Friday, April 29, 2011

The Home Stash

One thing I appreciate about being a liquor aficionado is that getting there costs less than being a wine aficionado*. You’re not committed to an entire bottle; you can always try something by the glass; and you don’t need company if you want to try a bunch of different stuff. For most of us, our education comes from trying many different liquors at bars – the bar tender recommends something, a label or name catches the eye, a friend pushes something, or you just work your way through every liquor systematically. On the rare occasion, we may come from families with a great booze culture and exposure to all kinds of deliciousness. But the main thing is the experience comes from, well...experience. There’s really no way around it, you have to taste many different liquors before you find what you like; and then you keep tasting because you never know when you’re going to find something else you’re going to like. But once you’ve found your favourite drinks, you might notice that you have particular preferences for different occasions.

For example, I’m a big whisky drinker – it’s my drink of choice. My bartenders consider my essential trait as a customer to be, whisky, neat; water, back. But I’d be a pretty sad booze lover if that’s all I did. On a nice sunny day, I really enjoy a vodka and soda, with a splash of bitters. If I need to relax when I’ve been travelling, or I’ve had a tough day and I need to feel civilised, a Martini with a nice chunky olive is just the thing. Hot summer days yell out for a cold, cold beer, or a crisp Prosecco. If I’m lounging around or if I’m writing, tequila or mezcal is the way to go. Quiet nights at the bar or parties can call for cocktails. And any time is a good time for saké.

This is all very well if you’re surrounded by a variety of bars and you’ve got some spending money. But eventually there’s going to come a time when you don’t want to go to a bar (or you don’t have an easily accessible one – it happens when you don’t live in NYC), or you’re having folks over, or you just can’t afford to drink out all the time. So what do you do? You keep a stash at home, that’s what you do.

The way I started building my tiny little bar at home was by buying a nice bottle of a really good but not extravagant whisky when I had some money to spare, and slowly building on it. If you’re serious about building your home collection, make sure you get the good stuff – you never want to feel like there isn’t a haven of civilisation in your home. This way when you get home after work or you’re staying in of a weekend, you don’t feel like you’re missing out. I think there’s a sense of relaxation that comes with knowing you don’t actually have to be in a bar to get a top notch buzz going. And having a really good tipple at home also means if you ever have a friend or two over – even for pizza and movies – you always have something meaningful with which to cap the time spent together. And your friends will appreciate it. So when you get your next pay cheque, go buy a bottle of something you enjoy, but you don’t normally drink at the bar because you don’t want to pay too much money. Then, the next time you have some cash to spare, go buy a different liquor. If you already have whisky, go for vodka. If you already have vodka, go for tequila. Every couple of months, buy something new. Unless you’re drinking like a fiend at home, you’ll find that within half a year you have a pretty decent bar.

Once you have a nice little stash at home, think about having friends over. Give them a treat, share your good stuff with them. Learn one or two good cocktail recipes and show off. Let everyone know what you like to drink. This is another way to add to your collection: be vocal about your tastes. That way if you have good taste, your friends can learn something from you, and if you have bad taste your friends can set you straight. And if you have genuinely, implacably horrible taste, your friends never have to spend good money on the classy stuff that you’re never going to drink thereby saving everyone concerned a whole lot of pain.

Throw a party with food, and tell your friends to bring some booze. This may seem odd (Why am I asking other people to bring stuff?), extravagant (You mean I have to pay for food?), or inconvenient (All that cleaning afterward!) to you, but if your friends know you’re having a booze-happy party they’ll contribute. What you’ll probably get is a lot of beer and dubious wine, but there’s always going to be someone who brings a little something else like a bottle of whiskey or a bottle of vodka. It’s rare for whole bottles of liquor to get polished off in a single party. There’ll always be something left. This is good – now you’ve got some filler for the future.

