Last call at Carlyle

carlyle_coaster

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of being on the opening crew of several coffee shops and restaurants. Now it’s my turn to be on the closing crew. From Carlyle owner Bruce Goldberg:

Next month is Carlyle’s seventh anniversary. February also marks the end of our current lease. Both milestones are significant in that they factor into my decision to announce that Carlyle will serve it’s last meal on Sunday, February 14th.

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the many loyal customers, employees, and friends who have made Carlyle special. Though saddened by the closing, I ’m comforted by wonderful memories, ,and the opportunity to have worked with some very talented people.

I hope that over the next two weeks you’ll make a point of joining us for dinner or a drink. In addition to some recent menu changes, Chef Martin will be presenting a special prix fixe dinner, offered on both February 13th and 14th, to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and to serve as our farewell.

I’m eternally grateful to Bruce and to Neil, who first hired me there, for trusting me with their bar program. It’s been a fun ride and great platform for me as a mixologist. I think we succeeded in turning Carlyle into one of the best places in Portland to have a cocktail. Unfortunately we’ve faced an uphill battle running a destination restaurant in a tough location and a down economy, so this closing is understandable.

If you haven’t been into Carlyle yet, do stop in soon. And if you’re among the many friends I’ve made while working there I hope I’ll see you at least one more time before we close. Last call is Sunday night, February 14. Fernet is on the rail.

[Photo courtesy of the unbeatable Mayor of Carlyle, Ron Dollete.]

2009 blog in review

2009 has come to a close and everyone seems to welcome its end. Personally I couldn’t have asked for the year to be much better. I started the year unemployed and end it with the lead of a fairly high-profile bar, a strong web of new friends in a new city, and a larger online presence than ever. My non-blog writing has slowed, something I hope to change in 2010 along with addressing a wider variety of topics, but in compensation I’ve become a far better bartender and polished my magic abilities back into the best shape they’ve been in since the early part of the decade.

For this blog, 2009 has been a year of cocktails, nanny state foolishness, and morning links. Total traffic has hit its best year ever, with 99,442 visits according to Google Analytics or 124,155 according to SiteMeter. That’s still a lot lower than I’d like, but doesn’t include people reading via RSS or Facebook.

Most visitors continue to come from search engines. According to Analytics, 57% of visitors come from search, 31% from other referrers, and 12% from direct traffic. I’m very much writing for Google. Of the 10 most viewed posts of 2009, only 2 were actually written this year:

Top posts of 2009
1. Camel crickets invade DC
2. Miracle fruit — I’m a believer
3. Finally, sampling miracle fruit tablets
4. How to get rid of camel crickets
5. Who will watch the Watchmen smoke?
6. The stapler’s secret
7. Dark ‘n’ Sue Me
8. Buy miracle fruit
9. Stocking your home bar, pt. 1
10. The Mystery of the Five-Inch Bull Balls

That’s a little disheartening, but on the upside I’m glad to see that the Rocky Mountain oyster post still gets so much traffic.

Here’s what people come here searching for:

Top search referrals of 2009
1. miracle fruit
2. camel cricket
3. spider crickets
4. miracle fruit party
5. camel crickets
6. how to get rid of camel crickets
7. sobieski vodka review
8. miracle fruit tablets review
9. miracle fruit tablets
10. where to buy miracle fruit

Clearly my strategy for 2010 should be selling ads for miracle fruit and insect poison (which is not to say the two should be taken together). Other intriguingly popular searches this year include “bull balls” at number 11, “nutmeg facts,” “make your own dragon,” “jacob grier human consumption,” “miracle fruit sex,” and “the widowmaker pizza.”

Here’s where this site’s readers live:

Top visitor cities for 2009
1. New York
2. Portland, OR
3. Washington
4. San Francisco
5. Chicago
6. London
7. Arlington, VA
8. Raleigh
9. Seattle
10. Los Angeles

Site traffic is low enough that my own visits to the blog are enough to artificially boost Portland, but I’m glad to see that I’ve found some local readership and that the constant cocktail posts haven’t turned off political readers in DC and Arlington. The other cities I’ve lived in land at spots 17 (Nashville) and 24 (Houston).

