Remembering Andrew Algren
I’ve thought a lot about how to best express my feelings about the loss of Andrew Algren over the past 11 days. Feelings of loss, of confusion, of my own mortality. When I reflect over the last 5+ years of knowing Andrew contrasting with the amazing tributes from his lifelong friends across the country, I realize that I never truly took the time to know Andrew the person, Andrew the son, Andrew the amazing friend. I only truly knew Andrew as the fantastic wine guy.
For the past 3 years, Andrew and I had been next door neighbors, working at restaurants literally sharing a wall, maybe 200 feet from his door to mine. On his off-time, he would come over for a negroni or two, a bowl of pasta, a sandwich and we would catch up, shoot the shit and talk business as we in the wine industry seemingly cannot help ourselves to get away from. We would always joke that we were The Odd Couple of Michigan Avenue – I the more uptight, polished, business-driven sommelier and Andrew the little bit unkept, passionate guy. We would go to wine luncheons together and I would jokingly pick out food that wasn’t there from his beard and he would make fun of my flamingo tie. We had this banter back and forth that I always loved but in reflection, it was on the surface. There were so many things about Andrew that I never asked, never got to know about him.
We traveled to New York together for a James Beard dinner, dined at this crazy old-school French restaurant with our sommelier brother Aaron McManus and drank champagne and ate escargot like ballers. I worked the floor at his restaurant one night and it was so amazing to see his effect on his staff, on his guests. We roomed together in Sonoma on a wine trip, played Cards Against Humanity at a brewery in Sebastopol. But I never took the time during those moments to really dive deep or talk with him on a level that was as people, as friends – just always as colleagues and peers in a business where that’s just what you do.
Andrew was the winner of one of the Somm Slam dinners I put on – pouring a beautiful Rioja but losing the “Best Beard contest” against Ryan Arnold that night. We all know Andrew would have won that contest hands down today. We ate tacos after Fete du Paulee. I had watched him humorously get all of the troubled bottles that night, including a random large format DRC that looked like it would break by looking at it. And then we talked about his job and him wanting more and I told him I wanted to be his agent – negotiating for him to get what he truly deserved in recognition.
But of the hundreds of times Andrew and I shook hands and gave each other awkward man hugs – I don’t have a picture of the two of us, even very few of those memories I have together.
He always did the things I was too afraid to do as a sommelier. 100 Days of Riesling. Krug for cost. The amazing program that he built at Cherry Circle Room was one of my favorite lists – far better than anything I wrote in my restaurants. And then one day, I left the restaurants and we weren’t next door neighbors anymore. We saw each other a couple times after then but it wasn’t the same. He then left his job and I never saw him again. We texted a bunch about potential opportunities and I fed him some leads that were just jobs, never enough to truly fulfill him and we talked about the potential of a new venture out west. The last text I have from him was about how far Seattle was. And then I walked out of a training on November 16th and had texts and calls from people asking if I had heard about Andrew – thinking that he got some sort of amazing opportunity – because in our world, that’s what we text about. I could never imagine that he could be gone, passing away the night before.
I never knew how old Andrew was, or how young. That’s something that you should know about your next-door neighbor, someone that you consider a friend. Then I realized that how I looked at Andrew was how I look at so many people in this business – as a colleague. He was such an amazing person and I never took the opportunity to capture, to ask about him, his life. I never met Emily. I never really knew about his music, his passions, his heart, his story. Missing out on Andrew Algren the person is going to be one of my greatest regrets.
As we go forward and celebrate Andrew’s life today – it allows me the chance to learn more about him, to celebrate not just Riesling Slut, the best Instagram handle of all time – but Andrew the person. I go forward and honor him by wanting to learn more about my colleagues, my peers in this business. I think so often we look at the wine industry as a lifestyle and a 24/7 grind and we are too tired, too stressed, overworked or whatever the answer may be, to find out about the people that are around us, the truth about the glory of the people that we interact with every day. That is what Andrew Algren has taught me – is to try to not look at each other as just wine people, but as friends, as people that we can empathize and laugh and share with in this crazy business, because there are some truly outstanding people in our community and Andrew makes me want to find out more.
I will miss you sir and the impact you had on me, on this city, on this community will be felt for many years to come. Thank you for never being anything but you.