Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Lara Nixon publishes children’s book ‘A is for Absinthe’

Arianna Auber
aauber@statesman.com

Lara Nixon didn’t like the price of organic eggs at area farmer’s markets, so she installed a chicken coop with five hens in her backyard and now has fresh eggs, free, every day. She also decided she wanted fresh goat’s milk and raised a pair of baby goats, bottle-feeding them when they were only several weeks old. The former bartender, now a bar menu consultant and spirits educator, similarly wanted to do something about the lack of quality and variety with bitters, an important cocktail ingredient, and teamed up with bartender Jason Stevens to found Bad Dog Bar Craft, which currently has three bitters flavors on the market.

So to those who know her, it’s probably not a terribly big surprise that she’s now self-published her very first children’s book, “A is for Absinthe,” after noticing that the kids of bartenders don’t have many ways of learning about their parents’ job. Although she doesn’t have any kids of her own, beyond her bevy of pets, she knows many in the industry who do.

“Kids books that talk about their parents’ professions, like Bob the Builder, completely ignore what we do,” Nixon said. “But kids with parents in the bartending industry deserve to be just as proud of their parents as kids of engineers or teachers. I didn’t want this project to be irreverent. I wanted it to be serious and informative but still fun.”

Of course, there’s a reason very few other children’s books talk about bartending, and Nixon is well aware of it. She knows talking about that inevitably means talking about alcohol, a subject no one wants to introduce very young kids to if they can help it. So when she first began plotting the concept of the book — which runs through each letter of the alphabet — she was careful not to put anything into the book “showing the inside of a bar or in any way encouraging kids to drink,” she said.

Instead, the illustrated book features playful, clever sentences such as “N is for neat: No ice and no splashes” and “P is for Pirates! They love tiki drinks!” All of the illustrations, by Nixon’s friend and food writer Casey Barber, similarly avoid any suggestions of underage drinking. “F is for Flask: You can take your drink anywhere” smartly displays three pictures of people enjoying what looks like orange juice in three different settings, including in a hot air balloon and on the moon.

Despite Nixon’s care not to cross any lines, she’s been met with resistance when trying to sell the book to retailers, primarily the larger ones. Smaller boutiques are more willing to place it on their shelves.

“The bigger, more corporate vendors shun it completely,” she said, noting that one didn’t return her email inquiry about it. “An unforeseen consequence of writing the book has been that I’m realizing our country still has this vestige of conservatism even though Prohibition was so long ago. So ‘A is for Absinthe’ has been a social experiment in some ways. I’ve been learning how taboo our industry is, especially when it comes to kids.”

Not that she minds — much — about being ignored or told no. “It makes me happy to be as subversive as possible,” she said with a small smile. Especially, she added, if it gets people talking, maybe even considering the same conclusions she has.

“Drinking isn’t normalized here like it is in Europe. People don’t let their kid have a glass of wine with dinner,” she said. “The fact that it’s so taboo and secretive almost makes you wonder if we are setting our kids up to make poor choices later on. Is that what we’re doing?”

Another challenge of the book, beyond getting people to even open it, was the publishing part. But she enjoyed working with Barber on the storyboarding and said they often had the same vision. “Trying to convey the scene with limited words was like nothing I’ve done before, but Casey knew exactly what I wanted,” she said. “We had to rewrite maybe two of the letters.”

Nixon and Barber even added a couple of personal elements to “A is for Absinthe” illustrations, such as the recreation of a childhood photo of Barber for the letter Y and a mustached likeness of Jason Kosmos, another heavyweight in the craft cocktail world, for the letter R. Nixon’s dog Penny (who is also on the logo of Bad Dog Bar Craft) is on the cover and a couple of other places.

Their collaboration went so well that Nixon now plans to make a whole series out of it, “for kids of parents who aren’t in traditional professions,” teaming up with Todd Duplechan of Lenoir to write about cooking and cuisine and musician Billy Harvey to write about music. She wants a children’s book about artists as well.

To purchase the book, visit the “A is for Absinthe” website.