For non-search referrals, this was the year for social networking. Two sites send a ton of traffic from their blogrolls, probably attributable to the same few people clicking daily. Thanks go out to Radley for once again sending the most readers my way.

Top non-search referrers for 2009
1. The Agitator
2. Liqurious
3. Facebook
4. The Blog to End All Blogs
5. Twitter
6. The Daily Dish
7. Reason
8. Lifehacker
9. Zhubinness
10. The Pegu Blog

Thanks to everyone for reading, have a fun and safe celebration tonight, and I’ll see you back here in 2010.

Where to eat/drink in Houston?

I’ll be back in my hometown December 25-29. Obviously I want to stop in at Anvil, where bartender Bobby Heugel is serving up creative cocktails. And word is David Buehrer has finally brought great coffee to Houston with his Tuscany Coffee. Good Tex-Mex is a must and easy to find. I’d usually consider barbecue essential, but Podnah’s Pit in Portland is such a good fix that I might do without. Where else should I visit?

The three best purchases I made this year

Ortlieb office bag — Early this year my trusty backpack finally wore out and I replaced it with a pannier bag. Taking my laptop off of my back and onto my bike has made cycling much more enjoyable. The bag is waterproof, which is a must in Portland. The weight isn’t much of an issue while riding, though it does make the bike a little unwieldy while walking it. The bag itself isn’t cheap and I needed to buy a rack and laptop sleeve too (with corduroy lining!), but the added time I’ve spent biking has been well worth it.

Rice cooker — I’m not one to stock up on excessive kitchen appliances, but when even Fuschia Dunlop wrote, “If I could have only one modern gadget in my kitchen, it would have to be an electric rice cooker” I thought it might be a tool worth having. And it has been, mainly for the benefits of consistency and not having to coordinate rice preparation too closely with the rest of a meal. Most of my cooking interests lean Asian anyway, so the ease of this tool has me in the kitchen more than I otherwise would be.

An unnamed magic pamphlet — I’ve spent thousands of dollars on magic books and videos over the past decade, but very few of those sources have been as useful as one $10 dollar pamphlet detailing a single card sleight that I came across this year. No, I’m not going to link to it. That would defeat the purpose.

Crater Lake

crater lake

I’m headed there now. Links will post in the morning but I expect to be disconnected from phone and internet for most of the next day, back on Monday night.

[Photo from Flickr user Sacred Destinations.]

Friends don’t let friends blog drunk

As some of you know, I don’t actually write the morning links posts in the morning. I usually write them late at night and post them before going to bed so that they’re available for the East Coast readers waking up 3 hours ahead of me. This isn’t usually a problem, but on Wednesday night I found myself unexpectedly skipping dinner and having a few too many drinks. This didn’t stop me from blogging, so when I got up on Thursday I figured I should check the post to make sure I’d correctly placed it on the sidebar. To my credit, I did. The rest of the post, however, was complete nonsense.

I immediately took it down and corrected it, but then neglected the step necessary to republish it (while sober!). So today you’ve got a double dose of links, the ones currently on the sidebar and the ones that should have been posted yesterday. More importantly, I’m also republishing the original drunken post. This could be my best writing ever and I’d hate to see it lost to posterity. Consider the opening sentence, “What if ccalhochol really does produse outocoems similar to War;”. Really makes you think. Or the final link with its totally off-topic description: “Inside hobos”. Now that’s a compelling headline.

I’m surprised no one called me out on this. You all are quick to argue with the controversial posts, but I ask about ccalhochol produsing outocoems similar to War and not a single one of you comments or emails to tell me I might have been completely wasted when I wrote that? Come on, people, I need you to let me know these things!

Yesterday’s fantastic morning links below the break…
[Read more...]

Murky remembrances

murky_syn

I can still remember my first encounter with the coffee shop at 3211 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, VA, which is surprising since I didn’t actually go into it. I was visiting DC on college spring break — in those days that seemed to me a fun destination — and meeting a friend from the Institute for Humane Studies for dinner in Clarendon to talk about policy jobs in DC. He wasn’t a coffee drinker and so the place barely merited a mention from him as we walked briskly by, yet I felt an almost gravitational attraction to it. It was, I thought, the kind of shop where I could happily spend a lot of time.

It turns out I was very, very wrong for thinking I would enjoy working in public policy, but the coffee shop became more significant to me than I’d ever imagined. Back then it was called Common Grounds and when I returned to DC for my first internship a few months later I immediately sought it out. It became my escape from the depressing realization that I had no real interest in the career I’d been working towards. Nearly every night I’d come home, change out of my business attire, and walk the two miles uphill to relax with coffee and a couple of books. Though I was rarely joined by anyone I knew, I enjoyed the sense of community one feels in a busy cafe even when alone.

I returned to Virginia following college graduation for lack of any better plan, my new apartment just three blocks from Common Grounds. I applied for a job there following one more failed attempt at enjoying public policy. When I checked in a few weeks later, the manager admitted that they’d lost my application. This turned out to be a moot point, for the shop was about to be sold to Nick Cho of Murky Coffee. For some reason Nick hired me.

murky_tasting

Nick has an intense passion for coffee and he passed that on to me on my first day of training at his existing Capitol Hill location. He gave us new employees twenty bucks and sent us down the street to Starbucks to order whatever we liked. Then we came back to experience the same drinks the Murky way. I’d consumed thousands of coffee beverages and spent countless nights in coffee shops, but I’d never paid close attention to what was in the cups. This all changed when I watched Nick deftly pour perfectly textured milk into espresso, a lovely rosetta forming on the surface of the cappuccino as if by magic. I’d never seen or tasted anything like it. To this day the memory informs my work as a barista and bartender; the best gift I can give new customers is recreating that feeling of astonishment that comes from witnessing a mundane drink transformed into something wonderful.

I spent only eight months working at Murky but I continued as a customer far longer. The friendships and relationships that bloomed there are the reason I stayed in Virginia for as long as I did. Our cast of characters — a Pilates instructor, an opera singer, and a medical consultant, among others — formed a welcome community outside the cocooned world of politics. Every Sunday we gathered for coffee and a late lunch. This ritual was so valuable to me that for the year following when I worked at Open City my only requirement was that I claim the painfully early Sunday morning 5:30 am barista shift; I felt it necessary to get off in time to meet for coffee at Murky, despite spending the entire morning working the same model espresso machine and serving exactly the same blend.

I wrote above that I felt a gravitational pull to the shop. Looking back at the five apartments I lived in during my time in Virginia, I realize I was literally in orbit around it. Murky is in red, my various apartments in blue.

murky_apt

That’s no coincidence. Though I moved frequently and made many compromises, always being within a short walk or bike ride from my favorite coffee shop was an essential amenity.

Many people drifted in and out of our circle of regulars over the years. By the time I packed for Oregon just two of our original crew were left, meeting every Sunday to drink coffee and smoke cigars at the green light pole. Like many things at Murky, the pole was weathered and useless, existing mostly to annoy people trying to park their cars around it. Yet it was charming in its way and was the perfect place to prop up our feet and light a couple stogies in the breeze.

Hanging out at ye old green pole

If I could be there today, that’s exactly what I’d be doing. This Sunday was Murky’s last day open for business. Nick and his staff are opening a new shop, Wrecking Ball Coffee, in downtown DC. The space at 3211 Wilson Blvd. will soon become a bakery, the newest sleek addition to Clarendon’s redevelopment. Murky’s end removes one more of my tethers to the city. The thought of moving back to Arlington is now less tempting.

I could go on, but the important thing for me is saying thanks to Nick and the Murky community. Thanks for teaching me how to taste, for showing me the beauty in craft, and for giving me a place to call home in Virginia. You’ll be missed, and I wish you the best of luck in your new venture.

Cocktails at Carlyle

Carlyle Bar

I’ve been waiting until things are official to post the good news, but I’m happy to report that my job search here in Portland is finally at an end. I’ve been lucky so far to pick up a couple shifts a week behind the nicely stocked bar at the Carlyle. I got even luckier last week when Neil Kopplin, our talented bar manager, decided to move on to a new job. I’ll be stepping into his shoes starting tomorrow. To go from underemployed cocktail blogger to lead bartender at a place like Carlyle is a fantastic opportunity and I’m excited to start leaving my mark on the place.

