Dueling Pianos

Last night we had a mid-winter, get out of the house night on the town with family members. After dinner at the Tip Top, we Ubered down to the Big Bang Bar in the Arena District for a Dueling Pianos performance arranged by Sister Rocker. I wasn’t even aware of the place, but then the Arena District is full of surprises.

When Sister Rocker first suggested a trip to see Dueling Pianos, I initially thought it would be like Ferrante and Teicher, or perhaps cocktail lounge piano music. I could not have been more wrong! This was about as raucous as piano music (and a drum set) can get, with three guys rotating on stage in staggered one-hour shifts and pounding away at the keyboards of two grand pianos. They took “suggestions” (song requests unaccompanied by money) and “requests” (song requests submitted with moolah) — guess which ones were going to get played, and which would get crumpled up and tossed? — and they played everything from vintage Jerry Lee Lewis to country to ’80s MTV staples to last year’s hip hop hits. And there’s a lot of audience participation, both through singing along and through birthday and anniversary celebrants and bachelorette parties going up on stage to dance and perform.

It makes for a rollicking time and it’s obviously popular, because the place was packed — as crowded a venue as I’ve seen in years, in fact. If you reserve a table, as we did, expect to feel a bit like a sardine, because they really pack people in. It’s a young crowd, too; we were the oldest attendees by far. And the amount of alcohol consumed by the patrons — the better to lubricate the vocal cords and loosen up lascivious onstage dance moves, I guess — was colossal. This was a crowd that was ready to rock out and fight the mid-winter blahs with some liquid-fueled entertainment.

Dueling Pianos isn’t something I’d do every weekend, but it’s a nice entertainment option to have on a cold winter night.

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Avoiding Barside Embarrassment

When you go up to a bar to order a drink, you want to project a certain nonchalant yet decisive elegance with the bartender that shows her that you’ve been here before and you know what you’re doing.

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The goal is steely-eyed, white-jacketed, Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca-like cool certainty, as opposed to waffling or floundering or acting like goofy Clarence the Angel ordering a flaming rum punch at Nick’s, the hard-drinking bar in the alternative, George Bailey-free universe.

Knowing how to correctly pronounce the drink you’re ordering sure helps.

Would you know how to order a caipirinha, which the national drink of Brazil?  Made with sugarcane distilled spirits called Cachaca, lime, and sugar, it packs a lethal punch and is pronounced kai-pee-reen-ya.  Or let’s suppose you were up in Sweden during its endless, dark winter and wanted to warm yourself with a glass of traditional mulled wine, called glogg (with an umlaut over the o, too).  Appropriately, it’s pronounced glug, which should be easy to remember after you’ve swilled down two or three of them, because Swedish mulled wine tends to have a lot more alcohol than the American version.  Or let’s say you’re in a somewhat daintier mood, and feel like having a sgroppino to top off your meal.  That’s an Italian concoction of Prosecco, vodka, and lemon sorbet that’s pronounced sro-pee-no.  (You wouldn’t want to order that one at Nick’s, by the way.)

Hospitality Training Solutions has provided a guide to the correct pronunciation of these and other cocktails, to ensure that you project an image more like Bogie and less like Clarence the next time you belly up to the bar.  And remember, too — people rarely mispronounce beer.

Honky Tonkin’


It was a cold and rainy day at Glacier National Park today.  In other words, it was a perfect day to knock off early and hit one of the roadside juke joints that are found along Route 2 close to the western entrance to the Park.

We chose a honky tonk called Packer’s  Roost that turned out to be a good spot.  The bartender was friendly, the jukebox was playing some good tunes, the lighting was dim, and the prices were right.   We learned that the bar is a hangout for annual visitors to the Park, who commemorate their visits by marking, dating and coloring dollar bills and nailing them to the walls and ceiling.  It added a certain element of rustic charm.

I had a draft beer called Moose Drool that was pretty good and ice cold, by the way.

Cocktail Hour Down South

IMG_3591Last night Kish and I visited the Patterson House because Kish wanted to try a bacon-infused Old Fashioned, pictured above.  The drink is made with Benton bacon-infused Four Roses bourbon, maple syrup, and pecan coffee bitters.  Kish said it was “delish!”

The Patterson House is an amazing place that shows you what a cocktail lounge could be like if people just worked at it.  It’s dark and quiet, with music playing in the background at just the right volume.  Access is controlled, so you don’t have a bunch of people crowding in at the bar, shouting their orders.  As a result, you actually can have a conversation, which isn’t possible at most bars I’ve been to recently.  The place offers some well-made, lighter fare food options, too, to balance the alcohol consumption.