The other thing to remember while building your collection at home is that, like in a bar, you’re allowed to have a top shelf and a bottom shelf selection. Not only is this economical, it’s also nice to have a sense of occasion. So, when you do break out the good shit, not only the others but also you can feel special about it. But don’t be an utterly cheap bastard just to economise. If you’ve really been spending your time thinking about booze and sampling stuff, you might notice that your taste and the bottle’s price point aren’t always in congruence. There are plenty of expensive liquors out there that I wouldn’t use to poison you while there are others that are overlooked because of cheapness**. For example, when it comes to cheap but acceptable bourbon, I’ll take Old Grandad over Jack Daniel’s any day, because I cannot conceive of drinking Jack as anything but a last resort. Another more upscale example is Johnnie Walker – the Blue Label retails from anywhere to $190 to $230 a bottle. But I think the Green Label is a comparable product and retails for only $49 to $58 a bottle. And when you contrast the difference in price, there’s a hugely greater value for money.

Letting people know what and how you drink is one of the better ways to collect gifts of alcohol. This may sound self serving, but come birthday and Christmas time, most folks don’t really have a lot of time or energy trying to figure out just what it is you want. If you’re a boozer, folks know what to get you and it only adds to your general awesomeness because, if you’re the kind of person who reads this blog, you’re only going to end up sharing.

Good Scotch, good bourbon (rye whiskey, if you like spicy), one good gin, a decent neutral alcohol, angostura bitters and a decent orange liqueur is all you’ll ever need for a respectable home bar. And unless you’re mixing flamboyant drinks that need a whole lot of colours and crazy flavours, you’ll be well covered for cocktails with these basic things. And unless you’re a complete idiot you’ll already have some other essentials in your home, like lemons and their peels; sugar; and eggs for the more adventurous cocktails. Now if you do want to go crazy all you’ll need are juices and fizzy drinks which are easily found in your bodega or can be brought to your party by your guests.

* Though the eventual costs are just as insane.

** Somebody remind me that I have to do an entire post about this sometime.

Photographs © A. Das

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Barography: The Calamity Cafe

So last week I sent a copy of the last Barography about Stones to my parents. My mother pointed out a very important factual error. I apologize to the readership; I did not start going there around five or six years old. I went there in a baby chair that would be put in the booth. I have officially been going to bars longer than I have known how to do such things as walk, communicate, or distinguish complex ideas. This is a fact about me that you should probably know.

So Stones may have been my first regular, but that was up to my folks, and my memories are obviously fuzzy at best. The first bar I recall ever really taking a shine to myself was also across the river, though not in dank, industrial Ironton, Ohio. Across the other bridge was Huntington, West Virginia (that's right: Kentucky, Ohio, AND West Virginia . . .three shitty states for the price of one). Huntington is the home of Marshall University, they of the McConaughey-driven sports-film. More importantly for my friends and I growing up, though, was that it was the only "college town" within easy driving distance.

So around the age of 16, as we started exploring around on our own, we found Huntington to be a respite from the bland suburbia or rural backwashes of our homes. Huntington was no longer just the home of Toys r Us (though I truly wish I could now enjoy anything half as much as I'd enjoy going through the GI Joe figures in hopes that a new wave had appeared), no, it was the home to cafes, non-chain bookstores, record stores with bands we'd only heard whispers of . . .this was our first prolonged exposure to the culture of the greater world around us.

And nothing felt moreso than the Calamity Cafe. The Calamity was a bar/restaurant with a southwesternish menu (their cheese soup is still the topic of internet discussion, apparently). Smoking was allowed indoors; in fact, they had an old cigarette vending machine in the dining room. And, best of all, they had music. We'd go up nearly every weekend by the time we were seniors in high school. It didn't matter what was playing in that, in-retrospect-small dining area. It was live, it was different, and we ate it up.

I remember one band, the Vodka Killers. I can't find a lick about them anywhere, and I don't think they lasted too long. Their drummer was a mainstay, though. But the Vodka Killers were, to my teenage eyes, all rock and roll swagger. Gyrations and vamping and bravado backed by loud guitars and hard drums.

They were fucking perfect.

I may have only seen them twice, who the hell knows, but they are mythic in my brain. That is what it should be. Likewise, one Mr. Willie Phoenix. Mr. Phoenix, be-dreaded, compact, blazer without a shirt, sweating sex like most men sweat stink, completely destroyed a set there. He was on the tables, wailing like all our lives depended on it. His website calls his music "psychedelic garage blues." All I knew is that it blew my goddam mind. That night Willie Phoenix entered the permanent pantheon, the archetypal figures that, no matter where I am or what I've done, they still occupy this mythic territory in my psyche.

