12 posts

Travel Guide to Burlington, Vermont

I only lived in downtown Burlington for about 6 years, but it’s one of those small cities where even if you move a little bit north or a little bit south, once you hit the intersection of North Winooski and College Street, you know you’re home.

A friend of mine once summed up the reason that he lived in Burlington like this: “It’s the only town I’ve ever seen that has two sunsets. One over the lake, and one reflected over the mountains.”

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The Cult of Westvleteren and the World’s Most Sought-After Beer

It’s not easy to buy a case of Westvleteren 12, the world’s most prized beer (and according to many experts, the world’s best-tasting). It costs only 28 Euros but it doesn’t matter how much money you have. You could have your own oil-rich principality in Middle East or a few million shares of Google stock and the brewers of Westvleteren wouldn’t ship any to you.

The brewers of Westvleteren are actually a group of Trappist monks from the St. Sixtus Abbey in Westvleteren, Belgium. And they don’t give a shit how bad you want their beer.

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Crass Classic: A Beer Geek’s Guide To San Francisco

In the early days, Crasstalk was a backwater with few visits but so many great things to share.  To help bring some of those early posts to light we present Crasstalk Classic.  Our latest classic post goes all the way back to December 2010 when cacahuate showed us where to drink great beer in a city that really loves its beer.


21st Amendment Brewery – Brewery/ Full Bar/Restaurant – South of Market – An awesome place to have lunch or dinner, in a big rustic old warehouse.  They brew their own but also have a few guest handles that change seasonally.  I think they have moved most of the brewing off-site at this point, but occasionally they still do small batches on-site.  No tour, unfortunately.  Beers of note: Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer, Monk’s Blood Belgian Dark Ale.

City Beer Store – Retail/Beer only – South of Market – A small and friendly place to sit down and enjoy some weirdbeers, buy bottled beers to go, or both.  A huge selection to choose from.  Really, if you can’t find it anywhere, they probably have it here.

Anchor Brewing – Brewery/Tours – Potrero Hill – A stalwart institution in SF.  Fritz Maytag recently sold the brewery (however, Fritz is still making his own wine, and distilling some damn good gin, whiskey, and other spirits).  The best thing about Anchor is they have a free tour (you need to call and make reservations up to 6 months in advance, but it is so worth it).  It’s about a 45 minute tour, extremely informative if you are not familiar with the brewing process, and the brewery itself is beautiful.  AND you get to sample most of their beers at the end of the tour.  Did I mention it’s free?  If you can only go to one place on this list, this would be the one.  Beers of note: Christmas Ale (different every year, they really have fun with this one), Summer Beer, the original Anchor Steam, Old Foghorn Barleywine Style Ale.

Speakeasy – Brewery/Tours – Bayview/Hunter’s Point – Another local brewery.  Firkin Friday Open House (4-9pm, tour at 4pm sharp).  On tap in many places locally.  Best hoodies and t-shirts (if you go for schwag), their logo is awesome.  Beers of note: Big Daddy IPA.  Also, just FYI, for some reason lots of hotties (burly, tattooed, bearded, Carhart and workboot wearing dudes) work there.  We got a Christmas card one year from them, and I can’t even tell you how many friends of mine made a beeline right for it once they spotted the group photo on the front of the card.

Toronado/Rosamunde – Bar/Sausage Grill – Lower Haight– Toronado is the place for a beer geek.  About 50 beers on draft, and many, many more available in bottles.  Lots of Belgian beers here.  Also the site of the once a year Barleywine festival, which is always a total zoo (next year’s dates are 2/19/11-2/21/11).  I love this place because it is next door to Rosamunde Sausage Grill, so you can get a snack and take it next door into the Toronado to enjoy with your beer.

Magnolia Brewery – Brewery/Food – Upper Haight – Great food, great beers.  In the heart of the Haight, on a street corner with wraparound windows for excellent people watching.  Draft and cask conditioned ales available.  Beers of note: too many to list, I have never had a beer here that I didn’t like.

