Archive for the ‘Drinking’ Category

Bike Rental Killjoy or Cassandra?

July 13th, 2011

Gloomy prediction time…I’ll say Boston’s new bike-rental program fails. There it is and I would sincerely like to think I’d be wrong. My neck is on the block, particularly as a velophile (word?)

I’ll plug this on Harrumph! and Marry in Massachusetts, as it has both personal and political angles. I’ll admit if I’m wrong and folk can feel gleeful in calling me on it.

hublogoUnder the urging of Mayor Tom Menino and the excellent dealing and managing from Nicole Freedman, the city’s director of bicycle programs, The Hubway rental system is not only zooming into reality, it’s still on its original schedule, likely this month. With the outside deals, bureaucracy, and finances, that’s close to a miracle (which we have come to expect from Freedman).

Even before the particulars, I was pessimistic on this program. It has worked in other European, Canadian and a few U.S. cities already though. Here though, I don’t see it getting enough ridership, nor making the vendor happy with income levels, nor adding substantially to the cycles on the streets, nor getting citizen respect for the property.

To the latter point, we brag about our huge college-student population, while paying for it culturally too often. The tales of disturbances and destruction abound. Far more than other cities, we see that bottles seem meant for peeing in to leave on streets and stoops, or to smash on roads or sidewalks. I recall that lesson when I commuted daily from JP to Southie by bike. I had to learn to avoid Columbus near Northeastern, particularly by the campus cop station, where broken, tire-ruining beer-bottle shards were the norm.

Prove me wrong, Boston, but I can easily see drunken, drugged or just nasty college students and other youth trashing the bikes in rental stations. What fun, eh?

Today, looking at the announced pricing structure, I think it is too similar to parking garages. In between only a few initial stations and the pricing reality, the system is not all that attractive. Fundamentally, it works only if you will start and finish in those limited locales and can get where you want to go in under 30 minutes.

hubbikeThe stations will be in what most of us think of as the larger downtown area, out to one here and there also in Back Bay, South End, Seaport, Fenway, Longwood, and Brighton/Allston. I don’t see the actual spots on the site yet, but it’s pretty sure they’ll be kind of like Zipcars and only sort of convenient. Yet, this is not Athena emerging from Zeus’ head fully grown. It’ll take many months to figure out the right station locations.

The nut starts out reasonably enough, with an annual $85 fee (introductory $60). Then the nickels and dimes add up very quickly.

Again, 30 minutes is the magic period (set your carriage-to-pumpkin clock). If you have an annual membership or are an ad hoc renter (Casual member in Hubway lingo), you can theoretically have thousands of 30-minute maximum rides a year for no charge. In fact, if the station locations and timing worked for you, it would make the most sense to go up to a kiosk and use a credit card to reserve a bike every time, so long as you kept to the half hour. Annual memberships come with the convenience of a key that lets you grab a bike, as it maps to your data.

In the real world, if you don’t end up in the midway of your trip at a station, you pay by the hour. Here the fees leap up to and then far beyond parking garages. They really, really don’t want you having a bike out for more than 30 or 60 minutes. The whole pricing card is here. A taste of the acceleration is:

Time Annual Casual
<30 0 0
30-<60 $1.50 $2
60-<90 $4.50 $6
90-<2 hours $10.50 $14
2-<3 hours $16.50 $22

And so it climbs by about $8 an hour for casual and $6 per for annual renters. It tops at 6 and one-half to 7 hours at $94 and $70.50 and then from 7 to 24 hours at $100 and $75.  Lord help you if you keep the bike over a day. Hubway will consider it stolen and truly put a parking garage’s rates to shame — $1,000 on your credit card.

If you think Nexflix’ 60% just announced gouging rates are absurd, this gives some perspective.

On the other hand, for a limited number of potential users, $85 for a year of bike use, zero maintenance, and practically unlimited 30-minute trips is such a deal. Truly.

