March 19th, 2012

It’s March, which means St. Patrick’s Day, which means the fetishizing of all things Irish, which inevitably reminds me of the time I went to Ireland. Those of you who have been there know that there are parts of Ireland that redefine the word beauty; the ragged cliffs, the endless meadows, the unfathomable variations on the color green. But every place has its idiosyncrasies and in Ireland it’s illegal to serve or sell alcohol after 10 pm. I’m sure the locals have their strategies and maybe there are more house parties and everyone saves lots of money. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t stop very many people from drinking. For tourists, though, it’s just crazy to not be able to go to dinner at, say, 8 pm and then go afterwards to a pub for a drink or two before bed.

But, of course, this is exactly the problem we’ve left you, our guests, with for all these years. Sure, happy hour is great. We have a complimentary drink waiting for you when you come in from work in the evening, even a couple if you want. Clearly we’re coming from a good place and have your best interest at heart, if I do say so myself. Closing the bar at 10 pm, though, and denying you the opportunity for a nightcap, well, it’s been kind of a travesty.

No more! Starting this month the bar will stay open until 11 pm. Not quite nightclub hours, I know, but a bit more civilized. And, as always, our guests drink free from 5-7.

March 18th, 2012

I have kind of an odd one for you this month. Who knows, though, maybe one of you out there will have been dreaming of this all your life and I’ll be the one to tell you about it. For the rest, hopefully it’ll be a sweet little curiosity that’s maybe worth checking out instead of a movie on some day off. Ready for it? I want to tell you about a pinball museum in Alameda.

What would a pinball museum even look like, you ask? This, anyway, is what I wondered in the months between the first time I heard of it and the first time I went. Well, it turns out that it’s a whole lot of pinball machines, separated into different rooms by era. And what’s great about it is that not only are they all in working condition, but with the price of admission you can play them all for free! For me this was the real draw of the place because I, for one, am not such a pinball aficionado. The historical machines would have had no interest for me if I couldn’t touch them and even then I had very little curiosity about the shifting mechanics through the years, I only wanted to keep stopping that damn little ball from getting past my flippers. To get infinite shots at that task, though, was amazing. My ability to continue playing was tied, for once, to neither the number of quarters I could scrounge up nor any particular personal skill. It was sweet release from past pinball experience.

I don’t imagine you could get a life changing experience out of this place, but, you know, some days it rains. Some days when you’re away from home you get bored. Some days quirky is more appealing than grand. If you find yourself having one of those days while you’re here with us, I recommend the pinball museum.

March 17th, 2012

Every month, as you know, I use this space to introduce you all to another one of our employees. Our team comes from all sorts of different places and they’re working here for all sorts of different reasons and it’s always fun to learn about people’s different passions and plans and philosophies. But these people are not fixed objects! Pee Wee/Dave, the bartender, for example, was the first employee I ever wrote about, however many years ago, and back then he was all about music and the music career he was going to find for himself. Well, a year ago he became a father and now his story is very different indeed. Why didn’t you learn about that from me? I guess what I’m telling you that I’ve done, actually, is I’ve managed to convince our general manager that, from time to time, I get to use this space as a kind of a gossip column. Yes! Now it really is my dream job!

And I’ve got a pretty exciting inaugural edition, I must say. No less than three of our employees have gotten engaged in the last few weeks. Jonathan, who you may remember used to think he was going to be a cop, and is now studying business and working in reservations, just proposed to his girlfriend. Rachel, the aesthetician who works behind our front desk and waxes our general manager’s eyebrows, just said yes to her proposal. And, finally, Kaz, the aspiring rapper who does sales for us in Southern California, popped the question to a girl who’s been described as “basically another Kaz”. Congratulations or words of warning are encouraged.

One employee who hasn’t changed much is Adam, who can still be found rotating from the front desk to bell to the bar, trying to work as close to 24 hours a day as he can get, all in service of his race car. His season just opened, though, so he’ll cool off on his shift hording for a bit. And if you’re ever curious, he’d love it if you’d come cheer him on.

That’s all for this time!

March 16th, 2012

If you travel a lot for business, and chances are if you’re reading this you do, then it’s also pretty likely that you eat out way more than you want to. And if all this is true then maybe you feel a bit like I do about mealtimes: Bored.

When I was growing up, eating in a restaurant was exciting. We barely ever got to do it, so it was always a treat. Plus it was generally linked with some kind of event, like a birthday or a guest, which made even another layer of special around it. Now, though, it’s just something I do because my life is too instable for cooking and, as a result, restaurants can kind of lose their charm. Is anyone relating to this?

A couple of weeks ago, though, I went with my sister to a place called The Basin for her birthday, and, suddenly, there was that feeling of being in a special place that I hadn’t had for kind of a while. At first glance The Basin is a pretty average “nice” restaurant. It’s on the main drag in Saratoga, serves pretty food on pretty plates and is priced just a bit higher than actually seems fair. But watch out for the details! There is, for example, a pretty huge tree that got built around and so sits in the middle of a dining room. The wait staff is not just generically friendly, but even eccentrically charming. Plus they had my favorite French wine, which may not excite you, but what if they have yours too? All in all, the night felt surprisingly exceptional. I don’t want to go every week and ruin it, but my own birthday is coming soon enough and The Basin might just be the place. What occasion will you save it for?

March 15th, 2012

For all the wineries that I’ve written to you about, I’m kind of shocked that the Beaulieu Vineyards are the first I’ve found of their kind. Normally, each month I learn about another American family that moved to the Napa Valley and began, in some way or another, to try and duplicate French winemaking techniques. Some pay homage to their European predecessors, while others assert the superiority of modern techniques, but they’re all students of another culture. Never before, though, have I come across a real Frenchman. That is, until now, with the story of Georges de Latour.

De Latour came from France in 1900, needing not to study or learn, but only to continue his practice on this land that he found beautiful. And, later, when he wanted a winemaker, he could only have “someone who understood European standards”, so he brought a research enologist from Paris over to join him. At the Beaulieu Vineyards they assert that this move benefitted the “entire nascent California wine industry”. Which maybe it did, but don’t you just love this French attitude? This winery is dripping with a languid superiority that wants everyone who’s reading this story in English to understand how lucky we are that someone showed up who knew how to make a bottle of wine.

Of course, in France, where everyone knows how to make wine from birth, everyone does, so you can get a pretty nice bottle for 2 euros. I wish these boys would try to hold up that part of French culture here in California. But, who cares. All the wine you want is free at our bar every night from 5-7!