Friday, December 30, 2011

An end of year musical freebie

I haven’t been traveling much lately, and really haven’t traveled anywhere interesting lately.  I hope to remedy that soon, but until then- a musical freebie for you:

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Surf Guitar 101 has released their 2011 mp3 compilation, available for free and hosted at Archive.org.  Almost two hours of surf music, just the ticket for dealing with the impending winter here in the frozen North.  Of course, if you feel like donating a few bucks to archive.org, that would be great.

Cheers

Jack

Monday, September 12, 2011

Gallery Espresso, Savannah, GA

I am always on the lookout for great coffeehouses, and Savannah has a fantastic one, Gallery Espresso.  Actually, there are a handful of good ones in Savannah, but Gallery Espresso is the one that I latched on to.

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Gallery Espresso is located in Savannah’s beautiful historic district, right across the street from Chippewa Square.

They have an extensive coffee menu and make fantastic coffee.  While in Savannah I quickly settled into a ritual of starting the day with a cup of Turkish coffee while catching up on email and the Twitters on their complimentary WiFi.  Their selection of sandwiches, pastries and other snacks is good, and I enjoyed everything I tried.

The interior is large and somewhat funky- with plenty of seating, small tables, large tables, chairs, and couches are mixed throughout.  The clientele is a mix of businessfolk, lots of college students (SCAD, Savannah College of Art and Design is nearby), locals, and the occasional tourist.  The staff is eager (and/or appropriately caffeinated) and very pleasant.

They feature live entertainment on occasion, but I wasn’t lucky enough to catch any on my trip.

Savannah is an odd city, it has a feeling which someone described as "genteel decay”.  Savannah isn’t for everyone, but if you find yourself downtown, stop by Gallery Espresso.

 

Jack

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Los Antojos

Another venture off the Strip in Las Vegas, Los Antojos is a small, unassuming little restaurant with authentic Mexican food. 

This is no “Amigo McChachi’s” faux-TexMex margaritas-in-cactus-glasses place.  No burritos here folks.  Just good, authentic food.

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The name means “cravings” and they boast of el autentico sabor de la Ciudad de Mexico (the authentic taste of Mexico City).  They have won awards for most authentic Mexican in Las Vegas, and I know why. I’ve only eaten there once, but it was great.  They make a mole sauce that is simply amazing.  Next time I’m in Vegas I have been told that their soup is outstanding.

The restaurant is pretty small, and the décor (for lack of a better term) is basic at best.  If this bothers you, please seek out an overpriced restaurant on the Strip, or an Amigo McChachi’s.  If you want a real taste of Mexico City, overlook the furnishings and eat up.

Los Antojos is easy to find, they’re at 2520 South Eastern Ave, near Sahara Ave.  Prices are inexpensive (downright cheap if you’ve been eating at the nicer hotel/casino restaurants).

 

Jack

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Jerry’s and Gerardo’s

This one is a bit odd, no bars or restaurants- and a limited appeal, but if you need this info, you need it.  I was in Las Vegas earlier this year and unexpectedly needed to look presentable.  I needed to rent a tuxedo and get a haircut for a formal awards dinner.

Step one, the tux.  I don’t remember where I first found out about Jerry’s Tux Shop, but I’m glad I found them.  No where near the strip, but easy to deal with, and they can arrange delivery and pick up of your tux to your hotel.  Nice people, very helpful, and reasonable prices for very fast service.

Step two, a haircut.  I want a barber, not a stylist.  Someone at Jerry’s sends me to Gerardo’s Classic Barber Shop.  Good call, it is also off the strip, but easy to find at 3869 Spring Mountain (they have three shops in Las Vegas, but I’ve only been to this one).  As the name says, it is a classic barber shop, but they do some serious work for some of those fortunate to have enough hair to get creative with.  It is a working man’s shop, a lot of sports memorabilia and good old fashioned barbers.  I think I’ve been to Gerardo’s more than I’ve been to my barber at home this year.

Next post will be from Las Vegas, too- but I’ll be back to food for that one.

