Saturday, April 29, 2017

We Walk into a Wealth Management Presentation (and a Bar)

Ruth's Chris Steak House, Fresno, California
“We can’t bring alcohol in there so drink, so drink lots and drink fast.” This advice came from a woman at the bar who was also attending a financial seminar at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. We knew she was going because she had the same flyer we’d gotten in the mail. (Our flyer hadn’t been addressed to us, but rather to a previous resident. That didn’t seem to bother the woman taking reservations for the seminar and dinner.)

We knew before the seminar started that we weren't likely to take advantage of the investment opportunities being offered, because we invested (spent?) all our monies in 2016’s year-long every state tour. We did go for financial reasons, though. We wanted the free steak dinner.

We’ve wanted try Ruth’s Chris for years, but no one offered to treat us until now. (Generally, we have a hard time spending more than the 4 for $4 Wendy’s specials, and we split that.) Since we were having dinner at Ruth’s Chris, we decided to go to the bar (they don’t have bars at the vast majority of Wendy’s).

When we entered the restaurant, the hostess told us the seminar room would be ready in 45 minutes. We said we’d be at the bar, and she told us she’d let us know when the room was ready.

I noticed the music in the restaurant (and in the bar) was jazz and pop standards, which we appreciated;; we'd heard the day was Ella Fitzgerald’s centenary. We heard a few Ella tunes while we were there.

The bar wasn’t crowded, but there were a number of people there. (At one point, a couple came in, and several people moved over a seat, allowing them to sit together.) We got a bar menu, and the bartender mentioned the happy hour specials. The special happy hour steak sandwich was a decent price, but since we had free dinners coming, we just ordered the cocktails at happy hour prices: Mindy had a pomegranate martini, while I had a classic cosmothe free dinner was still coming. We ordered the cocktails at Happy Hour prices, a Pomegranate Martini for Mindy and Ruth’s Manhattan for me.

The woman who’d found out there’d be no alcohol at the presentation ordered a glass of wine; her friend ordered water. (“She’s allowing me to sit with her even though I’m drinking water,” the friend told us. There’s a certain awkwardness being in a bar and going with water or a soft drink, but it’s okay, Really, it is.)  The women joked about going to the seminar and investing and making lots of money. We thought maybe we’d ask them our two questions, but the conversation never quite turned that way.

I did talk to the man sitting next to me, Artie. I said, “I’m sorry for being obnoxious, but can I ask two questions for our blog?”

He agreed, so I asked what makes for a good bar. “A good bartender,” he said. I asked him what made for a good bartender and he said, “Congenial, makes a good drink and maybe slips you a free one every once in awhile.”

I asked what made for a good church and he said he didn’t go. So I said, “Well, even if you don’t go, what would you imagine made for a good church?”

“Now you’re being obnoxious,” he said, so I dropped it there.

JIm, our bartender, was busy with customers, but we appreciated it when he took time to answer our questions. He said a good bar needed “Three things: service, attention to detail, and fresh ingredients.” He’s worked in a lot of other places and in some of those places the drinks were in premixed bottles and, he said, they relied too much on having everything “in the gun.” He appreciates Ruth’s Chris having quality liquor and garnishes. He likes to try different things, and he mentioned wondering if there was such a thing as a black olive martini, which intrigued me.

We asked him what would make for a good church. “Gosh, I don’t know. I went when I was younger.” But he doesn’t go now. But I still asked what he thought would make for a good church and he said, “People and faith.” We started to talk about that, but then two things happened. The hostess of the restaurant came to tell us that our meeting was ready and the water glass slipped from Mindy’s hand. The glass shattered on the bar, and Jim went quickly to work to clean up. She felt bad about the accident, but we had to go.

The financial presentation was fine, but we couldn’t mark “yes” on their form to set up an appointment to talk about our finances. The food was even better (salad, bread, steak, spinach, mashed potatoes, and cake.  Basic things and good things), but really, the drinks may have been best.

We saw Jim in the dining room as we left and asked him to pose for a picture with us. Thank you, too, kind waitress who took the photo.

I wonder if there are any time shares out there that will pay for our drinks as well as dinner? We’re willing to listen.

salad at Ruth's Chris Steak House, Fresno, CA
Isn't it a lovely salad?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

We Walk into a Bowling Alley and Find a Bar

AMF Rodeo Lanes, Clovis, California
AMF Rodeo Lanes, Clovis, California
Before we began last year’s trip to visit a bar and a church in every state, we talked about adding other things to the trip. After all, we were pretty sure this would be the only time in our lives we’d go to every state in a year, so why not go to as many different places as we could?