Zeitgeist – Bar/Food – Mission – Friday happy hour here is one of the best in the City.  Kind of a dive, but in nice weather take it out back in their huge beer garden littered with picnic tables.  They have a full kitchen and barbecue (the burgers are off the hook).  Not for the meek or faint of heart.  Lots of bike messengers, bikers, and assorted characters.  Best Bloody Mary’s anywhere.

Lucky 13 [no website of their own] – Bar – Castro/Upper Market – Very good selection of beers on tap.  Strong drinks, loud music, badass rocker chick bartenders.  Outdoor patio in back.  A similar vibe to Zeitgeist.

Rogue – Bar/Restaurant – North Beach – An outdoor beer garden out back, perfect for relaxing in on nice days.  Food can be uneven, but delicious Rogue beers on draft and guest handles too.  A comfortable neighborhood joint with friendly bartenders and staff, in the heart of North Beach.

La Trappe – Bar/Restaurant – North Beach – A very cool Belgian bistro and restaurant.  The food is great, the beer selection is mind-boggling.  Has a very awesome grotto-like “cave” downstairs in the basement, great for hanging out with lots of people.  Michael (the co-owner) is a true beer nerd and very friendly.

Beach Chalet – Brewery/Restaurant – Outer Richmond/Golden Gate Park – on the Great Highway and across from Ocean Beach.  Very scenic.  A nice place to take the parental units or entertain out of towners.  Good brunch on the weekends.

Trips Out Of The City (And Not Necessarily Breweries)

St. George Distillery – Spirits/Tour – Alameda – Take the ferry across the bay and it’s a pleasant half-mile walk from the dock.  They have an amazing operation here, and there is a tasting room, so have a designated driver if you decide to drive.  They make several iterations of Hangar One Vodka (the Kaffir Lime is to die for), St. George Single Malt, Absinthe, and tequila (but they can’t call it that).  This distillery was featured on Tony Bourdain’s No Reservations show, the one where they tasted Fois Gras vodka (“fois-dka”), which is not available at the distillery, or anywhere, and probably for good reason.

Lagunitas Brewery – Brewery/Tours/Food – Petaluma (Marin County) – These guys like the hops (heh), and they even have a censored beer (The Kronik Censored Rich Copper Ale).  Tours available if you call. “TapRoom and Beer Sanctuary” on site.  Worth the trip out of the city.  Beers of note: Lagunitas IPA, Hop Stoopid (22 oz), IPA Maximus, Lagunitas Brown Shugga’.


Top photo Flickr.

City Guide: San Francisco

I love San Francisco.  Like any big city, we have our problems.  Yes, we are on occasion a bit preachy and sanctimonious.  Our politics can be screwy.  We get made fun of for stuff like the Happy Meals kerfuffle.  But great things happen here also, sometimes this can be a downright exciting city to live in.

Not only is it a lovely city to live in (most of the time), it’s a wonderful city to visit.  Apologies for the length (and number of Italian restaurants, but hey – it is San Francisco), and away we go. Continue reading

City Guide: Cleveland Rocks

(Author’s Note: City Guide is an effort to serve as both an education about some of the great places on this little planet of ours, as well as offer a resource for folks who might have to travel someplace they’ve never been for work, a wedding, whatever, and don’t want to spend 3 days eating at Applebee’s and drinking Labatt Blue at the hotel bar.)

Frequently, when I tell folks that I live in Cleveland, and have done so for close to 15 years, the looks I get are a combination of pity, bewilderment, and sometimes, disdain.   Much of what they know about the city is that the river caught fire in 1969, LeBron James gave us the finger on national TV, and our own residents make music videos mocking the city.  Often, it’s accompanied by an assumption that I’m allergic to the sun, love icy roads, or possess an aversion to sports teams that win more than 40% of their games.

