Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A couple of interesting articles- and some opinions

Twitter has become a sewer, but I occasionally still pop in to see the carnage- and to my surprise I still occasionally find interesting things there amongst the debris of our increasingly impolite society.

I recently found two articles of interest, the first is “A Love Letter to Drinking in Bars” by Andrew O’Hagan in the New York Times Style Magazine.  It is a personal tale, but one many of us can relate to.  I really enjoyed it, you may, too.

The second is “The Rules Everyone Should Follow at Cocktail Bars” from Vine Pair, based on Sasha Petraske’s rules for his Milk & Honey and later bars.  I think these are a pretty solid set of rules for many bars.  I know that some places have a very different vibe, but even in dive bars the spirit of these rules applies if some of the details don’t.

I would like to dwell on rule #5 for a bit:

“Gentlemen will not introduce themselves to ladies. Ladies, feel free to start a conversation or ask the bartender to introduce you. If a man you don’t know speaks to you, please lift your chin slightly and ignore him.”

I tend to agree, but I think that’s a bit something-ist.  I get it, the problems normally flow in that direction, but the world isn’t that simple.  I’d go with a “respect everyone’s privacy” statement, but we’re not all good at seeing cues, especially after a few drinks.

Imagine you’ve just spotted your soulmate sitting down from you at the bar and your life will forever be incomplete without them in it- how do you make contact?  I hate to break it to you, but maybe you don’t.

If you are in a decent place (and yes, this includes many dive bars), a chance to catch their eye, smile and hope for some acknowledgement of your existence may be all you get.  If you fail, you’ve still got booze and the Internet.

I honestly believe that the most forward you should be in engaging someone is asking the bartender to offer them a drink on your behalf, and expect nothing if they accept or deny.  Oh, and only when/if the bartender has time and agrees to do it, they may know things you don’t and decline or maybe even chase you away (that’s why you make friends with bartenders, they know stuff).

This doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly and outgoing, it just means that you need to observe, think, then possibly act.




Thursday, September 29, 2016

The overlooked ingredient in ice: water

Wanna know how to ruin almost every one of your drinks?  Use foul tasting water for ice making.  It seems pretty obvious, but I’ve experienced this a lot lately, and it pains me.

Whether shaken or stirred, ice not only cools a drink, it dilutes it- and if the water used to make ice tastes like chlorine, swamp funk, or whatever else, your drinks will too.

I’ve even encountered places where they didn’t filter the funk out of water for the soda systems and everything from soft drinks to iced tea tasted as if it was made with bilge water.  I would hate to think what bizarre things grow in those lines and on the icemakers after a few months.  I generally go for a bottled beer at places like this- and don’t return.

Solving water quality issues can be  a big challenge for bars and restaurants given their scale and volume of water usage, but at home you should be able to adequately filter your water or used bottled water to get decent ice and better drinks.

Or just drink your whisky neat- but that leaves the whole world of cocktails behind and we don’t want that.




Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A little map thing

OK, so I’ve been a bit slow to post over here.  I feel guilty, are you happy?

But I did start a thing you might find interesting.  I’m populating a Google Map with bars- some from my travels, some word of mouth, some from David Wondrich (via his Twitter feed and in Esquire), more to come from Martin Cate and Jeff Berry’s lists of Tiki bars.


No reviews, just locations and basic categorizations.  I have low standards, but I’m only putting in places I like, or that are recommended by folks who actually know what they’re talking about.




Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Longitude: upscale Tiki in Oakland

Last week was the Death March of the Liver known as RSA week in San Francisco.

The trip started with getting some work done in my favorite co-working space in the city, Vesuvio.  I know many will think a bar to be less than ideal for productivity, but these people are probably used to being wrong.

After a few hours at Vesuvio, it was time to regroup and head over the bridge to Oakland to try out a relatively new place, Longitude.