The Calamity had no shortage of such gigantic characters. I remember the man we knew only as "The Ass-Beater." He'd stand against the wall during a show, pageboy cap loosely draped over his curly hair. His forearms were like tree-trunks, and were always folded. He'd nod appreciatively from time to time, but otherwise stoically allowed himself to be surrounded by the sounds, smells, and sights.

There was the Waitress. Pink hair and big eyes, always a joke on the ready, always the "Oh, I'll flirt but you know you have no chance, right," but not in a cruel way. She'd remember your regular orders and not make fun of you for not drinking that night. We started going there before we started drinking. I remember when we finally realized that we could, in fact, enjoy some beers there, this was like being let into the secret inner monastery of Shaolin. Lo, all the secrets of this world were at our feet.

I even remember my favorite dishes. There was the Route 66 Burger, all full of flavor and onions. The psychedelic nachos were basically heaven on a plate. I know others went for, to-me-then, wilder fair like jalepeno pesto angel hair shrimp pasta. I only wish that I could have tried everything out once my palate expanded beyond my meager roots.

Once we went off to college, spreading out across the land, the Calamity was our touchstone, our meet-up during every trip back to Ashland. The mythic status hadn't worn off; this was still The Bar, the Platonic Ideal of what such things should be. My friends Mark, Ben and I began a tradition of performing at open mic nights whilst visiting. As time went on, our performances got weirder and weirder. Rogers and Clark added "The Free Shit Monkey." The Free Shit Monkey was me in a luchador mask. I would dance the Free Shit Dance while handing out free shit during the Free Shit Song, then join them for the rest of the set.

Another time Ben and I introduced ourselves as Seth Hymes and Bryan Patrick, "The Virtuosos." We spent most of our time poorly warming up for an a capella rendition of "Sounds of Silence." We began, horribly off-key, looked at each other in panic, and ran out of the fire escape. Good times.

When it came time to throw Mark his bachelor party, as his best man, I could think of no better place. Unfortunately, we took too long to get there (we were all very busy eating Doritos and drinking whiskey in our underwear) and the kitchen was closed when we arrived. Once the three of us went to the open-mic stage, though, some guy I didn't recognize called out "All right! We're gonna hear some Weezer!" It was good to be recognized.

As our trips home became less frequent, we lost touch with the Calamity. When Huntington banned smoking in restaurants, they had a choice: lose the food or lose the smokes. They shut down the kitchen pretty much immediately. Though I applaud the ballsiness of such a move, it doesn't seem to have worked out in the long run, as the Calamity has been long gone for a while now. Last I heard, some hippie-dippy coffee joint had taken over the space.

What's funny, is if I think about it objectively, it was always hippie-dippy. It was the mid-to-late nineties; pink hair, goatees, facial piercings and other questionable choices were all over the place. After over a decade of living in Brooklyn, I have been to many, many objectively cooler places; I have had better food; I have seen better shows.

But the Calamity, like first love, left an imprint on me I'll never forget, nor do I want to. It is where myths were born, where stories first took shape. It might be long gone, and I might have found it painfully lame if I encountered it today, but it's still The Bar. It shaped my perception and desire for years to come, and its influence is still with me today.

Here's to you, Calamity Cafe. May you rest in peace but live forever in the psychogeography of my mind.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mono-Lagering: dba

Given a gift of free beer coupons from 30 different bars from, Mr. Rice has decided to visit each one, and record his thoughts.

Note: click play for the soundtrack to this post. Seriously.

Today I write in pain. I have committed war crimes against my own body. It is spring break for me, the traditional time of mindless indulgence and excess. Starting last Friday I have gone on one hell of a bender. Today I sit in my dark, cluttered office and write. I need the break. So let me tell you about last night.

I went to dba, no capital letters, in Williamsburg. I had been there once before for a cask beer tasting, and that was lovely. I had otherwise avoided it because the original dba in Manhattan is a fratty, douchey shithole. I was coerced into going to two birthdays there and never felt an ounce of non-misery.

I'm happy to report that the Brooklyn version far surpasses it. It's got a cozy orange-ish interior and a nice backyard and a beer menu that is absolutely preposterous. Thirteen or so casks and more bottles than is probably necessary. Seriously, one is faced with being totally overwhelmed if you start to really look at it.