 

Jack

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cape Cod bookstores

Stuck on Cape Cod, and the weather sucks?  Or maybe you just like books- especially used books?  I have a couple of suggestions, both on historic Route 6a.  (Note: “historic” means a narrow, winding, tourist- and bicycle-laden scenic road.  Be patient, be attentive, and relax while on 6a, okay?)

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You will find Titcomb’s Book Shop in East Sandwich, it is a great family run shop, around since 1969, well organized, with both used and new books.  The figure of the old man under their sign is a local icon, recently repaired after a traffic accident last year left the old guy in need of repair.  The used book section is generally well sorted and arranged for easy browsing.  The staff are “book people”, readers even- the kind of folks you expect at a family bookstore.  Stop by and browse.

Just about 12 miles east on 6a in Yarmouthport is Parnassus Book Service.  Parnassus has been around even longer than Titcomb’s and is in an early 18th century building, a former general store.  Parnassus also has both new and used books, but its charm is that is is a big old rambling used book store.  It is organized, but it is more of a used book spelunking adventure than the tidy Titcomb’s.  Parnassus has a vast array of books covering a variety of topics.  They are also known for their outdoor bookshelves, honor system purchasing of mostly paperbacks under the shelter of the building’s east side.  Plan on an extended browsing session if you venture in.

 

Jack

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Two out of three in Washington, DC

On a recent trip to DC we stayed near the Capitol and rediscovered a small cluster of restaurants very close to the Capitol and Union Station.

Along the 300 block of Massachusetts Ave NE there are three adjacent restaurants:

La Loma (Mexican) at 316

Bistro Cacao (French) at 320

Café Berlin (German) at 322

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All three have outdoor dining, and it was early summer in Washington so we took advantage of the weather and dined outdoors- adding the the pleasure of the evenings.

During our week in DC we visited each of them on separate evenings.  La Loma is generally the busiest of the three, but I’m not sure why.  The food is reasonably priced, and not bad- but neither authentic nor especially tasty.

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The other two, however, are winners.  We had dined at Café Berlin in the past and thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was even better this time.  They have a varied menu combining traditional German dishes with a mix of items from other regions for other palates.  The service has been attentive both times we have dined at Café Berlin and we have had a couple of thoroughly enjoyable evenings there in recent years. 

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This was out first visit to Bistro Cacao, and it was fantastic.  The menu is mixed French cuisine, the food outstanding, and service very good.  If you have preconceptions about “snooty French restaurants”, you need to leave them behind, this is a welcoming and friendly place.  As with their neighbors at Café Berlin, Bistro Cacao’s menu travels a beyond its implied borders- for example, I don’t usually think of Sangria when I think of French dining, but we had a nice carafe of red Sangria with our meal.

Both of these restaurants are reasonably priced for the quality of the food and service, especially if you keep in mind that you are on Capital Hill. 

Dining is generally best done leisurely, and in good company- if you are lucky enough to find yourself with time and appropriate companionship, these are the kind of restaurants which can make for a wonderful evening.

(I should be back to dive bars soon enough, don’t worry)

 

Jack

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A quick coffee update

Last year I wrote about some places to find decent coffee on Cape Cod.  Sadly, Paul’s Bean and Bagel is no more.  Good coffee houses on Cape Cod seem doomed, but all is not lost- Paul sold to some folks who have renewed his place into the Coffee Roost.  The decor is now a little too cute for my tastes, but the coffee is still good (still using Beanstock Coffee) and the food menu has expanded a bit and arguably improved.

 

Jack

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Sagamore Inn

[If you are coming to Cape Cod, for the love of $DEITY, do not shop at the mall, or dine at a chain restaurant.  Get off of the tourist trap lanes and see what’s left before it is too late.  OK, it is too late, but there are glimpses if you know where to look.  In this mood, I’ll share a few of my favorites in upcoming posts].

Not a chain.  Not a bar (although they do have one).  An actual family restaurant.  Family, as in family-friendly, family-owned, family-run.  Good food, and plenty of it, at good prices, too.  When they say “generous portions”, they mean it.