Longitude is best described as an upscale Tiki bar, probably because that’s what it is- but it is more, your non-Tiki-loving friends (why are these people your friends exactly?) will find a solid craft cocktail program and good selection beyond the Tiki realms.  The Tiki menu is a mix of well-executed classics and inventive new takes on Tiki.  Longitude also has a tasty selection of appetizers and even a few classic British meals on the menu.



Friday, April 10, 2015

kybecca and coffee, Fredericksburg, VA

I found this gem on a recent trip.  kybecca started life as a wine place, and over the years has evolved into a full restaurant with a killer wine list and solid bar program.  I had some fantastic drinks and good conversation thanks to Calvin, a great bartender.  And I had some very good shrimp and grits- not as good as mine, of course, but very good indeed.  (For reference: the recipe for mine starts with 24 ounces of smoked uncured bacon, and ends hours later with two pounds of wild-caught shrimp).

I sat at the bar as I often do when traveling, my fellow barflies all seemed to enjoy their food and drink as well.  Worth the trip if you are in the area.  And say hi to Calvin for me, he’s a master at his craft.

And in the morning, head over to Hyperion Espresso for some great coffee and morning munchies- and a little local chatter.  It is just a block down the road from kybecca.  You will really appreciate Hyperion if you enjoyed a few more cocktails than you planned at kybecca and didn’t stay well hydrated.  So I’ve heard.



Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Fells Point, Baltimore

Another overdue post where I don’t give places the review they deserve, but here goes.

The Fells Point area of Baltimore is loaded with bars and restaurants, many of which seem to cater to the “WOOO let’s get DRUNK!” crowd- but there are also some great places in the area.  This list is by no means comprehensive, but I stand by it.  I have three places I can count on for craft cocktails, two of which serve god food, and one just plain dive bar.  Be aware that parking can be ugly in the area, so find a decent place to park and wander, don’t plan on moving your car.  Or, of course, take a taxi and then you don’t face parking annoyances or risk that “walking around for hours to sober up” problem.

Probably best known is Bad Decisions, a fun place with an awesome name for a bar.  They have a very good drinks menu and are happy to go off-menu to make great drinks.  They serve a pub-style food menu, with some creativity.  Oh, and they love bacon.  It is a popular place, so be patient if it is packed.  To recap: great drinks, bacon, and it’s called Bad Decisions.

I’ve mentioned Rye before, it is a very good craft cocktail bar.  Rye doesn’t serve food, and doesn’t cater to the WOOO…DRUNK crowd, so it is often less crowded than other bars in the area.  If it is quiet, the bartenders are often up for conversations about cocktails and the craft.

Fork and Wrench which bills itself as a “boutique dive bar”, has some cool industrial d├ęcor, a great bar program, and good food. It is too clean and fancy for a real dive bar, but it is too laid back and industrial to be overly “boutique”, but the food menu is serious.  They strike a pretty good balance in my opinion.

Last, and some might say least, is 1919.  Dive bar.  Period.  If you know and love dive bars, you’ll like 1919.  If you don’t like dive bars you won’t like it.  But if you don’t like dive bars I wonder why you’re reading this blog.

The two furthest points on this list are Rye and Fork and Wrench, a mere .6 miles apart.  If you wander from one to the other and stop at Bad Decisions and/or 1919 (which are practically across the street from each other), the route jumps to a whopping 7/10ths of a mile.



Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Sazerac- the missed option

In my last post we visited the Sazerac, and I skipped a bit of history and the corresponding recipe variant.

The original versions of the Sazerac called for cognac instead of rye, and that style is worth a try as you explore the classics and explore your preferences.

To make a cognac Sazerac, follow the directions for a rye Sazerac, but substitute 2 ounces of cognac for the rye, and skip the maraschino liqueur if you use any.

Some recipes will call for simple syrup instead of muddling the sugar in the glass, that’s a good option, but make you own, don’t use commercial simple syrups.  And yes, I’ll cover that in an upcoming post.