Monday, May 28, 2007

Yes, I know what time it is.

I know this blog is supposed to be the afternoon drunkard, but isn't it all relative? I decided to break the rules a little because there is one place that would be a perfect fit for this topic in Vientiane, but it doesn't open until 7 or 8 at night. I'll write up a review of the place once I can figure out how to spell it.
In the meantime, I've posted two rather unflattering reviews - one in Luang Prabang the other in Vientiane (both are major cities in the country of Laos).
Once I get back from the jungle, I should be caught up on my notes so I will add some more, or maybe I'll create a whole separate blog for resturants and bars so that we professionals can keep the Afternoon Drunkard pure!

Bottoms up! Happy Staggering.

Khop Chai Der, Vientiane, Laos

I don’t know why I drink here. Every time I come to Khop Chai Der in Vientiane it’s one problem or another. If it’s not a case of missing change or price gouging, I’m stuck next to a know-it-all “world traveler” or one form of crazy or another. So why have I returned so many times to Khop Chai Der?

Well, for one, the eleven-hour happy hour begins at 9am – yes, that’s correct, 8,000kip drafts from 9am until 8pm. Another reason is the people watching is great. The clientele ranges from 80 year olds with 20 year old wives to confused backpackers just of the bus wondering if the food is safe to eat (of course it’s safe, it’s one of the most prominent locations in Vientiane).

I’m not sure of the history of the place. My guess is a Euro ex-pat with a background in Hotel Food & Beverage saved up his quid, stole a bunch of waiter’s jackets and headed off to Laos. In the end, I salute the efforts of Khop Chai Der because the ambiance is fine, the location central and if you can get over the frighteningly similar energy of a tourist trap Salty Dog on the Jersey Shore, it’s not bad. Also, did I mention the happy hour?

Hive Bar, Luang Prabang, Laos

Possibly one of the worst destinations in Luang Prabang is the Hive Bar. I always thought hives were full of bees but not Hive Bar. Hive Bar is a swarm of nobs.

I’m pretty relaxed about drinking with children, but like all professional drinkers, I have my limits. Here’s how it’s done kids: decide what you want; when you are certain, get the bartender’s attention; tell them what you want; when they give you your drink, pay them. If you change your mind at any point after ordering, that’s fine – that’s what you can order NEXT TIME. End of lesson.

Next. I’m pretty relaxed about mediocre bar staff, but like any professional drinker, I have my limits. Here’s how it’s done boys and girls: When you get to work in the afternoon and there are no customers, DO YOUR SIDEWORK. I know it’s a hell of a lot of fun standing around aimlessly on the sidewalk watching the motorbikes go by, but this is not advised. Why? Because when the kids show up it is not then time to start cutting pineapples and chopping mint. Why? Because the professionals will not wait while you dick around with blender drinks – they will leave because Lao Lao Garden is only a few steps away.

Ok, now let’s talk about prices and specials. When the menu says “single shot – 20,000kip” and the same menu says “Spirits – 2 for 1 until 9pm” there is one, and only one, way to interpret this. It means two shots of spirits for the price of 20,000kip. It does not mean two shots for 25,000kip “because happy hour” as the bartender last night explained. When, as a bartender, you try to pull this shit on a professional drinker, a few things will happen. First, the customer has been betrayed and they will NEVER RETURN. (I know, Hive Bar, you’re really upset about this). Next, the betrayed customer will tell their friends or even worse, they might have a blog where they review bars around the world which means others will not come. Also, and maybe more important to the Hive Bar staff, your ancestors will spin in their grave because you are being deceitful – your are ripping off potentially good customers for a whopping 5,000kip. (US$0.50).