I can assure you, dear readers, that it is certainly none of those things (though, I admittedly don’t tan very well).  Simply, I love living here.  It’s an eclectic, historic city that, like many of its Midwest brethren, is always trying to overcome the image of a sorry, broken down shell of a place.    In reality, there’s something for just about everyone here, assuming you get pointed in the right direction. That’s my job.

So? When should I show up? While Cleveland is known as both a football town and a cold weather city, the best time to visit is sometime between early May and mid-late September. It’s the time of year to enjoy the waterfront along Lake Erie (stop snickering), the park system, and the various bar patios around the city (most likely).

I’m here! How do I get around? Chances are, you arrived in Cleveland either by plane or automobile.  If you’re going to be here for more than a day or so, or have any interest in exploring beyond downtown, you’ll want to rent a car if you didn’t drive yourself in, or aren’t visiting a friend that can cart your cheap ass around.  Things are spread out enough that cab fares aren’t worth it, and Cleveland’s above-ground rail, well, sucks.  In most cases, parking isn’t terribly difficult to find, or expensive, especially not by New York or Chicago standards.

Fine, but I’m not sleeping in a rental car. Now what?
If I have a quarrel with Cleveland, it’s a lack of unique/interesting hotels. All the major chains are represented, but for a boutique type hotel, you’ll have to trek 10 miles east of downtown, which isn’t worth it for most folks. Stay downtown, please. If you’ve got the cash, and you want some luxury, the Ritz-Carlton on W. 3rd is a beautifully old, but updated, tower of class. For the other 98%, the Residence Inn Marriott on Prospect was completely renovated in 2009-10, is walking distance from most downtown attractions, and inside an historic old building itself.

Terrific, but hotel food stinks. Feed me. Well, my friend, you’ve now landed in the Midwest’s wheelhouse: Food. If you’ve noticed our obesity statistics over the years, you’ve likely concluded that we know how to cook and eat quite well. True enough, and Cleveland is overstuffed with options.

For those of you who dig the celebrity chef thing, Cleveland native Michael Symon (former Iron Chef, current Food Network star) has several restaurants in the area, all of whom rely on local ingredients. The most expensive, Lola, is right downtown. His original restaurant, Lolita, is located in the Tremont neighborhood, and is more moderately priced. Reservations are recommended at both. He also has what’s widely regarded as the best burger place in town, the B-Spot.

Your famous chef doesn’t impress me, what else you got? Slightly less famous is Melt Bar & Grilled, which has encampments on both the near west and east sides, and has been featured on Travel Channel’s Man V. Food. A kitschy amalgamation of hipster and punk rock decor, Melt is a semi-local legend. As you can deduce, the focus here is on grilled cheese sandwiches, but in the grown up way. A word of advice: unless you’ve got three hours to kill, go at an oddly off-peak time of day, or better yet, place the order to go. Melt’s specialty is sandwiches, not turning tables.

The best pizza in Cleveland can be found just west of downtown, at Angelo’s in Lakewood. A thick buttery crust and sauce with just a twinge of sweetness has made it one of the more popular local joints for the last 30 years.

Vegetarians and vegans will do well to stop by Tommy’s in Coventry, on the near east side. Serving the progressive population of Cleveland Heights for decades, Tommy’s has a mix of vegetarian and non-vegetarian options, including spectacular milkshakes for both.

Finally, for authentic Italian, and tons of options, stop by Little Italy. An eclectic mix of old, classic restaurants and new, contemporary Italian offerings are available. Frankly, I can’t identify a restaurant where you’d go wrong in that part of the city.

I changed my mind. I just want to drink.

If you like micro-brews (and who doesn’t?) the absolute number one place to go in Cleveland is Great Lakes Brewery in Ohio City. Bearing at least 12 different high quality beers on tap at any given time, all of them brewed in house, and many of them of the high ABV variety, GLBC is the very best Northeast Ohio has to offer in terms of beer. The food’s pretty decent as well, with a variety of stepped up pub fair.Tip: Start off with the flagship beer, Dortmunder Gold, and finish yourself off with a Blackout Stout.

