Saturday, December 31, 2016

All the Bars We Walked into During 2016

Here are all the bars we visited this year, in alphabetical order. Any good ones we missed?

Alabama The Collins Bar (where Dean made a bartender miserable), Birmingham
Alaska Mecca Bar (where Mindy was shocked by a drink's name), Fairbanks
Arizona The Shelter (which didn't have pinball), Tucson
Arkansas Rooster's on the Avenue (where the bouncer was friendly), Fort Smith
California 21st Amendment (where we met a bunch of people), San Francisco
Colorado The Principal's Office (which is, of course, in an old school building), Colorado Springs
Connecticut The Harp and the Hound (where patrons recommended a bar in Rhode Island), Mystic
Delaware Hutch's Pub (which takes pool seriously), Newark
Florida Mickey Quinn's Irish Pub (on Saint Patrick's Day!), Seminole
Georgia Joystick Gamebar (possibly Dean's favorite), Atlanta
Hawaii Sam's Oceanfront Restaurant and Bar (on the beach at sunset), Kapa'a
Idaho Pengilly's Saloon (where Mindy got an undeserved free cider), Boise
Illinois Cherry Street Restaurant and Bar (for sentimental reasons), Galesburg
Indiana Harry's Chocolate Shop (which had no chocolate at all), West Lafayette
Iowa The Blazing Saddle (which was the only busy bar around), Des Moines
Kansas The Cattlemen's Lounge (where we felt like members of the club), Dodge City
Kentucky The Wrigley Taproom and Eatery (which is designed for community), Corbin
Louisiana Buffa's (on the edge of the French Quarter), New Orleans
Maine The Drouthy Bear Pub (where we met some men on a quest), Camden
Maryland Hank Dietle's Tavern (with liquor license #001 and live music), Rockville
Massachusetts Liberty Tavern (a cradle of liberty), Clinton
Michigan Glengarry Inn (because it was nearby), Wolverine Lake
Minnesota Donny Dirk's Zombie Den (possibly Mindy's favorite), Minneapolis
Mississippi QuarterDeck Bar (where the bartender made us a cucumber cocktail), Long Beach
Missouri The Tank Room and Westport Flea Market (at one, we were invited to church), Kansas City
Montana Iron Horse Bar and Grill (which is not what we expected), Missoula
Nebraska Nite Owl (with a movie!), Omaha
Nevada Aureole in Mandalay Bay (when we were still shy), Las Vegas
New Hampshire 815 (but it was a secret), Manchester
New Jersey Darby Road Pub (which was quite crowded), Scotch Plains
New Mexico Maria's New Mexican Kitchen (where we enjoyed sopaipillas), Santa Fe
New York Afternoones Restaurant and Bar (in which Dean got rebuffed), Staten Island
North Carolina Lazy Hiker Brewing Company (where Mindy actually enjoyed a beer), Franklin
North Dakota Hanson's (which may be the geographical center of North America), Robinson
Ohio (and this, too) Slapsy Maxies and Level One (along with another bar with a church meeting there), Toledo
Oklahoma Ned's (which doesn't smell of smoke despite the reviews), Talequah
Oregon Porters (where we felt more welcome than we expected), Medford
Pennsylvania Paddy's Pub (which was nicer than on television), Philadelphia
Rhode Island Ocean Mist Beach Bar (where we also met horses), Matunuck
South Carolina McHale's Irish Pub (which serves the community), Rock Hill
South Dakota The Old Style Saloon #10 (legendary!), Deadwood
Tennessee Embers Ski Lodge (where Dean enjoyed a basketball game), Nashville
Texas The Barbershop (which isn't actually a barbershop), Dripping Springs
Utah Brewvies (where we were glad to be over 21), Salt Lake City
Vermont Charlie-O's World Famous Bar and Fine Dining (which didn't really serve food), Montpelier
Virginia Los Toltecos Authentic Mexican Bar and Grill (for Cinco de Mayo), Alexandria
Washington Three Lions Pub (where we know people gave us pseudonyms), Redmond
West Virginia Domestic (where the evening seemed to have begun several hours earlier), Shepherdstown
Wisconsin Tom's Old Bogies Bar (which our niece recommended), Holcombe
Wyoming Backwards Distilling Company (where Mindy had the most yummy hot chocolate), Casper

and of course, Washington D.C. Church and States (which we just had to visit, what with the church blog)

Monday, December 26, 2016

6 Old Observations about California

After visiting bars in all 50 states this year, we're back in California. We've lived most of our lives and in 2015, we visited all four corners of the Golden here are a few observations from that experience.

