Taking Flight

A “Heavy Hitter” flight at Luck, in Trinity Groves.

Heavy Hitter beer flight at Luck, in Trinity Groves, Dallas, Texas

Heavy Hitter beer flight at Luck, in Trinity Groves, Dallas, Texas

From left to right:

Velvet Hammer, from Peticolas Brewing Company – One of my favorites. If you buy, say, a whole growler of this be a little careful. They don’t call it Velvet Hammer for nothing.

The Temptress, from Lakewood Brewing Company – I consider The Temptress to be one of the best things in the world. Not one of the best beers… one of the best things.

Inspiration, from Community Beer Company – Actually, I’m not sure if I remember this one correctly. I do love stuff from Community, especially their Mosaic – my favorite IPA.

Quakertown Stout, from Armadillo Ale Works – I liked this one a lot. You can tell, it’s empty. It’s a new favorite – near the top of the list.

Renos

“On my tombstone they will carve, “IT NEVER GOT FAST ENOUGH FOR ME.”
― Hunter S. Thompson, Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas (click to enlarge)

Deep Ellum, Dallas, Texas
(click to enlarge)

“Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Rainy Day in New Orleans

New Orleans is over a hundred miles from the ocean, but it is barely dry. Rain comes quickly and unexpectedly… except it is always expected.

Luckily, there is a source of refuge in the Big Easy – whenever the skies open up, there is always a bar handy to seek shelter and good cheer.

Waiting for the St. Charles Streetcar, the rain came down, hard, so we ducked into The Avenue Pub (which happened to be right there).

The Avenue Pub is beer heaven. Open 24hrs. 7Days (never know when it’s going to rain). Their list of beers on tap is three pages long.

The Beer Buddha says:

“Honestly this category really isn’t fair; but why punish one bar because all the others can’t hold it’s jockstrap? We all know The Avenue Pub is THE beer bar in not only New Orleans but in Louisiana. Nothing against all the other bars in the state but you ALL know you have a long way to go to be mentioned in the same sentence with AP.”

Draft Magazine lists it as one of the 100 best beer bars in the country. They say:

“Only in New Orleans will you find a beer bar open 24/7. The staff is militant about clean beer lines and proper glassware, so even when you stumble in at 4 a.m. you get the best pint in the city. Choose from more than 47 rotating taps and about as many bottles, all focusing on American beer. Go for an exhaustive introduction to local NOLA Brewing or to people-watch from the balcony.”

The Complex City Guide has it at 12 in the 25 best Beer Bars in the country. They say,

“Louisiana may not be the first state you think of when you think of beer (sure, they’ve got Abita), but when you change state to city and beer to drunk, it’s no wonder that New Orleans has one of the best beer spots in the country. Avenue Pub features a rotating 47 taps on two floors (so you can get your exercise in between rounds) and once you mix that with some amazing Louisiana cuisine, you won’t be thinking about Bourbon Street no more. And the most important part, here in the land of to-go cups, the Avenue is open 24 hours a day. Yup.”

And all this is right there, right on the Streetcar Line, right when it starts to rain.

My only complaint – they don’t have Deep Ellum Brewing Company’s Pollinator on tap. Maybe I can send them an email.

The Avenue Pub, on St. Charles in New Orleans

  • Moleskine with Varsity Disposable Fountain Pen
  • Streetcar Fare
  • Beer list and food menu
  • NOLA Blonde Ale Beer
  • Fox Barrel Pear Cider (sorry, it wasn’t even noon yet and I was a little beer’d out – so I had a cider. It was good. So sue me)

A lot of taps.

No Orange Slices! No Muddling!

NYLO Hotel Roof

Last weekend, Candy and I drove down to the Bishop Arts District for lunch at Eno’s and on the way back, we decided – spur of the moment thing – to stop off at a spot Candy had seen on the web. There is a new boutique hotel – The NYLO opening up in Southside – and they had a bar and infinity pool on the roof. The person writing the article said the view of the Dallas Skyline from the bar was the best in the city.

We parked and walked up at about one in the afternoon. The place wasn’t even officially open – it was in the middle of a “soft opening.” The woman from the front desk gave us a tour of the lobby and the restaurant. Pretty damn cool, if you ask me – especially the lobby room called “The Library” with a case full of books and funkified seating all around. Then she walked us over to the elevator and took us up to The Soda Bar on the roof.

The article wasn’t kidding, the view from up there is jaw-dropping.

click for a larger and more detailed version

We hung around chatting with the folks that worked there and some customers. They didn’t have any beer on tap – but I made sure they would have some local Deep Ellum Brewing Company products available (they will have the Double Brown Stout and Deep Ellum IPA) when they officially open (which they have by the time you read this).

I kept thinking what the view would look like at sunset, so we sneaked across the street for dinner at Cedars Social and then came back to watch the sunset.

When we finally left to drive back to suburbia we came across the same woman in the lobby that had given us our tour. She said, “Are you still here – I’ve been home and changed and come back again and you’re just leaving?” I said we came back for the sunset.

The place may get too uppity and twee after it gets established – it’s also a bit too far to be a neighborhood hangout – but I’m sure I’ll be back. I could get used to hanging out there. That view is too good to miss.

Bar Belmont

When I first moved to Dallas, over thirty years ago, I lived with some friends in Kessler Park, in Oak Cliff for a while until I saved enough money to get an apartment. I was working downtown and rode the bus to work. Living in the city was a big deal for me and I remember the quiet excitement of the bus ride to work. It came across the Commerce Street Viaduct into the canyons of skyscrapers after passing through the triple underpass and Dealy Plaza. To get to Commerce, the bus would drive up Sylvan Avenue.

