Category Archives: Bars
If you’ve read my other posts on Munich, about Oktoberfest and the Starkbierfest, you might think that beer festivals are all the town has to offer. But that’s not all that’s cool about Munich, as I found out. The Marienplatz is a distinctly different type of European old town square area. Instead of many of them where there is a square formed around the original old church, the Marienplatz is just outside the ornate Gothic city hall. Though churches do flank the area. And in looking for the Cafe Glockenspiel I’d heard about I realized that there are about a half-dozen clock towers in the area. (By the way, the cafe I was looking for was not in any of them but in a modern building.)
I went to the Hacker-Pschorr restaurant near the Marienplatz for a lunch. I had the Bavarian meatloaf (offenfried liebenkäse) and a Radler. A Radler. I didn’t know what it was either, but it’s apparently a half beer half citrus drink. Fairly refreshing, but too sweet for me. The meatloaf looks like, and is basically cooked spam. Not recommended.
And no blog post would be complete without a post about a bar. The Euro Youth Hostel bar is a good one. Though the sign on the door says it’s for guests only, if you’re nice to Burt the bartender, he won’t give you much of a hassle.
Flew into Baltimore for the weekend. I’d never been there before, but figured it’d be a good place to go for Halloween. The forecast earlier in the week was for sunny and mild temperatures. But by the time I arrived it’d been downgraded to cold and rainy, with a chance of flurries. Damn. Oh well, try to make the best of it. I took some notes and some photos and here they are.
Max’s Empanadas in Little Italy is a small lively Argentine joint. Funky music, funky paintings, photos from around the world, and of course Argentine wine. The empanada is a dish I traditionally associate with Mexico, but it makes sense that there would be a broader use of the term. Certainly the dish isn’t local to Latin America – its fried dumplings or gnocchi or pirogi in other parts of the world. Here at Max’s it’s delicious. It seems like a great neighborhood spot and a hidden gem down a side street.
Fell’s Point is an eclectic area. The main street is called Broadway and it is a broad way. Lined with bars and storefronts, it’s a nice place for a stroll. This is THE place to be on Halloween in Baltimore. All the revelers come out in costume to see and be seen. The uniqueness of each costume made identifying the people much easier. So their behavior was made more apparent as they’d hop in one door, out another (many bars seem to have two doors), in again, out again. Like ants into and out of a mound, or like an episode of Benny Hill.
I visited a couple of restaurants in this area and both were good. Lebanese Taverna had a good Halloween party, with proceeds to benefit the Edgar Allan Poe House – a charity dedicated to preserving the legacy of the famous Baltimoron…Baltimorean…Baltemorite…whatever. The food was good, as was the specialty Raven beer, from a local brewery also participating in the event. Obrycki’s Seafood is a great place to get crabs. It’s been popularized by many TV shows and articles on the Internet.
On Sundays, there’s a Farmer’s Market & Bazaar that looks to have some of everything. I particularly enjoyed the Mexican crepes.
I headed to Edinburgh on a business trip. In town for a week. It tends to rain a lot in Scotland. Not that it rains hard, just often. Little sprinkles and showers all the time. Just enough to get you damp then dry out in between. It’s a bit worrying the first couple of times but after that you just zip up your jacket and keep going. There’s quite a lot of wind, especially at the top of the hills and ridges.
My first experience was my chatty cabby at 7am. Good folks to know, cabbies who grew up in the area they drive in. Asking about places to see inside the city here’s the list I wrote down. Mind you, this was early in the morning, accents and unfamiliar place names, so I may not have gotten these quite right.
- South Queensberry bridges over firth.
- Feaheys College. Really nice building. Tony Blair went to school there.
- Westcoates. Donaldson’s school for the deaf. Impressive building. Copper roofs.
- Craig Miller castle. Mary Queen of Scots lived there. Little France is down around there where her French retinue lived.
Here are a few recommendations of my own.
- North Berwick is a sleepy little seaside village and a suburb of Edinburgh. There’s a volcanic island shooting up out of the Firth of Forth called Seal Rock. You can get a boat out to the island and back and spend some time out there. There’s an old cemetery there dating back from the late 18th century.
- If you climb up Arthur’s seat take a jacket even if it’s borderline. Never know when a storm will come in and throw wind and rain at you with no shelter in sight. Nice hike. The whole Hollyrood park area is a great for hiking.
- In the Pentland hills is a neat little prehistoric spot. There is a low hill that was some sort of stone or bronze age fortification with a moat around it. An underground path led to a granary. Being underground kept it safe from the elements, cool enough to protect it and let the locals keep out the vermin.
My boss and I took a day trip down to the Border Abbeys. The 12th century Monks at the Abbey of Melrose were sheepherders – at one point the largest sheep farm in Europe. Also metallurgists. They prized self reliance so wanted to make everything themselves. Wanted to never come into contact with the outside world and they were a silent order. But established a trading empire.