1. In the San Diego area, there's a classical station that's bilingual with a twist. Some of the ads and announcements are in Spanish, some in English. When we were there, we heard "Yellow Submarine" played in a baroque style.

2. California locks the ashtrays at their rest stops. Why?

3. The One Log House in northern California is probably fascinating, but we don't know for sure. We didn't want to pay the admission fee, but the gift shop is nice.

4. Mindy has had a love/hate relationship with Southern California since childhood.

6. The drive-in will never die. We hope!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

We Walk into a Bar in California

The 21st Amendment, San Francisco
It’s a little tougher to quit a major project (like visiting a bar and a church in every state) when you’ve told people your plans. Among those we told were Jason Snell and Tim Goodman, the hosts of the podcast TV Talk Machine. Goodman is the chief TV critic for the Hollywood Reporter, and Snell produces the podcast which is “released simultaneously worldwide” every week to an untold number of faithful listeners. Before our trip began, I messaged the podcast, letting them know I’d be tweeting every week to let them know the TV show (set or filmed in that state) we’d be watching.

Starting with our first state, Nevada, I tweeted that I’d be watching an episode of Crime Story set in Nevada. They read that tweet on the podcast. I hated the thought of admitting to their loyal listeners that we were quitting, so that commitment was one more thing that kept us going to every state.

During the first part of the year, Goodman expressed reasonable doubt that we were actually traveling, so we began to tweet photos from various locations (such as Niagara Falls, the setting of the TV show Wonderfalls; and Deadwood, the setting of the show Deadwood). So the hosts cheered us along on our journey.

When they began to talk about a get together for listeners of the show in the San Francisco Bay Area (where Goodman and Snell live), I asked if the meetup could be held when we returned to California. They decided to hold it at a San Francisco bar, The 21st Amendment, and figured it wouldn’t be too busy on the Monday before Christmas. They weren’t entirely correct.

When we arrived, we asked the hostess if she knew where the private party was. She directed us upstairs, along with Matthew, who was also there for the TVTM meet-up. The people upstairs were young and very well dressed (Mindy said the backless dresses were a sure sign of a holiday work party, not a tv podcast meetup).

We went back downstairs and found a few other TVTM listeners hovering near the entrance. We staked out a few seats at the bar, and before long, Goodman arrived with the news that Snell was stuck in traffic. Eventually, Snell arrived along with more TVTM fans. Eventually, all sixteen or so of us were able to take advantage of four small tables near the door.

I was surprised by how little of the talk revolved around television. Many of the folks there had been listening to Goodman for years, even to a previous incarnation of the TV Talk Machine that was a little less, well, “refined” than the current conversation. Rather than a serious critical evaluation of television programming it had been a mix of silly voices and comic bits that could generously be described as “freeform,” but the old version of the show made people laugh, and some of those people wanted to express their appreciation for the joy it had brought them.

Something else people wanted to talk about was music. Goodman was a TV critic, he was a music critic before he wrote about television, but he said he doesn’t enjoy criticizing people’s favorite music anymore. Music is such a personal thing, he said. People fall in love listening to a certain song or a band or album, and so Katy Perry will always be precious to them. The critic can never convince anyone their favorite music is junk.

Because it is the season, Goodman talked about his Christmas playlist. He loves the season, and he loves Christmas music, but many of the songs he adores are a little more obscure. For instance, he talked about Aimee Mann’s “I Was Thinking of Cleaning Up for Christmas” in which a heroin addict considers changing her ways before Yuletide but then thinks better of it. (This led me to listen to Mann’s Christmas album on Youtube, and I liked it very much.) He also mentioned Solomon Burke’s “The Silent Night Story”, a preacher singing and speaking the Christmas Story.

