Neil Patrick Harris and Thomas Ashbourne Are Making a Buzz With After Hours, a New Ready-to-Drink Espresso Martini
Neil Patrick Harris, the multi-faceted and charmingly eccentric actor turns 50 this year and his life has never been fuller. He’s performing in Peter Pan Goes Wrong on Broadway; he’s the co-creator and “Judger” of the new Hulu competition series, Drag Me to Dinner; his romantic comedy TV series, Uncoupled, will soon film its second season after a move to Showtime; what started as his weekly newsletter, Wondercade, has evolved into a full-fledged digital magazine and online store. Oh, and he’s raising 12-year-old twins with his husband, David Burtka.
Needless to say, the man has little downtime. And yet, his ventures keep on expanding. He join the ranks of celebrity-backed spirits brands with the emergence of The After Hours, a ready-to-drink canned and bottled espresso martini done in collaboration with Thomas Ashbourne, a company that's mastered the art of pre-made libations.
We chatted with Harris about The After Hours, fatherhood, and what appears to be a devil on his shoulder (more on this later).
Men's Journal: Is the espresso martini your go-to cocktail? With all you have going on, we're thinking you lean on caffeine.
Neil Patrick Harris: I [thought] about it in a reverse engineering way. I looked at the market and there’s not a lot in the espresso martini lane. But also, I was intrigued by an espresso martini that can be enjoyed quickly. You have a drink people love—and gets them caffeinated and a little buzzy—but bartenders and serving staff don’t love to make it. It made sense to have it in a can—as opposed to a gin and tonic, which is fairly easy to make.
What led to your collaboration with Thomas Ashbourne?
The Thomas Ashbourne brand is very bespoke, charming, clever, and it feels on-brand with Wondercade. I was really impressed by their first round of drinks and the way they tasted, the way they looked, the way they were marketed. It seems next-level and elevated in a way that a lot of canned cocktails are not. Given that I love old-time, antique magic props and I like things that seem as if they’ve had a life before yours, I was really enamored by the brand.
Related: Best Spritz Cocktail Recipes
How did you go about developing the cocktail together?
The conversations were in earnest for three years, off and on. Was there interest? What should we do? What are the options? And then it was a fair amount of tasting different versions, different coffees, different mixes, and really trying to find the right flavor profile.
Nico [de Soto] is their master mixologist, and I think he might work with some of the Wonka people in a secret laboratory somewhere with little orange men with green hair that make magical things happen. Months would go by, then all of a sudden I’d receive three or four different options—and "How about this? What do you think of these tastes?" We’d all sit and drink them and say, "This one’s a little too sweet," because you want it to feel like an actual cocktail. I’m legitimately pleased with the results.
Your new Hulu show, Drag Me to Dinner, is coming out in a few weeks. What can you tell us about it?
I love making content that brings people joy. That sounds very overarching, but I kind of mean it. I’ve gotten to do a lot of things that make wide swathes of people smile. Currently I’m doing Peter Pan Goes Wrong, where a thousand people are legitimately laughing for two hours in a big group.
I love going to circuses and seeing everyone put aside their daily turmoil and just escape a little bit. And I think there’s no better escapism than drag performers. They always make you smile, it’s always a great vibe, and the crowd supports them in the most amazing ways.
You performed in drag as the lead in Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway, so you’ve got some history with that world.
I’ve loved it since I was 21, got an ID, and was able to see RuPaul perform in New York City. Over the years, I’ve gotten to produce the reincarnation of Wigstock with Lady Bunny. We did a documentary about that and showcased the drag culture today. And I’ve been in drag as Hedwig. So I’ve gotten to dabble in it—although I wasn’t putting on my own makeup, so...RESPECT.
But I just think to shine a spotlight on people who are living their best life and having so much fun is super valid. Drag performers do not disappoint, and there’s kind of a small window of drag representation on film and TV right now. And I think there was more opportunity to see the queens do something maybe outside of their comfort zone.
How will you take them out of their comfort zones?
