THHG Book Club: The Great American Ale Trail.

Author Christian DeBenedetti and Communicator Guy.

Howdy! Artsy Guy here. Uploading some shots from a book signing. We're fancy. Seriously, we're totally diggin' Christian DeBenedetti's new book, The Great American Ale Trail, aren't we, Jimmy the Communicator Guy(TM)?

Ahem! Communicator Guy here, reporting that Artsy Guy takes some great Hipstomatics, and that this event here at NYC's Blind Tiger (one of the Holy Grail beer bars of the entire Universe) is just damn lovely. I've already begun to dive into the book and I'm here to tell you it's awesome. A must-read. What say you, Artsy?

The Great American Ale Trail.

I say "YEA!" Here's a guy who has really suffered for his art, traveling the country to make note of the best places to procure the craft suds. Can you write off your treatments for "barfly elbow", Mr. Christian? I hope so. You deserve it. This is such a resource for the traveling craft beer lover. And Garrett Oliver (brewmaster of Brooklyn Brewery and author of The Brewmaster's Table) seems to agree. Right, Communicator?

Communicator taking notes at The Blind Tiger.

He does indeed. And now Christian is speaking of his first days in NYC as a journalist (he arrived TWO DAYS before 9/11) and relating that were it not for great craft and great craft bars like the Blind Tiger, he would never have found his way as solidly as he has. Craft beer, everyone. It's not about the beer. IT'S ABOUT THE PEOPLE!

Yes! People like Artsy. (Me again.) And folks in communities all over the country: That film industry lawyer I chatted with at Tony's Darts Away in Burbank, CA. The college music professor in Pittsburgh, PA who gives me barleywine recommendations. The owners of Goebel's Liquor and Rob's World of Beers who are introducing Wichita, KS to a world of craft beer goodness. Communicator Guy?...

**wipes away a beautiful, cinematic tear**

Well said, Artsy. Well said. Check out this book, y'all. And, next time you have a chance, buy a great craft beverage for someone, whether it be a good friend, or a total stranger. Make this community, this worldwide group of Good People, even better than it already is. CHEERS!

P.S. That's what's HOPpenin'. (Artsy again.)

THHG Book Club: Haunting and Diving.

We’ve all heard of eco-tourism by now: Vacation travel that visits places of natural beauty in a way that helps preserve the environment. Great idea, right? Well, the Happy Hour Guys have coined a new term in the same spirit: bev-tourism. Simply put, bev-tourism includes visiting pubs, taverns, saloons, breweries, wineries and distilleries of some significance. Surprisingly, these spots will often share parallel philosophies with eco-tourism destinations; many of the favorite beverage dispensaries we’ve visited practice business in an environmentally responsible way and contribute to the well-being of their communities. In addition, these properties are some of the most historic, quirky, creative, flat-out enjoyable places around, making it easy to be champions of bev-tourism. There are an increasing number of books being written about these places: Here are two more of our favorites.

First up, we have Wendy Mitchell’s 2003 guide, NEW YORK CITY’S BEST DIVE BARS “Drinking and Diving in the Five Boroughs”. Ms. Mitchell’s writing style is direct and to the point, like most of the bars she visits. We’re on the record as being avid dive bar fans, and Ms. Mitchell has been kind enough to do some leg work for those of you who feel the same. Alphabetically arranged with the criteria for a dive bar clearly laid out, Ms. Mitchell takes her readers on a crawl through the Big Apple’s most famous and infamous dives. She’d give Greg Louganis a run for his money. Best of all, she seems to really enjoy it. These are places she visits herself and her personal stories make each entry even richer. I’m not sureMcSorley’s Old Ale House should qualify as a “dive”, but quibbles like that aside, Ms. Mitchell has written a love letter to the smoky, seedy, sticky NYC that is disappearing under a crush of shiny condos and $12 pomegranate martinis. It’s a sad realization that since its publication in 2003, her list of dives has diminished significantly as developers continue their march through the city. Thus, a sad tip of the hat to Siberia, and many others no longer with us.

Next we move to Roxie J. Zwicker’s HAUNTED PUBS OF NEW ENGLAND: Raising Spirits of the Past.  That’s right; pack the kids in the Previa because we’re going on a tour of the creepiest watering holes to serve grog since Our Founding Fathers. Zwicker does a nice job of painting the local picture for her readers, both currently and in an historical context. She hits her stride, though, when she shares the stories of the actual pubs and their ghostly inhabitants. It should be of little surprise that inns and taverns that saw the high drama of the creation of our country should be home to spirits who long to remain at the scene of their greatest moments of fame or infamy. These pubs have given rise to stories of both the famous and the obscure appearing to strangers. Privateers, patriots, rebels and spies as well as more commonplace murderers and victims can be encountered if the stories are to be believed. History, a good fright, and no shortage of adult beverages. Perfect for the whole family.

Both of these books are a great jumping off point, but neither can explore every possibility. There are dive bars around every corner in NYC and mysteries down many back roads throughout New England. Ideally, they will serve to pique your interest and let your curiosity lead you away. Both are available . 

What are you waiting for? Bev-Tour!

Dear Dr. Oldenburg:

OK, in an effort to prove that we're not just three pretty faces in search of cheap drinks... well, perhaps in addition to proving that, we’ve decided to contact some of the authors who have inspired and amused us. Here is the fantastic first installment; we hope it will be one of many. 

