Tag: Bars And Pubs

Welcome to the Baghdad Country Club

In The Atavist, Joshuah Bearman tells the fascinating story of the Baghdad Country Club, the only bar in the capital city’s fortified “Green Zone.” The bar was built and run by a mysterious British ex-military type, a contractor identified only as James. What intrigued me about the bar was the way in which it was both an escape hatch from the war and, at the same time, a place that was inextricably shaped by its surroundings. Here’s a taste:

In addition to tending bar alongside several Iraqi Christians, Heide manned the wholesale bottle shop that James and Ajax ran out of a guard shack on the property. The shelves stocked the finest spirits the pair could find, which sometimes meant actual quality, alongside gift-store items—T-shirts, mugs, and hats emblazoned with the BCC logo and motto: “It Takes Real Balls to Play Here.”

...Danny quietly managed the place: greeting patrons, dealing with staff, and running the kitchen. James wanted the menu to be good, which wasn’t easy. Whereas much of the food in the Green Zone was processed, packaged, shipped, and reconstituted, Ajax got fresh produce and meat for the kitchen. Danny got along well with Iraqis, and he made sure to serve the national dish of masgouf—fish with onion and pickles—alongside Western-style bruschetta, salads, and steaks. He brought in a chef named Dino to come up with recipes and marinades. Good fish was difficult to come by in Baghdad, but James knew a guy who knew a guy who could sometimes get trout flown in on Delta Force choppers. And Ahmed’s regular shipments of spirits kept the bar stocked for proper cocktails.

“We never hoped to get a Michelin star,” Danny says. “But we managed to give people the one thing you don’t have in Baghdad: a choice.”

The full (long) story is available for purchase from The Atavist—it comes in a variety of e-book formats. The Atlantic has a meaty excerpt. It’s a great read.

How to Drink Like a Japanese Salaryman

How to Drink Like a Japanese Salaryman Photo by MJTR via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Amy McKeever explains how to navigate an epic night of beer, yakitori and "nomunication"

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For Sale: Britain’s ‘Most Remote Pub’

The Guardian’s Andrew Gilchrist reports that the Old Forge, a pub in Western Scotland reachable only by a long hike or by boat, is in need of new ownership—and that the current owners “won’t be selling to anyone who won’t keep its spirit alive.” Here’s Gilchrist’s take on that spirit:

From hikers to yachties to locals, anyone who has ever been to the Old Forge will tell you it’s a special place. It’s not just the food, from its Skye crab to its haggis lasagne, that’s fantastic; it’s not just the fact that its local ales, such as Red Cuillin, go down a treat after a day out on some of west coast’s finest peaks; nor is it just the ravishing view out across the bay at dusk, to those giant knuckles of rock encircling the still waters. No: it’s the whole party spirit that seems to affect the place as the sun goes down. Drums, guitars and fiddles line the walls - and they are not there for show.

“Your pals are no bad on the guitars,” the barman told me one night, after an evening of everything from Burns to the Proclaimers, from Biffy Clyro to George Michael. “You know, if they keep the place going, we’ll no shut.”

Jason Wilson Thought He Heard the Sound of the Apocalypse

The series editor of the Best American Travel Writing anthology details the unlikely moment in his new book, Boozehound. The Washington Post has an excerpt, and the moment in question goes like this:

I was chatting with a beautiful, sexy friend who wrote for a magazine that covers luxury spa vacations. She got that job, in part, because she wrote a travel book about bathing culture that one critic claimed “bred a new publishing hybrid, the beauty-travel memoir, Bruce Chatwin by way of Allure magazine.”

As we chatted, I shared some good news with her: I had just been hired to write a column for this newspaper about spirits and cocktails.

You should really meet my friend,” she told me. “He’s the perfume critic at the Times.”

“Really?” I replied. “Let me just see if I’m hearing this correctly. The luxury spa columnist would like the spirits columnist to meet the perfume columnist?”

Yes, she said, with a beautiful, sexy smile.

Wait, I said. Did you just hear that?


“Oh, nothing. I thought for just a second that I heard the sound of the Apocalypse.”

The entire excerpt is a great dispatch from the front lines of lifestyle journalism.

What it Means to Travel Back to the Future

Another great piece by Peter Jon Lindberg, who returns to London and a pub he called home 20 years ago. He finds “not the workaday tavern of memory but a roomful of attractive people sipping Pinot Grigio” and lingers for “12 uncomfortable minutes.” Among his findings:

Good Lord, listen to me. I’ve become a bad novel: Aging crank revisits lost youth; cue strings, bittersweet regret. Forgive my maudlin self-indulgence. (If it’s any excuse, I just turned 40.) But really, what on earth did I expect? Only a child—a 20-year-old—could have wished London not to evolve, not to grow up.

Of course, this isn’t just about London, is it? It’s about the feeling any traveler has returning to a place he once knew as well as any: A city that seems to hold you in it, or some earlier incarnation of yourself. Going back, you become again that long-ago person, even while the city changes utterly around you. As it is I’ve spent most of my post-London life in New York, 5,000-odd days of it, such that I’ve scarcely noticed the incremental, wholesale transformation of Manhattan over the past 15 years. Yet an Englishman returning here after a decade away might feel the same about New York as I do about London: that it looks like an artist’s rendering; that “it’s all about money now”; that glamour has eclipsed grit, and something has been lost in the process; that the city no longer belongs to me, but to other, younger, wealthier, more exciting people.

‘The Only True Requirement of a Great Hotel is That it Have a Decent Bar’

Peter Jon Lindberg breaks down just what decent means in a terrific piece for Travel + Leisure.

Regarding the crowd, the proper measure is key: three-fifths out-of-town guests (for novelty) to two-fifths nonguests (for local color), with a dash of resident weirdo (for zest). Tip the balance in locals’ favor and you’ve upset the fundamental contract of a hotel bar, which is that the guest is always, always the most important person in the room.

