Thursday, August 20, 2009

Iron City Eats: Primanti Brothers, Pittsburgh, PA

Primanti Bros

I woke up feeling great on Thursday morning. The birds were chirping, sun was shining and far off in the distance, a lone jackhammer hummed into the concrete. I was in Steven’s Point, Wisconsin, more specifically on the front porch of a house, in an inflatable rubber raft.

It was surprisingly comfortable.

Several hours later myself and the boys from Battlefields (in my opinion the best doom/prog metal in the Midwest, hands down) arrived in Pittsburgh, sans inflatable raft.

I’d been in Pittsburgh once before, although my only food related experience was witnessing an argument in front of a place called “Tony’s Pizza” in which a man dressed in stereotypical pizza-cook garb (I’m assuming this was Tony, although I have no proof) berated a guy with a long ponytail, bedecked from head to toe in Pittsburgh Steelers paraphernalia.

This time, however, I arrived with my appetite in tact. We leisurely strolled down Penn Avenue past block upon block of empty warehouses until suddenly we came upon a big neon sign reading: “Primanti Brothers”.

We were completely unprepared for the sandwiches we were about to receive. An old, grumpy Pittsburgher in a paper hat appeared, inquiring lackadaisically if we wanted a “sammidge”* before sloughing off to bring us some bottles of Iron City lager. Though tempted by the “Colossal Fish” sandwich and their “#2 Seller” the cheese steak sandwich**, I ordered the capicola. I have never been more pleased with a decision not to order a sandwich with “colossal” in the name.

Stacked high with big slices of meat, a pile of coleslaw and an armload of homemade fries, my sandwich bore a closer resemblance to a freight car from Pittsburgh’s stockyards than to a sandwich. It was heavenly.

Primanti Brothers began serving up sandwiches for iron workers with powerful appetites during the Depression and have continued their tradition of quick and hearty meals ever since. If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, I recommend you get yez down to Primanti and get yez a sammidge an’at.

*I discovered, through my research, that “Pittsburghese” is an actual linguistic dialect with its very own wikipedia page.

**I wondered aloud what the #1 seller was at Primanti Bros., our waiter hollered from across the room, “Iron City Beer!”

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Allons Enfants de la Patrie: La Jour De Gloire in the land of 10,000 Lakes


Those of you who know me can attest to my crushing if not frequently thoroughly embarrassing Francophilia. I have drunk cheap wine on the Champ de Mars, a Gaulois lit between my lips, "Du Côté de Chez Swann" under my arm, swinging a baguette and leering heartily from behind a lusty moustache. Stripy shirt and flatulent bulldog and all.

So what's a pauvre grenouille like myself supposed to do stranded in the middle of America when the quatorze juillet arrives?

Do I make a replica guillotine, re-enacting my own Terreur on some watermelons dressed like Marie-Antoinette? Or perhaps I should put some Piaf on the stereo and quote loudly from Rousseau's "Contrat Social"?

Nay, gentle reader, as I write this I am listening to "The Stroke" by Billy Squier, eating a mediocre bacon cheeseburger, drinking Budweiser and watching the MLB Allstar game at a bar which seemingly exists for no other reason than it happens to reside at the intersection of two county highways.

Vacantly staring from the northeast corner of the intersection of Becker County highways 6 and 11 "The Pit" occupies a bizarre section of highway which is pretty damn close to the middle of nowhere (the Pit claims to be in Audobon, Minnesota which takes up about 45 seconds of your time on highway 10 on the way to Detroit Lakes, although it is a good four miles from the Audobon, Minnesota I know with a lot of blank space in between) and also boasts two houses and, you guessed it, a church.

The Pit is not a great bar. Hell, it is not even a good bar, but it has beer and baseball, and sometimes that's enough...

Well, not really, however the bar that I wasgoing to go to was struck by lightning this afternoon and none of its TVs were working when the game started.

So the Pit may not bee a great bar. Hell, it's not even a good bar. But it has beer, burgers, baseball and happened to not get struck by lightning on Bastille Day and that's what I call the four Bs of good livin on a Tuesday afternoon.

Aux Armes Et Cetera mes enfants!

*Many thanks to my friend Benjamin Moses Smith for the gracious use of his visage as well as the other dude whose name I forget.

Friday, July 3, 2009


Hey Friends,

Sorry I've been conspicuously absent from VA for a while. Busy, busy, busy! I am going to be doing a set of reviews coming up in the next week though! So keep your eyes peeled and your hands on the wheel!


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's Always 11:45 PM in Chicago: The Skylark

Nick, Bartender Extraordinaire @ the Skylark, Chicago
Skylark Bartender Nick who not only looks as though he should work in a boxing gym in the 40s, but also recently played one on stage. Nice moustache, Nick.

If ever there was a bar that made me want to spiral off into a Bukowskian barfly bender, slouched in the corner writing poems about flies, making derogatory comments about women and attractive people and drinking cheap whiskey, the Skylark is it. It’s not that the Skylark is covered in dirt and grime, or packed with bar sluts and Johnny Ginblossoms, it’s simply the atmosphere. It's always 11:45pm in the Skylark. Were Chicago a city that still allowed smoking, the Skylark would be in a perpetual fog of nostalgic cigarette smoke. However, appearances can be deceiving as, hidden behind the half burned out 10 watt lamps and cracked linoleum floor is an excellent, always changing selection of beers and one of the best kitchens in Chicago’s shabby-chic hip-kid haven, the Pilsen neighborhood.

While there is a set menu at the Skylark including some of the best burgers the south side of Chicago has to offer, the real treat is their ever changing specials menu which runs the gamut between Moroccan lamb stew, ahi tuna steaks and my personal favorite, t-bone steak.

As a self proclaimed master of the grill, it has been my mission, nay, obsession to perfect the t-bone and, while I have gotten rather good at it, there is no substitute for the Skylark’s t-bone. Juicy, with just the right amount of fat to keep the flavor in-tact, not too much salt and just enough pepper, this steak is like the cover of “Kings of Metal” by Manowar, standing atop all its competitors, sword in hand, lightning crashing down. Epic.

While the kitchen is a pleasant surprise, the integral function of the Skylark is a dive bar. Dark, cavernous booths yawn along the wall as you enter, a few dim lamps and some neon from behind the bar provide the only illumination. Towards the back of the bar, a lonely pinball machine stares down a photobooth. During the day you can usually find some shabby scholar reading Giles Deleuze through precariously perched bifocals as he takes down his third pint.

At night, Pilsen’s good looking art kid population shows up. James Brown and Wilson Pickett go on the record player (yes this bar has a record player, no juke box, just a record player) and tables get cleared for dancing, most of which consists of that old hipster classic: “slightly swaying while spilling PBR all over the floor.”

Perhaps one of the best things about the Skylark is something it lacks, rather than something it has. No televisions blare in any of the Lark’s darkened corners, one feels as if one might have stepped through time back to an era when people went to bars to have conversations, or a quiet drink, without being distracted by the outside world. Also conspicuously absent from the Skylark is the air of pretension which generally accompanies dives where good food meets the art set. The bartenders are laid back but efficient, the patrons, from what I have noticed, seem to simply mind their own business instead of trying to prove something about their wardrobe to the rest of the bar and the mood is always one of affable drunkenness.

The Lark is as close as I’ve come to finding a Gold Standard for dive bars. And believe you me, I’ve seen a lot. From the food to the booze to the crowd to the music, the Lark has got it figured out on all fronts.

The Skylark
2149 South Halsted
Chicago, IL

Tap: PBR plus a rotating selection of good stuff (Lagunitas specials, Great Lakes, etc.)
Bottle: Seems decent.

One of the best dive kitchens I’ve ever seen. Moroccan lamb stew, great burgers and, of course, T-Bones.

TVs: None!
Bar Games: Pinball, Photobooth

Attractive art kids, old men reading books, lots of ties.

Jukebox: No jukebox, just a record player and a bunch of bartenders with taste.
Live: Apparently there is live jazz on Saturdays, I have yet to verify this, though, perhaps I will have to make another trip.

Bukowskian Chicago Dive

Seems pretty decent, PBR’s cheap, generally have beer specials, food is about average for Chicago.


The Lark is, as I mentioned before, one of my new favorite bars in the world. Dark and drunk and fun. Check it out in the afternoon for a quiet pint or at night for the crowd.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Charleston, SC: AC's Bar: The Champagne of Beers of Bars


Charleston has a really big bridge. You can see it from miles away. It looks like something out of a science fiction movie, suspended by huge cables in a large arc. Throughout the 16 or so hours I spent in Charleston, I was to become intimately familiar with this bridge.

You see, if you miss the turn for Bay Street off of Highway 17 in Charleston you are damned, damned I say, to cross that bridge, make a u-turn and try it again. However, one thing I learned about the Carolinas is that they only like to mark exits from one side, not the other.

I drove over this bridge a grand total of 9 times.

Not in a row, obviously (I am slightly more navigationally capable than that) but throughout the day I either missed the Bay Street exit or was attempting to get somewhere else and ended up on the bridge 9 times.

Impressive, I know.

During my time in Charleston I came across a little hole-in-the-wall called AC’s Bar (467 King Street, Charleston, SC for those of you keeping score at home). From the outside, one would be hard-pressed to choose AC’s over any of the other bars in the neighborhood. Just a small neon sign reading AC’s and a nondescript awning adorn the façade and one imagines that the patrons like that just fine. Comprised mostly of tattooed rockers, bike messengers, the denizens of AC’s appeared to enjoy their own Private Idaho. And who wouldn’t? A nicely cluttered bar area gives AC’s that lived in feel, scruffy and unpretentious.

$2 PBRs and a damn good burger for roughly $5 make this place easy on the pocketbook as well. I had a straight up cheeseburger which was expertly cooked (not too done, not too raw, with almost a slight char on the outside, delicious).

However, the most memorable thing for me was that the bartender had, apparently, rifled through my high-school record collection and played a TON of music I hadn’t heard in eons. Right when I showed up, in fact, he played Alkaline Trio’s “Goddammit!” record in its entirety. By the time I decided to leave ACs my brain was so addled by PBR and Chicago-style pop-punk I was getting ready to seek out a drummer and write some 2 minute hookfests about drinking cheap beer and sitting on couches, all soaring octave lines and machinegun drum fills. However, I soon put the kybosh on that notion as I continued my journey across that damn bridge…


467 King St.
Charleston, SC

Tap: A few locals and some crummy domestics.
Bottle: Selection seemed pretty good, AC’s has their “Beer of the Month” where you get a pretty damn good bottle for $2.25 . This month it is Harp.

They also have their whole booze selection written on the mirrors over the bar including a section which says, simply, “Champagne: Miller High Life - $2”

Excellent burgers, pretty standard bar fare. Apparently they also have the best Philly Cheese Steak south of the Mason/Dixon.

TVs: A few on which baseball and America’s Funniest Home Videos bid for my attention.
Bar Games: Pool, touch screen.

Rockers, hipsters, bike messengers, etc.

Jukebox: Not that I could see. An iPod that, apparently, can look into my past lives at the bar, though.
Live: There appeared to be a stage at the front of the bar, although there weren’t any fliers up for shows.

Cheers meets your Uncle’s basement

Pretty damn good. 5 Buck Burgers and 2 Dollar PBRS. I got out of there for 9 bucks plus tip.


Did I give this bar a higher rating because it inadvertently brought me back to my childhood? Maybe. Should you still check it out if you are looking for something to do in Charleston? Definitely.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Springfield, IL: You Can Take Our Land, But You Can Never Take Our Freedom Sandwich

Darcy's Horseshoe Before

One of the highpoints of travel has to be eating local specialties. Any time I am at a bar or restaurant I make sure to ask if they have some ridiculous food or drink item that is their specialty. Generally if you find a local to take you out they will automatically take you to the restaurant that makes shots in a flaming coconut or has a scale model of the Eiffel tower made out of French fries and cheese.

Or a giant pile of heart attack.

Springfield, IL is home to many wonders. The capital of the great state of Illinois cuts an imposing figure in the skyline which appeared, to Jack and me as we were driving in to the city, to be a giant hand flipping us the bird. Ahh southern Illinois.

Springfield, for some time, was also home to one of the most amazing people I know, Ms Abby Rae Lacombe who is responsible, in some fashion, for the excellent Front Porch Sitters blog and is also a dear, dear friend of mine. Abby, being an ex-Springfieldian, joined us for our show in Springfield and, consequently, introduced me to a sandwich which may, some day, be directly related to me necessitating open heart surgery.

I use the term sandwich very, very loosely. The Horseshoe, which is so famous it has its own Wikipedia page is more of a pile of delicious heart-attack on some Texas toast. The ingredients, from what I can remember are: one huge slab of Texas toast topped by a couple of hamburger patties, covered in French fries and then smothered in some kind of white cheese sauce. There were also some onions in there, I believe. In any case it is an imposing heap of bar food which even I, who fears no burger, could not finish in one sitting.

The best Horseshoe (which, according to Wikipedia, is also known as the “freedom sandwich”) as per Ms Lacombe, is to be found at D’Arcy’s Pint. A relatively unremarkable bar, save for the heaping piles of cardiac arrest they serve on a regular basis, I will blame D’Arcy’s Pint on my death bed as my arteries finally give up the ghost, shaking my fist in futile rage at the Horseshoe for being so damn delicious.

(I should mention that I recently found this website where the Horseshoe should definitely hold a place of distinction if it does not already.)

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Right in the Breadbasket: Lawrence, KS pt. III: The Bottleneck

Nighthawks at the Diner
Photo by Jeremiah Hammerling
Note: This picture was not taken at the Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS but at the EP Theater in Chicago, IL about which I will write later.

Another helpful hint for those of you out there on the road, free pool time is your friend. Generally you can find one or two bars in any given town that have set their pool tables to “free” during the afternoon/evening*. These free pool times also usually accompany happy hours which is also a bonus. Free pool is great for myriad reasons.

1) Idle hands are the devil’s plaything.
If you tour like I usually do, you generally have a lot of time on your hands to screw around. They say that time equals money and this has never been more true than when you have a little bit of money and a lot of time on your hands with nothing to do. Free pool eliminates your need for something (which usually costs money) to do. Also, as I mentioned before, free pool is usually accompanied by happy hours which also ease the strain on the wallet. Also if you happen to play in a band with someone who is really good at pool, it gives you the chance to progressively improve in order to one day defeat them**.

2) Hey there Stranger.
Free pool/happy hours are great places to meet people. Don’t know anyone in town? Afraid no one is going to come to your show? Hit up the local beer hall with free pool, play a few games with your bandmates and strike up conversations with people playing near you. If you/they are cool they will end up coming to your show later that night and probably call their friends to say “Hey I met these dudes at the bar earlier, they are playing tonight, let’s go!” You want this.

3) R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Many places you will play on your tour will be bars. These bars will have pool tables, and if you can play a decent game of pool against someone at the bar you gain that person’s respect. This will lead to them sticking around to watch you, buying a t-shirt and maybe offering you a place to crash. Careful though, just because Cletus put up a fight against you and your bass player during cutthroat does not mean that his house will be clean, not covered in cat poop, or that he will not try to tell you about how he robbed a bank and/or try to get you guys to “party” all night***. So, free pool is your friend then, because it offers you the chance to work on your game.

4) Bonus Round.
As you can see in the above photo, you can also take awesome band pictures while playing pool and people will think you are cool.

So after eating a delicious meal at the Mad Greek, Jack and I found ourselves in a position we occupied a lot, namely, having very little money and a lot of time on our hands. So, what did we do? You guessed it. Free pool time.

The Bottleneck is apparently a pretty cool rock club. Although we were there in the middle of the day, the lineups seemed to be pretty cool, mostly touring acts. The Old 97s or some band of that ilk was playing the night we were there. Most importantly for us, though, they had free pool and cheap beer.

We were the only ones there, so numbers 2 and 3 were eliminated, however it did give me a chance to lose spectacularly to Jack about twelve times as well as to consume some of the local Free States porter which was delicious.

The Bottleneck qualifies as a dive bar, for me, dude behind the bar with a bad attitude, nasty looking concrete floor, no door on the bathroom/stall, etc. so, since it’s been a while I’m going to bust out the old DBRS:

Tah Dah!

737 New Hampshire
Lawrence, KS

Tap: Pretty good, a lot of locals.
Bottle: Good.

None that I could see.

TVs: Meh.
Bar Games: Three pool tables (worn and lumpy just like a dive bar’s should be).

Couldn’t tell, as there was NOBODY there.

Jukebox: Above average.
Live: National touring acts.

90’s Alt-rock press photos/standard rock dive fare.

Happy hour was pretty decent from what I remember and they appear to have several of them, can’t speak for showtime, though. Also the free pool didn’t hurt.


The Bottleneck seems like it would be a good place to see a show. We certainly had a good time playing free pool and drinking cheap beer there, if you’ve got time to kill in Lawrence I’d recommend it.

*A quick search on Google usually will turn these up.
**Kelsey Crawford, if you are reading this I am coming for you.
*** “Party” generally involves watching CHUD II, drinking the worst beer you can think of and listening to his stories about all of the different ATVs he’s owned in his life. Not cool.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Right in the Breadbasket: Lawrence, KS pt. II: the Mad Greek

The Mad Greek

Nursing is a particularly handy skill when you’re on tour and broke. Not taking care of the elderly and infirm although theoretically that could come in handy at some point as well, but nursing as in “nursing a coffee for two hours while using a coffee shop’s free wifi” or “nursing a beer because you only get two free ones from the venue and you’re gonna want the other one for when you get onstage”.

Another time nursing comes in handy is when the people who drunkenly offered their couch to you at the show last night wake you up at 8am, frantically shooing you out the door as they try to pull their work clothes on. Then it is time to nurse your hangover with a cup of coffee and a crossword puzzle.

Massachusetts Avenue in Lawrence is replete with coffee shops in which to waste time, leer at the college girls walking by and nurse said hangover. I can’t recall the name of the coffee shop Jack and I found, however I do remember that they had free refills on coffee which was brilliant and that they were playing Amadou & Miriam’s Dimanche a Bamako album. Both positives for me.

After finishing two crosswords, drinking numerous cups of (free) coffee, it was time to get back on the street, maybe find something to eat and peruse the main drag of Lawrence. Much to our surprise a random guy walked up to us on the street and said, “Hey, you guys played at the Replay last night! You were awesome!”

This has never happened to me before, not even in towns where I have lived. For years. I was floored and even more so when we walked by the Free State Brewing Company and someone shouted from the smoking porch, “You guys rocked at the Replay last night!”

At this point I was pretty much ready to cancel the rest of the tour and settle down in Lawrence. Not only did we randomly play at the Replay the night before but we couldn’t have gone on before midnight so the sheer fact that anyone in Lawrence was sober enough to remember us playing at that point is nothing short of Herculean.

Lightning never strikes the same place twice and certainly not thrice, however, lo and behold Jack and I sat on the patio of the Mad Greek and our waiter said, “Hey did you guys play at the Replay last night?” Unbelievable. Apparently our waiter’s girlfriend had seen us last night, picked up a CD and told him about us. How he arrived at the conclusion that we were the musicians about whom his girlfriend was speaking, I’ll never know, nonetheless he was a nice guy.

The Mad Greek is mad delicious. Lots of big Greek-style plates full of gyro, souvlakia, dolmas smothered in tzatziki sauce. Nice big portions (they also have some, delicious looking Italian food but I was on a mission for gyro and dolmas, yum!) and pretty cheap if you can order off of the lunch menu. They also have nice outdoor seating if you happen to be there during the spring or summer. I recommend the gyro.

Welcome, Beeronauts!

Just wanted to take a minute to welcome J. Isaac Burckhard to the VA crew. He is, as you can probably tell from his post, extremely knowledgeable about beer. He is also a very funny guy with whom I have traveled extensively. He will be updating sporadically with new beers for you to consume and enjoy.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA

Hello from the Pacific Northwest!
As a first time author on the Vagabond Appetite created by the esteemed Bryce Midas Richardson, I'd like to introduce myself as Justin: the Beer Adventurer! I have been neck deep in homebrew recipies, drowned myself in 2 year-old horse piss swill, encountered barleywines and IPA's of the Gods, and some how managed to come out with an understanding of almost all aspects of the greatest beverage known to humankind: BEER.

Todays beer is SIERRA NEVADAS "Torpedo Extra IPA"

I finished packing all my belongings on a fine Saturday afternoon to move to a new location and find that I forgot to pack one of my most beloved beer vessels, the Belgian chalice. What To DO? I ask myself. Fill it with SN's Torpedo Extra IPA is WHAT TO DO!!!!

Man, this is one of the BEST IPA's I have ever had. Balanced, full, spicy, fruity. And unlike most big IPA's, the Boys at The Sierra Brewery kept the bitterness at a minimum. Lovely. As to allow the tongue to soak up the flavors before the bittering hops take over.

First off, Lets clarify a few things. To those unfamiliar with beer verbage, heres a few basics:

-IPA: India Pale Ale. ( Created By the British, mass amounts of hops in the beer acted as a preservative to keep the beer fresh on the long voyages to the troops in India. )

-IBU: International Bittering Units. (most humans cannot taste IBU's exceeding 100)

-ABV: Alcohol By Volume

-Hops: the flower contributing to flavor, aroma, and bitterness.

Okay, onward!!!

Head Retention- Because I used the wrong vessel (see pic below), I cannot comment on the head retention. It didn't last long enough to create the merengue texture I hoped for. Next time.

Body/Taste- was a deep amber/copper tone that rested on the palette nicely. The taste is well balanced and solid, with a spicy hop bite up front that imparts a more moderate bitterness. This is evened out well by tangy tropical fruits and a mix of grainy and bready malts.

Aroma- Floral, spicy. Pineapple, mango, papaya?? I expected mostly grapefruit as is usually the case in big IPA's.

The reason is the choice in hops:

The Citra hop is a new breed of hop funded and developed by Sierra Nevada and a couple of undisclosed breweries.

Now for the fun part.
The name TORPEDO stems from an invention that Ken Grossman and the brewers came up with several years ago. The Hop Torpedo is a cylindrical stainless steel vessel that was developed to harness the essential oils and resins in hops, without extracting bitterness. The device essentially works like an espresso machine.

So theres two reasons to go out and get a 6 pack while they're available.
New Hop breed and the Torpedo method.

ABV: 7.2%
IBU: 70
Availability: 12oz 6-pk, Year round
Brewer: Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA (


Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Things We Do: Superbowl Edition III


Well my chicken turned out delicious. I ended up leaving it in the oven for 1:30 and making gravy out of the juice.

That was quite a nailbiter of a Superbowl. Too bad the Cardinals didn't complete their Cinderella season, but I still put a beer can in a chicken's butt for America.

God bless us, everyone.

The Things We Do: Superbowl Edition II

As I mentioned before, drinking beer all day has long been one of my favorite parts of Superbowl Sunday. And, being the eminently responsible fellow that I am, I am usually placed in charge of securing the beer for Superbowl Sunday.

Now, beer for a football game, sounds easy right? Not on Sundays in Minneapolis. For those out there who have not lived in the great state of Minnesota, it is illegal to sell offsale on Sundays. Why? I haven't the foggiest. Minnesota isn't particularly religious, it's denizens LOVE football AND beer, and yet, for some reason, no dice on buying it on the day when the Lutheran God rests, kicks up his feet in some Minnetonka moccasins, cracks open a cold Premium Grain Belt and watches the Vikings lose. That is, assuming he didn't drink the last of 'em on Saturday night.

In fact, one year I was actually responsible for HIDING a case of beer so that we didn't drink it before the Superbowl. But All Superbowls' Eve was a little too much fun and...

I failed.

No beer, Superbowl Sunday morning, what's a boy to do? Well our only option was to drive to Wisconsin, so, in the freezing cold of early February, we bundled up, packed ourselves into my car, turned up the Metallica and headed for the border.

Roughly an hour later we were back in Minneapolis with a casefull of the Champagne of beers, and Superbowl Sunday was complete.

In honor of this journey, today I am shoving a beer can in a chicken and cooking the hell out of it.

Beer in the Ass of A Chicken

Beer Ass Chicken
1 Chicken (Imagine that!)
1 can of delicious, delicious beer.
Olive Oil
Garlic Salt

Preheat oven to 375
Take long, satisfying drink of beer.
Open can of beer, take long, satisfying drink of beer (leave about half the can full)
I am experimenting, crushing up garlic and putting it in the beer. We'll see if that works.
Oil that sucker up, rub it down with some salt, pepper, garlic salt and any other seasoning you think might make the tasty meats.
Stick-'er on in the oven for an hour to an hour and a half.

Now we'll see if I pulled this off in about a half hour... Updates to come...

The Things We Do: Superbowl Edition I

The Superbowl has always been a great day of celebration for me. Any excuse to gorge myself on crap food, drink beer in the middle of the day and sit around with the top button of my jeans undone, basking in testosterone, making Tim Allen noises at the screen is my kind of day.

Now, here are two things that, if you have never watched football with me, you might not know:

1) As manly as I am, I really don't know that much about football.
Yep. Watching football has always been more of a social occasion, hang out with the boys, watch some guys smash the hell out of eachother for a while. That's about as deep as I get in to the whole thing.

2) I love to shoot my mouth off about things I know nothing about, particularly if I have been drinking beer all day.
Also, true, although beer is not necessary. I really like pretending I know what I'm talking about, even if I have no clue. This tendency is magnified by the amount of beer I have consumed.

Oh boy! Such a winning combination. One particular Superbowl which was, I believe, the last Superbowl won by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I found myself loudly declaring that (Bucs placekicker) Martin Gramatica was a son of a bitch and a hack. From where this animosity towards the Brazilian placekicker came I can't say. Nonetheless for at least the second half of the game I was adamant that Martin Gramatica was an asshole and couldn't kick for shit.

Ah memories.

Friday, January 30, 2009


Gotta mention this as well, my good friend, ex-bandmate and occasional collaborateur Paul Wiesenborn just put out a new record under his CHANG moniker. It is absolutely brilliant. Check out CHANG: HERE

Right in the Breadbasket: Lawrence, KS pt. I: the Replay Lounge

The Replay Lounge – Lawrence, KS

The funny thing about writing up these experiences months after the happened is the incongruities that arise, when did that happen? In what order? Or, in the case of Lawrence, KS I am not quite clear as to why we decided to drive to Lawrence with no shows booked for several days and $20 between the two of us. On a Sunday night. At 8pm. The only conclusion I can draw is that we decided, being the stouthearted, robust fellows that we are, to continue on our path in search of adventure.

Do you know how to spell adventure, kids? K-A-N-S-A-S.

Ok so that’s less than accurate, Kansas may not be the most exciting part of America, the beautiful, but it has its merits. Carry on, my wayward son.

A quaint little hamlet roughly a half hour from Kansas City, Lawrence is also home to the University of Kansas and consequentially, a pretty decent bar/music scene. Jack and I cased the main drag looking for places to busk up a couple dollars, eventually settling on a streetcorner outside of a bar where there was some sort of bluegrass show going on. We figured we would wait until the show was over, set up our instruments and catch a couple bucks from the people leaving the bluegrass show. The door guy informed us the show had another hour or so left so, like the responsible adults we are, Jack and I decided to go spend the last of our money on beer and pool. I was feeling pretty good about my pool game that day as I had actually beat Jack fair and square for the first time earlier that day (this is the one and only time that I beat Jack by clearing the table and sinking the eight ball, which is embarrassing considering how many times we played pool during this tour) so we ducked in to a pub down the street and proceeded to fritter away our remaining ducats. Now broke but with several lukewarm Budweisers down the hatch we meandered over to the door of the Replay and started to play just as the bluegrass band was finishing up their last song.

Nobody left.

We played and played and not a single person walked out the door. We began to realize the grievous error we had committed. So, being the industrious fellow I am, I decided to talk turkey with the club owner, figuring we could just play our instruments on the stage where the bluegrass band had played and perhaps sell a couple CDs. The bar manager informed me that the rear stage (where the bluegrass band had played) was closed, but she would see what she could do.

Subsequently I realized that this woman is the most amazing person in the world. She got the sound guy to transport some of the PA gear inside, set it up for us and sound check us. She gave us free beer and then proceeded to WALK AROUND THE BAR BY HERSELF and DEMAND that people pitch in money for us. She is my hero.

A drunk couple at the bar bought us several shots and the bartender tried to refuse my tip because he wanted us to keep all the money we could. My mind was, consequentially, blown. Never have I seen an outpouring of support for genuine strangers, much less for strangers who looked as though they may or may not be shifty hobos.

The Replay Lounge not only saved our bacon, but it is a bitchin’ bar as well. There are two sections, an indoor area with a small stage (there is a SWEET painting of a superhero on the wall, I felt very superheroic playing next to it) and a full bar and a significantly larger outdoor area with a bar, a big stage and a bunch of seating. Also, in searching for an image for this post on the Google I came across quite a few pictures which lead me to believe that the Replay is the place to be on a pretty regular basis in Lawrence.

Our very own rags to riches story, right there in Lawrence, KS, but that’s not the end of our Lawrence adventure, tune in tomorrow for part two of:

Right in the Breadbasket
or …
Carry on my Wayward Fun?*

*I used a question mark to imply the similarity between my cornball titles and those found at the end of Rocky & Bulwinkle episodes, you know, like where the announcer says, in that oh-so-dramatic voice, “Tune in next time for, “Fear and Loathing in Frostbite Falls or… The Juiced Up Moose Is Loose!” Hope that got across.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

YJ's Snack Bar - Kansas City, MO

YJ’s Kansas City, MO

Welcome, new readers, most of whom, I’m imagining are touring musicians. This one’s for you guys:

If you are ever in Kansas City, Missouri, YJ’s is a must. Local, organic food at a good price. Great coffee. Interesting crowd. Definitely one of the best hidden spots I have seen so far.

I was first turned on to YJ’s by a guy named Ed who was booking our show in KC in October of 2008. Jack and I had some time to kill. Jack and I killed a lot of time in Kansas City due to our severe lack of funds at that particular juncture. After a considerable break in shows we played one almost impromptu show at a bar in Columbia, MO. No amps, standing next to the old drunks at the bar. We felt like the Blues Brothers just showing up with our instruments and saying, “Hey, we’re the band.” At which point all the rednecks in the bar did that slow head turn, as if to say, “We don’t take kindly to you young’ns.” The crone behind the bar gave Jack a verbal dressing down when he asked her to turn off the jukebox. I was pretty confident that we were going to get beat up and die in a ditch in the middle of Missouri, which is not my preferred way to go, especially after we played a Hank Williams song and one of the kindly bartenders was unaware that Hank Williams, Jr had a famous father. Now THAT’S redneck.

Anyhow, we managed to squeeze a couple of free beers and about 25 bucks outta the joint (mostly thanks to the crone who gave a similar verbal dressing down to the bar patrons when they wouldn’t put money in our tip jar, thanks lady!) After spending a night on the floor at a house which had far too many people sleeping on the floor (I got the last floor space, Jack got the confusingly still available couch?) Jack and I headed for KCMO.