I’m inheriting a good cocktail program, so I don’t need to come in and make drastic changes. I’ll be gradually adding new cocktails to the menu over the next few weeks. If you’re in Portland, I hope you’ll drop in sometime to try them out. (If you’re in the industry we’ve got an added bonus for you: 20% off food orders for bartenders, baristas, and servers, happy hour excluded.)

Neil’s new home is behind the bar at Clyde Common with Jeffrey Morgenthaler. Clyde’s already one of my favorite spots in town and I look forward to seeing my two friends there. They’re open later than Carlyle, so I’ll be a frequent visitor for those oh so necessary post-shift drinks.

We’re celebrating Neil’s last shift with House Spirits’ Recession Proof Mixology event. Stop in today from 4-7 for a menu of $5 Aviation gin cocktails and stay even later for what’s sure to be a memorable night.

Blog in review ’08

2008 has been good year for this blog. Due to more frequent posting, the popular morning links feature I added in January, guest blogging at The Agitator, and various publications elsewhere, traffic has nearly doubled from this time last year. In personal life I finally escaped the East Coast and moved west to Portland. Though I’m not completely settled here yet — a regular income would sure be nice — things are off to a great start, thanks in large part to the friends I’ve made through writing and tending bar.

Looking back at the end of a year, I’m always amazed at the many random things that have happened. Here’s the annual highlight reel:

January — Disappointment with Ron Paul, Tom Firey and I write against smoking bans for The Washington Post, the Virginia ABC bans sangria, and a few friends and I taste the newly available absinthe.

February — I get snarky in the Washington Times, Grape and Bean opens in Alexandria, and I play around with a Sazerac.

March — Magicians get no respect, Starbucks gets sued for distributing tips, I talk about secular sabbaths with the AP, and why I like tipping.

April — The BBC broadcasts a miracle fruit party from my apartment, I mix up a Massa Mojito, and the Blue Beetle cocktail gets blogged.

May — Baltimore says no cigars for poor people, libertarians suck at being corrupt, I visit a raw milk dairy, Starbucks pushes “scooped on” dates, and I make enemies in Detroit.

June — NYC pushes fruit carts, Paul Roberts and I have a friendly debate in the LA Times, my friend Amy’s mom gets a cocktail named after her, I go on a rant about cocktail shakers, and a discussion of menthol racism.

July — Why McCain’s health plan would be good for service industry workers, Flash websites bad for restaurants, precious coffee policies, I make a Hothouse Fizz with the new Plymouth sloe gin, and sampling miracle fruit tablets.

August — Bashing the bartender, my 10 desert island bottles, what’s wrong with mandatory calorie counts, how to baconify your bourbon, and I begin my journey west.

September — Conservatives and coffee, organizational tweeting, Thorfinn for president, why we need a magicians lobby, I get vermouthy, and why prices are better than information.

October — The McCain that could have been, Oregon neglects the pipe smokers, LEED hates tobacco, everybody loves an Irish car bomb, Rocky Mountain oysters get eaten, and my trip west comes to an end in Portland.

November — Advantages of a secular Christmas, the Arthur Kaler award, recounts of no significance, and overcoming blend bias.

December — Hello to my new Oregon neighbors, an Oregon smoking ban prediction, stocking your home bar parts one and two, smoking ban stupidity, an ode to Repeal Day in the American Spectator, Doublethinking about Starbucks, and my most missed places in DC.

I’m hoping to keep the momentum going to make 2009 even better. Tonight I’ll be celebrating with my last legal cigar at my favorite pub in Portland, the legendary Horse Brass. Thanks for reading, and have a happy new year!

Blog returns tomorrow

Sorry for the light posting. My internet access has been limited this trip and I’ve spent the past couple days orchestrating a last minute move of all my things that were still in storage in Virginia. Amazingly it’s worked out very well, given that I didn’t even have bids from movers until yesterday morning. It’s all on a truck now, so in a few weeks I’ll no longer be living with just two bar stools and a mattress. A couch, bed, assorted furniture, books, glassware, and several cases of liquor will be arriving soon. You can guess which items I’m most looking forward to receiving.