    We had the distinct pleasure of getting in touch with Dr. Ray Oldenburg, the author of THE GREAT GOOD PLACE (and his follow up, CELEBRATING THE THIRD PLACE: (INSPIRING STORIES ABOUT THE "GREAT GOOD PLACES” AT THE HEART OF OUR COMMUNITIES), books that inspire as we make our way from tavern to pub to inn and back. Dr. Oldenburg coined the phrase "third place", his argument being that we all need a place other than our (1) home and (2) work, where we can escape responsibilities and expectations (see the Pub Culture blogfor more on that). His works obviously have touched a nerve. And in our first ever blog interview, Dr. Oldenburg graciously agreed to answer a few of our questions. 

HH: In THE GREAT GOOD PLACE, you address why establishments that serve drinks (pubs, taverns and the like) have "unique potential" to become third places. For our readers, can you elaborate on that a bit?

Dr. O:  Apart from what I outlined in the book, the drinking/talking synergism, there is a greater expectation that one will converse while in a bar.  Drink coffee alone and no one notices.  Drink alcohol alone and some eyebrows are raised..."Why did he come in here?"  The conversational buzz in barrooms is typically greater than in other third places and laughter more frequent.  It's not all's atmosphere too.

HH: Have your travels taken you to any such places of that kind that you have found especially memorable? 

Dr. O: Memorable places.  The Pickwick in my wife's hometown (Duluth MN), Old Ebbitt's Grill in DC.  Le Mans bar in Angouleme, France.  An "English pub" in Osaka, Japan.  The Hotel Bar in Menomonie WI.   Horror of horrors, I (nearly) neglected to cite the Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle, the favorite haunt of 3 pulitzer prize winners, island of sanity in troubled times, and host to all walks of life.  (It's included in CELEBRATING THE THIRD PLACE.)

HH:  Have you found any in New York City, our home town?

Dr. O: I haven't been in your city since 1954.  I had a wonderful night in a subterranean tavern on Third Avenue.  They had a mug from every college/university in the U.S. and a very nice lady took pity on us GI's and bought several rounds.  Can't recall the name of the place.

HH: New York is arguably a city that should encourage more personal contact and the creation of third places because it's largely a pedestrian city with numerous distinct neighborhoods; but we've seen many third places disappear in just the last two years only to be replaced by the likes of Applebee's, The Olive Garden, and enormous condominium towers.  What can we do, as individuals, to help preserve third places in the face of corporate "development"? 

DR. O: The corporate colonization of the public realm seems unstoppable.  Independent operations can form associations, buy in bulk, and get similar discounts.  The mayor of Harrisburg PA gives an award each year to new establishments that help unite the city.  It helps to support an independent by picking one for regular meetings of friends.  My place responded by making Spaten's Optimator beer available just for me. 

HH: Is there a town or city that you know of that has been particularly successful in terms of third place creation?

DR. O: Who has been successful in creating third places?  The state of Wisconsin.  Walla Walla, WA, I hear, has done very well.

HH: Do you have a personal favorite third place? How long have you been going? What do you value most about it?

Dr. O: I frequent a sports bar at 4:00 PM when the sound is off all the TVs and my friends are there.  We tip well, I donated La Crosse sticks, give the owner a bottle of home-made coffee liqueur now and then.  The cute young things who serve us are very nice having decided we are all over the hill.  We've used it for that past 6 years having lost our Italian restaurant to their reduction in serving hours.

     - In the interest of full disclosure, we'd like it to be known that we have been to the Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, D.C. and loved it. We've been often. Also, we are big fans of Spaten Optimator. For the foreseeable future, you may want to look for us on Third Ave., hoping to find a subterranean tavern with many collegiate mugs that predates 1954. If it’s possible, we have a deeper respect for Dr. Oldenburg now. We're so grateful that he took the time to answer our questions, and hope you're curious enough to buy one of his books and seek out your own third place. And when you find it...Let us know about it!

THHG Book Club: The Joy of Drinking.

  From the opening lines of Barbara Holland’s THE JOY OF DRINKING, (where she puts forth a (convincing) argument that fermentation and alcoholic drinks had much to do with the creation of civilization,) I was hooked. This book had me laughing out loud every few minutes while actually teaching me a thing or two. The hilarious stories on the history of drinking and its worldwide appeal through the centuries are far too many to recount. I’ll just say that she manages to share stories about Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Oliver Cromwell, Marco Polo, Queen Victoria, Mark Twain, George Washington, John Adams, Carry Nation, Winston Churchill, William Faulkner and a parade of other historical notables.

    She also details some of the more…interesting… brews that man has concocted, including something called “airag”, made by nomadic Mongolians. Because the Mongolians don’t stay put long enough to grow things to ferment their options are limited, but man always finds a way and their solution was to ferment mare’s milk. I’m sure the Mongolians are fond of it, but her descriptions left me none too eager to give it a try (but when we shoot our Mongolian episode I’ll be game if Scott and Jimmy are…). 

    Holland meanders through history, from primitives to Pilgrims to Prohibitionists and is charming and informative and ridiculously funny throughout. It’s an interesting commentary on attitudes and how we’ve gotten where we are. She also makes clear that this isn’t a “human only” pastime by telling us of possums climbing trees to get to fermented apples, getting drunk and falling down or entire flocks of birds getting tipsy on fermented berries. Furthermore, she argues the case for pubs, taverns and bars as third places very well. A fun and easy read, I can’t recommend it enough. In fact, I’m going out to find a copy of Holland’s “Endangered Pleasures; In Defense of Naps, Bacon, Martinis, Profanity and Other Indulgences”. I hope someday I can share a drink or two with Barbara Holland.  She sounds like fun. To say the least.