I should mention Goodman and Snell were both very gracious with their listeners. There were times when some of us would launch into prolonged diatribes about elements of the podcast, or our own personal interests or pet peeves, and they would listen patiently. I appreciated their appreciation of their fans.

It was also fun to actually meet letter writers who had just been names. A number of people, all named Allen, write in to disagree with Snell, and one of the Nemesis Allens was there. People recognized me as Traveling Dean of the 707 (my area code). I had a great time talking with “Kate from Rwanda,” who does indeed travel from Rwanda for the meetup (and to celebrate Christmas with her family in San Francisco). Kate works with literacy issues in Rwanda, and as an author of children’s books, I found it fun and sad and fascinating to hear about the struggle to find authors for kid’s books, to find Rwanda’s Dr. Suess.

Almost every week this year, we’ve asked two questions at bars:  “What makes for a good bar?” and “What makes for a good church?” This week, though, it seemed more appropriate to ask two other questions: “What TV bar do you remember?” and “What TV church do you remember?”

Mindy asked those questions of Design Geek Jess, and her TV bar was one we’ve heard mentioned throughout the year when people talked about real bars, Cheers. The church she remembered was from The West Wing. She called it President Bartlet’s “Hamlet moment” when he questioned his faith in the National Cathedral.  

Mindy asked Thom  the same questions. He mentioned Moe’s Tavern from The Simpsons. For a church, he thought of the final episode of Lost (spoilers). The church in that episode was either heaven or an entry to heaven, and Thom said he thought it was very interesting, “It was really heavenly,” he said, and spoke about the light coming through the stained glass. Thom also spoke admiringly of a real church, Glide Memorial in San Francisco which he said is “not just for people who believe. The way they sing and the way they present the message is incredible.” He admires the work they have done for those afflicted with AIDS, including a project that allows unused AIDs medicines to be donated and sent to developing nations where medicines are much less available.

I asked other people about TV bars and churches. Kate’s mother, Kristen, said in answer to the bar question, “There’s only one place, Cheers.” As for a TV church, she referred to Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, the hospital chapel on the show where “people went when struggling with existential issues.” She described it as a sanctuary and also mentioned the churches of Justified.

Kate would not be constrained to a literal interpretation of the question and said that Monk’s Cafe on Seinfeld should be counted as a bar, since it was where people gathered to eat and talk. (Kate is not big on accepting offered choices. We had a poll among about 20 favorite California TV shows, and she insisted on writing in The O.C.) For a church she thought of the chapel in the prison on Orange is the New Black, which sadly is a “crazy” place on the show, where people go primarily to have sex.

A couple of people just answered the bar question. Marlene thought of the “proper Irish bar” of Brooklyn 99. Blair thought of two Star Trek bars, Ten Forward from The Next Generation and Quark’s from Deep Space Nine.

I talked to “Nemesis” Allen who also thought of Cheers, “though in a real bar you’re more likely to be surrounded by people who aren’t friendly.” I asked if there was a TV church he’d like to attend;  he said that was unlikely because he was an atheist. He said, “when I see churches on TV, I wonder what’s motivating them from a plot perspective. I assume there is something nefarious going on.” He mentioned AMC’s Preacher, which certainly has nefarious things, but which he said got too weird for him.

Matthew mentioned Cheers, and said it was quite interesting to go to the real place in Boston which looked the same outside but not inside. For churches, he mentioned Deadwood and Westworld and also Picket Fences (“There was a church funeral on that show where everyone knocked on the casket”),

I asked host Jason Snell about favorite TV bars, and he said it was a tie between The Swamp on MASH and The Bronze on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. “The Bronze was a strange place that served drinks, but teenagers hung out there and interesting bands were playing.” And then, of course, there were the vampires. I asked for a favorite church or clergyman on TV, and he went back to MASH with Father Mulcahy “who was great.”