A hotel bar should probably have a decent name, too, unlike these.

Photo You Must See: So a Dog Walks into a Bar in Havana

Photo You Must See: So a Dog Walks into a Bar in Havana REUTERS/Desmond Boylan

A dog sits on a stool in a bar in Havana, Cuba

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How to Drink for Free in New York City

Frugal Traveler Matt Gross tells all. Hint: Neighborhoods with a high wine shop density are key.

Taking the Pulse of the Irish Pub

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day, the Los Angeles Times checks in on the state of the Irish pub. Verdict: Still struggling in Ireland, still ubiquitous around the world.

And it’s still one of the Seven Wonders of the Shrinking Planet.

Gadling Does the Dive Bar

Yep, it was dive bar day over at Gadling yesterday—here’s their fine selection of bar recommendations, etiquette tips and more.

British Pubs: An Endangered Species?

British pub Photo by Matthew Black via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by Matthew Black via Flickr (Creative Commons)

The warning signs have been evident for some time. Now, it seems that the iconic British Pub may soon be a thing of legend, as the Times of London reports that pub closures in the UK are accelerating, with 52 going out of business every week and at least 2,400 pubs and bars closed in the last year. The British Beer & Pub Association blames a preference for drinking more cheaply at home, and higher taxes on beer.

Where to Find Free Food in New York City

For those budget travelers who sometimes prefer to spend money on our drinks than on our meals (who, me?), Matt Gross has a helpful run-down of New York City’s free bar snacks. I can vouch for the tasty popcorn at Temple Bar.

24 Hours in Airworld: The Airport Bar

24 Hours in Airworld: The Airport Bar Photo by Rob Verger
Photo by Rob Verger

Airport terminals are, by their nature, transitory places. Nearly 12 million people flew through Kennedy airport on JetBlue (the largest carrier here, measured by passenger volume) between March 2008 and March 2009, according to numbers from the Port Authority. And so I’ve often wondered: Do airport restaurants and bars have regular customers? Do they have a rhythm to them, the way other places might?

I ate lunch today at a tapas place called Pequillo here in T5, and afterwards, went and sat at the place’s bar, which is set in a cave-like space where it’s easy to forget you’re in an airport. (It advertises itself as the first tapas restaurant in an American airport.) I talked to the gracious bartender there, Kenia, regarding my question about airport bars and regulars. She was born in Honduras, and now lives in Brooklyn, and says that regulars—maybe 20 or 30 different people—come in about twice a week. “If you remember their name, and whatever they drink, it makes them feel good, I guess,” she said.

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Morning Links: Japan’s ‘Ambassadors of Cute,’ Obama’s Position on Travel and More

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Dark Days: ‘Cheers’ Bartender Gets a Pink Slip

Dark Days: ‘Cheers’ Bartender Gets a Pink Slip Photo by schwuk via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Is nothing sacred anymore? Apparently not. Eddie Doyle, the real-life inspiration for Sam Malone and Co., has been laid off from Boston’s famous “Cheers” bar after 35 years. Doyle had stayed on long past the finale of the television series he helped launch, and was a fixture on the Boston tourism circuit.

“At the height of the show’s popularity,” the AP story notes, “3,000 people would pass through the bar daily and 5,000 on weekends.” A friend and fellow bartender called it “the end of an era,” and praised Doyle’s gift for chatting with customers: “If you want to feel good about yourself you go in and see Eddie Doyle, whether you were a total stranger or a longtime friend.” (Via The Remote Island)

Morning Links: The Zion Curtain, Pynchon and Baedeker, and more

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Morning Links: Michael Lewis Asks About Bjork in Reykjavík, Yoko Ono’s Travel Daydreams and More

A Presbyterian at the Peabody: Cocktails Across America

A Presbyterian at the Peabody: Cocktails Across America Photo by Mykl Roventine via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by Mykl Roventine via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Cocktails are nice. So nice. David Farley’s marathon drinking session in India got me thinking: what U.S. cocktail-drinking experience would I like to relive? Some may laugh but, after a crapola week, I’m craving the simplicity and sweet ease of drinking a Presbyterian while watching the Peabody Hotel ducks march their way into the lobby fountain. Sounds pleasant right about now, eh?


Morning Links: The Belgian Flair for Comics, New Orleans Street Theater and More

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A Sip of Bacon, Anyone?

Bacon may have officially jumped the shark, but don’t tell that to Pankaj Kumar Dogra, recent recipient of the “Bartender of the Year” award in Mumbai, and chief mixologist at the Taj Lands End’s Atrium Bar in the posh Bandra neighborhood of Mumbai. Dogra has just conceived a cocktail list called “Dinner Meets the Bar.” And one of the stars of the list is—wait for it—a bacon-infused vodka cocktail.

Being both intrigued and fatigued at the bacon-makes-you-cool phenomenon, I couldn’t resist trying the porkified potion during a recent visit to India’s largest metropolis. The result: the tomato-water adds a pink hue to the drink, giving it a cosmo-like look. Then your taste buds kick in and, well, it’s like drinking liquid bacon. But not cooked bacon; it actually tastes like liquid raw bacon. Despite fears of a possible tape worm, I finished the drink and moved on to others on the list, hoping to erase the liquid bacon from my memory (and taste buds). The martini blended with betel leaf did just that. So did the ginger-rum cocktail muddled with curry leaf. The balsamic vinegar and vodka was interesting, but a bit too Ferran Adria for my liking. By the time I had moved on to the basil and rum cocktail—an intriguing yet harmonious pairing—I was successful in erasing the bacon-infused libation from my memory. The only problem was that I had managed to erase just about every other memory of that evening, as well.