Nuptials with a Twist

Chiquita, the blushing bride

It was love at first sniff for Chiquita and Cosmo, two Applehead Chihuahuas whose owners are none other than local social celebrities Margarita Bergen and Cheryl Lemoine.  It was only natural that the two tie the knot…or the leash, as the case may be, and their nuptial celebration took place on Thursday night at Twist, a chic CBD bar in the Lafayette Hotel.

Twist is a part of Mike’s on the Avenue, a hip, Asian-Cajun fusion type restaurant, but the night was not about food.  The wedding was not only a sweet moment of doggy-I-do’s, it was the culmination of several events benefiting the Southern Animal Foundation. In fact, there were “Top Dog” awards given to the winning celebrity bartenders who raised the most money at their turns behind the bar.  One of the winners happened to be my good friend and local “Food Goddess” Lorin Gaudin…congratulations Lorin!

While mingling, taking pictures and shaking paws with some of the most darling dogs in town, I also enjoyed a few of Twist’s signature cocktails and proffered my tips to the “doggy” bank on the bar.  The first cocktail was brand spanking new and called the YLC.  This heady drink featured vodka, rum, gin and tequila with freshly squeezed lemon and lime plus a little simple syrup. Not only was it tasty, $1 of the proceeds benefited who else, but the Young Leadership Council.  Who knew someone as financially challenged as I am could feel so philanthropic in such a short period of time?

The second libation was not so generous, but quite delicious, a little concoction they dub The St. Mojo.  Obviously spinning off of the favorite summertime cocktail, the Mojito, this rendition added St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur (yep, there it is again!) and fresh, muddled ginger along with the usual suspects.

Cheryl Lemoine and Cosmo, the groom

At last, the moment arrived when the four-legged lovers were ready to exchange bow-wows and everyone in the bar huddled around Bonnie Broel, who not only designed Chiquita’s gorgeous gown, but who was also conducting the ceremony. All the guests were capturing the event on cell phone cameras and it was difficult to get a peek, but the canine couple bonded for life without further ado much to the delight of the crowd of friends and supporters.  Raise your glasses high in honor of the happy, hairy couple…may their days together be filled with joy, chew toys and plenty of treats!

Lager, stout, ale and more beer at The Bulldog

Even though there is a vast bar and restaurant selection within walking distance of my old apartment on Harmony Street, I would often find myself at The Bulldog.  Not only does it possess a very comfortable and relaxed atmosphere, they also serve up some of the tastiest bar food in the city. When I walked into the bar a few days ago, it was the first time I’d been back in several years, but much to my relief, not a whole lot had changed.

The Bulldog, with it’s wooden floors, bar and ceiling (reminding me of the hull of an old boat), still offers one of the largest selections of draft and bottled beers in New Orleans. Grinning, I strolled along the length of the bar reviewing the different brands in a long line of uniquely-shaped taps. Craving a stout, but seeking a change from Guinness, I finally selected a Rogue Chocolate which is a sweet stout from Ashland, Oregon (also home of possibly the coolest Shakespeare Festival in the U.S.).

I sipped slowly on the thick, rich beer while watching the other folks in the bar. To the right of me, a few ladies were enjoying what looked like a huge pile of cheesy goo, but I am pretty sure it was the King’s Nachos featuring fresh corn tortilla chips, house made refried beans, several different kinds of cheese, jalapenos, diced tomatoes, sour cream and Pico de Gallo.  It was such a large plate of nachos that the three women had no problem sharing.  There was even a decent amount remaining after they got up and left.

Seeing as it was happy hour (2 to 7 p.m. every weekday), I slugged down the rest of my stout and selected a beer on the complete opposite side of the ale spectrum, a Stella Artois. Taking my pint glass in hand (Yes, they use glass!), I wandered outside.  When I used to hang out at The Bulldog, the patio was not heavily used or even in existence.  But now, with a myriad tables and chairs, large umbrellas to block the sun and a cool “fountain” featuring water endlessly gushing from a line of taps, it has become the perfect place to relax and watch the traffic roll by.

As I was drained the remnants of my Stella, the patio was already half-full of folks who had just left work and had met up with friends for a few beers, maybe a few bites and some good conversation.  It was good to see that my old neighborhood tavern hadn’t really changed all that much…just enough to make it even better.

