorite place to drink?

I purposely didn't mention the Lamplighter in It Came From Memphis because I didn't want the beauty of its local flavor disturbed. And my only regret about shooting the Cat Power video in there ("Lived in Bars") is that when we lit the ceiling, Anne saw how the nicotine had colored the tile. When she renewed her lease, she got new ceiling tile put in. Oh, that ceiling was beautiful! The luster of that golden glow, the hue was 50 years in the making.

Where my wife Tara and I usually drink and dine now, it's rarely crowded, and since we usually luck into our favorite table, I can't reveal the name. But I'll say it's in Midtown.

And shout out to past Memphis haunts: the Toast, Charlotte's, the Bull Shotte, Jefferson Square.

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