I started with a Bier de Mars. a strong French-style ale. I'd had it before at my buddy Alex's local, Sheep Station, and I knew it was good. My body had already begun to object to my behavior yesterday, so I was trying to take it easy and slow. I also picked it because Mars is cool.

Alex came by and we shot the breeze as he waited for an OKcupid date to arrive. We mostly talked about the horrible hit-or-miss online dating can be. He seemed to come out OK last night (PUN NOT INTENDED, NOR CLEVER IN THE SLIGHTEST), but I deleted my accounts in disgust recently.

Mars is Ares, God of War, and he is a dick. Ugly, clever Hephaestus's wife, Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty totally cheats on him with Ares. We've known since ancient times that love is a battlefield (OH AY OH). That's really the part of dating I hate: the weird battles that are hidden therein. One must project a certain aspect of one's personality, and the appropriate aspect changes wildly from date to date; AND THERE IS NO WAY TO TELL IN WHAT WAY.

These aren't exactly innovative revelations. Look up in the sky and there are Mars and Venus. Vulcan doesn't even get a planet until Star Trek, but, to be fair, that's a pretty awesome, albeit fictional, planet.

Sometimes friends hear me talk like this, both single and attached, and say, "Well, true, but . . ." and then say something meant to convince me to take an interest in dating again. Why can't I just be a conscientious objector? I love war films (time to re-watch The Thin Red Line), but I don't have what it takes to be a soldier. Nobody questions that. So maybe I just don't like dating, and that's not anyone's fault.

I like spending time with people I like, be they male or female, single or not. I don't particularly enjoy spending my nights meeting people that maybe I'll like (and probably won't). It's not hard to tire of buying drinks for someone you have to trick yourself into finding interesting only to find out they didn't bother to trick themselves into finding you interesting.

The only problem is springtime, and the weird biological impetus it seems to steadfastly throw upon me. Ah, natural selection, how desperately you want me to find a receptacle for my genetic information! (I like how I try to sound like I hate getting laid here. Yeah, right, douchebag.)

So I sit here, stomach completely obliterated, a couple days lost at least, trying to finish a banana so something's in there, and I reflect. dba is a nice place, but nice places can be turned into warzones at the drop of a hat. Memories of exes and bad parties pop up without provocation, and sometimes your body finally screams "KNOCK IT OFF FOR A BIT, ASSHOLE!"

Every man fights his own war, but you're going to lose a few battles, and some aren't worth fighting.


Friday, April 15, 2011


Stranger in a Strange Land

For my inaugural post, I would like to write about two things *: 1) My favourite bar, and 2) About being a ruiner.That made up word means exactly what it sounds like – someone who ruins things. In preparation for this little coeur-à-coeur, it may not be the worst idea to hearken back to this piece of sageness about drinking in bars where you do not belong. And subsequently, should you choose to turn up at my favourite bar you will be well schooled in how not to be an asshole, saving me the trouble of having to be very rude to you.

I like to drink at Keen’s, an old-fashioned English chop house (they changed it to steak house some years ago because the Americans were confused) that’s been in existence since 1885. Their signature dish is the mutton chop and their bar has one of the finest single malt whiskey collections in town. Back in the day, Keen’s was a gentleman’s establishment in what was then the heart of the theatre district. And while women could be present they would not be served. Lillie Langtry sued the fuckers in 1905 for women to be served there and won. To show that there were no hard feelings, they named a room after her. The place is packed with all kinds of American history including the program president Lincoln was holding when he was shot, and paintings by Alexander Pope (no, the other one). Also taking pride of place are the clay churchwarden pipes left over from when it was a pipe club. You will find pipes signed by such diverse fellows as Buffalo Bill, Douglas MacArthur, Stanford White, Rube Goldberg, Teddy Roosevelt, Babe Ruth and Albert Einstein. Members had their own pipes and on furnishing their card, a nice young man would locate their pipe, clean and pack the bowl and hard working guys sit and have a pint and a smoke and eat charred cow.

