Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Best Bars in the World Part II

So, here we go then, on a tour of the 5 best bars in the world.

Grab your weekend bag and don’t forget to pack your flip flops because we’re going to Australia first.

It’s a long flight with a stop-over in Hong Kong, so get comfortable. During your stop-over in Hong Kong, you may just want to stop by at Taiwan Beef Noodle(Upper level). Apart from selling reasonably priced noodles(for an airport location), this place holds the somewhat baffling distinction that I managed to buy a single can of beer here, and paid for it in 3 different currencies.

Done eating? Good, then hurry up, because we have another 10 hour flight ahead of us. But don’t worry, the nice girls from Cathay Pacific airlines will supply you with as much beer as you like.

And there we are, Melbourne, Victoria, in beautiful Australia. Drop off your bag in the hostel and we’re going straight to bar number 5 on the list:

5.

Section8, Melbourne, Australia

Some people say that if you’ve seen one China Town, you’ve seen them all. I disagree. While there are obvious similarities (Pagoda-style roofs, skinned ducks in shop windows, garbage bags on the sidewalk) I think each one has its own distinctive vibe, though I would be hard pressed to explain exactly what it is.

Either way, we make our way to Melbourne’s China Town to visit Section8, number 5 on the list of best bars.

Why is this bar on the list? Not because I am or was a regular. I only spent 10 days in Melbourne so becoming a regular was not the case. Was it for the great music? Hardly. There was some sort of background music that you would only notice once it was turned off, but nothing spectacular to speak of. No big screen sports coverage either, so what was it that makes this place so special? Well, if you look close, and you may have to look twice, you will see why this place is so unique.

It’s a biergarten without a pub.

Read that again.

Yes, you read it right the first time. This is a biergarten, but there is no pub.

What happened is this: on this spot, as legend has it, there used to be a Chinese restaurant. The building was old and it was decided to tear the building down. Rather than building a new structure, the area that was left open by the removal of the building was fenced off, seats were built by piling wooden pallets around the place in varying heights, a couple of old oil drums where put in place as makeshift tables and one cargo container was fitted with a toilet while another had a window cut out of the side to function as an impromptu bar, selling bottled beer, wine and a surprisingly large selection of cocktails.

Voila, there’s your bar. It was an ideal place to just sit in the sun and while an afternoon away, having a drink, reading a book or just watching the hustle and bustle of the world go by, knowing your only worry was getting off your ass to order your next beer. It was bliss. The people were easy going, lots of arty types and students, the beer was affordable and I just thought the whole idea was pure genius. The picture above shows yours truly in this extraordinary bar.

So, if you’re well rested from sitting in the sun at Section8, let’s get going, because we have another long flight ahead of us: we’re going to cross the Pacific Ocean. We have about 12 hours on the plane, so take the opportunity to get some sleep. Or watch a movie. Or get a beer, your choice.

If you want an exciting start to your visit to San Francisco, make sure you get a window seat and press your head against the window when landing: it looks like the plane is going to crash into the ocean. Ofcourse, it doesn’t, but because San Francisco International Airport is situated on a sort of peninsula-esque piece of land, with the runway sticking out into the water like a pier, you may be fooled into thinking that you are about to find a watery grave. You won’t, which means that you have arrived safely for a visit of bar number 4. We take the BART, an excellent subway system that spans the entire Bay Area and has a station in the airport, and for a mere 8 dollars we're dropped off right in the centre of San Francisco, at Market Street station. To avoid the army of homeless people that live in and around the station, we will move on to Geary Street straight away. When I first arrived in San Francisco, on my first day I was looking for a bar called the Edinburgh Castle. To my dismay, I found it closed, so I ventured out to see what else was going in the neighbourhood. After some 10 minutes of walking around, I walked by a small dark bar.

4.

Whiskey Thieves, San Francisco, USA.

I walked past Whiskey Thieves, heard noise inside, had a peek around the corner and decided to have a beer. It was dark, noisy and looked a bit worn. I loved it the second I walked in. I took a seat at the bar, ordered a pint of lager and had a read through my guide book. The guy behind the bar introduced himself as Steve and he looked like a younger version of metal legend Kerry King, shaved head, bushy beard and dressed in black. As I was thirsty, my pint was gone in 10 minutes and when I ordered another one, he asked me if I wanted to try the Weekly Bourbon Special. As you may have guessed from the name, this bar, though a proper dive (noisy music, noisy clientele, black walls, only 1 working toilet)has a very impressive collection of whiskeys and bourbons. In fact, the whole wall behind the long bar was full of shelves filled with whiskey and bourbon bottles. I was informed that the Bourbon Special consisted of the bourbon of the week and a can of PBR for the special price of $7. This sounded like a pretty sweet deal and, as I had drunk neither the bourbon nor PBR before, I accepted the deal and dug in. When I remarked that PBR actually tastes like water, this attracted attention from the regulars who started shouting their favorite bourbons at me, urging me to try a shot. This is what a bar is supposed to be like. I had been in less than 20 minutes and already the bartender and the regulars had taken me in to their midst and now wanted to know my favorite music, baseball team and beer. One of the regulars loudly dismissed the bourbon I had just tried and put a shot of his favorite in front of me. I drank it, chased it with another beer and... well, you can all guess how this is going to end.

Whiskey Thieves became my ‘local’ during my 9 day stay in San Francisco and, as it was conveniently located only 2 blocks from my hostel, I usually ended the night there with a ‘one for the road’ that always turned into a couple more. On my last night, they even gave me an official send off, not surprisingly with a goodbye gift consisting of more beer and more bourbon.

If I lived in San Francisco, this would be my base of operations. A big salute to Steve and Simone for making me feel so welcome from the word GO. Top marks for this outstanding bar.