Through the year and throughout the United States, a recurring theme when we’ve gone to bars seems to be the search for community. More and more people find community online, and yes, in things like podcasts, what host Tim Goodman calls “radio without the listeners.” There are people out there, and sometimes we need to meet in the flesh.

Monday, December 19, 2016

6 Chilly Facts about Oregon

Voodoo Doughnuts box, Portland
1. Oregon's nickname is "The Beaver State."

2. Portland, the state's most populous city, is home to the flagship location of Voodoo Doughnuts. The city also requires residents over 18 to pay an arts tax.

pass near Mount Hood, Oregon
3. The state is the top timber producer among the lower 48 states, Douglas fir is the state tree, and Oregon leads the United States in softwood lumber production.

4. Voting by mail is the only method of voting

5. Mount Hood is the highest point in the state (11,249 feet above sea level).

Chinatown in Old Town Portland, Oregon
6. The Chinatown in Portland's Old Town neighborhood was Japantown before World War II.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

We Walk into a Bar in Oregon

Porters, Medford
As our quest to visit a church and a bar in every state is nearing an end, it should be noted that there has never been much of a strategy or grand plan in choosing which bars to visit. We make no pretense that we’re visiting the best bar in the state. Random factors often play a much bigger role in our choice rather than, well, actual thought.

A quick internet search revealed Portland, Oregon had a number of very interesting bars. There were bars that had tiki themes and comic book themes and one that seemed to be right up our alley called Bible Club. But after fighting our way through weather and snowy roads to make it to Portland, and with reports of another storm coming, we didn’t want to go out at night there. So we didn’t. We waited for Medford.

And though we had recommendations for a couple of different places in Medford, we relied on the time honored method of “wandering the streets.” There were several brewery type places that looked nice -- but sadly, a handicap we have faced throughout the trip is that we really don’t like beer. So we walked on.

We came upon Porters, and frankly, it just looked pretty. It was obviously an older building, and in some quick internet research while writing this I found that it was built as a train depot in 1910 and has since been designated as National Historic Landmark. Post visit research also showed that Porters won a number of local awards for Best Restaurant, Best Happy Hour, and most importantly for us, they won a 2016 award for Best Cocktails. We went in.

Mindy ordered the “Made-in-Oregon,” described as “Wild Roots Oregon Marionberry infused vodka with pear puree and hazelnut liqueur.” Mindy thought it was one of the most tasty drinks she had this year. I ordered the “Classic 007” just because of the name which lured this Bond fan. (Kudos also to the upselling by bartender Blayne, who said, “You’ll have that with Belvedere?” and in a Bond mood one feels one must go with the best. It was okay.)

Something else that drew us into Porters was hearing the Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer TV special soundtrack playing outside. We went through the bar door rather than the restaurant door. The place busy, but not too crowded. We appreciated a sign welcoming “Members and Non Members” above the bar. We found a couple of seats together under the sign.

We talked to Maggie as she tended to her barback duties. She said she came to the area from Reno, Nevada about five years ago.  As a high school drama student she’d visited the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, and fell in love with the area.

She took the time to answer the two questions we almost always ask, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?” “Atmosphere” makes for a good bar, she said -- but we’ve learned to press for more with that answer, because different people are looking for different bar “atmospheres.”  She said, “I think the staff should be happy and welcoming and able to talk to customers.” She said a good  bar shouldn’t be too dark, but it shouldn’t be too bright either because people go to a bar to drink "because they're sad or because they want to get crazy, and they don’t want to be seen either way.”

She also appreciates music in a bar but noted that “people can be so obnoxious about music” (I think she meant people who object to anything but their own preferences). She likes a nearby place, The Gypsy Blues Bar, which has a jukebox kept up to date with the latest hits but which also includes the oldies. It’s free, but if you put in money you can get your songs to play first.

Though I assumed she would have been too young to work in bars back in Reno, she said she had worked some in the casinos, and “a casino is basically a bar,” and she said she’d observed some intemperate behavior. She said that Porters was a more upscale place, so that even when there were people who drank too much, “they’re understanding of the reasons when you cut them off.”