So, here’s the wrap up on Hive Bar in Luang Prabang. Ye, who are nobs and clueless to the complexities of ordering a drink, you have a perfect posing perch in Luang Prabang. Ye, who want a simple drink served promptly and honestly, avoid Hive Bar – unless your are trying to pull (get laid, in American), in which case, there seems to be an abundance of bags of hammers, so it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Goldie's Neighborhood Sports Bar, Scottsdale, Arizona

When there’s only one game in town, it’s pretty hard to be critical. The first time I pulled into the parking lot at Via Linda and Mountainview, I noticed Goldie’s Neighborhood Sports Bar and thought “Uggh, another sanitary sports bar. In truth, it’s not really that bad at all.

In my former lives, I was able to adhere to a strict rule regarding places I would frequent. Very simply, any place that had an operational television screen was off the list. Stemming from a serious (former) addiction to TV, I refused to subject myself to a flickering image when all around me were people who might just have something more interesting to say than Bart Simpson. In light of this, a place like Goldie’s, without even going through the door, was usually disqualified. However, as I said, when it’s the only game in town, it’s worth trying.

The first time I went into Goldie’s it was mid-afternoon, about 2pm. On every wall and behind the bar were screens showing football, hockey and silent commentators briefing the truly addicted on the days breaking sports news. Suspending my prejudice, I sat down at the long bar and ordered a brew. Surprisingly, there were quite a few people there, even though the standard workday was still in full swing. But it came as no surprise that my fellow patrons were all pleasant, chatty and enjoying the scene. Or was it they were enjoying the fact that there was one place in their neighborhood where swing-shift workers and early risers can convene early in the day for a glass of wine?

The daytime bartender at Goldie’s is a gem. She’s usually attentive and prompt, always greets you with a smile and understands the fine balance between pleasant and intrusive. She’ll offer you a menu each time and will let you take as long as you like to place an order. I hope the management at Goldie’s knows what a star they have behind the bar to service their afternoon clientele. As the afternoon progresses and the evening shift takes over, the service behind the bar changes from efficient and low-key to distracted and a bit flakey. Maybe the night shift is really good at mass delivery of beer during the finals, but I’ve never seen it and, out of personal preference, probably never will. But that shouldn’t stop you from heading over to Goldie’s to watch a game.

Although the purpose of this column is not to review food, there are two important rules for day drinkers that must always be followed. Rule #1: Always eat before drinking. Rule #2: Never disregard rule number 1. In light of these rules, Goldie’s gets a sprinkling of gold stars in this area. Even though the pizza dough is run through a machine instead of being kneaded by hand, the pizzas are not too bad. In fact, if I were not such a Brooklyn bigot, I would say it is pretty good. The fish and chips (especially the chips) are a fine feast for mopping up yesterday’s damage and the wings are well done. If it looks like your one beer after work is going to turn into half a dozen boilermakers, don’t hesitate to grab a menu and order anything that strikes your fancy.

Another critical ingredient for a daytime watering hole is the clientele. In many cases, an afternoon pint is a very solitary affair. Given that alcohol is a depressant, the last thing anyone should do is to sit in a place resembling a graveyard and fill up on spirits. It’s not that a day drinker heads to the bar to make their new best friend, but a light exchange between fellow patrons can make the difference between a mind-numbing session staring at bottles and a relaxing swill of suds. Goldie’s has a perfect blend. There are couples of all ages who will politely include you in their afternoon conversation, singles (mostly guys) who will share a couple jokes or give you their opinion on Beckam’s latest contract and the all-to-prevalent idle rich (or just retired) Scottsdale ladies who will tell you stories of how great Chicago was twenty years ago or how much this town has changed since the 80’s.

Overall, Goldie’s is a very fine establishment. Even if there was another choice in the immediate area, I still would not hesitate to send someone to Goldie’s for a decent priced drink and good atmosphere.

Friday, January 5, 2007

The Coach House, Scottsdale, Arizona

When I see a t-shirt that reads “If you haven’t been [here], you have been to [this town]”, my first reaction is, “RUN!!!” Then I want to itch, then vomit, then run a little more before itching a whole lot. But like that one in a million, jaw-dropping-gorgeous woman who also has a great personality, there are always exceptions. Well, the Coach House certainly ain’t no glam cat, but it’s sure does have a great personality.