I remain to be convinced that we’re collectively mature enough for the Hubway. I simply don’t have the faith in Bostonians that Menino and Freedman have exhibited here. In fact, announcing this program at City Hall plaza in April, the Mayor committed to the three Italians, adding U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano and Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, to taking the first trio of Hubway bikes out of the racks.

Here’s hoping they prove me wrong.

Of all the gin joints

May 28th, 2011

I declared this a gin-and-tonic afternoon — the first of A.D. 2011 here.

At 3:18, it was time and temperature appropriate. I had flogged myself through many morning chores and had worked for several hours, joined in the last one by son #3, in hand scrubbing the filthy plastic deck railing around a two-level deck that seemed to expand unrelentingly. The now white again boundary required muscles big and small, brushes, net balls, cloths, chemicals, and both still and hose nozzle water from belly button to shoe sole level.

The bright sun, breeze-less surroundings, and non-stop detailed work kicked it over to a summer drink afternon. Around here, we make a bottle of gin last a very long time. I think that about once every two years, we order a martini in a bar…just to do that like the 40s movie actors did. Otherwise, on hot, still days, we may draw on our British genetics to slice a lime and carry on.

So, admiring the suburban grandeur before me of re-whitened pickets, I sit with iPad and my first G&T of the season.

How many of us pseudo-philosophers aphorize to the effect of simple pleasures are best? Who cares. I’m posting and going back to revel in a wedge of squeezed lime, some quinine water and a shot of gin. It’s hot and I’ll hold that I earned it.

No Kilt Needed

May 11th, 2011

Little black dresses and wee snifters were the props. Whisky was the feature, that is single-malt whisky (Scottish spelling, if you please), which many of us simply call Scotch.

The Mcallan distiller pumps its promotion budget partly into such dram sipping evening here and there in an annual U.S. road swing. For example, see considerable detail in posts here and here. They write sumptuously on it so I don’t have to. The short version is that we got small snifters of 10, 12, 17 and 18 year old versions, averaging about half an ounce per. Each and more get full descriptions on the company site.

The production fascinated me. It also took me back to my early 20s when I wrote for a big construction magazine, a job which included covering the gigantic Con/Agg show of equipment.

My chum John signed several of us up for the free malt tasting, but only he and I ended up downtown at the Royale nightclub in our cute little theater district. There were no loose ends to this fabric. Mcallan folk had it all neatly woven.

Model types in LBDs greeted us and checked us off the list. They are worthy of comment and what first reminded me of the Con/Agg show. It goes on for days and fills the largest exhibition sites in Chicago. With gigantic earth movers and such, it’s not hard to command such spaces.

What was odd to my young 20s self was women as advertising and sales gear. There was an amusing and pleasing incongruity to the huge, metal machinery and hyper-attractive women in tiny dresses and sometimes bikinis. I recall at the first such show I attended seeing a gigantic dump truck filled with water and a half dozen barely clothed models splashing and swimming and generally showing themselves off in its massive bed. In construction terms, the point was that the bed was as big as a swimming pool, hence capable of hauling terrific amounts of rock and dirt with each load. Yet, the almost entirely middle-aged male potential buyers came to look first at the nearly nude women.

I asked my long-tenured editor how the Caterpillar and Euclid folk got all these stunning women for the show. He knew because he had asked. There was a gold rush of sorts many months before each Con/Agg, with the various equipment makers hitting up the modeling agencies. They wanted xx number of leggy lookers, first come first served.

malt

One might think that in the many years since, we’d be getting over all that. Nah. Men and women alike enjoy looking at and being greeted by attractive women. Exposed legs and shoulders seem to still be the norm. In fact, while they apparently did not have quite enough Mcallan issue LBDs to go around, most of the dozen or so women were in uniform. That was an extremely short and very tight dress, with the right shoulder bare and the left one with shiny black rectangular spangles. The shirt portion barely covered the aspirations of the audience.

Maybe 200 folk got seats at the long tables. A few glasses of walnuts were scattered about with the black and gold company napkins. We got a Mcallan token on the way in, which we traded for a wee glass of the 10-year-old malt. That was the method to keep folk from loading up on multiple shots before the show.