Toasting a local legend at the Garden District Pub

In the 1900 block of Magazine Street lies a quaint, unpretentious neighborhood bar called the Garden District Pub.  Although I have visited quite a few little-known and under-appreciated watering holes in this town (The Saint and the pre-flood Hi-Ho Lounge comes to mind), this was one of those precious local gems I was never introduced to.  I walked into the small, but very comfortable bar the other afternoon during happy hour and reveled in the laid-back atmosphere along with only a few other patrons who were loading up the digital jukebox with an excellent choice of music (three songs for a buck!).

When I asked my usual “signature cocktail” question of Mallory, the bartender on duty, she smiled and said her favorite preparation was a “shot of Jameson and a bottle of PBR.” Laughing yet determined to drag a mixed drink out of her, she finally offered a popular classic New Orleans cocktail, an Old Fashioned. It was a bit heavy on the Bourbon, but I still enjoyed it all the way down to the macerated cherries at the bottom of the glass.

Thinking about another drink before I even finished the first, Mallory must have read my mind because she asked what I wanted next.  Since I was undecided, she finally opened up to me…”There is a drink I made up with a drunken customer one night, want to try it?”  I immediately said yes, willing to brave whatever strange concoction she put in front of me.  Hilariously dubbed the “Sophie B. Yeah You Right”, this inebriated invention called for Vodka, Gin, Malibu Rum and pineapple juice and was surprisingly tasty.  It reminded me of a Hurricane where you combine all kinds of booze and successfully cover the burn with the sweet-tart flavor of pineapple.  I still enjoyed it, even more so that I wasn’t on Bourbon Street.

While gaining a respectable buzz, I asked Mallory about the small park across the street with the statue of Sophie B. Wright.  Apparently, out of respect to Miss Wright and for her own personal amusement, Mallory had been telling tourists that it was a local “tradition” to offer libations and notes of appreciation to Sophie’s statue.  This convention took hold so strongly, that on a daily basis she would see chalk-written praises, flowers and even gifts laid at the famous educator’s feet.  Mallory expressed her irritation at seeing bums, trash and dog poop littering Miss Wright’s memorial and it was about time folks paid some respect to this remarkable female role model.  Regardless of her methods, I heartily agreed.

If ever you find yourself turned around at the triangle or roaming Magazine after a meal at Jackson or Juan’s Flying Burrito, stop into the Garden District Pub for an excellent happy hour (my two cocktails totaled $8!), enjoy the amenable atmosphere and employees and select a few songs on the jukebox. Also, it certainly wouldn’t hurt if you offered a gift to Miss Wright on your way out.

A scrumptious Cure

Sometimes too much to drink is barely enough. ~Mark Twain

Seeking to prevent our thirst and to sample some tasty nosh, Anne and I headed over to Cure on the corner of  Freret and Upperline several nights ago, already a little buzzed and excited about what we’ve heard about the swanky corridor cocktail bar.  Dressed totally inappropriately for the occasion, we sauntered into the hyper-urban atmosphere and plopped down in one of the booths.  Sitting there, it almost felt as if I was in another city, everything was very clean and cold.  The atmosphere was sexy, dramatic and romantic; a darkened loft with drop lights over the bar and a glittering selection of bottles, back-lit and reaching all the way to the ceiling.  There were silhouetted couples dotted against the long bar in front of our booth. It was obviously perfect spot for a date.

So not only was I NOT there to woo Anne, I was dressed in clothing bought from the Avenue with my man-purse slung across my chest and a face devoid of make-up.  In short, I was the complete opposite of everyone in the bar.  Didn’t matter, I was there to drink and sample some of their tapas that I’d heard so much about.  That atmosphere actually made it easier to ignore the party next to you, which was as beneficial to them as it was to us, I’m sure.

A man who looked like Buddy Holly took our drink order while we browsed the small plates.  It took a leisurely amount of time for the drinks to come out, but I couldn’t conceal my shock when they arrived.  My “Union Jack Rose” featuring Tanqueray, Laird’s Bonded Apple Brandy and Applejack  was undoubtedly fantastic, I only wish there were more of it for $10.  Anne’s “Rose Hinted Glass” with Lady VSOP Cognac, fennel tea and rose water was equally wonderful, but again…4 oz for $9?

While Cure was a bit short with its cocktails, it was both generous and genius with its tapas. First we had an Artichoke and Goat Cheese Crostini, an elegant combination of sweet and savory on crunchy french bread and similar in effect, if not flavor, as the thinly sliced, aged Serrano ham served with sherry-poached Anjou Pears. Both dishes were excellent in quality as well as quantity.

We also enjoyed Duck and Sweet Potato Hash topped with a Vermouth-poached egg.  When broken, the creamy yolk combined with the hash and I just about died.  Anne was concerned about this particular dish, not being a fan of sweet potato, but I noticed she didn’t have any difficulties devouring her half.

The heat enveloped us once again as we stepped outside and I felt like I was in New Orleans again.  Taking a break and leaning against the wall was a young man in a chef’s jacket smoking a cigarette. I simply had to shake his hand.  The wonderful dishes we enjoyed (and the ones we didn’t) were more than enough reason for a return visit.

Next time though, I might just drink an Abita.

Oddly shaped objects and twofers at the Rendezvous Tavern

The Random House dictionary has several definitions for the original French phrase rendez-vous that literally means “present yourselves.”  A rendezvous can be an agreement to meet, the meeting itself, a place designated for a meeting, a favorite gathering place and a meeting of two or more spacecraft in outer space.

When Anne and I planned to rendezvous at the Rendezvous Tavern, we managed to fulfill every clarification, but one.  I’m not saying several spacecraft couldn’t have shown up at 3101 Magazine Street…only that I was unlucky enough to have missed it.

I hadn’t visited the Rendezvous Tavern since my crazy, hazy days with Shalom, but I vaguely remembered one hell of a happy hour…three-for-one well drinks!   Brightly colored jacks marked how many you had left and after the third cocktail (usually a margarita…heavy on the salt!), someone had already bought another round. It was a very good thing my apartment was only a few blocks away.

The bar was dark and cool, just like I remembered it with a long wood bar running along the far wall and flaunting a good stock of choices.  There’s a coin-op pool table or darts in the loft-like area in the back, but Anne and I made a beeline for the bar.  We wanted to drink.

Renea, who’s been slinging drinks at the Rendezvous since right before…well…you know…all hell broke loose five years ago, whipped up a tasty Cosmopolitan made with Absolut Citron for me and a Margarita with a shot of Grand Marnier for Anne.  We sipped on our cocktails and jabbed away the afternoon discussing Anne’s recent trip around the world.  Seriously.  Well practically…she just got back from visiting England, Australia and Korea.  Phew!  Life is rough, let’s get another drink…

Three cocktails and a shot called Pumpkin Pie (Goldschlager, Baileys and Kahlua) later, it was feeling just like old times and I was looking for left-over jacks.  We decided to walk up Magazine to seek some nosh, disappointed it wasn’t Free-Indian-Food-Sunday when Rendezvous serves rice dishes from Nirvana.  As we left the bar, we spotted a couple of Nissan Cubes and a Mini-Cooper (does that count?), but from what I heard, there were a few abductions and a really great light show after we left.

Why do I always miss all the good stuff?

Live music in my back yard: Maple Leaf Bar

I know I’ve bee touting my neighborhood a lot lately, but what the hell,  I’m biased.  I’ve actually avoided mentioning some hang-outs in my area because, well, they get enough attention.  But I would be totally remiss in my bar-jaunting duties if I didn’t highlight a cool club that happens to be right around the corner from my apartment, the Maple Leaf Bar.

The “Leaf” is in fact so close to me, that if I open my back door around 11:00 p.m. on any given night, I’ll hear  local legends like Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Rebirth Brass Band, Papa Gros Funk, George Porter Jr., and Johnny Vidacovich.  Some people might think living behind a music club would be irritating or distracting, causing many sleepless nights…but not me.  I drift into dreamland each night immersed in the rhythms of New Orleans and there ain’t nothing wrong with that.

Although the Maple Leaf  has cool features like high tin ceilings and walls, old hardwood floors and a large backyard patio, this bar is all about the music. It’s a place where you drink cold beers just to cool down before dancing your ass off during the next set, where legends come to life in an intimate, sweaty setting, where the music carries you through a warm evening and never really lets go till dawn.

