I was born and raised in Baltimore, but I almost feel like I'm from New York as well because that’s where so many of my formative career years happened. Also, my dad and his dad and his dad are from there. But right now, I'm nowhere: I'm in my car living a nomadic life around the U.S.
I was in Atlanta for a year and a half as the food editor of Atlanta Magazine, and before that I had editor roles at Bon Appetit, Condé Nast Traveler, and Yahoo Food. During a time in which I was freelancing, I gave birth to the Lonely Hour podcast, which is what I still do. And now I’m working on a book on non-alcoholic drinks.
Plenty of people who get book deals are already experts on the topic: I am not that. I have a personal interest in the category of non-alcoholic drinks because I continue to negotiate my relationship with alcohol. I’m definitely somebody who I would say has struggled with alcohol abuse.
I'm the daughter, sister, and granddaughter of alcoholics, so I am just sort of constantly watching my relationship with alcohol, and I guess right now the way I've determined to keep it all in check is to take chunks of time off. The last period of time was nine months, which had nothing to do with anything else going on in my body. I was not pregnant. But when I took on the role of food editor for Atlanta Magazine, I figured that to be able to report on food and drinks, I would drink for the time. Now that I’m working on the book, I want to report it out honestly and have a clear mind, so I’m getting back to not drinking. That's how I think I'm going to manage it. We'll see, I may not be capable. It's just something I constantly work on.
There's something going on in restaurant culture where we have all these chefs getting sober and a tide change in how kitchens are run.
It was during that period of nine months that I was looking for non-alcoholic things to drink when I went out to bars and restaurants and I noticed how much more sophisticated things have gotten. It really said something that more and more beverage programs had real estate carved out for this NA—or whatever you want to call them—category. There are so many names for them, but we really haven’t hit the nail on the head yet. “Mocktail” makes everybody cringe and implies that they’re mocking a cocktail when, in fact, my argument is that they are very fully formed beverages in their own right. There’s “spirit-free cocktails.” There’s “zero proof.” “Virgin,” of course. “Non-alcoholic beverages,” which I guess is straight-forward but maybe too clinical. And “soft cocktails,” which I kind of like. I almost defiantly at one point wanted to call the book Good Drinks just to be like, it's just a bunch of good drinks.
There's something going on in restaurant culture where we have all these chefs getting sober and a tide change in how kitchens are run. It really says something about general health and wellness. But I’m not hitting people over the head with the sober thing with this book. It's not just for pregnant women or health nuts. It's also for whoever is not drinking for whatever reason, like having a meeting the next morning or something. I see the book as providing a service for home cooks to make drinks, but also a way to shine a light on the people who have been at the forefront of this movement.
It’s no longer these sort of tiki-derivative sugar bombs, although I am seeing a lot of shrubs. And I anticipate that I’ll see an increase in CBD and turmeric and things like that. Neal Bodenheimer, who has a few bars and restaurants in New Orleans, told me, "There's no way you're going to do this book without getting into that stuff. It's going to come up."
A drink is like a prop that tells me that this is the moment where I can be completely relaxed.
I was never that into weed growing up. I tried it, but I think like a lot of people, I tried some brownie that had way too much in it. I did increase my use during that period when I wasn't drinking, though. It's a way for me to have a sort of mind or mood altering experience, which is something I like. But it's not my drug of choice in a way that I don't overdo it. We have a good relationship.
I like the ceremony of it and the ritual. I think that's what I liked about a drink, too. When we all binge drank in college—that was problematic drinking, sure. Partying together in a social group. But my problem drinking is when I'm alone, and I think it's because I like coming home to my area. All masks are off and I can really let my hair down and a drink is like a prop that tells me that this is the moment where I can be completely relaxed. I think it will be a lifelong thing for me to figure out how to do that without any substance. But weed for me isn't something that’s tricky. I think it's a perfect replacement, and now that a lot of the tools are so much prettier and more attractive and fit in with my aesthetic, it makes it a lot more palatable. It's becoming more and more just like it would be with a beautiful bottle of wine and a glass and how you sort of set up your mise-en-scène. You can do that with weed now, too, so I'm kind of excited to learn more about it.
I can’t really describe my style. I like so many different things. I almost feel like I could have ten different homes and all of them would look completely different from one another. I’m greedy in that way. But generally I wear oversized things. It's not that I have any body issues or I'm trying to cover anything up—I just think it looks good. Things moving with you, clinging in certain places as you move. I think it looks kind of regal to have these big, oversized things. It's not as if I want to walk into a room and impress everybody, but I stand a little taller to have these sort of cascading fabrics and loose silhouettes. It makes me feel good.
I guess my friends would say I wear a lot of patterns, but when my hair was essentially white, I was wearing much more monochromatic, subdued tones. Still big and oversized, but kind of masculine. Now I'm playing with wearing lipstick again and stuff, and slowly getting back into color and patterns.
I love walking past a woman on the street and she's like, "That is fabulous." I think women flirt over fashion. I love it. It may seem like a small thing to some, but those interactions legitimately make my day better, and I feel more alive for all of those interactions that happen with strangers and people out there in the street.
Finding your person takes such a particular cocktail of things to come together.
I’ve spent a long time thinking about whether or not I want a partnership, whether monogamy is right for me. I feel really lucky that we're living in this era where we're experimenting with all kinds of ideas about how to have a family and how to have a partner. I considered some of those for myself and ultimately determined that I do want a long term monogamous partnership with a man. Not necessarily marriage with a capital M, but I want a partner.
When I was 33, with therapy and self-work, it felt like I had gotten to a point where I was ready to make a home with someone and support him and feel supported by him. I don't know—make breakfast and be homey. I know that finding your person takes such a particular cocktail of things to come together, but I just felt frustrated not only with the fuckboys and the ghosting, but the video gamification of dating, too. It's like people are so disposable. And I was looking around at all these women in my life who I thought were, like, thoroughbreds, whose doors should be beaten down, who are ambitious, who are attractive, who present well, and who are ready to be partners. Modern romance was looking really bleak to me at the time, so I started looking at all the changes in how we're all living. How we connect or don't, how we're communicating kind of more, but in a more shallow way.
I think loneliness is part of the mixed bag of the human experience, and yet, there is this taboo around it.
The reason why I landed on a podcast for the Lonely Hour was that it felt important for me to have people hear people talking about loneliness but not necessarily see them. It's really about the quality of the voice and I think, in a way, that sometimes visuals can take you away from the ideas. I didn’t even listen to a lot of podcasts. I wasn’t like, “I want to get into podcasting. What topic should I do?” It just sort of came to me. I was like, "I want to have a podcast, interview-style. I want it to be about loneliness. It'll be called the Lonely Hour. It will be an hour long. Each episode will be a topic of loneliness: motherhood, social media, travel, whatever. I'll talk to three people to get three different perspectives on the topic and there we go.”
I posted it on Facebook like five minutes after having the idea and there was a pretty overwhelming response, including outreach from someone who said, "We want to meet with you on Monday to make it." And now I’ve just started working on the third season.
I think loneliness is part of the mixed bag of the human experience, and yet, there is this taboo around it. But if talking about it again and again helps soften the blow of the inevitable feeling, great. I'm very okay to be the poster girl for it.
Loneliness is a hot subject now because it's believed to be this epidemic. People say that I couldn't have picked a better subject for a podcast for right this moment. I wish I could say I was smart enough to have thought of it that way, but the truth is that it came organically. And the fact that it did is almost more proof that it's bubbling up from everyone, right?
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Julia Bainbridge photographed by Audra Melton at her former home in Atlanta. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies.