Monday, November 28, 2011

ROADTRIPPING - TRIP B, PART 2: A-SMOKING AND A-DRINKING


We learn so much on these road trips and most of what we learn has nothing to do with beer. Much of it is life lessons and some of it is a combination. For instance, we learned on this trip that walking around is a real buzzkill…literally. We had a few beers at Tir Na Nog and then walked to the Abbey Burger Bistro. We had a few beers there and took a short walk to Pub Dog. Two beers there and a little walking tour of Federal Hill brought us to Blue Agave Restaurant Y Tequileria. A generous pour of tequila there put us back on the street with barely a hint of inebriation. On foot and bouncing from one place to the next is a really bad way to try to get drunk…not that getting sloppy drunk is the goal, but…

Our next stop did nothing to increase our happy level, but it did give us a moment to relax and try something we had never done before. On our way into Federal Hill to meet Larry we had passed a place called Zeeba Lounge. Not knowing what it was at the time, but finding the name interesting, we were surprised to find ourselves inside this establishment after bidding Larry farewell. The way that happened was typical of the way many off-the-cuff decisions are made with the Control and me. It starts off with the Control displaying his awesome reading skills…"Zeeba Lounge is a hookah bar. Huh." I am then forced to acknowledge that he has correctly deciphered the letters. "I see that". This is followed by a lengthy interrogation as to my interest. "Ever done hookah?" Exasperated and weak from the questioning, I manage to eke out a reply. "Nope". Coercion and arm-twisting immediately precede the use of thumb screws and water boarding. "Wanna?" Completely and cruelly broken I give in. "Sure". It's a sadistic and complex dance, but one that has served us well through the years, as it did here. It brought us into the second place that was unplanned, but became one of highlights of the trip. In case you missed it, or I forgot to mention it, the tequila bar was the first.

A doorman opens the door for you and moves the curtains aside to allow you entrance into the lounge. And it is truly a lounge: it's dark with low tables surrounded by low couches full of throw pillows and an amazing lack of smoke hanging in the air. These people know what they're doing, unlike a certain place in Jersey we tried just recently. We were directed to one of the manager's tables and she showed us why this place is so well run. Knowing we were hookah virgins, Nidia (for that was her name) walked us through all the ins and outs of smoking a water pipe. After a few test jabs she figured it would be really hard to offend us and her wicked sense of humor came forefront and made for great entertainment, even if it was at our expense at times. A hookah full of pomegranate and pistachio flavored tobacco and a few Turkish coffees and we had settled in nicely, blithely puffing away on the pipe and recapping much of what had gone on that day. Yeah, our buzz was entirely gone, but so was our sense of being tired and bloated. We left relaxed, rejuvenated and ready to find more beer. It was now off in search of the Pratt Street Ale House.

A short walk and we found it, right where it was supposed to be. There weren't a lot of people there, so we took stools at the bar and ordered some Oliver Ales. It's a little confusing as the beer is brewed by Oliver Ales and the brewpub is called Pratt Street Ale House. But they are one in the same, apparently. I never thought to ask about this while we were there and I am curious if the beer is brewed at the same location as the Ale House or not. All I know is that I did not see any brewing equipment, but that's not proof of anything. I know places that call themselves brewpubs, have brewing equipment displayed, but all their house ales are contract brewed at a local brewery. And they don't even bother to change the name of the beer! Yeah, I'm looking squarely at you, Egan and Sons. If anyone knows more about Oliver Ales and the Pratt Street Ale House relationship, please leave a comment below.

I'm not antisocial, I'm just not social…well, until I've had a few beers. I'll usually come into a bar, sit down away from other patrons and order my beer. I'll pull out my smartphone and make some tasting notes on what I have, but then after a few, something changes. The smartphone gets relegated to the recesses of a pocket and I start to engage the people around me. I don't exactly turn into the Mayor of the Bar, but I will talk to just about anyone about beer, weather, sports, whatever. This occurred in the Pratt Street Ale House and we wound up talking to a couple that were Philadelphia sports fans, one of which had his hand in a rather large bandage. The story behind it was very boring, so boring that I forget what it was, so we supplied him with a better story that involved saving orphans from various, large, wild animals while on safari.Or something to that effect.

