Since this is the Current’s “Drinks Issue,” and I’ll take any opportunity to get a good cocktail, I asked Suzanne Lawrence to join me for lunch at the recently-opened Spirits & Tales restaurant and bar at the top of the new Oaklander Hotel.
On the corner of Fifth and Bigelow, the Oaklander is designed to offer modern luxury. And Spirits & Tales is now one of the most upscale dining options in the neighborhood. It’s a mixture of sleek metals and rich velvet in a space that seems part restaurant, part cocktail lounge.
We choose the more lounge-like seating with armchairs that swivel at a knee-height table to be close to the giant windows, which look out over a nice green patch of Oakland, the lawn of Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall.
We order our cocktails first. I go for a classic Negroni, while Lawrence chooses a tequila-based drink called the Root of All Evil. It comes out a gorgeous purpley-red color due to some beet juice, and also contains orange liqueur, celery juice and lime.
Chatting over our drinks, we find out Lawrence has something in common with my dad—and perhaps many sentimentalists across the country. Both she and my father have no ties to Kentucky, but have been known to shed a few tears while watching the Derby on TV during the annual playing of “My Old Kentucky Home.”
“I don’t cry when I’m upset or angry or sad—I cry at things like a Subaru commercial that’s really sweet,” she says, starting to fake-weep. “I’m like, ‘oh my god, that’s three generations of a family.”
Maybe it’s something that happens to you after you have kids. You cry at advertising campaigns or when you’re explaining the plot of the “Rocky” films to your daughter. (I swear, the latter was an actual thing that happened with my dad.) Lawrence has a four-year-old daughter that keeps her on her toes.
“It’s just constant imagination which is amazing,” she says. “It can kind of interfere with your day—like she’s constantly running an improv scene with me, except I’m not allowed to deviate from the script that she’s written in her head, but she also hasn’t told me what it is.”
I like to imagine that Lawrence’s background in acting and psychology makes her performances in her daughter’s “sketches” Meryl-Streep-level-good. Lawrence actually first got her bachelors and masters in psychology before getting a BFA in acting. And because she says it “seemed like the thing to do” she moved out to LA for a year.
She says the main thing she misses from that time was the way crazy things just seemed to happen to her. Like when she won 15-grand on a game show and through that was cast in a pilot for a show on the Game Show Network.
“I think that’s why I do stand up—to add a little bit of adventure and unpredictability [to life],” she says.
Our food arrives pretty promptly, and it is gorgeous. Lawrence got an omelette with leeks and gruyere. I got the horseradish gnocchi, which are deliciously caramelized and creamy. Our table looks like a spread in a food magazine. Lawrence says she thinks the food lives up to the atmosphere.
Lawrence has been doing stand up for five years now. Drunk with some actor friends at a wedding, they decided that she had to try stand up. She came back to Pittsburgh and took Aaron Kleiber’s stand up class at the Arcade Comedy Theater. And now—cue up The Lion King’s “Circle of Life”—Lawrence teaches that stand up class.
“How do you teach people stand up?” I ask.
“You make them do it,” Lawrence says. “A lot of stand ups make fun of the idea of a class because you learn stand up by doing stand up…I think of it as an accelerator.”
Doing open mics, it can take as much as a year to develop a good five minutes, she says. The class is meant to cut that time down by making people stay on top of it and giving them an environment for constructive feedback.
Lawrence’s next show is a unique one. She’s performing as a part of “HOTDOG!” during the Burning Bridges Comedy Festival. The name of the show should be taken more literally than you probably thought.
“Basically it’s a show where I attempt to do comedy but the host picks a secret trigger word and anytime I say that word or hit that topic, I have to eat a hot dog,” she explains.
So if you’re jealous of how many comedians I’ve gotten to see eat food, this sounds like the show for you.