This is a very masculine place. Just so you know how manly it is, the presiding feature of the bar is a painting of a naked woman recumbent on a sofa draped by a lion skin (after Goya) called Miss Keen’s. And though there are no urns, it is art. Generations of young males have been shaped into manhood under her impervious gaze as their fathers and bosses have glared at them for ordering mixed drinks in the middle of rush hour, or when bartenders have given them the stink eye for being so crass as to order an Irish Car Bomb. It’s a very Manly Bar. In fact, it’s such a sausage fest, that on occasion even guys feel their weens shrinking when they enter into the testosterone-polished warm glow of the sanctum that is Keens. And though they have many women working there and a tough as nails female general manager who can make grown men cry, the main bar is served only by bow tied, waist coated men. A fact that is somehow strangely re-assuring even to a feminist and super gay girl like me. So, it is definitely a guy’s bar. Not by any particular policy, but out of sheer habit (and also by sheer accident of being so close to Penn Station). The greatest downside to Keens is the after office and LIRR crowd that infests it between 1730 hours and 2030 hours. Also the MSG crowd who come for their damned games and Dave Matthews concerts. But don’t let that put you off the place. That would be like hating your dad for smelling of acrid smokes and Old Spice and being born in 1948.

When I first started going there in 2003, I was sometimes the only female patron, and often definitely in the minority. There was definitely a certain imposing quality to its history and its masculine air. No worries. I was there to drink my way through the entire Scotch list (over 200 single malts!) and people know not fuck with that kind of intensity. I was raised to adulthood there by the knowing and knowledgeable bartenders – steering me towards bottles I might have been a little reticent of and sneaking me a taste of the $100 a shot stuff that a student on a $300 a month budget could definitely not afford. And on occasion setting me right, on my private life, with no more than a look of pained disbelief. Keens is my favouritest bar in the whole world (you can tell I’m serious because I’ve allowed myself an ungrammatical turn of phrase). Except for the occasional sports fans and the passing corporate douchery, this has always been a great place to have a quiet drink, and talk whiskey, and in the more colourful moods have a classic cocktail mixed impeccably and served – without any phony waxed moustaches and poncy gartered sleeves involved. There have been only two places I have had a perfect Martini. One was at Keen’s and the other was at the Harbour Bar at the Taj Palace and Hotel, Bombay (more about this some other time).

Like all bars where the people working actually love their work and love their product and are not self-conscious about their image, the folks at Keen’s are perfectly willing to embrace any serious drinker regardless of age, sex, profession or vocation. This means that despite its guy-ness and its old money-ness Keen’s will love you even if you’re nominally an outsider. And if you’re a regular, bar tenders will know what your usual is and will set you up even while you’re still settling in.

In the last few years, though, Keeen's has suffered a few blows: voted best bar for adults by NY Mag – ironically the crowd that drew was a bunch of just out of college yuppie frats; spotlighted in Esquire magazine as part of their where celebrity chefs eat out feature; no more cigars if you win the trivia contest; and the lowest blow of all, showcased by Anthony Bourdain in Disappearing New York. All of which has meant that a regular at Keens now has to contend with all kinds of bozos wandering in and out of there.

I’m not begrudging Keens its extra success. The folks there work hard and do a great job, and whatever increases their pay is aces in my book. But I can’t help but grumble about the extra noise and stupidity generated by all the tourists and trendsters who come to gawk at what they feel is kitschy outmodedness. And who don’t know how to order a drink at a bar 30 feet long and three deep manned by two.

But the blow it has suffered that actually pains me the most is the increased presence of women.

Oh, dear. Wherever could I be going with this line of thought? Well, I’ll tell you: To the moon, Alice. To the moon! I am taking this moment to talk specifically about women in what is traditionally a masculine space, because at Keen’s I am one of few women in a masculine space. I don’t know if it’s because so many women are not enculturated in bar etiquette, or if it’s a class-specific cultural thing where girls are expected to drink only certain things and in certain ways. But I feel like my side (that would be the women) has been letting me down.