Mid-Summer Mardi Gras parades both begin and end at the Maple Leaf, where over the past twenty-plus years the Krewe of Oak has grown a neighborhood celebration into a mass blowout.  Masked revelers overflow from the confines of the bar and pour out onto Oak Street, sweating in bright plastic beads, feather boas and thick make-up.  I am privileged enough to know three fabulous ladies from the Bearded Oysters, an all-female dance troupe who dance, flirt, sport beards and lift their skirts to flash their merkins to parade-goers.

A few days ago, I went to visit the Maple Leaf during happy hour.  The bar was empty and quiet with only a few employees around getting ready for the evening rush.  I shared quality time with a good friend over beers in the deserted backyard patio, but everything felt kind of strange.  Without the heartbeat of music and the energy coming off of the crowd, I felt like I was in a different place altogether. I realized that this was a symbiotic existence living on the 800 block of Oak Street. Without the music, there is no Maple Leaf…but without the Maple Leaf, there is no music…at least not in my back yard.

There IS a monkey at the Monkey Hill Bar!

As a Bay Area native, when I first heard the story of “Monkey Hill” in Audubon Zoo, I thought someone was yanking my chain.  During the Great Depression, an artificial hill was constructed inside the zoo to show the children of New Orleans what a hill looked like. Even today, locals still claim that Monkey Hill is the highest point of land in the city. Seeing how I grew up in a neighborhood that had hills steep enough to make any kid on a bike Evel Knievel, this story totally blew me away.

What does this have to do with Monkey Hill Bar you ask?  Well, nothing really.  Unless you count the fact that posh bars in Uptown New Orleans are about as rare as say…a hill.

I’ve been curious about this bar for some time, partially due of all the questionable reviews I’ve read online painting the clientele as “guys with gel-compacted hair, who wear their sunglasses at night or chicks wearing dresses the size of shirts with fresh, bright orange tans” among other colorful descriptions.  I kept thinking to myself…how bad can it actually be?

Since I am a Birkenstock-wearing, no make-up or hair products kind of gal, I have to admit I was feeling a bit wary when John and I walked into the darkened bar on the corner of Magazine and Webster Streets.  Perhaps it was due to the lack of patrons so early in the day or because my bartender Ashley was sweet, attentive and accommodating, but I had no problems feeling quite comfortable in no time at all.

First of all, any bar sporting well-cushioned couches, squashy armchairs and stool seats larger than my ass already get an A+ in my book.  Also, the whole “upscale” feel of the bar was dumbed-down a bit by a pool table, shuffleboard and several poker machines in the corner.  But let’s talk about why I was really there…

Apparently, Monkey Hill Bar is known for their specialty martinis and when I asked Ashley which one was her favorite, she excitedly told me about the Double Espresso. Between her enthusiasm and my love of coffee, it was an easy choice to make.  John opted for the Strawberry Vanilla.  With a practiced hand, Ashley whipped up both drinks quicker than you can say “martini”.

The Double Espresso features Van Gogh Espresso vodka, Starbucks espresso liqueur and dark Creme de Cacao garnished with crunchy espresso beans and Hershey’s chocolate syrup.  It was like breakfast, dessert and happy hour all in one martini glass ringing in at $9.50.  Plus, Ashley’s heavy-handed pour and the happy hour, one dollar-discount made the whole venture more financially palatable.

John’s Strawberry Vanilla was equally delicious showcasing Stoli Vanilla vodka, white Godiva liqueur and strawberry liqueur garnished with fresh strawberries and strawberry syrup.  We thoroughly enjoyed both martinis and I felt like a lightweight finding myself heavily buzzed after one drink!  Talk about a cheap date…

Because of our shared love of coffee, Ashley introduced me to Patron XO Cafe.  The smooth flavor of Patron mixed with a coffee concentrate?  I was skeptical, but I knew if I liked it, the mix would equal Kim wandering the streets of New Orleans with no shoes, an identity crisis and a new tattoo.  Ashley devilishly offered us two shots on the house and that was all she wrote…I fell in love.  I knew that I had to get out of there fast or suffer the consequences.

