“His cocktail parties are legendary,” my friend whispered in my ear as we took the elevator to Aaron Gordon’s flat. Aaron Gordon is a mixologist based in Philadelphia, where he started 13th Street Cocktails Catering in 2013. Aaron greeted us at the door, and gave us all a warm, brief hug. Artwork was everywhere. An enormous painting of a bull fight stood guard by the door, a curious Sasha Grey painting, a controversial graffiti piece hung over the kitchen, and odds and ends of other cool finds, like an alligator skull Aaron found on a road trip, took home and spray-painted. It now sat on top of his coffee table, laying claim over some books. It was a small one-bedroom apartment, about 800 square feet. David Bowie’s Lady Grinning Soul trilled through the loudspeaker. A salvaged butcher’s table was against the far window of his kitchen-slash-living room, filled with cool glassware, plates and beverage dispensers. A growing collection of copper pots and pans hung over them, the light bouncing against its surface creating a halo effect around the entire table.
Over at the kitchen, Chef Joshua Lawler was preparing some roasted lamb chops and about to shuck some oysters, as Aaron juiced some ginger for the cocktails that evening. “Every event, we always juice our stuff the day of the event or the night before,” Aaron explained as he gestured towards the carton of limes and ginger on the table.
Aaron went to culinary school, and worked in kitchens in Miami when he realized he didn’t want to be a chef. “Working for some Latin chefs that had very hot tempers, getting paid very little, just ruined my taste for wanting to work in the kitchen. I would leave work and see the guys at the bar having a great time, and talking to all the pretty girls and making a lot of money, and I thought, they’re not cutting their fingers, burning their forearms, they’re not getting yelled at, and they’re having a good time,” Aaron laughed. That was when he switched his focus to beverages. His interest in food has always been present, however, as well as his enterprising spirit. While he was at military school, he ran a little burger restaurant in the basement of their barracks and bought his first car with the money he made from military school.
Since opening his own cocktail catering company, Aaron has been throwing a cocktail party every summer. Among the invite list would be his friends in the restaurant industry, between fifty to eighty people in all, and which is why the party is usually on a Wednesday night. The cocktail party of 2014 was infamous. The theme was “werewolf luau.” The centerpiece of the event was a roasted pig, with “the pig’s head on the spear and we had eight different tiki cocktails.” Aaron chuckled. “We had fun. The pig head fell out the window, though!”
As other guests start arriving, Aaron is quick to greet and welcome everyone in. The menu was simple: an easy cheese plate, freshly chucked oysters with a cantaloupe mignonette and the roasted lamb that Chef Lawler prepared. The cocktails were batched, so there was a steady flow of people heading to the butcher’s table, which was the now the beverage station. It was a sweet and easy gathering. Watching his guests ease into the comfort of the space he created, I realized that there is a strange yet wonderful intersection between Aaron’s art and his cocktail company. “It’s better suited for my personality type, because I like creating things. Making the art that goes on the walls or making the drinks that go in a glass, I get more satisfaction out of putting stuff in people’s glasses because it affects more people, and there’s an immediate response.”
Photos by Melissa Alam and Sammy Munsch