Born and raised in upstate New York, Brooklyn-based photographer and blogger Matt Hranek has shot for everyone from GQ to Wallpaper to Bon Appetit. His latest project puts him on the other side of the camera, as host of the new show Alternate Route, which debuts tonight on Esquire TV. Essentially a menswear blogger’s bro-tastic dream travelogue come to live, the show has Hranek parachusting into a different city each week to sample its various delights, from the wearable to the drinkable to the drivable (though hopefully not in that order). Intrigued (and uh, maybe a little jealous?) I grabbed a drink with him earlier this week to find out more.
The official mission of Alternate Route is “to document the people, places, and objects that embody the American spirit.” But to a lot of guys — myself included — it looks like you basically dreamed up the ultimate dude-friendly bucket list, then convinced somebody else to finance it and put it on TV. That about right?
Ah, yeah [laughs] — and the funny thing is a lot of the show is carryover of what I was doing on assignment for magazines. I would go to Nashville to shoot country-western stars, and I was using that as the catalyst, thinking “somebody’s paid for me to explore!” So when I got to Nashville, I would go to Imogene + Willie, I’d find where the best bar was, I’d go to the distillery. And I’d do that everywhere I traveled, and I kept the cheat sheet for the day, so when they said “we want to do this show,” I knew what I wanted to do.
You got fitted for denim at Imogene + Willie, you hit a distillery, you drove a stock car—all in Nashville. What else is in store?
I go gigging for frogs in Everglade City, Florida — I love frog legs; it’s the convenience of a chicken wing and the flavor of a scallop. In Chicago we eat hot dogs breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We go down to Charleston and go clamming with this guy named Clammer Dave, who harvests the most majestic oysters I’ve ever had. And also tarpon fishing with Steve Huff, who’s like the Neil Young of fly fishing guides—that elusive, that epic. There’s a lot of great characters. I’m trying to reach the vernacular of each place… I love telling stories, so it was just about taking that experience and allowing that spontaneity to happen.
What was your most amazing experience?
I never really understood Nascar. These guys driving in a circle — I never understood it till I got behind the wheel of a 600-hp car that’s roll-cage, plastic, sheet metal, and engine, and it’s like being strapped to a dragon. When you’re ass to nose with a field of drivers going 200 miles and hour that’s pretty intense stuff, and I was like “okay, now I get it.”
You’ve got a good eye for style. Where’d that come from?
My dad was like, you buy one thing the right way of the best quality. He was a total country squire, so his closet was filled with Harris tweeds. He went to an Italian tailor. It was about cordovan, and bamboo fly rods, and Belgian made shotguns. He was a gear head in terms of construction and craft and manufacturing.
How do you describe your style now?
I would say I’m an Italian preppy. [Laughs.] I was a big prep in high school—it was about loafers and Lacostes, and Brooks Brothers oxfords. I definitely had a blue blazer. It’s an extension of that now, but I’ve definitely discovered the world of Italian tailoring.
Nice watch, by the way. Tell me about it.
Today I’m wearing a mid-‘60s GMT 1675 Rolex. I love the sports models from Rolex. I don’t think I’ll sway much from that path. I’ve wheeled and dealed to get a collection of key ones, including the one that my dad left to me, which was a Datejust. The holy grail for me, when I get the f**k-you money, is the 5508, the original Sub, which was the James Bond Sub. I think I’ll know I made it when that one’s on my wrist.
What else is in the collection?
The first sports model I ever bought is a meters-first tropical Sub, no date—5513. Then I bought the GMT. Then I wheeled and dealed with a bunch of old military watches that I had to get enough money to get a 1680—a Sub with a date—and then one day I found myself with some cash in my pocket to pay my plumber, and a guy showed up with a very early manual Explorer. The plumber didn’t get paid that week.
What’s your advice to our readers looking to assemble the kind of life that involves a successful career in a creative field, a house in Brooklyn, a Rolex and a Porsche, and now a TV show…is there some sort of grad school program you can enroll in for that?
[Laughs.] I had some advice early on, which was stay true to what you really want to do and what you really believe in—that was my dad’s philosophy—and plug at it. Someone will ultimately notice.
Do I wish I was better at math and got involved in finance and made a shitload of money so that I could then do what I wanted to do? Sure! It’s a much tougher path, but there’s no way I would take a different path. Not only did I meet great, inspiring people, who kind of rise with you as you all collaborate and commiserate, but it reinforces that final goal. The Italians have this phrase: “Why should we suffer?” Like, why do you need to suffer for the end result? It should be a really pleasant journey. It was a pleasant journey in my cold-water flat in the East Village eating boiled rice and drinking cheap beer, because I was on the right path do doing what I wanted to do.
Alternate Route airs on Esquire TV Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET. Click here for local listings.