The incongruous disco music played for 20 minutes or so as we got our seats. It sure wasn’t bagpipes. The dark space focused us on the lit stage with the traveling exhibit — a counter for the speaker (brand ambassador Randolph [never Randy, yuck, yuck] Adams), tall display cases of nine different bottles of their malts, and a sports-event-sized touch screen. As the slick presentation started, it was describe Scotland, the whiskies, the process and so forth, interspersed with the women bring around trays of small snifters of the various samples.

There’d be two seatings, so they had it down for an opening at 6:30 and clear the room and tables for the next group between 8 and 8:30. Thank you very much. We can call you a cab if you think you need it.

It was a very efficient operation. Adams had the personality and snappy patter for the job as well. He’s certainly someone you’d, if you pardon, have a drink with. He’d never be a loss for an amusing anecdote.

Back to the temp help, while there were a couple of nice enough looking  20-something men by the doors, they stayed in the background and let the grinning women set the tone. It was a very 1970s tone at that. Also, being Boston instead  of a huge city, the LBD women were nice looking, but not the you-need-to-be-in-movies/Playboy and I-have-to-take-you-with-me types from the Con/Agg show. In that sense, the evening let the maybe 70% male audience concentrate on the snifters instead of sniffing the servers.

The crowd was mostly young men, but with a fair smattering of older guys, older women and a very few young women. I suspect that this is wise promotional expenditure. They’ll certainly keep Mcallan in the public mind, just as certainly sell their bottles to those who attended the next time they hit liquor stores, and get a better return than a similarly priced print ad to the cost of the evening.

I am not likely to be a convert, even though I enjoyed several of the samples. As never-Randy noted early in his palaver, tastes differ. The Irish invented the distilling process and many folk enjoy the lighter whiskey they favor. He also praised other Scottish malt distillers’ products, while holding the Macallan the best.

He made special mention of Islay whisky, saying some Scotch drinkers prefer the peaty, smoky products like Lagavulin and Laphroig. I am in that group and those are my one and two favorite malts.

If you like brown whisky/whiskey, you’d surely enjoy a Mcallan evening. The anachronistic b-girl tone of the severs really doesn’t distract from the purpose of the evening. It’s free and, hey, it’s better than sitting in front of TV.

Edible Errors

January 24th, 2011

Not every food and  beverage purchase is a winner. I overstock or pick losers too.

Yet tossing stuff is not in my nature. Actually I was raised try to fix mistakes. More to the point, despite the USDA estimate that we throw away 27% of our food, I sure as heck don’t.

So, I was amused and challenged when I ended up with nearly a case of what I consider bad beer. It was not skunked, just not what I wanted to close my lips around the neck of, even on a hot afternoon.

We had a neighborhood and friends party last year in the sunny months. The uxorial unit insisted that I include some light/lite beer, as that is barely explicably popular.

Yeah, yeah, some think having a few beers with slightly fewer calories is smart, both wise and chic. It makes much more sense to me to drink a tad slower and have fewer, better brews.

Yes, I am a beer snob. Craft brews, particularly bitter ales, have totally destroyed my tolerance for gassy, low-flavor lagers. I started drinking when it was legal at 18 virtually everywhere and the choices were few and dreadfully similar. High end beer meant Michelob.

Now I prefer India Pale Ale, pretty much the higher the IBUs, the better. I am delighted when a bar has Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA on tap — it may be the perfect balance of bitterness and complex flavors. That’s not the specs of a light/lite beer.

So, I did check with the liquor store before grabbing a couple of sixes of it for the party. We had about 60 coming and with the wine, strawberry daiquiris and real beer, I figured one or two sixes would be safe. The stocker at the store said Bud Light Lime was the most advertised and by far the best seller. Not only that, but it was on sale, pretty much a case of 24 for the price of 12.

At party end, I had 19 bottles left. Sigh.

My wife would drink one every so often, perhaps once a month. Oh, woe, what to do?