So they established a tradition of lay-brothers – people not high born enough to become monks who they schooled in the Cistercian traditions and ways so they’d be less tainted by the outside world. These lay brothers then built up the trade with France and Flanders and made the monks quite wealthy. Also prayed for the wealthy and so were rewarded. Eventually became very wealthy and became much less austere.
They were vegetarian because they felt that eating meat led to carnal thoughts. But the ill or infirmed were allowed meat since they were too weak for such thoughts and put of Satan’s grasp.
In the 14th century it was common to bury different parts in different places. So you could be buried at your birthplace, by your wife and other places you liked. It’s said that Robert the Bruce’s heart may be buried here.
While we were at the abbey there was a wedding. Good Scottish bagpiping. and a grand time was had by all.
Then we went to the island of Lindisfarne, famous for being the first city sacked in 793 by a band of seafaring Norsemen, ushering in the Age of the Vikings. It’s an interesting place since the tide completely covers the road twice a day. So you have to be careful when you drive out there that you’ve got time enough to come back. There’s ruins of the priory there, a nice castle out on a hill and a ratio of B&Bs to residents roughly 1:1.
Dining and Drinking
- Try the restaurant Made in Italy – fantastic dressing came with the side salad. Like a creamy balsamic vinaigrette but not like any I’ve had.
- Sandy’s Bell has artists cone and play traditional Scottish music. Usually not planned, just an open mic affair. Artists meet and play then swap off with each other. Listed in tourist literature but still filled with locals.
- There’s a little Brazilian kiosk called Tupiniquium that does smoothies, juices, crepes and other nice things. The guy who runs it will let you know what’s fresh today and steer you toward something tasty. Located just at Lauriston Place.
- In the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, Inside the Scotch Whisky Museum is a restaurant called Amber. Quite a great spot for dinner. Reasonable prices, excellent food – I had an absolutely singular dish of peat smoke haddock topped with a soft boiled egg in milk – a handful of good Scottish beers and of course a book full of whiskies to try, which are similarly excellent and inexpensive. Try the Hollyrood Pale Ale. It’s excellent.
- Swing in to the Mussel Inn and hopefully you can get a table to try their excellent mussels. It’s a local place a block or two off the main street and is often crowded.
- There’s an excellent French restaurant called Pierre Victoire. When my boss and I got there they immediately trotted out a delicious mackerel appetizer. If you know my boss you know he loves mackerel so that absolutely hit the spot.
- There’s a bar down a bit southwest of the main street called Canny Mans. As a rule they don’t allow shorts, t-shirts, backpacks or credit cards. They recommend that you “dress casual but smart”. It’s worth the hassle to see the 80 years of decor and vestibules.
- The Rat Pack piano bar stays open late and is a good time even if you’re not into piano bars. They play all kinds of music, not just that from the mid-60s. They do Elton John, Billy Joel and others.
- As far as places to drink scotch malt whisky go, there’s no better than the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. It’s a membership-only establishment so you’ll need to know somebody to get in or pony up pretty heavy.
- There’s a little town on the way from Berwick (pronounced burrick) Upon Tweed to Dunkirk I stopped into for dinner. There is a restaurant called the Anchor Inn that I ate at. The kitchen officially shuts at 9 but they opened it back up so I could get dinner. Very nice! I had the walnut and mushroom roast. No meat in it. Was very good! Also the haddock is very good. Pan fried rather than deep fried.
The bar district is eponymously called 6th street, which they seem to close off after a certain hour on the weekends. It runs from Congress to the interstate. Yes, the debauchery starts at Congress. It’s the opposite of irony, Alanis. This is a college town, not a beach town but it has some of the same feeling of a Panama City or Daytona. Faux real, rather than fo-real. But under the surface the real underbelly seeps through. That’s what I’ve heard has given the town it’s reputation. Keep Austin weird is the rallying cry.
So as I have the habit of doing I accidentally found a great spot. It’s called Shakespeare’s ale house. As I was walking up somebody was getting hassled for not meeting the dress code. An inauspicious start for someone of my wardrobe. But as it turns out they were dressed too nicely. No polos allowed. Fo-real. Walking inside the beer tub distributor called out “you want a beer?” I turned to see a bearded guy with a grimy shirt hovering over a keg in a plastic tub dorm party style. Oh yeah I’m home. As I explored the place I found it was huge inside with several other bars in a courtyard, around back and upstairs. Reminds me of a place I went to in Budapest that way. If it’s packed out front head down the alley off Trinity.
