Saturday, September 16, 2017

We Walk into a Tea House for Cocktails

Little Leaf Bar, Fresno, California
We didn’t choose to drink the Japanese Whisky for $4,600, but it was nice to know it’s there as an option. There were many options available at Little Leaf Tea Bar that aren’t available at other bars, like tea in drinks. Mindy’s Last Date included a green tea, like almost every cocktail  on the menu -- even my Long Island Little Leaf Tea Special had tea in it..

The bar is next door to Little Leaf Tea House, and you could distinguish the two parts of the restaurant most easily by looking in through the windows after dark. The Tea House is brightly lit, while the bar portion goes more for atmosphere. When we entered and asked about sitting at the bar, we saw that there weren’t two seats together, but people quickly moved to make room for us. Jazz was playing overhead, occasionally Dixieland jazz.

The Oakland A’s were on both TVs, which made me happy. I overheard a couple of women talking about the game. One woman was saying the A’s were one of her favorite teams. The other woman said, “You don’t care that much, so you might as well be a Giant’s fan.” The game was in Boston and went into a rain delay, which allowed me to concentrate on the menu.

It had a good variety of salads and sliders and entrees, but we had already eaten dinner. They don’t serve any desserts, so we were looking at appetizers. I saw edamame, takoyaki, arancini, and other words I didn’t understand, but I ordered kimchi french fries from the happy hour menu, and we agreed they tasted very good -- and so did our cocktails.

George, the owner of the place, was behind the bar, and he took our order. He told us he’s  owned the place for four years. “It’s not very corporate. It’s laid back,” he said. “It’s really just for the neighborhood.”  Almost everyone who came in the door greeted him by name, but in between customers, I was able to ask him our standard two questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?”

He said a good bar depends on the clientele -- two people sitting next to each other at the bar might be looking for different things. “It is what it is.” He said they hold to certain standards, represented by the sign above the bottles: “Don’t blend, don’t muddle, don’t garnish, don’t ask.”  

More people were coming in, so he answered our church question quickly, “Simple answer - church is in your heart, it’s not where you go.”

Brandy (“spelled like the alcohol”) was sitting at the far end of the bar. She’d been there with a friend who’d left, and she agreed to answer our questions as well. As for what makes a good bar, she said, “I’m different from most people, I like a place that’s casual and laid back.” She explained that much of the time, she likes to be left to herself.

I apologized for ruining that, but she laughingly explained she liked both being with people and by herself. “This place is the hidden gem of Fresno. Most people don’t know the place exists.” She spoke highly of George and of the food.

I asked her the church question, and she said that would be hard. I told her that many atheists have answered the question and she said, “That’s where I am.” But she went on to say churches should be “welcoming and open minded”.

Earlier this week, Mindy had been driving home and noticed a tea house and thought, “Too bad we don’t visit places like that. It looks interesting.” We were happy to discover that Little Leaf Tea didn’t make us choose between a tea house and a bar.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

We Walk into the 19th Hole

Fig Garden Golf Club, Fresno, California
None of the golf courses I ever go to seem to have bars. Sure, they have snack bars, but not the kind of bar we’ve been writing about for the past year or so. This is probably due to the fact I only go miniature golfing, not real golfing. At miniature golf courses you get watery soda and lemonade (and sometimes really bad pizza), not pinot grigio or whiskey cocktails.

But throughout our lives we’ve heard about the famed “19th Hole,” so we decided to check out a grown up golf course -- turns out they had a grown up bar!

We had to do a little research to find it, though. Mindy made some phone calls, and we learned that some Fresno golf courses have nothing, and some have what sounded to us rather like those miniature golf snack bars with the addition of beer. But Fig Garden had a real bar, so that’s where we headed.

As we got close to the golf course, we drove through a very nice, mansion-friendly neighborhood on what had turned out to be a gorgeous day (which for Fresno between April and November seems to mean the temperature’s under the century mark). We saw a K-9 car parked near the entrance, which made me wonder if they'd brought a dog to sniff out gophers. Soon we discovered the police were there for another reason, the Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Memorial Golf Tournament. “Kiki” was an undercover narcotics agent who was killed in the line of duty over thirty years ago. The proceeds of the annual tournament go to families of officers who sacrifice their lives in service of the public.

Courtney, our bartender, told us fewer regulars come to the bar when there’s a tournament because they can’t get tee times. She said it’s usually regulars who populate the bar stools.

Judy, one of those regulars, said she didn’t golf anymore, but her husband does, so she comes to the bar at the club to see her friends. She said this place is her “Cheers.” “It’s like back in the day when they had coffee klatches,” she said. “We know almost everybody.”

Judy has been coming to this bar for eight or nine years, and Courtney has been been working there for six or seven years. Courtney had worked in other bars, so I asked her how a golf course bar is different. She mentioned that they -- obviously -- aren’t open until 2:00 am. During the summer, the bar is open into the early evening, but during the winter (when business tends to be slow), the bar closes at sunset. And, unlike some neighborhood bars, the regulars are well behaved, not rowdies. “This place is pretty much Mayberry except when there are huge tournaments.”

We asked Courtney our usual two questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?” She said that in a bar, the important thing is the people, “Nice people who like to talk to people.”  She and Judy agreed that in this bar, even strangers were welcomed into conversation. (We certainly were.) As for what makes for a good church, Courtney said, “Same thing, a welcoming place that’s comfortable enough that you can relax and want to go back.”

I should note there is another way that this golf course bar is different than almost every other bar I’ve been in: they have to-go cups. Especially when I worked in hotels with bars, staff had to keep an eye out for people trying to take their drinks out the door. Here they have plastic lidded cups that people can use to take their adult beverages out on the course or to the outdoor tables set up for the tournaments.

As we were leaving, Courtney said, “Dean, don’t forget your phone!” I had left it on the table next to the bar where we’d sat while waiting for space to open up at the bar, so I appreciated the reminder. But what really impressed me was that Courtney used my name. As much as people have referred to the Cheers theme song at bars, Courtney’s one of the few bartenders who used my name on our first visit.

My enjoyment of full-sized (not miniature) golf will probably continue to be limited to Caddyshack, but it is good know that I don’t have to play eighteen holes in order to enjoy the 19th. And the bar --  and the regulars -- at the Fig Garden is very enjoyable indeed.