As it turns out, the stuff is highly useful. Perhaps a Martha or Heloise might have cleaning uses for it, but it serves well in the kitchen.

I discovered this when I was making a chicken curry. I normally include chicken stock, but I had used the last of my frozen stuff. I guess in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup moment, I thought the equivalent of you got lime in my curry sauce. I generally add a splash of citrus in my curries and let the beer do that.

Sure enough, it was the liquid and the lime flavor.

Now I tend to keep an opened, corked bottle on the counter with my vinegar, oils and sauces. When I need a bit of liquid and non-hot zing in a dish I’m cooking, I  may well reach for a BLL.

I did try a few sips from a cold one to verify. Yes, its popularity aside, BLL will never be a brew for me…at least to drink.

On the other hand, it serves a lot of other cooking purposes. It’s a reminder to rethink bad food and drink purchases.

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Curse Before Blessing

December 30th, 2010

“It is a bad restaurant!,” proclaimed the gold eye-lidded lady. “There are mice in the back! They are mean people!”

Perhaps the five of us are too conventional. Her veritable mask of gold face paint with glitter, centered on and obscuring her eyes seemed to match her crazed pronouncements. She appeared to be as the Monty Python crew so often said “a loony.”

Just to me, she brought back flashes of the East Village back when I had a monkey, Sam, the cinnamon ringtail. One day on my East Third Street, as Sam rode on my shoulder as she was wont (she loved being the highest critter around), a Gypsy by her appearance walked directly in front of us. As Sam made threatened noises and rose on her back legs and placed her spindly hands on the crown of my head, the woman ran her right hand up my jaw, looked me deep in the eyes and said I was very powerful. She creeped out both my monkey and me. She had the same wild stare as the woman on Mass Ave last evening.

The restaurant in recent question was Rendezvous in Central Square. The many reviews in papers as well as online, alas, did not warn us of rodents nor nasties. We in our group rather suspected the sidewalk Cassandra had one or more run-ins with the staff there.

I had chosen the spot, where none of us had eaten, by its reviews and location. We were coming from the nearby MIT Museum and meeting two others for a birthday dinner for my wife. A long-term friend was visiting from the South, so we wanted a decent place in memory of the many good meals we had shared in Manhattan years before we moved North and she down there.

RICSeatingFor foodies, the seven agreed it was fine. As an indicator, here’s #2 son, my uxorial unit, and our friend the artist Savannah lost in their Thai scallop soup and duck dishes.

I started with their charcuterie plate, with small portions of pates and sausages made in house. The sundry flavors were at once subtle and rich — gentle but highly varied tastes and textures. I strongly recommend it.

#3 son went with the burger. It was remarkable for its appearance alone, starting with the bun. It gave the appearance of some grand forest mushroom cap. RICSbun He can be a hard sell and pronounced it neither mean nor murine, rather excellent.

We all enjoyed our choices.

For foodies again, it’s not the place of $5 plates more typical of Central Square. Rather entrees are in the $25 to $30 range. The bar and wine list are more South End than melting pot as well. There are a few bottles on the list under $30, but most cost $20 to $40 higher than that. You’d have to choose carefully and knowledgeably not to double your tab on a so-so wine here.

The warnings from the woman, colorful of face and language, aside, a good meal and good time was had by each of us.

As the Crank Turns: Wine Edition

February 12th, 2010

Regular readers here know I came to my crankiness and harrumphing by nurture. Yet, I think I could ease off a bit — if only the world didn’t delivery so many catalysts.

A recurring one rebates on cases of wine. When I get stiffed, I just can’t let it go.

The most recent exchange was over a zin, Gnarly Head, that we like here and buy even when it isn’t rebate season. It was the usual problem and after having been burned more than once, I am on the ready with safeguards.

That’s quite a bit of drama for a small setback. Then again, I was raised by a crank to be a crank. I figured on this one that even if I had ended up losing out on $28 of the $30 due me, the annualized amortization would  be about 8¢ a day. That wasn’t the point.