The great thing about college towns is the economy. Cheap drinks are plentiful, street food is more common and if you tip the bartender you’re made of gold. The bad thing about college towns is the economy. It’s hard to find a great meal because most of the nicer places are chains. And you can’t find a decent beer despite the neon signs that decorate the walls of the places because nobody buys them. Except in the places where professors and businessmen hang out. And who wants to go there?!
Or did I speak too soon? There’s a place called the Jackalope has unsavory characters, quality draft beer and good late night food. Naked women decorate the walls and menus. Obscure punk and beach boys music undertone the conversation. Run out to the back bar and get your ears peeled by Bad Religion, Social D and other punk favorites. Might be trouble for those who live here. Austinians? Austinites? Austinites I’m told by the bartender. That delicious smell near and in the Jackalope? Jack’s pizza. They’re connected. Get it? Also connected but less sensical is the Mooseknuckle.
I’m starting to get a feel for the place. The Austin beneath the capital tinsel and college teeny-boppers. A place where you’re likely to run into a Mod fresh from a Duran Duran video drinking with a guy dressed like he’s at a 70s disco, listening to NOFX and drinking Shiner. Their eyes ping ponging between a cult movie and a Rangers preseason game.
And further down the road toward I35 is Casino El Camino. A bar cum burger joint. Guinness and Shiner on tap. Good top shelf liquor and even port wine. Very eclectic jukebox. Monkees and Beatles mix with Black Keys and Cee-Lo Green. Hipsters mix with argyle shirt dockers wearers mix with tatted rockers. Good burgers. Not vortex quality but good. Made the mistake of doing the Amarillo Burger at the same time as what the bartendress called a “dark and spicy” bloody Mary. Fire in the hole!
If you continue on past the Interstate you’ll run into another, weirder part of town. On the left there’s a place called the East Side Show Room. Six quality beers on tap. It’s got the speakeasy feel without the pretense. This place seems like how a real speakeasy would operate – bartenders with their sleeves crumpled rolled up and their ties loosened, shirts untucked, constantly in motion. The band takes the spotlight and beats out a rhythm for the place. I’d call them all girl but three quarters of them are in drag as men. When the band takes a set break they throw a movie on the projector and a vision of yesteryear comes to life. The visage of Buster Keaton is cast upon a canvas framed by, well, a picture frame hung above the stage. But the star of the show is the real cocktails. Some are aged for six weeks. Sounds wild I will agree but just try them. The Norwegian Wood is aquavit (when have you ever seen this outside Scandinavia?), vermouth and other players, aged for six weeks in a whiskey barrel. Or the New Pal, also aged, which features a sweetness on your lips but a fiercely bitter aftertaste. Makes you want to drink more. But take note that the bar stools are not made for anyone with hips wider than 30″. It’d be painful if there weren’t ample anesthetic. I think I’ve got to add this as one of my top 10 bars I’ve been to.
Next door is a shack. In the back of the shack is a yard. In the yard there are food trucks and trailers. And picnic benches for eating on. On the benches are hipsters. This is a bar for them. And you if you want too. The place is painfully hip. I don’t think it even has a name. Keep Austin weird.
“We got red and white. Which one you wont?” Not what you want to hear at a bar in the heart of America’s wine country. Must have winced. “They’re Mondaby.” I didn’t ask if she meant Mondavi.
“I won’t. Beer?” I said, playing off her mispronunciation of “want” earlier. I didn’t expect her to catch the subtle jibe. I was rewarded when she didn’t miss a beat and described their selection of bottles. Sometimes it’s little games that get you through.
I settled on a local brew I’d never heard of and sat back to imbibe the local flavor. Of the brew and of the bar. The Green Door is definitely a townie spot. Those are hit-and-miss affairs depending on the night. Mondays are a miss.
So I continued to trek toward town. Over the interstate. Past the Butter Creme Bakery, closed but still fragrant from a day of pumping out pastries. Heading toward downtown Napa is a sprawling series of sleepy little streets that look residential but which host professionals 9-5 during the week and silence on the weekends.
The downtown area is alive like a resort town tends to be on any given night. Mid week, not on or off season, a mix if full and part time locals and tourists sit and stroll along the sidewalks.
Downtown Joe’s Brewery beckons me in for a pint (12oz really) and to soak in more atmosphere. It’s a lite version of the last place. More upscale, the locals aren’t as drunk and are younger and there are a few fresh faces who don’t spend every hour and dollar here. Some in this room will doubtless end up at The Green Door someday.
The town reminds me of many I’ve visited. Older place that has seen a revival in recent years. Quaint redone buildings downtown, new places built to strict codes, gorgeous restored homes from the turn of the century or before, upscale restaurants, suburbs inside the official outskirts. And more police than crime.
