New York’s a city with no shortage of mixology bars, cocktail bars, or so-called speakeasies (shudder). I previously said that Little Branch is the best bar I’ve ever been to, but Pouring Ribbons, a new joint in Alphabet City not even open yet for two weeks, has stepped up to offer worthy competition. While sipping a brilliantly mixed original drink, my friendly bartender mentioned it was only their eighth night open. It’s clear that they’re off to a running start.
“Scotchy scotch scotch”, so quoth the anchorman. So serveth Whisky Café in the Mile End of Montreal. Over 150 single malts – staggering. Also quite a lot of other aged brown booze (cognac, rum, port, etc), as well as a separate cigar room with numerous classics from Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, and others (Havana of course). They offer tasting flights of whiskies, arranged by distiller or region, as well as whisky and cigar pairings.
The main bar is reminiscent of a classic, elegant French café, the cigar room more a clubby, plush den. Both very nice (though definitely stay in the main area if you don’t smoke, as the air in the latter area is quite thick).
All in all a very distinctive place, the only such of its kind in Montréal, it seems, and truly a world class whisky selection. As it happens, it won the Canadian Whisky Bar of the Year award in 2008Try the Lagavullin 16, it’s peated perfection. Here’s just the single malt menu:
Sir Winston Churchill, in all his whisky-guzzling, cigar chugging Hard Ballerness, would approve.
Bonus: across the street is the Royal Phoenix Bar, which is to be entered at your discretion, but by all means stand on the street corner and watch the parade of alternative young Montreal life stream forth from it – black, white, straight, gay, girls, guys, and almost everybody dressed and decorated off the wall and mashed up. Pure entertainment!
5800 Boulevard St. Laurent
I’ve said Georgia is the place for wine. The oldest evidence for wine-making has been found in Georgia, dating back to 8000 years ago, and wine has been in steady production there since then. Even their indigenous word for wine, ghvino, is thought to have influenced Indo-European languages – vinum (Latin), oinos (Greek), and, of course, vino (Spanish, Italian, Russian, etc). As of 6000 years ago, the people now called Georgians essentially created the method of winemaking that remains in use today. For those Georgians who make wine at home, they follow roughly the same procedure. Almost all commercial wine, however, has begun to be made using Western European methods, in an effort to appeal to a global palate. Appealing they are, some even excellent. Pheasant’s Tears has stuck to the ways of their distant ancestors, and their wines are nothing short of amazing.
Want all the outdoorsy fun of a rooftop but feeling lazy and want a seat? Then you want a beer garden. DC doesn’t have many, but the ones it has are all pretty good, summarized here by Serious Eats. My favorites are the Standard and Biergarten Haus. Standard has awesome barbecue, Mexican grilled corn, and freshly fried doughnuts in addition to a small but good selection of beer, but be warned: it’s crazy popular and thus very crowded. Go around happy hour to beat the crowds. Biergarten Haus is a more properly German kind of place and one of the best bars in the semi-hoody and often dubious (despite what the hipsters may say) H St NE – spacious, quite large list of German beers on tap, lots of German food on offer. No food after 11pm though, so bear that in mind.
(A continuation from yesterday’s post on the mojito)
If the mojito is liquid air conditioning on a hot day, the daiquiri is like drinking boozy liquid nitrogen, a short, sharp, shock of ultimate cold to the mojito’s enveloping effervescent coolness. Additionally, the daiquiri is a more elegant, refined drink, whereas the mojito is a bit more rustic and working class, but they’re connected regardless. Both were invented in Cuba, and both were perfected at bars that Ernest “And a Bottle of Rum” Hemingway, who drank lots of both, frequented. Before we begin, let me tell you what a daiquiri is NOT:
If you’ve been anywhere near the east coast of the US in the last few days, you know it’s hot. Viciously hot. July hot. Fucking hot. In such dire conditions, nothing calms, soothes, and cools the soul better than a mojito – the tartness of the lime, the mintiness…of the mint, the light spritz of the soda, and of course, the lovely kick of rum allowing you to sink into a chair and forget all about the muggy misery outside. The history, etc, of the drink has been beaten to death online, so I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say this wartime imbibement shot back to popularity in the last several years, and if you’re reading this blog, you’ve for sure heard of it. A few more thoughts on this classic, and how to make the best one after the jump.
I make no pretensions of being a wine critic, as I find that profession mostly full of hyperbole and bullshit, and I won’t go into “bits of jam and twig with sniffles of cherry ice cream and hints of fairy breath” here. I do know a damn good wine when I drink one though, and we have a winner here: Château Haut Blaignan 2010, from Bordeaux’s elite Médoc region, home to some of France’s most superb wines. For $7, Haut Blaignan is making a bloody good effort. Yes, $7, if you can find at your local Trader Joe’s. It normally retails for about $16, and I’d put it on par with $30 bottles I’ve had. It’s really that good. Seriously, buy a case if TJ’s has one, or just get a few bottles to enjoy at home by the fireplace or to take to a small gathering and wow the hell out of everyone with your awesome erudition in oenology. Cheers!
So, for those that have read my recent glowing writeup of Little Branch, as well as my comparison of Passenger and Gibson and my review of El Centro, I thought I should clarify what I look for in a drinking establishment that you too ought to consider. Don’t spend money and waste time at crappy bars (or anything else, for that matter), use this handy guide.