In case you were wondering, we didn’t see any of the afore-mentioned yuppies during our stay, but we did spot a monkey!

A day of debauchery at The Chieftain

When Shalom and I get together, a brief lunch stop can unravel into a day-long binge and that’s exactly what happened when we stopped into The Chieftain.  We had planned to stop by her office in San Francisco and then head to the grocery store so I could make dinner when Shalom suggested we pop in at the corner bar for some lunch.  A couple of drinks turned into a couple more and before we could say “five o’clock rush hour,” both lunch and dinner passed us by in the darkened bar on the corner of 5th…but I don’t regret a single moment.

Opened shortly after the Prohibition repeal in 1934, The Chieftain (formerly known as the M&M Tavern) is a San Francisco landmark that became a journalistic hub due to its prime location near both the Chronicle and Examiner newspaper offices. It is the epitome of a great Irish pub with a long mahogany bar, excellent beer on tap and delicious, yet simple cuisine.  The Chieftain is also the quintessential sports bar that hosts events around all sports, especially rugby, football and soccer. When we arrived, anxious soccer fanatics crowded the small corner pub, yet they were almost silent in their reverent attention to the FIFA World Cup Finals.

We squeezed our way through the avid sports fans whose eyes were glued to one of the many large screens and managed to find two empty stools at the bar.  Shalom ordered a margarita while I selected a Stella Artois, one of the many great brews they had on tap.  I placed our first and what I mistakenly believed would be our only food order while watching the fanatics watch soccer.

We decided to share their Corned Beef & Swiss Sandwich featuring thinly sliced corned beef slathered with their own house mustard on a soft bun served with thick-cut steak fries.  It was not difficult to polish off the meal since we were sharing it, but it was clearly not enough to last us all day at the rate we were imbibing,  We had already polished off another round before the last fry left the plate.

The third beer I ordered (can you see the drunken direction we were headed in?) was called Prohibition Speakeasy Ale created by a local brewery in San Francisco. It was extremely “hoppy” with a smooth, caramel finish and it was not difficult to slurp my way through several pints.

Shalom was feeling extra adventurous and decided that we should try one of the pub’s signature cocktails,  After debating between several options including “The Panty Dropper” (Square One Vodka, Midori, pineapple juice and a Grenadine sinker), we decided to go with the “Coconut Shamrock.”  This particular concoction is creamy and sweet with Baily’s, Kahlua and Malibu Rum.

After several hours of drinking, it was mandatory we eat again before we even considered stumbling out of the bar.  We ordered two more plates to share: the BBQ Pulled Pork Stuffed Mushrooms and the Prince Edward Island Mussels.  Although I enjoyed both appetizers, I couldn’t help being partial to the mussels, which were steamed in Bushmills Irish Whiskey and swimming in a garlic cream sauce with some house-made brown bread served on the side.  The mussels were perfectly cooked and bursting with flavor and I couldn’t stop myself from soaking up the cream sauce with a thick slice of buttered bread.

After nearly seven hours in the pub, and several cups of coffee, it was time for us to head home.  Although I didn’t get to make the dinner we had planned, I still had an excellent time at The Chieftain spending time with Shalom, making new friends and partaking of the pub’s fantastic menu. As I am writing this blog, I am reminded of the many journalists who used to frequent this very pub, stopping in for a quick ale while they scribbled away, elaborating a story on their latest lead.  How cool is it that my latest lead would originate from The Chieftain itself?  Very cool indeed…

Freshly squeezed at Cafe Van Kleef

After we left Mexicali Rose, my friends wanted to introduce me to one of the coolest jazz clubs in Oakland, Cafe Van Kleef. Known for a killer Greyhound, Cafe Van Kleef is located in the “Oaksterdam” district of downtown Oakland at 1621 Telegraph Avenue. The nickname developed quite recently due to the numerous cannabis clubs, cafes and dispensaries opening up in the area offering medical marijuana in both smokable and edible preparations to certified patients.