Pratt Street Ale House woodworking
he beer here was good and very true to the English styles that they proudly purport to replicate. We both found quaffs that we enjoyed and I would recommend the Dark Horse, which is a nicely done English dark mild ale. There's nothing here that will blow your socks off, but that's not their aim. They produce nicely balanced, English-style ales and they do it rather well and serve them at the proper temperature. Another pleasure of this place is they've worked to create an hospitable environment. Yes, I used "an hospitable" just as the British would, trying to get into that kind of feel here. Unfortunately, the bar area didn't really have a fully authentic English pub feel to it. They did their best to transport you to an English pub with the building's fa├žade, but the interior seemed a bit off. The trappings were there, brass taps with wooden-handled pulls, solid woodworking, colorful but not gaudy paint job and other brick-a-brack that an American might expect to find in a London local. But the bar itself was a bit off. It was entirely open, meaning it didn't have the enclosed glassware racks above the bar that I've come to associate with an English pub. Just my observation and one mostly shared with the Control, who actually has experience in the pubs in London, but this is not a large enough negative and more of a nitpick. It's a great place to go if you fancy a pint.

After leaving the Pratt Street Ale House we decided to head back to the hotel, but on the way back to the room we realized that it was still around midnight…far too early to call it a night when bar hopping a big city, right? Wrong, especially in Baltimore. Maybe we're spoiled living within the gleam of the City That Never Sleeps, but closing everything down at midnight seems downright ludicrous. During the day the city is vibrant and alive. The Inner Harbor has the National Aquarium, historic ships, bustling restaurants, shopping for all budgets and tastes and policemen on Segways. Now I would never condone lifting an old lady above your head and, while roaring like Conan, tossing her off the Mystic drawbridge, but I had to agree with the Control that the urge to push the overweight cop doing his patrol on a Segway into the harbor was irresistible. Get a desk job or go for a swim, tubbo! Stop wasting the taxpayers' money because you can't resist Krispy Kreme! Well, who can? Apparently the urge wasn't entirely irresistible because we didn't actually do it, but we thought mightily hard about doing it, I tell you what!We did get a chuckle trying to imagine him chasing down a perp on that thing. Do you suppose he makes vroom-vroom noises when he does?

At night the police force, sans Segways, seems to be concentrated around an area that is full of bars and nightclubs called Power Plant Live! Their exclamation mark, not mine. The street here is cordoned off and you get carded on your way through because you can roam between the bars, restaurants and clubs with open containers. At the end of the night there tend to be a lot of drunken idiots, so the cops need to be in force. But again, the end of the night is midnight! That exclamation mark is mine and was placed there in disbelief that a big city would close the party down at such an early hour. If Prince Charming is coming to Charm City to look for a princess then he better get there early, before all the women run home and turn into Sleeping Beauty and there's not even a pumpkin ale to be found.

After being accosted by the mother of a bride-to-be-the-next-day looking for one last hook up and exclaiming that she was "easy", we hastened ourselves the opposite direction and managed to find that Tir Na Nog was still serving. For some reason they're open until 2AM, God bless them! A few pints of Guinness later and we were ready to call it a day…a day made all the nicer by a nicely stocked beer store, a yummy pit beef sammich, an eclectic burger joint with a great craft beer list, an affordable brewpub for the college kids, a classy tequila bar, a comfortable, well-run hookah lounge and a brewpub serving authentic English ales. So it was time to go back to the hotel, review the photos, plug everything in to recharge and then plug ourselves into our beds to recharge for the next day. We heard there was a festival going on in Fells Point and we were going to go see what that was all about…and find some beer.

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