What dreams are made of.
Ladies and gentlemen, the single best bar I have ever been to, and the standard against which all further mixology is to be judged: Little Branch in the West Village in Manhattan.
As great as some bars and clubs are (I’m looking at you, London, Beirut, and Istanbul), nothing beats an awesome house party, any time of the year. I love entertaining and putting them on, and I’ve had some uproarious times at friend’s shindigs. However, never is such an event more desirable than on New Year’s Eve. Here are your typical first night options:
- Stay at home and be miserable
- Stay at home with a few friends or family, watch TV, have some drinks, have a nice time but nothing extraordinary
- Go to an event such as the one parodied on the flyer following the jump: (more…)
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
for good booze flowed, but we had to face some lines.”*
For the last two-ish years, DC has been torn between two drink dens specializing in superlatively mixed craft cocktails. They both turn out drinks unseen elsewhere in the city, if not the world, and they both have their fair share of devotees. But the two could not be more different. One is overly exclusive, in-your-face-with-upper-class-hipster-arrogance†, shrouded in too-low light, and with a door policy rarely seen outside Moscow nightclubs. The other is welcoming, catering to and attracting all types – and the light is better.
They are the Gibson and the Passenger, and I favor the latter. Here’s why:
Note: The first installment in We Ball Harder’s recommendations of commercial establishments. Unless otherwise specified, anywhere mentioned on WBH comes highly recommended, because why would we waste your time with mediocre places?
Quick: who has the best rooftop in DC, the best late night food, awesome drinks, and sweet music all in one venue?
The answer: El Centro DF, Richard Sandoval’s (Zengo, Masa 14, La Sandia) newest venue, located right next to Black Cat. You walk in on the ground floor to what looks at first like a spruced-up Chipotle, with a bare concrete floor, wooden bar tables, stools, and other wooden accents, a counter for salsa, and indeed a a menu hanging down from the ceiling over the cashier advertising tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and the like. In the very back are stairs going downstairs, leading to the basement restaurant and tequileria, where they serve more formal sit-down food and a staggering array of agave and maguey distillates. More on that below.
Like many of you, I have a caffeine addiction. Don’t deny it. Are you an insufferable beast if you go a day without coffee? Can you not function until your first latte? Do you crash in the afternoon or feel uneasy if you haven’t had any caffeine? If you answered yes to any of those questions, congratulations, you too have a caffeine addiction!
I often need to start the day with coffee just to zap me out of “GOD DAMN IT, IT’S BEFORE NOON, GO BACK TO BED” mode, but my true addiction is tea. I can go days without coffee and be OK, despite mornings sucking (We Ball Harder does not endorse mornings). But give me a couple days without tea, and usually by the second or third day, around 4 or 5 in the afternoon, I’ll just stop and have a profoundly out-of-place, something-is-wrong feeling. This has happened enough (by accident of course) that I know tea will remedy it immediately. Comparable to the greatest endorphin rush or moment of ecstasy, a sip of tea after a few days off is a reward for enduring the punishment of being without it, which was probably your own fault because you were too busy to make some tea. I suggest readjusting your priorities.
That being said, at We Ball Harder, as with everything, I must be specific about tea. It can be black (my preference), oolong (interesting), green (also very nice), or white (subtle and refined yet lacking real zing), but if it’s made improperly you might as well just settle for Red Bull, Monster, Amp, Crunk Juice, or NOS. At which point all your dignity and sense of class will be gone, so be sure to make your tea properly.
Proper tea is made from LOOSE TEA, not bags.* Got some Lipton or Bigelow at home? Throw that shit out. Brands, etc, will be recommended in a later post. You also need BOILING WATER, preferably from a kettle. Hot water from your tap or water cooler will not work. Here is how a kettle works: You put water in it, you put it on the stove (or switch it on if electric), and when it boils (for black tea: identifiable either by whistling or lots of rumbling noise and steam emissions, or both), you pour it over your tea. What your tea is contained in is less important. Obviously a teapot is pretty sweet, but if you’re feeling cheeky and don’t mind the occasional tea leaf in your teeth, you can brew directly in your mug, or in a strainer fitted in your mug. For black tea, water must be poured over the tea while STILL BOILING. For greens, whites, etc, wait a minute or two after the kettle is taken off the heat/switched off, as the water should not be boiling. I like my tea strong and put about a tablespoon per mug or two tablespoons per teapot, and if brewing Western-style tea, let it go for about 5 minutes. Give it a stir, and there you have it: tea. Some black teas can be drunk plain, others are rather strong and astringent even when brewed properly and are best complemented with milk. Note, milk, NOT CREAM. Cream ruins tea and once again you may as well go back for a foul, rancid, “energy drink.” Milky tea is probably nicest in the morning (in which case coffee can sod off), though it’s excellent in the afternoon too.
Many more tea posts are forthcoming, concerning more specific types and their virtues.
For now, consider George Orwell’s masterful treatise on the subject, “A Nice Cup of Tea.”
*Note, certain brands of tea bags are acceptable. For strong black tea with milk, I am rather partial to Ahmad English Tea No. 1. Numi also do an excellent range of bagged teas, unquestionably the best I’ve had.