My flight leaves at 3:30 today, getting me back to Portland late at night. Regular blogging will resume in the morning.

Blue state bartender

A few months ago I was fighting for liberty at the Cato Institute. Tonight I’ll be tending bar for the Oregon Democratic Party’s election celebration. Oh, how far I have fallen. If IHS finds out I’ll never be invited to another seminar.

Will tonight’s crowd be filled with tears of joy or disillusionment? Meh, I don’t really care anymore. As long as the ruling party falls short of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and Prop. 8 fails in California, that’ll be good enough for me. As you revel or mourn, just remember to tip your bartender. His drinks may be less intoxicating than an Obama rally, but he’s honest and he delivers. We’ll see if we can say the same about the president in four years.

I’ll be back tomorrow at the dawn of a new age of hope and change and ponies. Enjoy the evening, and come the morning let’s tear down the posters and start showing a little skepticism toward the guy you just made the most powerful man in the world, ok?

Disenfranchised

I’m sitting in a typically Obama-friendly Portland coffee shop trying to fill out my Virginia absentee ballot. I need a No. 2 pencil do so. I could get up and ask if anyone can loan me one so I can vote for Bob Barr in a swing state, but I don’t expect that will inspire anyone to help.

An end to couch surfing

My lease in Arlington expired on July 31. Since that time I’ve been traveling the country, staying with friends and family throughout the US. Thanks to their incredible generosity I had to spend only two nights in hotels during the entire trip, in Kansas City and Las Vegas. I’m extremely grateful for their hospitality.

Thanks to the housing bust and the glut of new condos being converted into apartments here, it’s a good time to rent. Yesterday I signed a new lease at The Merrick. It’s in the NE quadrant, right next to the Rose Garden (meaning the basketball arena, not the actual rose garden Portland is famous for). As with most stadium areas, it’s a rather soulless neighborhood. Nearby are just a Starbucks, two fast food burger joints, a Subway, and a few other chain restaurants; it’s no comparison to my previous proximity to Murky Coffee, glorious Peruvian chicken, and all that Clarendon has to offer.

But on the upside, my rent is 30% less than what I was paying before and the location is nicely accessible to the rest of the city. It’s right across the bridge from downtown and the Pearl and within the no-fare zone on the train line. Groceries and restaurants are in the nearby Lloyd Center. And most importantly, it’s located within easy biking distance of the three coffee shops where I’ve been spending the most time: the wonderful Albina Press, the Stumptown on Belmont, and the Ristretto Roasters on Williams. In short, it’s going to be a great place for getting to know the city, and definitely good enough for a first year’s stay.

The United States is large

Hypothesis confirmed after driving 4,700 miles, visiting more than a dozen cities, and spending 71 days on the road.

Route 2008

I’ve finally arrived in Portland, having arrived last night after a brief stop for fantastic drinks from Jeff Morgenthaler in Eugene. This week I’ll be looking for apartments and jobs while getting back to regular, hopefully more substantive updates.

Blog or beach… blog or beach?

Beach.

To do in Los Angeles?

There’s lots to write about at the moment, but I’m leaving Denver in the morning and traveling on to Los Angeles. This morning’s links are already up; whether we have some on Friday depends on my internet access.

This is my first time in L.A. I want to stop by the newish Intelligentsia and Lamill Coffee, but otherwise have no plans for where to go. Anyone have suggestions for what to do there?

Paulson doesn’t drive folks to drink

Catherine Rampell writes:

What is the relationship between economic downturns and the traditional vices? … A quick (and by no means comprehensive) search of economic studies suggests that recessions generally promote healthier behavior. Economic downturns typically…

…reduce both drinking and drunken-driving. According to one paper: “A one percentage point increase in the state unemployment rate lowers the predicted consumption of spirits by over 1.1 percent, compared to just 0.4 percent for beer or wine.”

Aw, man, I thought tending bar was a counter-cyclical career. This may not have been the best summer to quit my job, drive cross country, and hope to find a new one two months later.