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One look at the Sagamore Inn and you should know what to expect, Italian and American food- not gourmet, but very good.  The place has been around forever (OK, maybe just a long time) but has been maintained well, from the old bar to the woodwork to the white-painted tin ceiling, it is clearly from an earlier (and arguably better) time on Cape Cod.  If you are in the right mood it will even transport you back to a Cape Cod long lost to the short-sighted and myopic monster tourrerist machine that is the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce and its ilk (screw you Wendy Northcross).

The menu is varied, with things for most appetites- except vegetarians won’t find much, and vegans will leave hungry.  I gravitate to their popcorn shrimp plate or rolls.  Not the typical flavorless little shrimp-like blobs sold most places as popcorn shrimp, the Sagamore uses delightful Maine shrimp for theirs.  Order light, or plan on taking food with you, they want you to leave full.  And you’ll want to save room for dessert.

If you are here in the summer, they are open for breakfast from 7am (maybe earlier, but you’re on vacation, so sleep in a little).

The Sagamore Inn is easy to find, it is right on Route 6a in Sagamore, right on the town line with Sandwich, not far from the Sandwich village center and close to the Sagamore bridge.

 

Cheers

Jack

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Double Down Saloon

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Not new, and not exactly a classy joint- the Double Down Saloon is a dive punk-ish bar off the strip in Las Vegas.  It has been there for about 18 years, and they have another Double Down- in NYC.  The owners of the Double Down also own Frankie’s Tiki Room in Las Vegas, so they have a track record of making me happy.

From their website:

“Known the world over as the Happiest Place on Earth, the Double Down Saloon has been bringing a much needed sophistication to Las Vegas since 1992.  Interplanetary abstract.  Urban decay.  The Anti-Vegas.  Double Down is indeed a clubhouse for the lunatic fringe.”

And so it is.  Bacon Martinis, Ass Juice, combo meals such as “Ass Juice and a Twinkie” and the Graveyard Trifecta (a Hamms, an Ass Juice, and a Slim Jim), these are just some of the delights that await you at the Double Down.  Don’t worry, you can also grab a beer and other less “exotic” drinks. 

Here I am with my new buddy Scott, one of the DD’s bartenders:

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When I walked in for the first time, I thought “what a dump, I love it”.  If thoughts like that don’t occur to you occasionally, you may want to skip this one.  Also, like Frankie’s, there is a continuous video loop running on the TVs, including some footage that cannot be unseen- you’ve been warned.

It is a good place to go and drink.  Aside from the previously mentioned “combo meals”, the only food is in a vending machine.  Also, as with Frankie’s, there is smoking, but also pretty decent air handling.  The aftermath of a brief visit should look something like this:

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Cheers

Jack

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Lounge at The Dunhill Hotel, Charlotte

I don’t like to gamble, at least in the common let’s-make-the-casinos-richer sense.  I do occasionally gamble and use Hotwire for hotel bookings, though- and sometimes I hit the jackpot.  On a recent trip I spun the wheel on Hotwire and landed in the historic Dunhill Hotel in the Uptown district of Charlotte, NC.  The Dunhill is a great hotel, smallish rooms, but nicely appointed, and the rate was pretty good- but the big win was in the tiny lounge.

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The bartender (let’s call him Pete, because that may have been his name- but it is a bar, so my memories of the evenings are a bit fuzzy) was great, he seemed to know everyone and learned new customers names and preferences quickly.  Although tiny (just seven stools around an L-shaped bar) it was adequately stocked and a very comfortable place to spend time at the end of the day.  You can even get great food served at the bar from the adjacent Harvest Moon Grille.

As with all great bars, your fellow patrons really make the place, and the Dunhill’s clientele appears to include a bewildering mix of interesting characters, from local business people, to former NFL players, to roadwarriors, to “southern gentlefolk”- a great mix of characters to complement the great service, genteel décor, and general southern charm.

This is a hotel bar, in a downtown business district, so don’t expect too many bargains- but you will actually get something for your money here.

 

Jack

Friday, April 1, 2011

Frankie’s Tiki Room

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Another out of the way place in Las Vegas, a bit north of the strip and west of 15, but not too far from everything.