To the non-drinkers and spendthrifts, it works like this:

  • Once or twice a year (generally Thanksgiving/Christmas and around mid-year) some moderate-priced U.S. or Aussie vineyards offer rebates.
  • These tend to be a couple dollars off on a bottle or $20, $25 or $30 off on a case of 12.
  • A few are obnoxious, requiring the bottle bar-code labels with the inherent soaking and scraping. Most take a clear receipt with the date, price and product.
  • Squeeze your information onto an itsy-bitsy form on slick paper and mail it to a fulfillment house.
  • Wait a month or two and get your rebate…or part of it.

The trouble comes when the house sends a check for one bottle when the rebate should be for the case. While some may find it silly to chase small amounts of money, cranks don’t.

The facts include that I don’t deal in guilt. I don’t take it and don’t give it. I’m a resolution kind of guy.

In contrast, I think of how successful Scientology has been in taking a neurological theory, engrams, for a long, well-paying ride. That would be when something bad happens, you are gun-shy and alter your behavior, often to your detriment. I see the effect of this as right now on the 12-month anniversary of falling on black ice and breaking two leg bones. I am cautious about patches of slickness. Then again, I don’t hide inside nor do I shake in terrorized anticipation of a recurrence.

I don’t need galvanometers, auditing or paying tens of thousands of dollars to get a grip.

gnarlys.jpgSo it is in a much lesser way with tricksy rebates. I have learned to scan my receipt and form into a PDF doc, just in case. I firmly believe that the fulfillment houses are not crooks trying to cheat us plonk tipplers. They don’t benefit by shortchanging strangers. More likely, they handle thousands of squint-producing forms a day. Some they toss into the wrong bin for rebate level. Meh.

I can cite two recent cases, both with successful conclusions. I’d much rather feel as though I had won a tiny battle than been wronged by a bad old vineyard.

In the middle of last year, a Ravenswood deal went awry. I got back $5 on the three-bottle rebate instead of $30 on the case. I didn’t send my complaint to the fulfillment house’s P.O. box, rather I used the customer-service page on the winery’s site.

The head of customer service called me a few days later. She had gone through Lord knows how many forms, found mine, apologized and had a $25 check winging to me. She was very pleasant.

Likewise, but with a twist, I got $2 back on Gnarly instead of $30. When an on-site message to them got no response, I went to parent winery Delicato Wines‘ site, clicked around quite a bit to find the big shots and wrote a USPS-delivered letter to CEO Chris Indelicato. I included a printout of the receipt, rebate form and sad little $2 check (one of the pair cropped above; click for a slightly larger view of them).

We ended up with a nice little email exchange as well, including:

Thank you for the letter you sent regarding your Gnarly Head coupon.  I am a coupon guy myself and nothing makes me madder than when I don’t get my money on a deal.  Although we have a coupon company that has dropped the ball ultimately it is our responsibility to get you paid.  The Gnarly brand manager will contact the coupon company this morning and you should receive your money shortly.

Always time to do things twice but never time to do things right the first time.  Thanks for drinking our wine – we appreciate every single customer we have the quality will only get better going forward.

Cheers

I got my $28. To the point, both companies seem to understand customer service. Not only am I happy to keep buying Gnarly Head, but I’ll surely be trying more of the vinyard’s products. Nice is generally free and pays back.

For me, the pittance for the stationary and the 44¢ for the stamp are a lot better than getting to feel wronged.

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No Snow Heroics

February 10th, 2010

So, now it snows. Getting off the commuter rail a few minutes before 5 this afternoon, I felt and saw some promising snow and wind.

Bummer.

Knowing we were to have blizzard conditions by broad meteorologist consensus from about 1 p.m. through 6 and continuing through midnight, my most steadfast drinking buddy and I were set to be fools or heroes today. Instead, we had a good chat and a couple of long ales, but left unwounded and not at all brave.

This so far has been the H1N1 of blizzards.