Kansas City is an alright place to kill time. Downtown KC is a nice grid, plenty of free parking, lots of old abandoned buildings to wander around as well as a pretty cool open space by Union Station which is also worth a quick walkthrough if you’ve got the time.

YJ’s tucked in a little corner on the outskirts of downtown on 18th and Wyandotte (it’s there, although it requires a bit of maneuvering to locate it, I assure you, it’s worth it.) Roughly the size of a pack of cigarettes, YJ’s can only seat about 10 people at one time, although it was still nice enough to sit outdoors when Jack and I visited which just about doubled YJ’s capacity. The food was fantastic and, relatively cheap. The great thing about YJ’s is if you order off of the menu, which is generally comprised of one lunch item and one dinner item, you get an entire meal. The first time we ate there, we got a North African dinner complete with hummus, couscous, lamb kebab and a salad for somewhere around eight bucks.

The staff at YJ’s is also extremely cool. Very laid back folk usually playing interesting music. There is a bit of a library in one corner full of weird magazines, books on interesting subjects and local poetry. There is also generally a cadre of interesting kids hanging out at YJ’s and, if you talk to them you could get them to come out to your show (by the time we left Jack and I had about half the café and the girl behind the bar coming to our show).

The greatest thing about YJ’s, though, specifically for those of us who are broke and traveling, is that if you ask them if they have leftovers they will usually whip you up something delicious to the tune of about 5 bucks. So, if your wallet is hurting and you don’t have enough to pony up for the actual dinner menu (which will be delicious and a lot of food) there are other options to get a little food. YJ’s is also open 24 hours (I believe) so if you are just passing thru town in the middle of the night and need a cup of strong coffee before you drive all the way across Kansas it’s also a good pit stop.

Quirky atmosphere, good food, great value. If you’re traveling through Kansas City I highly recommend checking out YJ’s.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Iowa Pt. III: A La Recherche du Paul's Perdu

My beloved Twinnies lost! But did that do anything to quell this man’s Playoffs Fever? Absolutely not. Still sequestered in Dubuque, Iowa I continued on my search for dive bars in which to feed my need for beer and baseball. I heard rumors of a place called “Paul’s Tavern” “Paul’s Tap” and “Paul’s Bar” where one could get a cheeseburger and a beer for two bucks. Now, either there are a lot of guys named Paul in Dubuque who are all trying to corner the cheap drunk market, or Paul’s Tavern/Tap/Bar was the same place. Sure enough, at 176 Locust St. in Dubuque Paul’s Tavern reared its ugly head. A doublewide bar if I’ve ever seen one, Paul’s Tavern has to be one of the narrowest bars I’ve ever been to. It also features the most frightening array of dead animals I have ever seen in my life which are, apparently, “Paul’s Big Game Trophies”.

Photo By Darren Snow

These “Trophies” range from deer to mountain goats to small varmints all stuffed and neatly arrayed in large, neon-backlit glass cases that line both walls. Remember when I said Paul’s was one of the narrowest bars I’ve ever seen? Well huge glass cases full of dead animals encroaching from either side doesn’t help that sense of claustrophobia.

The television in Paul’s is a tiny remnant of the Carter administration, crouching under the glassy gaze of a mountain goat in the farthest rear corner of Paul’s. As it coughed up the only game that the Sox won in their series against Tampa I ordered what was to become the first of many $1 beers from a bartendress who looked like a 90 year old shaved cat that had been smoking Virginia Slims since the Titanic sunk. The beer? Old Style. Classic Chicago-baseball-watching beer. Now, Old Style, for all of you beerficionados out there who don’t drink yard beers with us plebeians, is not, I will admit, the greatest beer in the world.* However, THIS particular keg of Old Style had, apparently been sitting in the basement of Paul’s Tap since the last time the Twins won the World Series.** AND, apparently the way that Paul’s Tap could justify selling Old Style for $1 was if they doled it out by the thimbleful. After roughly 18 Dixie cups of Old Style I was ready for a burger.

The Paul’s Tavern burger was probably the most blatantly unsanitary thing I have ever consumed in my life. This is saying a lot coming from a guy who eats off the floor to keep his immune system on its toes. Nefertiti’s Mummy pulled a pre-made hamburger patty out of a cooler which I could’ve sworn was sitting open since I walked in, tossed it in some sort of grill/oven which was so crusted over it looked like a topographical map of the Appalachians, looked annoyed/bored and said, “One dollar, sweetie.” Now I suspect that the crustitution of this particular grill/oven thingee had something to do with how delicious this particular slider was. Whatever the case might’ve been, it was absolutely delicious. And only a dollar! How magical.

Several more walnut shells full of Old Style later I engaged in conversation with a drunk, nearly deaf man who proceeded to yell at me for roughly a half hour about being in the Ironworker’s Union, how much he hated the Sox (yes, ladies and gents, this man was a dirty, dirty Cubs fan) and how he was going to try to get fellated by his across the hall neighbor. Good luck Lazy-Eye.

Towards the end of the night the Sox won, all was right with the universe and my tab ended up being somewhere around $12. Money well spent, thanks Paul’s!