In 1981 this was a very distressed area. That was a real shame because this part of “The Cliff” has a lot going for it. It’s close to downtown and is really the only part of the city with any kind of hills at all. It’s an old, beautiful part of the city. But thirty years ago, looking out that bus window, it was obvious that a long walk on those sidewalks might very well be fatal.

At Sylvan and Fort Worth Avenue there was a hotel called the Belmont. It was barely visible from the street because it sat up on top of a steep little rocky hill. It had a cool-looking retro deco office and a string of bungalows snaking across the crest of the hill. I never drove up there, but it was obvious that the place would have the best view of downtown in the city. It was run down and I wasn’t sure if it was even open. At any rate, it would not be a place anyone would want to stop – the neighborhood was frightening.

I remember thinking that it was a shame that little hotel was wasting away in such a state. I would fantasize about how smart and hip a property it could be with a little updating and a strong and visible security force. I was always thinking and talking about trashed out places that I thought should be fixed up. People used to make fun of me when I would talk about stuff like that. Nobody understood the potential I saw in those run down places. I felt like an idiot.

Now as I tumble into oldfartdom I realize I was right all along (the realization comes too late to do any good, of course). Oak Cliff is now the hot place to be in Dallas, and with the impending opening of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge that Renaissance/development/gentrification is only going to gain speed.

At the forefront of this change is that little hotel I used to stare at out of the bus windows. The Belmont has been rebuilt into a cute little boutique hotel and everybody who is anybody stays there. An upscale bar-b-que joint that specializes in local foods, called Smoke, is attached to the hotel and has become one of the most buzzworthy eateries in the city.

I really wanted to see this place.

On Sunday, Candy and I ate lunch in the Bishop Arts District and then driving back we planned on stopping at the Belmont and checking out the Bar Belmont and its view of downtown. The Belmont did not disappoint. They have done a fantastic job of updating the property while maintaining the the Art Deco retro-cool feel about the place.

The bar has a great patio. Part of it is covered and part is outside. It would be a fantastic place to hang out on one of the three or four days of good weather that Dallas gets every year. Today it was too cold, so we went into the comfy indoor part of the bar.

There was a knot of folks in the lower part of the bar unpacking guitars and arranging chairs and benches. While we sat up by the bar the crowd slowly began to grow with more and more musicians showing up and setting up. There were a half-dozen guitars, a few dobros, a banjo, a standup bass, a couple drummers, and a fiddle player. They started playing and singing.

It was fantastic. These people were very, very good. It was the best time – there were maybe ten musicians and about six of us listening. A free concert in an intimate setting with more performers than fans.

During a break, we found out what was going on. This was the Sunday Afternoon Charli’s Jam. Charli Alexander had founded this acoustic jam about thirty years ago. It has moved around from location to location and has now settled into the Bar at the Belmont. It is very well known and people have traveled from all over the world to play with these folks. There is a core of folks but Charli said it really varies from week to week, with different instruments, players, and styles of music. Today it was mostly traditional Texas honkey-tonk, with some folk and pop-folk thrown in (I’d love to hear some blues).

I loved listening to the jam. The core was arranged in a rough square and they would move around the square with each musician in turn choosing what they wanted to perform with the others filling in. During a part of each song they would take turns playing solos, with the original performer calling out the solo players in turn. They were very good, surprisingly tight. It was obvious that most of them were very used to each other and were able to anticipate what was coming next.

The room was filled with portraits of musicians, with David Bowie holding court over the mantle. Willie Nelson was on the opposite wall, a rough, glaring, black and white portrait. Everybody teased one singer (with an amazing bass voice) after he sang “Crazy” – telling him that it took some courage to sing that song with Willie looking on. “He’s happy as long as he gets his royalties,” was the answer.

They talked about a particularly difficult chord on the dobro. “That’s hard on the guitar, but even tougher on this,” the dobro player said. “At least Nancy doesn’t have to deal with that,” he said, referring to the fiddle player. “Yeah, but she has to worry about her own problems, like no frets,” someone else pointed out.

Candy and I had such a good time, we sat there and listened for three hours. Charli said they liked having people come out to listen, “It makes us play a lot better.” She said they are there every Sunday at three o’clock. I guarantee we will be going back.

I think we were the only fans to stay for the whole time. A few people came and went – some friends of the musicians. A few guests came to the Belmont desk to check out and stayed for a drink and a few songs. One scraggly looking guy stood by the desk for a couple of minutes. He looked familiar, but I didn’t pay much attention. When the song ended, he was gone, but the guitar player said, “Hey, that was Kinky Friedman standing there.”

So I think of that run-down old fashioned string of shabby bungalows up on that hill thirty years ago and what it has become today. I think of a young kid excited about riding a bus through a bad neighborhood in a big city. Now, it’s changed, but it’s still the same. Everybody had such a good time – the musicians in the jam, the hotel guests, even the folks working at the hotel. Sometimes it can come back.

The great Dallas bluesman, Mick Tinsley, playing his killer version of a Mark Curry number – “Raining All Over Me”. Recorded at Charli’s Sunday Jam at the Belmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas June 2010

The street entrance to the Bar Belmont

Charli's Sunday Afternoon Acoustic Jam

The front desk entrance to the Art Deco Belmont Hotel, with Smoke in the background.

Playing the Dobro

The view of Downtown Dallas from the Belmont Hotel

A Girl Walks Into a Bar: Bar Belmont

The mall is a museum

Hotel Belmont

Exploring the Boroughs