Meet the Regulars: Father Bill Dailey
Father Bill Dailey doesn’t always wear his Roman collar when he visits the bars he’s grown to love, and even when he does, people don’t always take him seriously. “I’m often asked if I’m really a priest, especially in New York — in the East Village it seems like people are in costume all year round.”
One look at his resume, however, quickly proves his priest credentials — and it’s not the only work he does. He serves at Notre Dame Law School as a Lecturer in Law, he runs a residence hall, and he’s a fellow at the school’s Center for Ethics and Culture. And then there’s his role as an honorary member of the Cocktail Apprentice Program (CAP), a group of international bartenders responsible for the hundreds of libations that keep Tales of the Cocktail afloat each year.
His involvement with Tales started back in 2007 in Washington, D.C., where he was practicing law as a priest and where he met bartender Derek Brown, who wanted to complete his initiation to the Catholic church. Over time and after Brown’s confirmation and first communion they’d grown to be close friends, and soon Dailey found himself learning more about the cocktail industry and attending friends and family previews of Brown’s bars across town. When Dailey moved to South Bend for his job at Notre Dame, Brown insisted he attend Tales that year. “He said to me, ‘now that you’re stuck in South Bend, we need to get you down here — at least so you can see your friends.’”
Dailey participated in a panel that year titled "The Spirit of Spirits," which covered topics ranging from the medieval drinking habits of religious people, to the indigenous spirituality of Mexicans and its intersection with the agave plant, pre- and post-Christianity. Along the way he became friends with Don Lee, who asked him to join them for Tales the following year — not as a presenter, but as a member of the leadership team for CAP. “Don and Ann [Tuennerman] care very much about Tales as something that will increase people’s professionalism, and part of professionalism is taking care of oneself and one’s neighbor,” Dailey says. “They wanted to send a signal to the apprentices that they’re cared for, and that there would be someone on staff with a listening ear.”
It’s a practice that Dailey extends far beyond the week-long festival, too. Though his teaching and mass schedule keep him busy, he finds time about once a month to make the two-hour trek to Chicago, where he’ll saddle up to the bars of his friends and talk about anything from football to new family additions. While he’s used to providing counsel in his profession, he assures that, like any friendship, those discovered at the bar are a two-way street. “These folks are creative and highly intelligent people, and I like to see how their minds work,” he says. “I like to think it’s a mutual conversation.”
Father Bill on a Tales of the Cocktail panel, alongside (from the left) Derek Brown (DC’s Columbia Room, Mockingbird Hill, etc.), Ron Cooper (Del Maguey Mezcal) and Tim Master (Wildman Spirits/Chartreuse).
One of those conversations took him and Steven Cole, who was then tending bar at The Violet Hour, to the Whistler one day, where Dailey met bartender Paul McGee for the first time. “Paul is always an adult in the room, and the places he opens are always engaging,” he says. “The menus are smart, the drinks are outstanding, and the service is unparalleled.” It was no question then, that when McGee opened Cherry Circle Room in the Chicago Athletic Association this past May, Dailey was there almost immediately.
“My first night in, Jim Meehan and I sat down at the bar, and it was spectacular,” he remembers.” Since then, he’s been in with a handful of friends native to or visiting Chicago, not short of Canada’s Defence Minister. “I knew he wanted to go for a cocktail while in town, so I took him here, and we had a splendid time,” Dailey says. “There’s a formalism to the bar — it’s rich, warm, and inviting, but there’s nothing stuffy about it — it’s worthy of taking a cabinet minister to.”
It’s that formality that prompts Dailey to order something classic during each visit — but not before trying an original menu item first. “I’ll try one new menu drink, then, in that classic room, I’ll switch to something easy and comfortable that I love,” he says. “It’s a great room to have a martini in, and a great room for a perfect Manhattan.”
Dailey has been inspiration for cocktails at a few bars now, including a bright, citrus concoction at Mayahuel in New York and a dark and spirited dram at Proof in D.C. — both of which only further prove the friendships he’s developed over the years. “It’s fun to get to know people in a more intimate way over time,” he says. “I’ll always choose people over places, and relationships over new flavors.”
And though he most often sits across the bar and is distinguished by a Roman collar over suspenders, aprons, and garters, Dailey has found much more in common with his industry friends than simply an interest in imbibing.
“Someone comes to church because they’re lonely, they’re sad, or they’re celebrating a life or a marriage — people go to a bar because they’re looking for friends, they’ve lost a job, or they just got engaged and want to buy their friends a round of drinks,” he says. “The best bartenders who can figure out what their patron needs would also be excellent ministers — they’re meeting a human being where they are, and they’re hopefully bringing them some warmth and companionship along the proper dimension. That’s what we do together in our work, and that’s why we have a bond.”