We eventually decided to go to the movies in every state (though at first we were iffy about whether we could manage this). We went to libraries in most states, but not in Nevada, our first state. We talked about the possibility of playing miniature golf (Mindy’s always called it “putt-putt” golf) in every state, but we knew weather would probably keep that from happening. And we talked about going bowling in every state. It seemed doable, but we decided we couldn’t afford the expense and the complexity of one more thing -- thus missing out on the wonder of candlepin bowling on the East Coast.

This week, though, we finally made it to a bowling alley. We didn’t bowl, since the lanes were full of league bowlers. Instead, we went to the bar at AMF Rodeo Lanes, a bowling alley in nearby Clovis.

The bowling alley was packed, but there were only two people at the bar when we arrived. We ordered our drinks -- I had an Angry Jack (Angry Orchard cider with a shot of Jack Daniels with cinnamon sugar rimming the glass). Mindy decided to try Peach on the Beach. Though there weren’t many people sitting at the bar, Kiel the bartender was keeping quite busy. Between frames, people came to the bar to order a mug or pitcher of beer to take back to their lanes. When he had a moment, Kiel told to us about how a bowling alley bar is different than other bars.

Rodeo Lanes is Kiel’s first experience as a bartender. He has a full time job, so he bartends just a couple of nights a week. He told us that on weekdays, league bowlers provide most of the alley business. When people came for their beers between frames, it was apparent Kiel knew many of them. Kiel is a bowler from a  bowling family; that’s how he got to know the management of this bowling alley and, eventually, started working there. Since he’s new to bartending, he told us that he’s grateful for Google on his phone when someone asks for an unfamiliar drink. There’s a recipe binder behind the bar, but he said looking drinks up on his phone was a lot faster.

We were glad we’d made his job a little easier by ordering from the menu, but a little later, Mindy realized she could have made his job even better by ordering a milkshake. Making those is his responsibility as well, and Mindy’s always glad of an excuse to drink chocolate.

Kiel told us that the rain of the past winter had been good for the bowling alley. The long rainy season had encouraged people to look for indoor entertainment for longer than usual. He said that during the summer, when the weather was nice, business would dip, and that it would be slow whenever there was a big event in town like a concert  SaveMart Center or during the Clovis Rodeo. Weekends bring a different crowd than comes during the week with the league play -- there’s a little more bar business but that can be “hit or miss,” according to Kiel.

Though cocktails and wine were on the menu, there are large plastic beer containers behind the bar. They hold almost twice as much as a pitcher, and Keil said they’re especially popular during the summer.  You have to be in a group of at least three to be served the big container -- no solo drinkers. I suspected the main business of the bar was beer, so I asked.

“95% of the orders are for beer,” Kiel said. We did, though, see a couple of guys order something different.

“You guys ordering shots?” a teammate asked as Kiel filled two glasses.

“Doing man stuff.”

After awhile, I asked Kiel the first of our questions, “What makes for a good bar?”

He answered, “I don’t go out to bars too much.” Instead, he told us what he likes about this bar. “They have atmosphere with the TVs going. They remodeled about a month ago and have nice new chairs. And they got this,” he said, slapping the cooler behind the bar. “Cold glasses and cold beer are make or break.”

I asked what made for a good church and Kiel said, “I’m not very churchy. I don’t believe you have to go to church, not that I have anything against it. I have faith. I went with my ex-fiancee and her family to church.

“I don’t have a problem with going to church, but some people take it too far.” He liked the pastor of the church he attended, because he wasn’t “too pushy or demanding.” He told us about a guy  who he felt was too pushy, a fellow employee at another place he worked. During a break, this other guy tried to give Kiel a Bible and talked about how their Jehovah’s Witness boss was going to hell. Kiel didn’t appreciate that. “If you need to go to church, that’s fine. It really helps some people, and that’s amazing. But your beliefs are your beliefs,” he said.

Mindy stayed in her seat while I introduced myself to the other couple sitting at the bar, Brady and Tosha. I asked what they thought made for a good bar. Brady responded first, “The thing we look for is friendly people. We like to be regulars, but not in a bad way. We look for friendly bartenders and employees.”

“I’d agree with that,” Tosha said.

Brady went on to say he liked it when a bar had a signature food item, even if it was all “bar food” such as fried items or pizza. “I expect bar food but I want it well done, like a slider. If a place is known for something, we’ll order it every time. Like this place that had mac and cheese with lobster. It was amazing.”

Tosha added, “We like a place that has games and not just pool. If a place has shuffleboard or Mega Touch, we’ll be there all night.”

And what would make for a good church? “That’s a tough question,” Tosha said.

“It’s a people thing,” Brady said. “It should be friendly and accepting with no judgement.”

“And there should be diversity,” Tosha added.

“Community,” Brady said.

“If they are doing events to help the community, I can get behind that,” Tosha said.

While I was talking to Tosha and Brady, Mindy was talking to Cathy, who’d come to the bar for a last small beer. When asked, Cathy said a good bar should have a good bartender and good customer service. Acceptance of who you are, she said, was what would make for a good church.