As for what makes for a good church, she prefaced her answer with a caveat, “I do not go, but I have been. Whoever runs the church needs to hear the opinions of the people about everything.” She suggested comment cards available to people  to express opinion “ case they’re afraid to talk face to face. I think a lot of people feel judged.”

We were waiting for the food we ordered, so I talked with Greg and Liz at a table just behind us. They were celebrating Greg’s retirement after 35 years on the police force. I asked our two questions. Liz said she really didn’t know because she didn’t go to bars.

Greg had a two word answer to the question, “Cheap bar.” I asked him whether he had to deal with bars in his years as a police officer, and he replied that he had many years working day shifts, so he didn’t have to deal so much with “the drunks and the idiots.” He did allow that some bars did a better job of maintaining a “respectful atmosphere.”

As for what makes for a good church, Liz said a “good pastor.”

I asked what made for a good pastor, and Greg said, “someone who talks to you and not at you.”

Greg, Liz, and I spent some time talking about our trip, and I told about meeting Kate Braestrup and her ministry as a Chaplain on the Maine Game Warden service. Greg told me that through the years his department had been well served by a good chaplain, someone who was “one of the guys.”

I talked to another couple who was out for a celebration. Amber and Rick were sitting down the bar, celebrating Rick’s 30th birthday. I asked them our two questions. Amber answered, not surprisingly, that “atmosphere” is what made for a good bar, so I asked what made for good atmosphere. She said, “Friendly, quick service, that’s really it.” Amber said she’s worked in the service industry, and if service isn’t up to par, “I start judging.”

Rick said, “It’s all about the bartender, one hundred percent.” He appreciates a bartender who will make a connection instead of thinking of customers “as just another tab,” someone who will “make you the best drink of the night.”

Amber allowed then that it wasn’t just about the staff, she does appreciates “top drinks,” which is what brings them back every few months to Porters.

As for what makes for a good church, Amber said, “An accepting, family atmosphere, not pressuring regardless of personal choices.”  

Rick was hesitant about answering the question because he doesn’t go to church. As a kid he was forced to go church, but he was never told why, which was the main problem for him in going to church. He said he has a problem with churches that “push religion, and there is only right or wrong with no grey zone. They should be understanding of different walks of life and understand where they’re coming from.”

So once again, without much thought or effort, we found ourselves in a delightful place with delightful, thoughtful people. That’s only happened about forty-nine times before on this trip.

Monday, December 12, 2016

6 Idaho Facts with Pictures You'll Only See Here!

1. The largest religious group in the state is the LDS church (about 23% of the population)

2. The state slogan is "Great Potatoes. Tasty Destinations." Almost 1/3 of the potatoes grown in the United States are grown in Idaho.

3. Idaho leads the nation in forest service land with 38% percent of it total area.

4. Between 1990 and 2010, Idaho's population increased by 55%

5. Both Safeway and Albertson's grocery store chains had their origins in Idaho.

6. Idaho's capital building is the only one in the United States heated by geothermal water.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

We Walk into a Bar in Idaho

Pengilly's Saloon, Boise, Idaho, December 2016
Pengilly's Saloon, Boise
We peeked through the door at the Cactus Bar, but we saw only one man sitting at the bar, and he looked like he might have been there all day long. We decided we didn’t need to open the door.

We were with a high school friend of mine in Boise, a friend that I hadn’t seen since a class reunion years ago. Christina used to frequent the Cactus when she worked nearby at Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro. After the lunch shift, the “Goldy’s Girls” (all waitresses) would walk down the alley from the restaurant to get a drink together at The Cactus, a quintessential dive bar. The omnipresent motley collection of day drinkers would look with appreciation as the tired waitresses entered, because, as Christina said, “If you had all your teeth, you were one of the most gorgeous women in the house.”

But since it didn’t seem like a hot night at the place, even by Cactus standards, we decided to go two doors down to Pengilly’s Saloon.