John’s wife asked incredulously why he would even consider going for our usual 2:30 meeting time, allegedly the start of the worst part. We were promised (threatened with?) 10 or more inches at 1 to 2 inches per hour from 2 or 3 p.m. on. The evening commute would be impassable and impossible.

So we were ready to be old-man brave, Abe Simpson brave, by meeting from opposite ends of Boston Beer Works on Canal Street. We had the pretense of perhaps tasting the annual tapping of the Hercules Strong Ale. I had even foraged in my t-shirt collection for a 16-year-old purple rag with Herc on it, back when BBW had worthy shirts.

Alas and lackaday, they are not yet ready to distribute their best ale of the year and we didn’t even get to play beer explorers. Our consolation is that two other regulars did not show and did not even respond to the invitation (dare?).

I can’t seem to single-task, so I also got a fix on the local Fairmount Line of the commuter rail.  There’s a history there as in the link, but the MBTA makes it pretty hard to get much from the most local transit transit.

In the very bottom of the Hyde Park neighborhood, we should have fast, easy, inexpensive access to public transit. Instead, I tend to ride my bike because getting downtown would require:

  • a walk of a mile to the bus, then a ride to the subway (an hour plus and $3.20 at cheapest)
  • a short walk to a bus, transfer to another bus, and ride on a subway (about 90 minutes and $3.20 at cheapest)
  • one of the very few commuter rail trains — effectively inbound in morning and outbound in evening commute hours and next to nothing most of the day — then a long walk or another subway ride in town ($4.25 cheapest and effectively $5.95)

It’s really MBTA amateur hour, but at least the sked should be better when they finish a few more train stations in the next year or so. Nonetheless, I have been meaning to use this train more because it’s about a half-mile away and I love trains.

That part was better than I expected. There was one mid-day train, at 1:06. It got me at South Station an hour before ale hour, but I figured I could walk and buy a Valentine’s card at Urban Outfitters and some worthy kitchen-towel hooks at Crate & Barrel, both at Quincy Market. Double hah there. UO is more into sleazy student girl clothes than ever and devoid of cards and C&B is OOB at the Market — they’d have me visit them on Boylston Street.

OK, boys and girls. Newbury Comics had a good hologram card of candy hearts and Salem Street Hardware served up a choice of hooks. But where was the snow?

The time line was like:

  • 9:45 a.m. leave Y and see the air full of flakes the size of dimes
  • 10:30 a.m. no snow
  • 11:40 a.m. big old flakes again
  • 12:34 p.m. change to heavy, small flakes. Walking to the train station reminded me of coming home in high school in New Jersey after swimming practice, in the dark with hair freezing and driving sleet biting into my cheeks
  • 1:08 p.m. the train was only two minutes late. The snow had eased off and seemed less gelid. I was one of two loading at Fairmount. The other fellow was an Ironweed sort, in dirty Patriots baseball-style cap and a ragged and torn fake leather bomber jacket. As Tracy Chapman sings, “…a day away from a bum on the street.”
  • On the scheduled 24-minute ride, which took 20, putting us into the station two minutes ahead of sked, I gawked. I did get the sense of the activists who forced the new stations pending on this line that it zipped past neighborhoods like a Hot Wheels track above and not stopping. Most of the Mattapan and Dorchester areas were triple deckers and single-families jumbled with small warehouses and factories. Remarkable were the amazing rubble of recreation in storage on the back decks and yards next to the track — plastic pools, lawn chairs and other instruments of summer play with no roofed storage.
  • 1:29 p.m. I left South Station feeling cheated of storm and adventure. Yes, there was a driving wind pushing the icy rain off vertical, but no blizzard.
  • 2:16 p.m. John was already on a stool lamenting the lack of Herc. I asked the brewmaster, who said it was done at Fenway this year. The best he could say was within a week or two, he’d have a cask. Plus this time half of it was aged in Scotch barrels for extra smokiness. I flashed my purple shirt at him and the tap puller, who appreciated the concept but could offer no Strong Ale.
  • We watched the windows but saw little snow and several periods where people passed without umbrellas or any covering up at all.
  • 4:15 p.m. on the walk to South Station for the 4:30, I did begin to see steadier snow, but blizzard…?
  • 4:31 p.m. The ride back was remarkable only for its ordinariness. This could be an American version of a salaryman’s commute, except there were few passengers so early. I was on a double-deck train, but we had only about a dozen on top and 15 on the lower level. The train crept from the station. It was odd to think that the 24 minutes allowed was much faster than the subway or bus combinations; it felt like we could have run along side the train as fast.
  • A couple of us had a simultaneous bad thrill when the announcer called after Morton Street that the next stop was Readville — one past our station in the same neighborhood. I asked the conductor, who affirmed we’d stop at Fairmount and we did.
  •  5:56 p.m. only two minutes late and some reality of snow when we left in the dark. A woman leaving at Fairmount had the definitive smell of a urinal cake — unctuous and unidentifiable fruitiness that she surely thought was pleasant and associated with some boffo label.