As we got ready to go, more people were sitting at the tables in the bar and playing the games. It seemed the place to hang out when their bowling was done. We had a good time with good people at Rodeo Lanes, and it gave us a glimpse of an alternate reality where every week we’d post at  “Dean and Mindy Stroll Into a Bowling Alley.”

Saturday, April 15, 2017

We Walk into a Bar That Isn't What it Seems

Goldstein’s Mortuary and Delicatessen, Fresno
We didn’t see anyone try to climb on the horse when we visited Goldstein’s Mortuary & Delicatessen and we didn’t meet Larry. And we didn’t see any corpses or sandwiches, but we didn’t expect to, because right on their Facebook page they say “No Bodies, No Pastrami, just 45 handles of beery goodness.” But we liked what we did see.

We began the month with an April Fool’s post listing imaginary bars in Fresno we said we planned to visit, including Goldstein’s because the name sure sounds made up (which, I guess it is, as all names are). When we arrived at the bar, we wondered if we were the ones being pranked. It was early evening, but from the outside, the place from showed few signs of life, it looked closed.

But I tried the door, and it opened, and there was, in fact, a nice little gathering of people inside (all but one were alive -- more about that later). We were amused by the lively, kitschy decoration throughout the bar; from the shopping cart chairs to the black velvet Pink Panther to the dragon head on the heating duct. I especially appreciated the homemade sign reading “No Politics at the Bar” on which someone had scrawled “Yeah right” -- which seemed to rhetorically battle the tanks above bar stenciled with quotes from 1984 (“Ignorance is strength” etc. The bar is named for a character in the book, which is a favorite of the owner’s).

Pink Floyd was playing. We hadn’t been there long when two dogs dashed in from the back patio area (where food trucks provide edibles during the weekends). A woman head outside (light flooded in from the door on the west side of the building whenever the door opened) and came back a moment later saying, “I spilled beer all over myself.” Apparently she’d set her glass on an outside table and it tipped over -- possibly with help from one of the dogs, who quickly lapped up what hadn’t spilled on her pants. The bartender poured her a fresh beer.

We sat down at the bar and pondered the (mostly beer) menu which was both on paper and above the 45 or so taps behind the bar. I decided to go with the Sprecher’s hard root beer and after tasting a hibiscus mead and a coffee cream ale,  Mindy went with Bad Apple Cider.

Next to us at the bar, a man brought in a Me & Ed’s pizza to share with the woman next to him at the bar. They discussed the various ingredients on the two distinct halves of the pizza and the bartender (Shana) joined the conversation. She said she was going to take a bite and the man put a slice on a paper plate and offered it to her. “My regulars treat me well,” she said.

We introduced ourselves to the couple with the pizza, first to Wyatt and then to Ruth. Wyatt offered to share the pizza with us, mostly because we’d just had pizza. (Ours was from Blaze, just to spread the free promotional pizza plugs around. But we’re listening if any establishment wants to give us free pizza for promotional purposes.)

We told Wyatt about the two questions we always ask at bars, and he agreed to answer them. In response to “What makes for a good bar?” He said, “The bartenders, it they’re kind and enjoyable. Clean bathrooms.” He didn’t judge Goldstein’s bathrooms to be the most pristine in the world, but thought they were okay. “I love the environment of this bar. This place has room to breathe.”

As for our second question, “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?” Wyatt said he hadn’t gone to church for a long time, but when he did go his favorite part was Bible study. “It was like history.”

Ruth seemed to be surprised, “You used to go to church?”
Ruth mentioned a nearby pub that had good beer but was too small and a nearby restaurant that was a little too big. She prefers Goldstein’s since it seems to hit a Goldilocks’ midpoint, “Not a divey stinky bar and not one that is commercialized.” She appreciates being able to  “just relax and enjoy the variety of beers.”

Ruth does go to church, “I’m a faithful person...I go to church because I need the guidance. I need a positive direction. The Bible helps you to get your (stuff) together.” (We’re editing her wording a little, because this is a family friendly site -- there are so few family friendly bar blogs on the internet. We also aren’t mentioning the wifi password at Goldstein’s because it’s far from family friendly)

Ruth wants a church to be able to answer her questions. “You need to explain (things) to me.” She said her world religions class in college “(messed) me all up. I realized I have a biased faith, the one I was born into.”

She mentioned that the pastor and pastor’s wife at her church had a history of drug and alcohol issues so they encouraged abstinence from both. Ruth didn’t think that she needed to abide by that rule, since alcohol and drug abuse weren’t her problem (an attitude that does seem to have support from Paul in Romans 14).

Ruth pointed out that her name was from the Bible, though she didn’t really know the story of Ruth. Mindy happily told it, since the book of Ruth is one of her favorites from Scripture.