On the outside, Cafe Van Kleef reminds me of something out of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, but inside there is such an crazy, eclectic mix of decor it’s difficult to pinpoint.  There are all kinds of classical details like busts, columns and urns, but my favorite feature would have to be a huge painting that covers the entire wall opposite the bar.  The painting features a number of famous personalities throughout history all sitting in a cafe eating and drinking together.  I was able to recognize Freida Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh and the Dalai Lama

My friends were eager for me to try Van Kleef’s signature drink, the Greyhound which is simply vodka and grapefruit juice.  The key to the bar’s success with this particular cocktail (as well as other citrus cocktails) is the fresh squeezed juice.  Our Greyhounds (modeled here by my dear friend Scott) would have served as the perfect breakfast beverage because of its star feature, a full quarter of a large grapefruit sitting on top!

If you’ve read some of my earlier blogs, you’ll know that the Circle Bar in Lee Circle was one of our (Shalom and I) most favorite hangouts.  Well, for a strange twist of fate and yet another example proving how small this world really is, one of the bartenders who now works at Van Kleef’s formerly worked at the Circle Bar in New Orleans.  What are the chances?  Even more amazing, the San Francisco Chronicle recently dubbed Cafe Van Kleef as “one of the five places in the West that would do the Big Easy proud.”

We relished the rest of the evening perched on high, well-padded stools around a large table, sipping our fresh fruit cocktails and enjoying the live jazz band cranking up the volume at the end of the hall.  I almost felt like I was back in New Orleans for a moment with the wailing sax, friends both old and new mixed with delicious cocktails. If you ever find yourself in Oakland…I highly recommend Cafe Van Kleef.

Making up for lost time at St. Joe’s

As soon as I stepped into St. Joe’s on the corner of Magazine and Joseph Streets, I was immediately upset that it took me so long to finally get there.  Ever since that crazy first year in New Orleans with Shalom, I developed an affinity for the “dive bar” and St. Joe’s delivers.  The wooden bar is long and narrow with a shortage of available seating; one small table at the front window and stools along the bar.  The combination of dim lighting, religious iconography and a bunch of old fashioned mirrors gives the space a Gothic feel but the drinks are what it’s all about.

When I asked for a cocktail recommendation from Paul, a longtime fixture of St. Joe’s who’s been intoxicating patrons for the past ten years, he suggested I try their signature drink, the Blueberry Mojito.  Since I have been literally inundated by mojitos in the past few months, I really wanted to try something different.

Patient with my indecision, Paul kindly offered another option, a margarita.  But what makes this margarita different from any other?  St. Joe’s creates their own sour mix with fresh lemon and lime juice, exactly how a traditional margarita should be.  With speed, precision and a heavy hand, Paul whipped up a delicious, yet classic margarita in a tall pint glass with brightly colored salt around the rim.

The simple cocktail was tart and refreshing (not syrupy-sweet) and I found it difficult not to gulp the concoction like a fresh glass of lemonade.  When Paul noticed me taking notes and snapping pictures, he said “If you’ve never been here before, you should go check out the back.”  I looked past the small pool table and turned back to my most helpful bartender and said “There’s a back?”

If he hadn’t told me I never would have known, but if you venture through the large door behind the pool table, traverse a small storage room and come outside, there is a wonderful patio space that you never would imagine existing in a bar like St. Joe’s.  Past some larger tables, they have built a gazebo-like structure featuring a full bar with a mixed Asian-themed decor!  Large brass Indian statues and Taj Mahal cut lattices are lit from above by a large cluster of red Japanese lanterns.  Although no one was out there (it was still early in the evening), I was told that hanging out in the back was the “place to be.”  It certainly looked like a party waiting to happen…I could just picture clusters of people out in the “Shangri-La” patio having the time of their lives.

By the time I returned to the main bar, I had finished my margarita and I was ready to break down and try the Blueberry Mojito.  I was a little nervous because fruity-flavored mojitos I have tried in the past severely disappointed, but this was something else.  By muddling dried blueberries with sugar and fresh mint, they have created a fruit mojito that surprised me by being absolutely awesome.  It wasn’t too sweet and the blueberries simply added to the summery feel that is already a distinct characteristic of the original cocktail.

As I sat and sipped, I couldn’t help thinking how much fun I could have had at St. Joe’s if I had only taken that first step inside the bar almost seven years ago.  A little sadness seeped into my previously chipper mood when I realized how much I had missed, even though I thought my local bar repertoire was pretty complete.

I raised my glass and made a private little toast…here’s to making up for lost time!