The bartenders and waiters clearly take great pride in their appearance and their craft.  They work hard to make the perfect drink, and their list of drink options shows the kind of attention to detail that makes that goal feasible.  From the spherical ice cubes to the vigorous shaking to the careful placement of an orange peel, this is the place to come if you want to savor a well-made drink and some pleasant conversation.

About That “Instant Drunk” Spray . . .

I suppose this was inevitable:  they’ve invented a mouth spray that causes you to become instantly intoxicated, but lasts only briefly and leaves no hangover.

The secret, apparently, lies in how the small amount of alcohol (.075 milliliters) is aerosolized.  Rather than having to guzzle Cosmopolitans or Manhattans for hours — less if you’re a lightweight — until the alcohol is finally absorbed into your bloodstream, you’re immediately affected by the alcoholic mist.  When the effects wear off, you don’t have a headache and, if the story linked above is to be believed, you could even pass a breathalyzer test.

I think this product misses the point.  You should achieve a state of intoxication only after moving progressively through stages of the drinking process, such as the stage of wondering whether you should have another drink and the (much later) stage where you think you are the most hilarious person in the bar and wonder why no one else seems to agree with that assessment.  Drinking should be a long-term social experience, not a quick spritz from a sleek inhaler.

That said, I wonder whether sales of the inhaler will skyrocket when last call comes around and people looking for companionship feel their standards need some quick and effective adjustment.

The Special Joys Of Seaside Bars

We’ve had a chance to frequent a seaside bar or two during our brief visit to Grand Bahama Island, and we’ve enjoyed each visit.  In fact, I think I’ve enjoyed every visit I’ve ever made to a seaside bar, regardless of whether the particular hole-in-the-wall is in Key West, Cozumel, or a remote Caribbean island.

There are several reasons for this.  First, a cold beer never tastes so good as when it is quaffed in the warm sunshine, while you are wearing a bathing suit, sitting barefoot, and watching through the darkened lens of your shades as anchored boats bob in the sun-dappled water nearby.  The warmth of the sun and the beer-infused warmth spreading through your system seem to combine in a magical elixir of relaxation.

Second, seaside bars tend to serve mostly fried foods — that is, salty, heavy, crunchy foods that are guilty pleasures for almost everyone.   I’m talking about foods like conch fritters and chicken wings, grouper fingers and fried lobster.  These are dishes that you eat with your fingers and dip into a sauce and that taste especially good with a cold beer.

Consider this plate of cracked conch and french fries that I got yesterday when we visited Doris’ place outside High Rock on Grand Bahama Island.  The plate is a study in shades of tan — the color that most of us secretly associate with tastiness.  There’s no effort to make it “healthy” by adding a few unwanted sprigs of green or the latest cutting edge vegetable combination.  In truth, no one wants to eat vegetables in a seaside place.

And finally, seaside bars are unpretentious.  They’re not decorated with fancy stuff.  They feature battered picnic tables and plastic utensils rather than fine cutlery.  There are cracks in the wood flooring.  They’re not the kind of place where people feel they need to whisper.  No, they’re places where everyone tracks sand in the door, and their idea of decorations doesn’t go much farther than a funny sign or two.  In short, they’re the kind of place where you can heave a sigh of relief, lean back with your frothy adult beverage, and enjoy a hearty laugh with your friends.

And that is the beauty of a seaside bar.

The Quiet Joys Of Bars Without TVs

When we went to visit Russell on Saturday, we stopped for an afternoon beverage at a nearby Brooklyn establishment called Dram.  It was a quiet place, with open windows and dark wood and thin leather cushions on bench-style seats.  Excellent music was playing over the sound system, and a fine array of beers were available for the quaffing.  How could I resist a beer called “Pork Slap Pale Ale Farmhouse Ale”on a sultry afternoon — a beer that turned out to be quite good, even when served in a can?

I liked the place immediately, and found myself idly wondering why that was so as I savored the taste of the Pork Slap.  And then it hit me:  this place had no TV sets anywhere!  Unlike every other American bar I have been to in recent memory — from bars in campus neighborhoods, to bars in the finest hotels — this quiet neighborhood watering hole had no television broadcasts blaring in the background, butting into conversations, and competing for attention with the music being played.  It was incredibly pleasant to be free of that incessant drone!

When we were in Paris and stopped at a bar, there were no TV sets to be seen.  In American bars, on the other hand, they are ubiquitous.  Are Americans so easily bored that it is crucial to have a TV nearby to attract their attention whenever a lull in the conversation occurs?  Is learning the latest sports news so essential to our lives that we can’t bear to be away from the boob tube for even a short while and enjoy the delightful pleasure of a quiet drink with friends?