The Virus That Wouldn’t Go Away

The coronavirus continues to rage through Ohio, as it is in other states. The Buckeye State has experienced a significant spike in cases, but it is not alone; cases seem to be on the rise everywhere, causing all kinds of cancellations and maximizing the uncertainty we’ve all been dealing with during 2020. If you were looking forward to watching the Ohio State-Maryland football game on Saturday afternoon, for example, you’d better make new plans: the game has been cancelled due to a spike in positive COVID tests in the Maryland program.

Ohio’s Governor Mike DeWine addressed the latest coronavirus developments yesterday. He said that, thanks to the increase in cases, we are at a new, “crucial phase” in the pandemic — the latest “crucial phase” in a year full of “crucial phases” — and detailed some changes in the Ohio mask-wearing rules to address apparent slippage in mask-wearing by some businesses and the general public. He announced that he will be issuing orders that public gatherings must be limited to 10 people or less, that “open congregate” areas at weddings and funerals must be closed, and that dancing and playing games will be banned. And he added that, if the current trend lines continue, in a week he may need to order the closure of fitness centers, restaurants, and bars — again.

The Governor recognized that people are tired of all of this, and many are discouraged. He urged people who have relaxed their approach to coronavirus prevention to get “back to the basics” of vigorous hand-washing and mask-wearing. (In our little corner of Columbus, I haven’t noticed any slippage in mask-wearing and social distancing among people who are out and about, nor in our Friday night visits to restaurants over the past few weeks.)

Let’s face it: whether we’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or not, we’ve all got a serious case of coronavirus fatigue. The virus won’t go away, we’ve lurched from one “crucial phase” to another, and the efforts we’ve taken haven’t prevented additional spikes in positive tests. There’s a nagging sense that we’re all going to have to live with these conditions for the foreseeable future — and that’s where the possibility of another bar and restaurant closure order becomes so dispiriting. Much as I think our home cooking has improved, and much as we have adhered to social distancing and remote work concepts, it’s nice to have the option of going to a restaurant, experiencing a change of scenery, and eating food that you haven’t cooked yourself as a kind of safety valve to break up the monotonous sameness.

Perhaps we’ll get a vaccine that changes this grim paradigm, or perhaps it will end when so many people get infected that we reach the “herd immunity” point that some public health experts talk about. Until then, the big challenge is to keep going, accept the uncertainty, and recognize that, one way or another, this bleak period is going to end at some unknown point in the future. It’s not a very encouraging message, but sometimes that how the real world works.

Reopening . . . One Step At A Time (Cont.)

A sense of palpable excitement swept through Ohio yesterday, like a fresh, warm May breeze carrying the scent of lilac trees and spring flowers.  Continuing with its gradual approach to reopening the state’s economy after a prolonged shutdown, the DeWine Administration announced the next step in the process:  allowing hair salons, nail salons, barber shops, and bars and restaurants to begin to service customers once more.

gettyimages-638568556Some other businesses and offices opened this week, and retail stores and service businesses can reopen next Monday.  Under the Governor’s latest order, tonsorial parlors will be allowed to begin operating next Friday, May 15.  Restaurants and bars that have outdoor seating will be allowed to start serving patrons in their outdoor areas that same day, and indoor dining will begin again on May 21.  By May 21, the vast majority of the state’s businesses will have been permitted to reopen in some form or another, and the economy will lurch into gear once more.  Governor DeWine has concluded that, with the curve flattened, the economy simply can’t be shuttered for much longer without doing irreparable damages.

The Governor’s order indicates that the reopening won’t be an immediate return to the old, pre-coronavirus operations:  customers and stylists will be masked, for example, and restaurants will be trying to align tables and establish patron admission procedures to achieve social distancing.  There will probably be a run on plexiglass and plastic barriers, too.

Shaggy Ohioans who are heartily sick and tired of eating their own cooking, and who yearn for a return to more normal times, greeted this news with breathless excitement.  Soon we can get haircuts again!  And eat at a restaurant, too!  (Well, kind of.)

The news spread like wildfire on social media, where announcements of hair styling appointments became, for the moment, more popular than unsubtle political memes or cute videos of tumbling kittens.  Expect to see lots of Facebook posts with selfies of masked people getting their hair trimmed by other masked people, or people eating at some outdoor venue.  What used to be taken for granted is exciting news right now.

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.

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?

Vacation Time: Waterfront Bars

What is it about waterfront establishments that are so conducive to a pleasant drinking experience?

A view from the deck at Banana Bay

Beers rarely taste so good as they do when you are sitting at a picnic table, gazing out at the surf from under palm trees and a thatched roof, and eating a hot conch fritter.  There are two good waterfront venues within walking distance of the Pisciottas’ home, and we’ve taken advantage of both of them on this trip.

To the left, about a 15-minute walk away, is Banana Bay.  It has a big covered deck with picnic tables that looks out over the broad sweep of Banana Bay and a sand spit that stretches far out into the ocean at low tide.

Chuck at the entrance to the Sand Bar

To the right, past Club Fortuna, is the Sand Bar.  It is a smaller establishment with a narrow entrance off the beach, two outside decks with good views of the beach and ocean, and a dim interior bar with a sand-covered floor and a collection of local characters.

Banana Bay is more of a lunch restaurant with a drink menu, whereas the Sand Bar is more of a bar with a few food choices. They are both good options for a cold beer on a hot day.