This bit from the website sums it up well:

Frankie's Tiki Room is a unique combination of south seas exotica and modern primitivism, with just a hint of Las Vegas kitsch.  One hundred percent original and deeply rooted in tiki tradition, Frankie's is the place where you can escape to the fantasy any hour of the day or night.  Where you can order up your buzz from the menu of exotic rum drinks in the tiki lounge, or enjoy traditional cocktails while gambling at the bar in classic Las Vegas style.

The décor is perfect Tiki kitsch,

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right down to the custom carvings…

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Eight bucks buys a drink, a nice tropical drink.  A nice, large, strong drink, at that.  That’s about all there is to buy, too- this is a bar.  No food, nothing but drink.  It is Vegas, so you can gamble at the video machines in the bar, but this is a drinker’s place.  It is worth reminding folks that being in Vegas also means people smoke indoors- if you are from somewhere that is a thing of the past you may be unpleasantly surprised- but they do have decent air handling, so it is not too smoky.

I knew I was where I belonged when the bartender dropped a copy of Modern Drunkard in front of me and said I would enjoy it.  Some people would be offended by this, I ordered another Ninth Island and started reading.

Cheers

Jack

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Tonga Room, a moving experience

 

It looks like the future of the Tonga Room involves a move to a new location.  What is the Tonga Room?  The Tonga Room is one of those special places which is so tacky that it comes out the other side and has class again.  Follow the link above to my last post on it for more details.  Rumor (wink, wink) is that the Tonga has been sold; name, fixtures, even employees- as a whole, to be moved to an as yet unknown location

Details are sketchy, but my sources are impeccable (always trust people in Hawaiian shirts) .  Expect the "new" Tonga in a new venue, but I don’t know when.  The month of April is when something happens, but as of yet I do not know if that is closing, reopening, or what.

There are more questions than answers at this time.

Will it still have the pontoon tiki boat stage?

Will the complete set of fixtures be part of the resurrected Tonga- including the masts ,railings, and rigging from the Forrester?

Will the loyal employees be treated well under the terms of the sale and under the new owners?

Will the Mai Tais still kick your butt down the hill?

Will there still be a hill to have said butts dragged up and kicked down?

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For the past few years I have made a pilgrimage to the Tonga Room at the beginning (and often middle and end) of the week of the RSA conference (and now the week of Security BSides San Francisco, too). 

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This year we spread the word a bit more and ended up with TongaCon, which kicked serious butt.  There were probably about 35-40 people who rolled through, more paper umbrellas than I could count, a live RickRolling of the bar by the band (FYI, Rick Astley covers should always be done by lounge bands on a pontoon boat).  There may have even been unfortunate events involving an unnamed journalist’s bald head and someone else’s beard, and possibly a “how many umbrellas can we stick in Jack’s beard” contest.  (You will have to find those pictures on your own).

 

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I am asking San Francisco locals (and everyone else interested) to keep me posted on the future of the Tonga Room, and I’ll share the info.

 

Jack

Friday, January 14, 2011

An unlikely place for Mexican

We stumbled across the Santa Maria Mexican diner/bar and gave it a try.  Tasty food, good drinks, reasonable prices, funky atmosphere, great service- a winner in my book.  Er, blog.

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What’s so unlikely about it?  I really didn’t expect to find something like that while wandering around Berlin on New Year’s Eve (yes, that Berlin, the one in Germany).  Santa Maria is at Oranienstraße 170, 10999 Berlin, and is one of three places run under the Las Marias umbrella.  We didn’t get a chance to try the others, but enjoyed the food and funk at Santa Maria.  Interesting artwork on the walls added to to the surreal feeling as fireworks exploded outside.

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Although they are Brazilian, not Mexican, I especially enjoyed the caipirinhas at Santa Maria.  “I enjoyed the caipirinhas” is not, however, an uncommon occurrence.

A note on “authentic” versus “tasty”: if you are looking for authentic Mexican food, may I suggest you visit MEXICO, not Germany.  Tasty, however, is easier to find, including at Santa Maria.

 

Jack