Saturday, May 26, 2018

We sneak into a speakeasy

The Library at Detention, Fresno, California
“I hope people who’ve been (to bars) in New York, San Francisco, and Las Vegas will also say, ‘How about that place in Fresno?’” That’s what John, a bartender at The Library at Detention, would like to be true of this bar in the Tower district of Fresno.

It’s a speakeasy, so there’s some effort involved in a visit to The Library. You need a reservation. To get into the bar, you have to enter Detention, an entirely reputable pool hall, pass the bar, and open a locker. If you remembered the instructions and opened the correct locker, the whole bank of lockers swings open, and if you have the password (I suspect it’s always the title of a book), you’re allowed to enter what may (or may not) be a secret passage to the stairway leading to the bar. You should have a hardcover book for the library, and you should have followed the dress code: business or business casual. I went with my best black t-shirt; Mindy went with pearls.

We walked up the stairway and down the hallway and into the library. Nobody was sitting at the bar at the moment, so we sat down towards one end and studied both the menus (one skinny with no prices and another full-sized one with more selections and prices). Many of the drinks were Fresno-themed (Tower District), others had literary themes (Jane Austen, anyone?). We chose ours mostly for the flavors rather than the names -- I ordered a Basil Honey Lemonade, and Mindy went with a Whiskey Smash with Raspberries. Bryce the bartender smashed the basil for my lemonade with a clap of the hands and said, “You have to kill it to bring it to life.” We didn’t notice as much smashing for Mindy’s Smash, but the drinks were delicious.

The bartenders provide entertainment, and not just with a Tom Cruise Cocktail shake and juggle. They made drinks that used flame and smoke (and really, nothing entertains like fire). When the flaming drinks were made, lights went down. The lights are constantly brightening and dimming as part of the speakeasy motif; management had considered staging raids on the bar as part of the Prohibition theme, but as John noted, on an average night it’s likely one of the guests would have a concealed carry license. You don’t want to risk that kind of surprise.

The decor plays up the Prohibition theme, too. Along with pictures of flappers and Al Capone, there is a (replica?) Tommy Gun behind the bar. Dixieland and other jazz music plays relatively softly. The bar opened last December as one room, but since it was doing so well, a wall was knocked down to add space. The second room is the library section with a wall of books that I assume were donated. A 1927 silent film, Downhill (directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring The Lodger’s Ivor Novello), was playing on the wall. In addition to the bar seating, comfy chairs in both rooms are arranged for quiet conversation.

Anne and Adrian sat down at the bar just after we did. It was their first time in The Library, too, and Anne had been concerned they might not be allowed in because they were in jeans (“but I’m wearing a camo shirt, so I’m invisible.”) They’d heard about the Library from friends and saw positive reviews on Yelp. They were able to make last minute reservations. We talked a bit about Fresno bars and then asked if they were willing to answer our two bar questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?”

Anne said she looks for “a good bartender. Strong drinks.” She said she doesn’t go to church, “but what would make for a good church is if it’s welcoming.”

Adrian said for a bar, “depends on the occasion. On a Thursday, low key, like this; quiet, not pretentious.” In a church, he looks for “consistency” and “standards.”

Before we left, Bryce asked us to consider writing a positive Yelp review. He suggested putting in a good word for the other bartender, John, and for the owner, Tim Ferrigan, who had the vision for creating this kind of place in Fresno. Bryce said he liked that at The Library, people weren’t staring at their phones or a TV screen. And they didn’t come to get drunk. People come for a unique experience. I think The Library is doing a good job providing that.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Mindy flies into a bar

If you’ve been reading this blog any length of time, you know that Dean and I aren’t what you might call big drinkers. Some weeks, just finding a bar is a big effort, so it was kind of a relief when I remembered that by hanging out in airport terminals for two days (somehow, it took three planes each way to get me from Fresno to Indianapolis and back) finding a bar to write about would be easy.

I was mostly right. Bars were certainly easy to find.

I left from Fresno on a Tuesday evening, and  John Muir Tavern at FAT was busy. So busy that there weren’t any seats at the bar. I get whiny about carrying luggage around, and I’d just eaten, so the idea of elbowing my way through the people getting drinks was less than appealing. And if I sat at one of the tables, I wouldn’t be able to talk to anybody -- which is our usual motivation for going to a bar.

I took some photos, found myself a seat in the gate area, and waited for my flight to be announced. I’d have plenty of opportunities to go to a bar in Seattle or Chicago, I told myself.

In Seattle, I noticed several likely looking places, and I had a couple hours to wait...but my carryon bags were just so heavy. Besides, I’d have plenty of time to go to a bar in Chicago.

Yeah, no. Our flight had to wait just outside the gate area because (who knew?) airports shut down if there’s lightning in the area. So we sat through a nice thunderstorm, and my flight to Indianapolis left before I could get to the gate in another terminal. I noted several bars as I raced past, but didn’t dare stop.

The nice agent got me on the next flight to Indianapolis, but it was about to start boarding in a third terminal, a lovely new one about half a mile away. At least that’s what it felt like as I hurried past the first gate, past several more bars, and through a couple long tunnels. By the time I reached the correct gate, it was time to board.

Never mind, I thought. I’ll be in three more airports before I get back to Fresno.

After a good visit with family and friends, I got to Indianapolis International Airport before sunrise, with plenty of time for my early morning flight. Plenty of people were in Champps, the bar just past the security checkpoint, and I particularly noticed one man who’d gone through security at the same time I had. I wondered if he was getting breakfast or a drink.

I didn’t get an answer to that question fifteen minutes or so later when he rushed up to the gate to find his flight had just left. They announced a gate change for my flight, so I didn’t hear what happened after he wailed, “But it’s a soccer team!”

I feared missing my flight -- and it was barely 6:00 am -- so I decided I’d wait until I got to LAX, my next stop. Our flight made good time, and we arrived at the Los Angeles airport shortly after 9:00 am. The gate for my next flight was nearby, there were at least three bars in the immediate vicinity, and I had plenty of time. My carryons weren’t nearly as heavy as they’d been. No more excuses. I went into Osteria to see what they had to offer.

The bar had several seats available. I tried to act casual as I took pictures of the people around me. The couple on my right had laptops open and seemed to be discussing plans over bloody Marys; the person on my left had a beer and breakfast. I ordered a Caprese panini with potato chips...and water.

After inspecting the menu, I’d decided to order my drink on the plane. Drinks there wouldn’t cost much more than Dean and I usually paid at a regular bar, and maybe I could ask the person sitting next to me our usual questions. Maybe I could even keep the tiny liquor bottle as a souvenir.

The robot outside another bar tempted me a little, but the place was a brewpub, and (as we’ve mentioned before) I don’t like beer. On to the next flight (up and over Fresno -- it was confusing).

The part of SeaTac around my gate didn’t seem to have many bars nearby, so I was glad to think of ordering a drink on the plane home. I’d changed my seat from my usual back row, window seat to a window seat in the front of the plane, not noticing that any plane that let me sit up front for the same price as a seat in the back might not be big enough to offer drinks. Once onboard, I stowed my bags in the upper bins -- with my wallet inside.

When the flight attendant came around to take drink orders, I ordered, then realized my money wasn’t just out of reach. Bless her heart, the flight attendant said she’d have to charge me for one of the little liquor bottles, but she could give me wine for free.

It took almost 40 hours and about 5,000 miles, but I got my drink.