Listen, I get it. There’s a 20 foot painting of a naked lady on a lion skin. The bus boys wear leather aprons. Bar snacks include boiled eggs. Most of the customers are dudes in power suits and power ties standing around in exclusionary circles and wondering how to deal with the fact there is no Coors Light at this bar. There are too many guys. There’s too much corporate. It’s a sausage fest. The waiters address you as sir or miss or ma’am. All the Coke comes in bottles. There’s no Stoli Razberi. I get it. It’s a strange and alien environment. But it’s that way for a reason. This is an old school bar. This is where the movers and shakers of old New York used to come to sit in the proverbial smoke-filled back rooms and make deals. This is where the reporters and editors of The Herald used to knock back a few. This is where business men would ogle chorus girls and starlets away from the baleful gazes of their respectable wives. This is where companies would hold annual dinners to show their appreciation to their employees by treating them to Grade-A slabs of steak and a great pint. This is where D. W. Griffith secretly rehearsed the cast of his first Paramount Film in. And in more modern times, it’s where guys like Don Draper had a quiet whiskey to get away from work. You’re here on sufferance – just like I would be on sufferance at a Hell’s Kitchen leather daddy bar, or in a working man’s bar in Woodside. So respect the environment **. Don’t point and giggle and make a general fuss. Don’t flag the bartender if you don’t know what you’re drinking. And please for the love of god or whatever it is you believe in, don’t have your friends yell their orders across people’s heads when it’s as noisy as a marketplace, and then complain about getting Coke and Jack when your buddy wanted Diet Coke and Jack. Because the bartenders while efficient do not fucking have super hearing (also, in this situation, please think twice before ordering a Sex on the Beach or whatever heinous thing with “cute” names). Don’t ask what the eggs are for (they’re eggs, they’re for eating). Don’t lean against the bar and leave your coat all draped over the bar stools – some of us are here to drink and part of that involves actually looking the bartender in the eye as we sip our heaven’s brew of distilled sunshine and compare notes.

Oh sure, they’ll mix you anything you want, at any time– the best Sidecar, the best Martini, the best Manhattan. They’ll give you all the beer and Jack and Coke you want. They even have a pretty decent wine list. They’re a bar, that’s what they’re here for. But please pay attention to what’s happening around you first. It is a place of thinking and drinking. Neither of which can be truly enjoyed when you bring the atmosphere of a hen party or sports bar in there with you. I know it can be truly disconcerting to arrive at a place that seems a little out of time – after all, who’s expecting Victoriana in the cultural wilds surrounding Penn Station and Madison Square Garden – and so staunchly the opposite of who you are. But making a spectacle of yourself where you’re already an outsider will not exactly endear you.
Keen’s is a great bar. The bar tenders are professionals who know what they’re serving and enjoy their work. It has history: earned history, not slotted in by a canny designer. It has class. Most of all it has style. The polished wood and the leather banquettes, the wooden refrigerator cabinets, the naked ladies – they’re not kitsch, they’re for real. You wouldn’t like a picnic atmosphere inside St. Patrick's Cathedral even if you were the most annoyingly screechy atheist in the world, because places like that matter in our lives. Places where people know your name and have your glass and place set for you by the time you’re done hanging your coat. Places where a broke-ass foreign student can sit down and learn about Scotches, Bourbons and life, and make friends with federal judges, experimental theatre artists and corporate lawyers alike. Places where the manager always finds a table for a regular despite the raggedy jeans. Old school places the folks serving you will actually take care of you. Not because you’re a flash tipper but because they appreciate your interest in their work. A place like this is a gem. And hard to come by.

So if all you’re seeing is a gentleman’s club (no coy euphemisms) where there’s a painting of a naked lady. For the love of what’s good, stay away. Go to Hooters, or the roof top bar at the Gansevoort or wherever. You’re better off there.

* Okay, maybe three things.

** You know, this advice goes for the guys, as well.

All images in this post © A. Das.

Barography: Stones

In addition to Mono-Lagering, where I'm going to and talking about fairly random bars, I think I'd like to examine my past and talk about the various bars that have played important parts in my life, either as a drinker or just in general. I'm not sure what to call it . . ."Mono-Lagering" might be punny enough for an entire blog. Barography? Barstory? Let me know what you think.

Anyway, the first bar wherein I was ever a regular was a place called Stones. Now, I've done some research on the internets and have found no trace of the place. I know it closed down years ago, so I guess that's understandable. I really hoped to at least see some old pictures. My memories are somewhat vague, and, for once, not because of booze ingested in the bar. See, I was a regular at this joint from the age of three or so.