I spent the rest of the night singing Italian arias down by the Mississippi river with Jack and Sabyre. I brought Sabyre a bag of oranges which she adopted as her baby. I also fell and ripped my jeans, so now I have a pair of jeans with a hole in the knee and look much cooler than I would otherwise. Great!


Paul’s Tavern
176 Locust St.
Dubuque, IA

Tap: Old Style (comes in tiny, tiny glasses)
Bottle: Didn’t get a chance to inspect the bottle selection, wouldn’t imagine it’s that great.

Delicious sliders from a Cold War grilloven.

TVs: At least one which probably displayed the Moon Landing.
Bar Games: I believe there was pinball and perhaps Ms. Pac-Man

Old drunks. Guys with lazy eyes who talk about their peckers.

Jukebox: I seem to remember them having some sort of jukebox, but baseball was more important…
Live: None

Scary, scary dead animals, everywhere!

The beers weren’t that huge but they were only a dollar and the burgers were pretty good and I walked out of there with a pretty slim tab. 8


Paul’s is, apparently, an old drunk institution in Dubuque. If you are looking for a cheap in every sense of the word time, Paul’s is the place to go in Dubuque. Also, it is a good place to watch baseball.

* Before all you Chicagoans with a chip on your shoulder start getting your noses out of joint about Old Style, understand that if you think that Old Style is the greatest beer in the world that you don’t actually MEAN that, you simply think that any attack on Old Style is an attack on the Sox or the Cubs or Chicago. Truth be told it has nothing to do with that, Old Style is just kindof a crummy beer, please act accordingly.

**1991 for all of you cretins out there.

Friday, January 16, 2009

New Contributions

I have all kinds of wacky things in the works. Some day I am going to finish my Dubuque, IA trilogy (it's half done). Also I have invited some very funny and interesting people to write about their experiences and areas of expertise so I don't have to sound like a dummy when I try to write about beer or Russia or having face tattoos.

I am also writing the great American novel and trying to resurrect Babe Ruth's corpse which takes up a lot of my time, so, geez, give a guy a break, hey?

Monday, January 12, 2009


I am currently hiding in a bungalow in western Florida, a long way from Escondido, California. Imagine my surprise when I entered the beer aisle at the local Whole Foods and found some of the best beer San Diego County has to offer. I am talking about Stone Brewery’s fine cadre of beers which may or may not have been directly or indirectly responsible for me almost knocking out my ex-bandmate’s teeth roughly six times during a show at the Comet in Seattle, WA.

Naturally I had to buy some more.

I just cracked a bottle of the Smoked Porter. At first blush I got a peaty, almost island single malt-y flavor without all the alcoholic bite from this So-Cal brew. The further I get along in the bottle, the peat flavor dissipates and the unground coffee bean and caramel flavors come out. Often, when trying for peat and caramel brewers will overshoot into territory which ends up being grassy or tasting like peanuts. Porters have to strike a delicate balance of being dark but not overly heavy, of having those musty, thick flavors without being a beer you have to chew. Stone has hit a nice mahogany on the outside, black hole in the center bulls-eye with this smoked porter.

Stone Breweries Smoked Porter

Enjoy with:
Dark Berries
A good book
The new Flying Lotus record

Iowa Pt. II

Baseball playoff season has always been one of my favorite times of the year. Maybe it’s because my birthday happens to be smack dab in the middle, maybe it’s rallying behind my beloved Twinnies as they inevitably make it to and then lose in the semifinals, maybe it’s the hot-dogs and copious amounts of cheap beer that are consumed, maybe it’s because, “half passed out, stuffed full of food, with my hand down the front of my pants during the 7th Inning Stretch” is one of my favorite positions. Whatever the case may be, buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks (or an Old Style and a hamburger) and prop me in front of a TV and I am happy as a clam.

As I mentioned in a previous entry I spent a large part of 2008’s playoff season in Dubuque, Iowa for some reason. I watched Twinnies make their inevitable march towards the exit at Breezer’s Pub in what I can only imagine is Downtown Dubuque. Breezer’s is an old drunk townie bar if I’ve ever seen one. Old Drunk Townie bars are one of my favorite places to watch baseball, a couple of wasted old guys sitting at the bar, yelling and cursing at the screen, calling players and umps alike “Ya Bum!”, jukebox full of Merle Haggard and AC/DC, and, most importantly, cheap beer. Breezers had the added cachet of a section of the bar being entirely devoted to a pool table, several large televisions and the largest collection of Hot Babe/Action Hero/Fantasy Scenes 8x10s I’ve ever seen adorning 3 of the walls. Dirty Harry is perched next to Jenny McCarthy in a schoolgirl uniform who is, in turn, situated underneath a heavy metal album cover-esque painting of a barbarian fighting a pack of wolves in a swamp.

Dive Bar Rating Scale

Tap: Poor
Bottle: OK

TVs: Good
Bar Games: Pool, Air Hockey, Big Game Hunter

Old Drunks

Jukebox: 4
Live: None

Movie Posters, Island Scenes, Floor to Ceiling 8x10s of famous people and barbarians.

Happy Hour is $2.75 Budweiser bottles


Breezer’s is a pretty middle of the road dive bar, the beer isn't all that cheap but they do have a pool table and a few TVs so if it's playoff season and you want to shoot a couple rounds, Breezer's fulfills all the right criteria.