We had this idea of not necessarily a competition reality show, but almost a parody comedic take on that. So, it’s two sets of queens competing against each other to throw the best dinner parties. And yet, a lot of the rules are broken. The fourth wall is broken. You see the fails as much as the wins, but it’s really intended for everyone to sit back and have a laugh and appreciate the silliness of what can transpire.
I think on a very basic level, watching a recognizable drag queen in their full killer look having to dice an onion over a pot of boiling water is innately watchable—and it’s wild. We did 10 episodes. They all come out at the end of May, and we’re super happy. David [Burtka], my husband, is a co-producer on it and he’s in the show as well. Bianca Del Rio is probably the most famous drag queen going, and she’s a Judger—we’re not judges, we’re Judgers—because that’s the way we roll. Haneefah Wood is a Judger, then Murray Hill’s a fantastic host. All kinds of representation, but in a loving, very Behind Two Ferns kind of way.
What other upcoming projects are you looking forward to at the moment?
We’re gonna start filming Season Two of Uncoupled, now on Showtime, and that’s supposed to be starting at the end of summer. Season One of Uncoupled was a long arc of how to get over a breakup, so I’m looking forward to a more joyous Season Two. And I turn 50 on June 15, so there’d better be fireworks or at least, I don’t know…bifocals?
You have the most interesting Zoom background, with an actual devil on the back of your chair. Where are you?
There’s a devil on my shoulder? Now you’re just being metaphoric. This is actually a virtual background. No, it’s not. This is my office in our house in the Hamptons, called Funhouse Farm. I’m up in the attic, and it’s as if my brain has exploded. There’s lots of magic memorabilia, there’s a ventriloquist puppet, and this devil on my shoulder is somewhat representative of those old magic posters where it’s Thurston the Great or Carter the Great, and they oft have little devils that are whispering into ears. So, I found that and thought it was worth listening to. He says the darnedest things. I really should blur it. It’s distracting.
Related: How to Make a Dirty Martini to End All Dirty Martinis
Is that where you live most of the time?
The kids go to school in the city, so we have a place there when school is happening and when we’re working. And David and I are both doing shows in New York right now. I had two shows yesterday, but I got done at 9:30 p.m., so I jumped in a car and came out here. I’ll spend today here, opening packages, fixing a fountain head—as you do—then I have a workout, and tomorrow I'll head back into the city. I can’t wait for summer because I’m a tinkerer. This is a great place to tinker.
Do you spend any time in L.A. or are you on the East Coast full-time?
We’re very East Coast bound for sure. Once the kids started in pre-school, we had to declare which coast we wanted to go to, so we sold our digs in Sherman Oaks and we now live in the Flatiron District and in the Hamptons. The twins are 12 and in the sixth grade, pre-puberty, which is so frightening.
So, no After Hours Espresso Martinis for them yet?
No, not for a few years—though they have been wanting to drink coffee and I’m not sure at what age kids are supposed to. I was always told it stunted your growth, which now I think must be some sort of wives’ tale. So, I guess we’re at the green tea level right now.
After going through this experience with Thomas Ashbourne, do you see yourself doing more brand collaborations for Wondercade?
That’s a really great question, and that's what's happening, but it wasn’t by design. Wondercade started as a once-a-week newsletter of things I thought were worth talking about or sharing in the world of entertainment. And I really wanted the authenticity of that to read through—that it was really things that I personally thought were great. Not unlike, "What are the best craft cocktails to have when you’re at home and you want to make a nice drink for a date?" #Thomas Ashbourne.
But also, what immersive theatre to see, and if you go to Vegas, what can you do outside of seeing the giant shows? It was all things I loved. Now that it’s a website and there are all kinds of fun offshoots, we can talk more in-depth about things, and we can do collaborations with people who are coming to us, saying, "Did you know that this product existed or that this hotel exists in the Maldives?" or something fun. It’s fun to be a tastemaker who’s still learning—who’s actually tasting as well as just suggesting.
[Buy The After Hours Espresso Martini, from $17; thomasashbourne.com]