Friday, June 15, 2018

We (finally) walk into a hotel bar

Atrium Lounge, DoubleTree by Hilton, Fresno, California
Drinks to go are usually not a bar thing. It’s pretty common to see signs near the door that say, “No Alcohol Beyond This Point.” At this bar, though, those signs are missing, and people taking drinks to their rooms is an everyday event. That’s one of the many things that make a hotel bar different than other bars.

I’ve wanted to write about this particular bar since September, but I couldn’t write about the Atrium Lounge while I was an employee of the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel where the bar resides. As an employee, I wasn’t supposed to frequent the bar (certainly a very sensible rule), and I worked night audit, starting just as the bartenders were finishing up. Because it’s in the lobby, surrounded by guest rooms, the bar can’t stay open too late; there’s always a balance between guests celebrating cheerily (and, often, noisily) with libations and guests trying to get a good night’s sleep. But since I no longer work there, visiting the bar is acceptable.

The bar is usually populated by business people relaxing after a long day of work or travel. Sometimes it’s a visiting baseball team celebrating a win over the Fresno Grizzlies, or concert goers enjoying a nightcap after a show at the convention center next door. When a religious group is hosting a retreat at the hotel, often the bar’s business goes down (though they make it up a bit with drinks ordered through room service).

On occasion while I was working at the hotel desk, I’d get complaints from the rooms about loud folks at the bar. Usually in a bar you don’t need to hush people, but this is a different kind of place. Another thing that makes it different is the waterfall. Most bars don’t have three-story indoor waterfalls.

We went on a Tuesday night, and the bar was full, so we sat at one of the tables. I knew the bar staff: Brandon was tending bar and Kasandra was waiting tables. In the past, we’d often chatted as their shifts ended and mine began.

Mindy and I were ready to order more generic drinks, but after we took a look at the menu, I ordered a “Big Black Cow… And Get Out of Here” (just because of the name) and Mindy ordered a “Blossom Trail Martini.”

Though they were busy, but Kasandra and Brandon took time to answer the two questions we always ask at bars, “What makes for a good bar?” and “Whether you go or not, what would make for a good church?”

After serving us our drinks, Kasandra said, “I think you need an attentive staff. People who can talk about anything.” Servers in a bar may need to discuss a wide range of topics, from what there is to do in town to the game playing on the TV. (By the way, sadly, the Oakland A’s were not playing well on the TV). She added that a bar should be, “Clean with good stock, an assortment for everybody.”

I asked her what she liked about working in this bar in particular. She’s worked in other hospitality locations and at a casino, but she said she loves it at the DoubleTree because of the people. She also appreciates that it is an open space. “The front desk is right there, and there are cameras.” It does make for a secure working environment. She also appreciates the variety of guests, “there are business people, sports people, families. There's more in the world than your hometown.”

As for what makes for a good church, she said, “Acceptance. You want to walk in and be with other people on their spiritual journeys, not judging or shaming. And love that isn’t just a front, but you can feel it.”

As we finished our drinks, we noticed there were a couple of seats open at the bar, so we went up to chat with Brandon. According to him, a good bar has “A couple of things. I’m not sure what the word is… It’s not entertainment, but it’s where you can find a good conversation.” He’s worked in holes-in-the-wall, nice restaurants, nightclubs (you don’t find those good conversations in nightclubs, he pointed out). He said the word he wanted meant something about individuals in the same place looking to talk together.

He explained that a hotel bar is different from a neighborhood bar. In a hotel bar, the travelers are often business people who, if they want to have a conversation, have to be willing to talk to strangers. “At this bar, there are people from all over the country, from all over the world.”

Neighborhood bars, he said, draw people from different walks of life, but they know each other. You might have people who don’t drink anymore, but still come and have their O’Douls or a soda.

It took time to get Brandon to answer the second question, primarily because he was busy. I asked for one word for what made for a good church. He said “acceptance.” (I’m pretty sure he didn’t overhear Kasandra.) He said these days you have to understand other people’s beliefs, but everyone shares the same core values, they’re just expressed differently.

We’re planning to move out of the Fresno area in the next few weeks, but it was nice to be able to visit my old workplace as a guest -- even though it was a little annoying that they seem to be doing just fine without me.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

We go to a couple of one-horned bars

Unicorn/Narwhal, Seattle, Washington
Since I’m writing this week, rather than Mindy, I can brag for her. She scored a 100 points on one throw in Skee-Ball a discussion of Skee-Ball ethics. Our daughter, Jil, told us about a couple who played Skee-Ball (which I think we can all agree is a very fine date activity) when the guy went forward and dropped the ball into the big points hole. Obviously, this offended his date, who reminded him of proper Skee-Ball behaviour, probably ending the relationship...but these are serious matters.

A bar with Skee-Ball, pinball, and video games already has a lot of points on the plus side for us. Unicorn (upstairs) and Narwhal (downstairs) is such a bar. Not only do they have the games in Narwhal, but they carry a carnival theme throughout the space and on the menu as well. Even the water dispenser seems to be from the midway, with colored lights building and fading.

The clown decorations, which work for the carnival theme, but would (of course) also work for a house of horrors. I kind of doubt anybody would trust the drinks in a house of horrors, though. They might have arsenic or hemlock among the ingredients, while the drinks at Unicorn included bubblegum, watermelon, and cotton candy flavors.

I ordered a drink that admittedly sounds like an option in a house of horrors: Cereal Killer. The ingredients weren’t so deadly, though: RumChata, Sprite, Grenadine, and Froot Loop vodka. sounds, admittedly, like an options at a Horror Bar, The Cereal Killer. But the ingredients were not deadlyish: RumChata Liqueur, Sprite, Soda, Grenadine, and Fruit Loop Vodka. (I’m guessing they didn’t use the Kellogg’s preferred spelling of “Froot Loops” to avoid lawsuits -- or to suggest the drink contains something healthy).

Taxidermied heads fill several walls (maybe more of a horror theme there, too?). Though we saw zebra, water buffalo, and warthogs on the wall, as far as we could tell, no actual unicorns were killed in order to decorate the bars. We saw a goaticorn head on one wall, but I don’t think they’re endangered. Or real.

The food menu includes fries and tots, burgers and corn dogs, funnel cakes and deep fried Snickers. Jil had the vegan quinoa tots, while the rest of us had corndog variants (my Magi-corn dog was topped with barbecue sauce, slaw, and onion rings).

Unicorn was busy, but it was a little slower in Narwhal, so we had a chance to talk with Zach, the downstairs bartender. I asked him our standard questions. He said a good bar had a variety of people, and “tons of overlap.” He said it was “important that there’s something for everyone. Cheap beer can be enjoyed by rich people. Of course, poor people can’t go the other way” to buy the expensive cocktails or liquors. We asked what he appreciated about this bar in particular, and he said, “Honestly, I appreciate that they gave me a job when I came here from Arkansas.” He said the owners are very nice.

As for a what makes for a good church, Zach said, “I’m not a believer, you know, but there should be an active promotion of love and peace.”

We went to Unicorn because it sounded like a fun place to be with our son and younger daughter while we visited Seattle in preparation for our move to the area. We each found something we liked on the menu (which can be a challenge for our family), the drinks were unusual, so I could write about that, and there were the games. A good time had by all.