Stones was in Ironton, Ohio, which, in retrospect, is just an awful place in general. But in Boyd County, where we lived, it was a dry county. One bridge hop later and you were surrounded by bars and restaurants. Stones was my family's favorite place. I've heard both my mother and father wax nostalgic about their fried chicken. I don't think I ever had it myself; I was suspicious of any chicken fried by not-my-Gran.

I was a picky eater as a child. The usual white kid diet: hamburgers, hot dogs, spaghetti, steak. I remember liking their steak medium rare. The food I really remember is their popcorn shrimp. It was the first time I had it and I loved it. I can see that red plastic basket with the wax paper like it was an hour ago. My parents love to remind me how picky an eater I was as I get them to try new cuisines or talk about my cooking. I've paid them back for every "cultural experience" they put me through growing up.

There are a few other things about the place that I can distinctly remember. They had those jukebox access terminals at every booth. I played "Jump" by Van Halen every time, often followed by an Oak Ridge Boys song. Those things were great.

I remember reading comics there. It was down the street from my first comic shop, which had at least a dozen names while I went there. In particular I remember one unfortunate night when mom asked to see what I was reading. She couldn't have picked a worse time. In it a female character brutally attacked and raped a male character. No dirty bits shown, but it was clear what happened. Well, from then on, Mom had to pre-read every book I got.

My folks were very strict about what I saw or read as a kid. My friends have noticed there is a severe gap in my knowledge of 80s horror and comedy films. No R movies for little Joey. What's funny is what a change occurred when I graduated. These people that I was so used to censoring and denying became very open. I recall my mother saying that going to college I was going to want to "experiment," and that nothing was wrong with that in moderation. I protested and blushed. No way was I going to start drinking!

Yeah, that's right, I didn't drink yet. The parties where drinking happened in high school were social nightmares for me; I simply didn't go to them. My friends and I would smoke some, but mostly we'd just play music and make each other laugh. So I protested and balked, but little did I know in a few months I'd be downing drinks in my first New York bar. But that's a story for another time.

But mostly what I remember about Stones are the people; or, rather, my experiences with them. There was the owner, Benny. He was a white haired man that looked something like a cross between Colonel Sanders and Barney Miller. Friendly and jovial, he was there every night, often bartending. He always remembered my name.

There were two waitresses I knew, too. One was older and was often giving me stuff her grown kids no longer wanted: toys, coloring books, etc. I got some neat stuff. There was another, whose name I cannot recall, but she was my first bar/service industry crush. She had long brown hair and pretty eyes, and she gave me Reese's Cups after every meal. That formula still works for me to this day, by the way.

More than this, I remember how welcome I felt. I was an only child with parents older than my peers'. This was a place that was familiar, comfortable, and fun. I remember warmth and family and goodness. To this day, that's what I feel in any good bar. In a city where apartments come and go, and definitely feel temporary, a great bar can be more homey than any of them. That's probably why I go to bars when I'm down: not to drown my sorrows so much as to bask in the perfect feel of home.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mono-Lagering: King's Head Tavern

So, for this past weekend's crossover drink-up, I wrote a Mono-Lagering now up at Comics Should Be Good. Promise to put some original content up here in the next day or two.

I love you very much.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Money-saving Link

Kudos to eagle-eyed reader Kizzy-Kay, for finding this list of drink specials for the week. Enjoy! Read more...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mono-Lagering: Macri Park

Given a gift of free beer coupons from 30 different bars from, Mr. Rice has decided to visit each one, and record his thoughts.

Williamsburg, as much of a pain in the ass as it can be, is really accessible from Bushwick. So since the past couple weeks of work have been particularly draining, I decided this week's bar should be closer. So, after walking by it for years, I finally went in Macri Park.

The first thing that struck me was the music. It's not every day you get a Nancy Sinatra deep cut that segues into some obscure early rock and roll. Perhaps it was the Sinatra thing, but I immediately felt that Quentin Tarantino was DJing. Anyway, the bar looks great. Rich red, semi-velvety wallpaper, a fireplace, plush booths, and a long, well-worn bar all added together for a sort of old lodge feel.

The crowd was decidedly gutterpunky. In my polo and blazer, I started out feeling fairly out-of-place. This was an afternoon regulars crowd, really, not that dissimilar to those of which I've been a part. But something struck me as different this time; I really felt "other."