As an added bonus, there are half a dozen other bars of various size and style within 3 blocks of Great Lakes, and all on the same main thoroughfare, for those that prefer to do a little bar hopping.

No, wait. I want to drink and dance.
That’s fine too. You probably want to check out the Warehouse District along West 6th and West 9th Streets. Aptly named for the fact that the bars, clubs, and condos along the lake front are fashioned from old warehouses, the Warehouse District is where a lot of young folks congregate for drinking and dancing. The most low key bar along this stretch is the Map Room on W. 9th, for people who are older than 27, or don’t enjoy getting lightly felt up while waiting 20 minutes for a beer. Alright, so, dance clubs aren’t Cleveland’s strong point, or mine.

I need something more low-key. Then you want either Tremont (highlights include the classier 806, or the more hole in the wall Treehouse, with a giant outdoor space), or the corridor along East 4th St. Both feature a wide variety of bars and great restaurants.

Great, but I already figured out people in the Midwest could eat and drink. What else do you slobs do?

Well, that depends on what you are into. Let’s knock some easy stuff out of the way.

Yes, Cleveland is home to three allegedly professional sports teams. At the time of this writing, not a one of them are worth the price of admission on their own. For people who have an appreciation of the architecture of baseball stadiums, Progressive Field (though here, it’s always going to be Jacobs Field, don’t ask) is a beautiful facility. Tip: Show up about 30 minutes or so before game time, walk up and buy an $8 upper deck ticket, and set up shop at the Batter’s Eye Bar behind center field. It’s a better view, and a full service bar makes the Indians about 50% more watchable.

For the outdoorsy types, the Cleveland Metroparks spread throughout the city, and include the very cool Cleveland Zoo. The parks have over 60 miles of paved trails, many along the smaller creeks and rivers that feed into Lake Erie. The trails are perfect for bicycling, running, or even taking a walk.  Frankly, if you ate dinner at Melt and had a night cap at Great Lakes, you could probably use a walk.

What about culture? Cleveland has it in spades: art museums, theater, and music. The highlights:

The Great Lakes Science Center is nerd-topia (in a good way), especially now that they’ve added the NASA visitor center from nearby Glenn Research Center.

The Museum of Natural History is another gem, and a great place to take kids (or, 30 year old men) who are into dinosaurs.

The Cleveland Orchestra is widely recognized as one of the best in the business. The best way to see them is outdoors, at Blossom Music Center in the summer. Rumor has it, you can bring your own wine. Why they don’t allow this for say, Toby Keith, I won’t ask.

For things that aren’t as, well, mainstream, I suggest:

The Tremont Art Walk. About two dozen galleries and locally owned boutiques open for extended hours on the second Friday of each month.

During Christmas, check out the Bazaar Bizarre, a collection of local merchants selling hand-made, quality local clothes, accessories, and art. Like so many events in Cleveland, it takes place in an old warehouse that’s been converted into a multi-floor art space.  Another tip:  Go early in the day.  By lunch time, it gets a little difficult to navigate.

Alright, what can I skip? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, while quite famous, is generally less interesting and interactive than Seattle’s Experience Music Project, despite being much larger in square footage.

Also, orchestra concert aside, if you can avoid Blossom Music Center, please do.  It’s in the middle of nowhere, parking stinks, getting in and out is a nightmare, and there hasn’t been a structural or sound system improvement to the place in about 25 years.   If you’re in the region and want to see your favorite band, just drive out to Star Lake near Pittsburgh.

Great. Now, I want a souvenir, but shot glasses are tacky. Well then, good sir, you are in luck.  The CLE Clothing company sells a number of Cleveland centric shirts and accessories (including stuff to cover ladies no-no parts!). As an added bonus, they sell online, in case you forget to stop by their store downtown.

So, boys and girls, that’s Cleveland.  River fire free since 1969!