From the catchy phrase on the official Coach House t-shirt, one would think this is an “A number one” tourist trap in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale. Maybe it is, but the truth is, it’s a good place to congregate with your fellow day drinkers.

One of the facts of life for an afternoon drinker/drunkard, is you will invariably be rubbing elbows with old & older people, shady people and drunks – many times this comes all in the same package. Coach House has no shortage of this, except no one is really all that shady. So they’re drinking in a bar at 3pm with no sign of having been anywhere and no sign of leaving soon – that makes them, perhaps, functional drunks (no, not gonna get all Bill W on you – that’s your own row to hoe), or perhaps they couldn’t get to the track today. Nevertheless, they seem to be friendly people just the same.

It was the Christmas season when I started visiting the Coach House, so they’ve decorated. No surface in the place, other than the bar top, has been spared a shiny, crinkly coat of wrapping paper, lights and garland. It’s sort of like being inside a shiny wrapped Christmas present turned inside out. With this kind of décor, customers can’t help feeling happy. There are, of course, a couple of obligatory television screens, but none of them are so obtrusive that everyone ends up glued to something they would never watch.

During the odd hours (afternoon), I’ve seen no shortage of customers here. Most are in their 50’s or above but despite their multi-decade lead on me; I’ve never felt out of place. Maybe I’m an old soul, or maybe it’s the simple fact that the Coach House afternoon clientele are generally nice people. Some are, like yours truly, a potential drunkard, others just have a few hours to spare and know a good place to kill the time.

During the evening hours, a different type of patron can be found. If you’re in the mood for it, you might just let your afternoon slip into night or you might prefer to let the amateurs have the run of the place and head off to less testosterone-rich locations.

Although during the day, the average age here is pretty high (and nobody cares much about this), I do see plenty of 20 and 30 something’s come in for a nice afternoon on the patio. Inside, it’s cozy and close knit and it’s not very difficult to strike up a conversation with anyone in the bar. Sink back a couple of $2.50 beers and your ability to discuss anything improves rapidly in this comfortable spot. Also, notable, is the Saturday afternoon parade of Harley’s. In the course of 3 hours, one might see 30 different bikes pull in for a quick pint and some chatter. Regardless of age of clientele, there’s a vortex at 38th Street and Indian School where beers are cheep, any music can be had on an internet jukebox and good people convene.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007


Maybe the mainstream is for you. Personally, I prefer to go off the beaten path for my beverages. As an intermittent day drinker, I loathe the idea of sitting in a “regular” bar during the afternoon. By “regular bar” I mean some place that could be anywhere in the world, has little or no charm, offers a giant array of flat screen TV’s, and aside from a small army of exhausted, high-volume servers gearing up for another night of rowdy body shots and cheesy dance parties the place is empty. I’d rather drink in the gutter, if that was my only choice.

Fortunately, there are alternatives. Finding them is not always the easiest thing to do. I’ve asked people “where’s a good place to get a drink around three in the afternoon?” only to be looked at like a pathetic cur. I’ve looked online and in print and found a few, but only after weeding through hundreds of “Top Places” that are, indeed, great, if you show up at 11pm on a Saturday night. At 2:30pm on a Tuesday, these places generally and quite literally stink.

This column (oh, must I call it a blog? Ok, fine). This blog… is a series of reviews of good places to get an afternoon buzz. While most of my research is done during the afternoon and early evening, I make it a point to see a place at least once during “normal” prime drinking hours (10pm to 2am). I don’t submit my reviews until I have been to a place at least 5 times. I try to keep an objective eye, regardless of how much I want to sleep with the bartender.

I begin this weekly column in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area (a city desperately in need of non-homogenized, non-pasteurized reviews), but I can not predict where my travels will take me. It’s plausible that before the winter is over, I could be reviewing watering holes in any of the numerous cities, countries and continents on my list of places to go. One thing is for sure, my love of dive bars is more than just a hobby and perhaps, someday, someone will try to pay me to saddle up to a bar and down a few pints.