The beer selection was very standard. Nine or ten drafts, the ones you always see (Brooklyn Lager, Hoegaarden, etc). Not really caring for any of the selections I went with a Stella. Stella is not a very good beer; it has an acridity that is never quite refreshing. But it is a reliable beer, and one I've had during dozens of funtimes, so I kind of give it a pass.

As Beck came on the sound system, I jotted down some notes as I looked around more. There was a backyard area I didn't bother with. I was more interested in the front . . .there was an open-air area with couches where you could drink and smoke outside under an overhang. I got another Stella and a Maker's Mark (again, not a great bourbon, but one that I can still enjoy) and went outside.

The view was . . .well, absolutely shitty. Yes, there's a park across the street. But it's a terrible park. Noisy cars drive by, annoying Williamsburgers strut by, and there's Kellogg's Diner reminding me of all the terrible meals I've had there. Still, it was outside, and that was sort of novel. I was about to pick up my book to read when I recognize a passer-by. It's my friend Chris who I haven't seen in ages, and who was recently talking to me about this blog. So he gets a beer, "Oh, shit, sitting down with Joe and I know I'll be stumbling home."

We catch up; I met Chris through his girlfriend, an old friend of mine from grad school. She's a teacher, too, so I do some minor co-venting through him. After a bit, my planned guest arrives, as we are joined by Sarah. Sarah's the girl that gave me the coupon book in the first place, and she's brought hers along. With a couple of notable exceptions, I've never had trouble staying friends with exes. It's not always an ideal situation every moment of the experience, but it's way better than some sort of dramatic bitterness; at the very least it's better than the spine-tingling fear you get when you find yourself in an unpleasant ex's neighborhood.

So the three of us shoot the shit, drink some rounds, smoke some cigarettes, and generally have a pretty great time. Chris leaves and Sarah and I go in; with the weather turned chilly, the novelty of the front area had died. Also, those plastic couches are the least comfortable non-medical thing I've ever sat on.

At this point we whipped out our coupons and got our free Stellas. And I think here I should talk about the service. I've hedged a bit on this, because I bartend sometimes and I have a shit-ton of friends in the service industry. I don't like bitching about service like some indignant, entitled Yelper or something; it feels crass and generally low. So maybe it was an off night, or maybe I looked like an asshole, or maybe a lot of things. But the service was lousy. Getting the tender's attention in a bar with only seven people in it should not be a Herculean task. My inner insecurity told me it was because I was "other." I don't know; my inner insecurity is often full of shit.

The bar has a great look. It has a great soundtrack. The location is extremely convenient. But the fact is, I just didn't like it. Sarah and I tried to suss out what exactly made this bar seem so inadequate. I knew I'd surely not love every bar in the coupon book, but I usually, at worst, feel neutral about a drinking joint. I actively don't like Macri Park. I mean, it's no Union Pool; I'm unlikely to have some sort of mental breakdown amongst the sweaty bearded, be-tightsed twentysomethings looking for excuses to fuck around indiscriminately. I don't hate it. I just didn't like it.

But here's the thing: something doesn't have to be good to enjoy it. Shit, you don't even have to like it to enjoy it! One thing Sarah and I have always had in common is that we say "Fuck you" to not having fun. Joy and beauty can be found anywhere, as long as you're willing to look. So when Ricky Nelson came on, I took her hand and we got up and danced. There we were, the non-regulars dancing in a bar with no other signs of such activity. But fuck your self-consciousness; dancing is goddam fun.

I don't like Stella. I don't like Maker's Mark. I don't like Macri Park. But I'll be goddamned if I'm going to let any of that get in the way of a fine night.

Speaking of fine nights, I hope to see you all Saturday at King's Head. This crossover is going to be stellar, and if you're lucky, you might be able to buy me a drink.

Photos by Mr. Rice on his shitty phone.


Friday, April 1, 2011


Let's do this announcement right now! My buddy Brian "Criminally Handsome" Cronin, who runs Comics Should Be Good, a fine blog about having sex, I think, and I are co-throwing a big party whereupon our two blogs collide in a Bacchanal celebration of everything we love, often ourselves. If you live in NY, or if you'll be in town Saturday, April 9, come join us! Click on the flyer to engorge it. I mean enlarge it.