A number of people had recommended Pengilly’s to us, often with the suggestion that we go on a Thursday night when the Frim Fram Four perform. The 4 are a renowned ensemble in the area specializing in classic arrangements from the Jazz Age. When we arrived a little before eight o’clock on a Tuesday night, we saw a solo act getting ready for his nine o’clock set.

Unlike the Cactus, Pengilly’s was hopping, and the bar was full. Christina’s husband, Tom, saw several people he knew.  At a table near the door we learned that many were there for a local environmental group’s event. (A plus about this situation: the woman at the table had a roll of tickets redeemable for a well drink at the bar. By simply giving our e-mail address, we were each able to get a free drink from the bar -- a rum and Coke for me, while Mindy had a Square Mile Hopped Apple Cider which technically was not a bar drink. The bartender was kind and took her ticket anyway.

Christina and I attended Piner High in Santa Rosa, California, nearing four decades ago, a number we shall try not to think of again. We were in drama together and co-starred in the show Stage Door. Our characters were supposed to kiss, but we were so awkward that the director said, “Maybe you could just hug.”  I left theater behind, but Christina carried on, performing in a number of professional venues. Her husband, Tom, is also an actor. He taught many years of high school drama (one of the bartenders at Pengilly’s was a former student), and for many years he was a necessary player at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival. Christina and Tom began dating while touring schools with a Shakespeare presentation.

Since there wasn’t room at the bar, we sat down at a booth in Pengilly’s and asked Christina and Tom our two questions, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?” (Spoiler: I already knew they didn’t go to church.)

Christina said, “It really is who you’re with at the bar.” She went on to tell fond bar memories revolving around people. Pengilly’s, she told us, has a place in their hearts because, among other things, it is where many from the Idaho Shakespeare Festival company would meet after shows. Then after the season (which runs from the end of May through September) ended, friends from the company would continue to get together at Pengilly’s. In spite of the tiny dance floor, many of them would find a way to dance. Not surprisingly, a number of people from the company could dance very well. (Christina and Tom said they enjoyed watching the pros.)

Christina talked about other bars that held fond memories. Tom Grainey’s Sporting Pub, a Boise staple, is another favorite spot for local bands. While dating, Tom and Christina requested a ballad. They were told that the band had already played a ballad in that set, but they’d play another for them in the next set, if they stuck around. They did stick around, and in the next set, the band played John Coltrane’s “Naima,” dedicating it to them. For the next couple of years, whenever Tom and Christina went to the bar, that band would strike up “Naima” for them. (Needless to say, this became one of “their songs.”)

Tom said a good bar is “just this loud” (Tom does have some hearing issues).  “I like to chat more than dance.” But Tom appreciates music and a bar with “a good jukebox, if you can find one.”  A bar nearby has a Viralux jukebox with a huge selection of songs that they’d “put $5 in -- it’s just that good.”  

Christina echoed her love for a good jukebox, “I like it when they play Johnny Cash there, even though I don’t like Johnny Cash anywhere else.”

In answer to what would make for a good church, Christina said one word, “Joy.”

Christina grew up attending a small Baptist church with her parents that she felt lacked joy. She quit going to church when she didn’t have to anymore. At another time she told me about encountering a lively African American church on a theater tour. She said she wondered whether church might still be a part of her life if she’d grown up in that kind of church.

When asked for what made for a good church, Tom hesitated about answering the question. He said after many years of struggling with the issue, he’d finally decided to go from labeling himself as an agnostic to calling himself an atheist. But I said that we’d talked to plenty of atheists on this trip who still had ideas about what churches should be. And Tom did, in time, have an answer. “I love Christmas music, I love holiday music. That spectacle of it keeps my nostrils above water for the rest of the year.”

Later he thought of something else that he appreciates in a church, when a pastor is a good storyteller. He said his first wife was more religious than he, and he used to sometimes go to church with her. And the pastor of that church was very good. He got things out of those messages, and Christina confirmed that he still talks about that pastor and his messages.

As we talked, the soloist began to play. The second song in his set was the theme song from Cheers. Sometimes you want to go where everyone knows your name. Sometimes it’s more than enough to be where only a couple of people know your name, especially if they’ve known it for a long time.