Shana the bartender also agreed to answer our questions. She said a good bar had “good music, dogs,” (dogs as a component of a good bar is, in our experience, wholly unique to Goldstein’s) “halfway decent beer, atmosphere, and good people.” We told her we found it a bit unusual for a bartender not to mention bartenders as an element of a good bar. She said, “I like bartenders that are (cranky). Because then I’m thinking ‘I feel you! People are horrible!’” I asked if she likes dives, and she said she does love them.

As for what would make for a good church, she said would prefer a place with not too many people -- she doesn’t like crowds. As she appreciates good music in a bar, she wants good music in a church. It should be welcoming, a family environment.

Shana asked if we wanted to close our tab, since she was getting ready to clock out. Another bartender, Megan, had just arrived.

As we were paying, Megan was willing to answer our questions, too. Echoing Shana she said, “Dogs are fun, yeah.” She talked about the importance of a good bartender that  is “cool and funny. A good bartender can read the room.”

And for church? “I don’t want to go to church. They should accept everyone, no matter what they look like or what they were doing the night before.”

Like I said before, we saw the horse hanging from the ceiling, but we didn’t see anyone try to climb up on it. Shana told us there’s a prize if you make it, though she didn’t tell us what the prize was. And Megan told us about Larry; she said anyone who worked at the bar would tell you about Larry. Larry’s a regular who says he’s spent his life looking for his “Cheers bar,” and he finally found it with Goldstein’s.

So even though we didn’t see Larry, we did see a little of what he probably sees at Goldstein’s Mortuary and Delicatessen.  

Saturday, April 1, 2017

We Get Ready to Walk into Some Pretty Unusual Bars

signed painting of Martin Luther at Threshold Lutheran Church, Toledo
Fresno County, California
Last year when we were traveling to bars in every state, we found some very interesting and strange places. We walked into a bar that proclaimed itself a refuge from the zombie apocalypse, a bar that claimed to be the geographic center of North America, and even a bar that met in a church (or was it a church that met in a bar?)

If we had only known that the Fresno area has some of the country's strangest and most  unusual bars we might have saved a lot of time and energy! This month, without leaving Fresno County, we plan to visit some of the most bizarre bars in the United States, if not the world.

Number 10, Deadwood
For instance, in Clovis, across the street from the statue honoring Festus Haggan, the character played by Ken Curtis in the TV series Gunsmoke, you can go through the swinging doors into Miss Kitty’s. It’s a little chilly in winter, and dang hot in summer, but the bar is a fairly good replica of the bar in the TV series. During the day you can take the kids in for a sarsaparilla, but after 8:00 pm, Miss Kitty’s is for adults only, They specialize in whiskeys and other “real drinks for real men (and Calamity Janes).” During Rodeo Days each spring, stuntmen stage barroom brawls for the entertainment of the crowds. For a fee, you can try your hand at the shooting range out back.

A long time locals’ favorite in downtown Fresno is Manny’s Reptile Bar and Grill. Don’t worry, the reptiles don’t go on the grill (except for the annual “Rattlesnake B-B-Q,” a fundraiser for Valley Children’s Hospital). But there are plenty of reptiles in residence. Acrylic table tops cover herpetariums, allowing guests to observe the lizards and snakes living in the tables..and under them. (If you have a large group, you can even reserve the table with a giant monitor lizard!) Earlier residents, now dead, are preserved on the walls in very fine examples of the art of taxidermy. Manny himself passed away thirty years ago (and no, he is not stuffed and displayed on the wall), but his granddaughter Gretchen is the current proprietor. Snake Dancers are a highlight on the weekends -- and some of the serpents are brought out to join the act!

Back in the 1980’s, when the California Raisins were all the rage, Lou Mannette took advantage of their popularity and opened Raisin Hell in the tiny town of Minkler. It’s a bar featuring the sweet taste of the wrinkled fruit; a raisin beer is one of the most popular offerings, but there are a number of raisin-themed cocktails as well. The extensive wine list is labeled, “Immature Raisin Beverages.” For a time in the ‘90’s the bar experimented with a garlic theme, but the idea never bloomed.

One place in Fresno County is only a “bar” four times a year, but what a bar it is! At the Kerman Tropical Aquatic Park, one of the kiddie pools is turned into quite the “adult” pool at the solstices and the fall and spring equinoxes. The pool is filled with beer; for only $150 those with proper I.D.s can take a swim. For sanitation reason, a wet suit is required and provided by the park. Guests are able to imbibe through their snorkels. Of course, these events are closely monitored by trained lifeguards.

We’ll begin our tour of Fresno’s unusual drinking establishments next week with a visit to a bar called Goldstein’s Mortuary and Delicatessen. You may doubt there really is a bar with such a name, but that’s what Google is for.