On theblizz.jpg walk up the absurdly steep Fairmount Hill, I felt the icy slipping. That had its own connotations, being only 367 days since I fell on ice and snapped two leg bones. Coming home, I was mildly heartened to see steady, hard snow. Perhaps I had not moved three shovels and the ice pellets from the garage in vain earlier.

John and I had figured to be arctic sorts, laughing into the wind and sheets of snow. Alas, it was only a good winter day for a couple of ales. We may yet have another occasion this winter to display our yeasty courage. Today was not that time.

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Quaint? You Can’t Take Quaint!

January 14th, 2010

Oddly enough, the village pub doesn’t rate on the Alfriston, Sussex, website. I immediately suspect a tale of abrasive personalities and history thereof behind that oversight.

I can tell you two things though:

  • We truly enjoyed our lunch at Ye Olde Smugglers Inne
  • Alfriston lives up to its rating as the most picturesque village in England

After a full day of subjecting ourselves to the persistent winds and chill on the Channel beaches, we were ready for a pint. Wife, two sons and brother-in-law and I had held off on walking Alfriston on the way to the water. It’s just as well; among other treasures, I found my best pint and best ploughman’s lunch of the trip — of many tests of both.

This was one of the last days of the trip. By then, my brother-in-law and I had fallen into a very comfortable pattern. We’d see the sights and sites and keep one to four eyes out for a likely pub. Yes, there was the play in London proper, and yes, there were cathedrals, and yes, there was the Charles Dickens house, but pubs there are as common as donut shops in Boston.

We had also gotten to ordering and evaluating the ploughman’s here and there. That would be a slab of cheese or pate, a wee bit of salad, an even smaller bit of chutney, and maybe a few tart pickles. Typically we picked a Stilton or cheddar version.  Brits do cheeses right.

I am not a total Anglophile though. I admit that I was disappointed on the trip from the lack of IPAs and other pale ales. I am an IBU lover. I don’t drink ales to get high, so I don’t mind that typical English brews are 4% alcohol or less. However, in contrast to my regular fare here, theirs seem sweet. Even their bitter does not reflect its name.

I ordered IPAs at several pubs in and near London. The Smugglers Inne version was unquestionably the best. It was a Dark Star Brewing Hophead.

It would seem Brits prefer a maltier, sweeter brew. That’s odd in that pubs are wonderful in not rushing patrons. You can sit with a pint for an hour or even two if you can make it last that long. To my taste, that would work best with something sharp, with a bit of bite, like my beloved IPAs.

By the bye, we did not tour the whole inn. It turns out that it has three rooms to let, serves breakfast, has a bike shed in the back for cycling tourists, and has had links to bicycling since it was a mere 520 years old in 1878.

There is more to the village as well. Among its super-quaint aspect is the retention of the original artisan names. For example, a high-end gift shop remains the Apiary on its signs, despite not having a beekeeper there for many centuries. There’s also the first property the National Trust purchased, the clergy house, of the same 14th century vintage as the inn.