Old women and girls on bikes populate the dimly lit street I’m walking along. A testament to the town’s safety. Mostly quiet and dark excepting the occasional car, the skies are alight with twinkles of suns whose light may have been snuffed out millions of years ago. Trees as dark silhouettes against a slightly brighter sky. This is Main Street a couple of blocks from the city center.
See more posts in the Mystery Trip saga!
Budapest has a reputation for some of the best nightlife in all of Europe. I am not a big fan of clubbing, but I do enjoy hanging out in cool bars and watching all the people. Budapest is excellent for that. It has some of the coolest and largest bars I’ve ever been to and provides great vantage points for people watching.
There’s one I particularly enjoyed called Szimpla Kert. The interior is out of a movie set. In fact, it’s probably the coolest looking place I’ve ever been. Planet of the Apes played on a projector screen. A couch and some chairs were made from cutting old bath tubs up and putting cushions on them.
There was another place we went that I think was just an abandoned building that had been made into a dance bar. Only the top couple of floors were open and the rest was shut. So you had to walk up about 4 flights of stairs to even get there. But they had a really cool rooftop bar from which you could look out on the city.
There’s a neat little restaurant called Kiado Kocsma! that stays busy with students eating and drinking. There’s crazy kitch all over the walls. It’s like the basement of 1000 grandparents’ houses put together in Europe. Some good, weird music played the whole time I was there. It was quite nice and they have some tasty goulash.
Amelia island is just a bit away from Jacksonville FL but it feels farther. It reminds me a little bit of Vail, CO when I lived out there. Amelia Island is One of those little resort towns that has all the luxuries but also has a small town feel among the locals.
If you’ve seen the movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall, you’ll know the experience of seeing the service industry employees in a more casual setting. That’s not just Hollywood reality, that’s the way things are in resort areas. The locals all congregate with each other and have a wild party mentality. And most of the local characters you recognize, you can’t remember exactly when or where you saw them, but you immediately and positively know them.
So it is that I find myself at a bar called the Green Turtle (not to be confused with the Greene Turtle in Maryland). This is a little beach hippie dive bar that feels like you’re in a friend’s backyard at a party. The patrons mostly know one another, local band is rocking out, there’s a great patio and porch and there’s a 1960s VW camper van painted in psychedelic colors – painted by a local artist, lovingly referred to as Scramble Campbell – in the yard.
The city of Fernandina Beach is designed and built like any Southern Atlantic Coastal city, which is to say it’s planning and construction seems independent of any single philosophy or guiding principle. Key West is an extreme example of this sort of place, by you get a better idea if you compare it to Savannah or Charleston.
And cities like these all seem to have a common history in proportion to their distinguishing characteristics. Most of them have an antebellum downtown area (look up the history of Charleston’s market street for reference) and reveres it’s history and preserves its tradition in it’s culture. The residents tend to live slowly and be deliberate in manner and avoid intentional offense at all costs.
Jacksonville, for instance, is home to the Palace Saloon – oldest saloon in the state with a history stretching back to “seventeen-something,” according to an authoritative-sounding (though incorrect) local. It may have operated as a speak-easy during prohibition just like the Blind Tiger in Chucktown. There is, I am told, a distinction between a tavern and a bar and the oldest bar in the state is somewhere else. When you go, make sure you sip your Pirate Punch from one of the captain’s chairs at the far side of the Charlie’s Bar room.
There is only one cab company on the island – VIP Taxi. The company began six years ago as a limousine service and then branched out into taxi cabs. Two companies already served the island, but they apparently didn’t do a very good job. The company is small and all of the drivers I met were friendly and sociable. But this small size means that they can be overwhelmed on busy nights – so call early.
Blue Note. Cool place, reggae funk and other chill music. Lots of room but still cozy.
Quays. Very big but packed, even early. Established in the 1600s.
Massimo. Mid 30s, groups, loud beyond justification. Same type of music as Blue Note.
Bierhaus. Leffe blonde on draft, as well as quite a few others you usually don’t find in Ireland.
Roisin Dubh. Nice setting. Pub + acoustic coffee house type + live concert venue.
Galway Hooker Ale. Not bad, but a bit harsh.
This one’s been sitting around for a while just waiting for me to finish it. I don’t think I ever will, so here it is. Forgive me if it sucks.
Hogans – good atmosphere, cool environment, etc.
Fibber Magee’s – don’t let the music offend you, it’s a cool bar.
Place with rooftop bar – rooftop bar, probably great for sunset!
Guinness Brewery – very cool architecture and interactive tour.
Staunton’s on the Green – cheap hotel in a great neighborhood.
North of the Liffey – people are more interesting, not as crowded or pretentious.
Brussels & Flanders – go to Fibber Magee’s instead for your death metal.
Palace Bar – told me they weren’t serving while taking orders from other people.
Jameson Distillery – letdown after Guinness