Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Great Places To Drink An Adult Beverage

Several weeks ago I was drinking tasteful craft beers on the patio of a small restaurant in the mountains, and found myself thinking how well that moment captured the essence of vacation. What could be better than parking your arse in a nice setting and indulging in an adult beverage without any agenda to get somewhere by a particular time?

I decided to write about great places to do just that, but quickly realized there are so many such places that culling the list to an arbitrary number and assigning first-second-third rankings is a fool’s errand. So instead, I will make this a recurring topic and each time offer up five recommendations in alphabetical order. On this day, here are the five that come to mind.

Hog’s Breath Saloon; Key West, FL

On an island packed with places to imbibe, few feel as genuine and down-to-earth as the Hog’s Breath. Yes, that seems odd when you consider that its logo is known around the world, that it is on Duval Street’s tourist strip, and that the original Hog’s Breath is 800 miles away. But, it is true nonetheless.

This is the place on Duval that draws the most locals. It has bars both indoors and outdoors, though I prefer the latter because when you sit outside on a sunny afternoon sipping a margarita, it feels as close to perfect as you can get -- and it feels equally close to perfect when you sit outside at night downing a beer while the band plays Grateful Dead tunes. And unlike nearby Sloppy Joe’s, the Hog’s Breath does not overhype its history to the point that its present seems like a caricature.

Jack of the Wood Public House; Asheville, NC

I have consumed good, strong beers at this pub on multiple occasions over the past decade, and it is where I was sitting when the idea for this blog was born 11 months ago. Everything about Jack of the Wood screams Old World, from the wooden furnishings to the cozy contours to the earthy visages on its walls. It offers a connoisseur’s menu of single-malt Scotches and specialty bourbons, but even more impressive are its own Green Man Ales, which pour from its taps in styles running the gamut from black stouts to summer-style golds. Musicians, some from as far away as Central Europe, come here to pluck out acoustic tunes that range from Celtic to bluegrass. There is nothing here not to like.

McClure’s Beach, California

Technically, drinking alcohol on McClure’s Beach is not allowed because it is part of Point Reyes National Seashore. But this is a remote spot where you might be the only person for miles, so don’t worry. Just slip a libation into your backpack (a flask of good bourbon should do the trick, as should one of those small bottles of red wine from a grocery store four-pack) and make your way north of San Francisco to the small town of Inverness. Then, drive up the ridges of the Coastal Range on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard until Pierce Point Road turns off to the right.

At the end of Pierce Point Road, a half-mile hiking trail will lead you down chaparral-covered slopes to the Pacific, where the shoreline is backstopped by cliffs as far as you can see. The ocean roars constantly as waves smash against immense rocks and roil in the surf, creating an image that is stunning both visually and auditorily. Sit down and take in the awesome scene while sipping in solitude, and you’ll get a feeling that mere words can not describe. (Don’t go into the water, however -- the riptides here are potentially fatal.)

McSorley’s Ale House, New York City

Abraham Lincoln once drank here. So did John Lennon. Located in the East Village, McSorley’s opened in 1854 and does not appear to have been significantly upgraded since then. Small and dim with sawdust on the floor, this is a place whose wall decorations include newspaper clippings of the stories that announced it was going to start allowing women -- in 1970. McSorley’s has its own brand of ale and serves no others, so when you open your mouth to order, you will be asked one simple question: “Light or dark?” You want authenticity and atmosphere? You got ’em.

The Vegas Strip

I’m not talking about any particular spot on Las Vegas Boulevard. I am talking about Las Vegas Boulevard itself. Here you can get an adult beverage in one place, then depart with your glass in hand and consume it as you mosey down the street -- and when it runs dry, you simply walk into the next place and they will fill that same glass with whatever you order.

Although I try to steer away from touristy areas, in favor of those that “keep it real,” I still find that there is something very appealing about Vegas’s unapologetic over-the-top excess. And I don't even like to gamble! You have to walk the strip before you die, and I recommend you do so wearing flip-flops and drinking a glass of chilled pinot grigio to combat the desert heat. I guarantee you won’t regret it.