There’s much to see, delightful shops, and even a crowded medium-sized book store run by a fussy couple who check visitors’ shoes and insist they don blue cloth covers if they are suspected of having any mud anywhere on their treads.

Finally, if you go and come from the east be sure to have a camera ready. I did not and missed the wonderful warning sign on the highway a couple of miles out that had the warning triangle with an exclamation point. Underneath was the single word BADGERS.

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Bikes and Bottles in My Basement

December 24th, 2009

bike closet

Too much cider…too much beer…too little fridge shelf space. Oh, what to do when guests are coming for Christmas?

I never considered it in the old house, but the bulkhead was the clue here. On my frequent bike trips, I leave from the basement where I keep my bikes, up the stairway through the bulkhead.

So there I have it, in freezing temperatures, we have a 13-step cooler. It presently stocks two different ales (Anchor Christmas and Southampton IPA) and two gallon jugs of apple cider. This is a toper’s version of a root cellar.

It might even do an okay job in warm weather. The stairs run to eight feet underground with concrete walls.

So here in Hyde Park, I live a daytime subterranean life. My desk and computers are were the previous owner’s were in the basement…as are my bikes.

He really only trained for the Pan-Mass Challenge. That’s a kind of what-a-good-boy-am-I bit of charity, but useful. He didn’t see bikes as transportation or environmental statements or even convenience. He wouldn’t even get the bike out until the air hit 80 degrees.

However, blessings on him for the two-bike garage in the basement.  (Click the thumbnail for a large view.) He had the inspiration to convert a closet into bike storage. This home improvement was as simple as screwing two hooks into a rafter and tossing the closet door. That garage would be two bikes, each on its own hook, easily accessible. Jerk one down and its out the basement door and up the stairs to spin.

Cyclists of all ages who walk through the digs stop there and gawk. I don’t have to say a thing. They envy it and want one of their own. Five strides form bike garage to the outside stairs is a home improvement with daily return.

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Paulie’s Bucket o’ Food Fun

October 21st, 2009

Simple things couples can do to reinforce their affection abound. I heard another last evening from the owner of James Gate in JP, Paulie Bryne.

I recall well when we had one, then two, young sons. With work and parenting, cleaning and repairing, cooking and reading, we were lacking. We didn’t have much adult time, much quiet romance time, much just-us humor, much leisurely meal time, much revel in each other alone together time.

We ended up contracting with boy sitters for a weekly or at least bi-weekly night out.  We could drag our sorry selves home from exhausting days, but we knew Wednesday evening was ours. We went out, just the two to a restaurant, theater or some variation. We might go out tired, but we were always glad for it and refreshed.

Bryne recalled that for me yesterday. I had met him casually before, as he and the chefs would greet diners at the table or door. Last evening was the first time I really spoke with him.

There for a meet-and-greet for at-large councilor candidate Andrew Kenneally, I had a little time with the owner when Andy introduced us. Of course, we talked food and booze, restaurants and bars, things Bryne and I seem to know a bit about. In the course of intercourse, I recommended Townsend’s in my new neighborhood.

Then he told me of his variation on date nights. He and his girlfriend keep a dish (I don’t recall whether it was a cup or bowl) as an aid. They write names of restaurants to try on slips of paper, toss them in and decide where to go by pulling one out a random.

That seems to add a dash of adventure to it, eh?

After talking Townsend’s and owner Michael Tallon for a bit, he said he’d short circuit the process this week and head on down. He said they’ve been meaning to check out some eateries in Hyde Park for awhile.

Apparently we arrived at a decent time. A week after we moved, Mayor Tom Menino and Councilor Rob Consalvo had the scissors out in Cleary and almost adjacent Logan Squares. They cut ribbons on five newish restaurants that afternoon. Townsend’s was not among those, having been open for over a year. Within a block though are a Mexican one, a Spanish one, and the South End-style The Hyde.

I like Paulie’s attitude about restaurants and romance. No matter how you decide, I recommend date nights. Romance isn’t just for teens.

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