Saturday, April 21, 2018

Bars we'll never walk into again

Church and State, Washington, DC

Afternoones, Staten Island, NY

Donny Dirk's Zombie Den, Minneapolis, MN

The Tank Room, Kansas City, MO

Hank Dietle's Tavern, Rockville, MD

While working on the book about our year of traveling to a bar in every state, one of the great moments of serendipity was finding a bar named “Church and State” a few blocks from the church where we were staying in Washington, D.C.

The bar was at the top of a dark staircase, and the decor was reminiscent of an old church building with pews, pastor’s office, and stained glass. The drinks, on the other hand, were all-American, focussed on ingredients from the Western Hemisphere. We really enjoyed chatting with various staff members, including the lobbyist-by-day bartender.

That evening confirmed our goal of visiting a church and a bar in every state, and we were encouraged to think we could accomplish that goal. So we were sad this week when we found that the bar is closing at the end of the month.

When we looked back at the bars we visited in 2016, we discovered that three others -- Donny Dirk’s Zombie Den in Minneapolis, The Tank Room in Kansas City (Missouri), and Afternoones in Staten Island (New York) have closed. Another, Hank Dietle’s Tavern in Rockville (Maryland), suffered a devastating fire this winter, but volunteers and donors -- and even the governor of Maryland -- are working to rebuild. It was (probably) the oldest bar in Maryland, with (possibly) the first liquor license issued after Prohibition, and we're glad to think we could walk in again someday.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

We walk into befuddlement, not madness

Mad Duck Craft Brewing, Fresno, California
I really must admit that I don’t understand the shirt at all. The shirt reads “I (silhouette of duck) Beer.” Is beer glass throwing a problem necessitating much ducking to avoid being hit in the head? Does one quack into one’s tankard? Paddle, duck-like in the vats of brewing beer? As I said, this confuses me, but it’s okay because the servers wearing the shirts also tended to wear friendly smiles.

Mad Duck is in the Campus Pointe Shopping Center right next to Fresno State University, and the mall is mostly restaurants, with a few shops and a movie theater. It certainly seems to be a student-centric place. We’d gone to the movie theater to see Isle of Dogs. (And if you see any stop-motion features about animals in a foreign culture this year, make it this one. It really is fun.) After the film, we crossed the street and a manicured courtyard and went into Mad Duck.

I had to fetch a notebook from the car, so Mindy and our son Bret went inside. When I got back, I couldn’t see them from the door, but the hostess told me they might have gone to the bar.

She was right. They’d found three seats together at the low bar on the far side next to the door to the kitchen. The place was busy, and the seats were together, so all was well -- but it was a little odd to sit looking up at the bar itself. Bartenders and wait staff could loom, but they didn’t abuse their looming powers.

The background music was Phil Collins, the Boss, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and many others who made the ‘80’s great, even though the crowd was too young to remember the era. I guess April in Parks and Recreation was right. Everyone loves “Time After Time.”

We were hungry, so we ordered food before deciding on drinks: chicken sandwich for me, chicken tenders for Bret, and crispy goat cheese sliders for Mindy (it was National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day). For dessert, we ordered drinks.

We didn’t order any of the beers or I.P.As brewed in-house, delicious as they may be, because (as we have stated in these parts many times before) we really don’t like beer. We truly duck it whenever we can. So Bret ordered Woodchuck Apple Cider, Mindy had an Irish Coffee with whipped cream (and a dash of chocolate, but not the Frangelico in the Nutty Irishman because she’s not fond of hazelnut), and I went a bit more exotic this time with a S’Morchata (a Mexican themed blend of cinnamon, vanilla, rum, chocolate bitters, and housemade toasted marshmallow syrup).

Our bartender, Corrin, noted our liquid desserts, and though she was quite busy, took a moment to answer our two standard questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what do you think makes for a good church?”

She gave one answer. “It’s the same thing for both places…. Friendly and kind service, people who are patient and open minded.”

I asked her what she thought about the Mad Duck, and she said she was happy to have a good product that she felt good about selling. The management is patient and kind. It’s one of the best places she’s worked.

We thought it was a very nice place to visit. Good food, good drinks, and a friendly staff -- though we didn’t encounter any deranged or angry waterfowl. On the whole, I’d consider that a good thing.