You’re awake? Good. I hope you slept off all that bourbon and beer, because we have to be at the airport in an hour. Where are we going? It’s a surprise, but don’t worry, we’re staying in the USA.

....

Okay, you fell asleep the moment you hit your chair on the plane, but you have to wake up now, because we are about to start our descent into the most exciting city in the World:

New York City!

And no, we’re not going to Times Square, the Brooklyn Bridge or the Statue of Liberty, we’re going straight to the Lower East Side. We’ll make a stop at Mc Sorley’s Old Ale House

but after that, we have to move straight down to East 1st Street, because we are going to the Mother Superior of all dive bars:

3.

The Mars Bar, New York, USA

The Lower East Side and neighbouring Washington Square/NYU areas are full of bars, cheap eateries and other round-the-clock entertainment. The place that ranks as my Number 1 for Best Bar in America, however, is The Mars Bar. I seriously considered putting this place up for Best Bar Ever, but as I’ve only been there once, I decided that 3rd place would be a good spot for this stolen jewel in the muddy crown of New York. It was my last full day in New York and there were 2 things on my agenda: the Brooklyn Brewery and the Mars Bar. As the brewery only does 1 tour per week, I knew I had to be there at a set time, so off I went to Brooklyn. I did the tour, sampled all the beers available in the brewery biergarten (7 if I remember well) and headed back to the Lower East Side, with 7 pints in my stomach, a pack of peanuts being the only other thing I had thrown down my throat over the course of the tour/tasting session.

As you can imagine, I approached the Mars Bar at around 2.30 in the afternoon not entirely sober.

The Mars Bar is everything you would imagine a dive bar to be, multiplied by 10. The whole place, inside and out, was covered in crude graffiti. A dozen rickety bar stools, not 2 of them the same, lined a battered bar, also covered in graffiti, while the regulars, in varying states on consciousness, were throwing down drinks, meanwhile discussing whatever came to mind. Beer was sold in bottles only, directly from the box while stronger sustenance came in shots of Jagermeister, tequila and some obscure brand of scotch. Empty beer boxes were thrown over the bar and stashed next to a jukebox with an excellent selection of music and a smashed window. The smell of the toilets was pungent up to 2 blocks away. Despite my 7 pints before breakfast, I was a shining example of sobriety compared to the rest of the people in the place. I decided to attack this situation by ordering a beer and a shot of Jagermeister. It seemed like the right thing to do. The regulars, acknowledging this gesture, recognised me as one of them and offered drinks, cigarettes and other common barfly tokens of appreciation. Within half an hour, I was in the middle of a motley bunch of Americans, exchanging drinking stories while buying each other beers and shots, and taking pictures. It was like I had been drinking there for years and I never wanted to leave. Ofcourse, you can’t spend the rest of your life in a bar in the Lower East Side of New York, so at one point I must have walked out. This I deducted from the fact that I woke up, somewhere halfway through the next morning, on the floor next to my hostelbed, with one shoe on my right foot and the other one on my pillow. Everything hurt. Though I have had my share of hangovers, I never knew that blinking your eyes could cause so much pain in the back of your head. It was one of the Great Sessions in my long career of drinking and somehow I am still in contact with a girl from New Jersey I met there. Bad Vibes through the grapevine have spread rumours that the Mars Bar has since closed down, due to the building being caught up in a redevelopment project, but I won’t believe it until I see it with my own eyes, next time I get to New York.

Inside the Mars Bar

Yeah, that hurts, doesn’t it? Drinking with the professionals in the city that never sleeps? Well, you’re lucky, you can sleep all the way across the Atlantic because we’re off to Holland next.

Welcome to Rotterdam, home of the number 2 bar in the world:

2.

Paddy Murphy’s, Rotterdam, Holland

Situated behind the World Trade Centre, Paddy Murphy’s has been filling them up since 1997. When I first got word of the opening, through my sister’s then boyfriend, I decided to check it out for myself and, well, I never really looked back. Paddy Murphy’s, despite the less than original name, is the best Irish pub in Europe.

The pub is divided in a front bar, where the regulars line the bar, reading the paper and keeping the staff engaged in neverending discussions, and the back bar, where it’s quite during the day and gets busier towards the night. There is live music 7 nights a week and the sports bar next door shows most sporting events of note, including all Celtic matches. I started going there just after they opened in 1997 and have been a regular until I moved to Ireland in 2007. But what makes an Irish pub stand out from all the hundreds of others spread across the continent?

Atmosphere.

Every idiot can put up signs saying ‘Killarney 1254 miles’ and pictures of Michael Collins in uniform. Everyone, nowadays, can convince Guinness to install a pump. But people can buy beer everywhere. There is one thing that you can’t buy from the Irish Pub Warehouse in Glasgow: Atmosphere.

A real Irish pub doesn’t need shamrocks and from the moment I walked in, I knew this was the real deal. Over the years, I became one of the most regular regulars, spending many days there, watching matches, meeting people and having a great time. My parents once even sent a holiday card there as they expected the chance of me picking it up there would be bigger than at home.

Walking out of the door on the last night I was in Holland, before moving to Ireland, was one of the most difficult things I ever had to do up to then. Moving to Ireland, though, has changed the situation. Where I was always one of the regulars and respected for that, I was never ‘one of the boys’ because I wasn't Irish or Scottish. Nowadays, whenever I go back to Holland and find time to go there for a beer, I AM one of the boys, living in Ireland, and I’m always welcomed back with open arms and a free drink on the house.

This is where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.

A worthy runner up in our competition, leaving over 2000 pubs behind them, just falling short of 1st price. But only just.

Come on, get your stuff together, because we’re nearing the end of our journey. It’s not far now, because we’re going to the best bar in the world and for that we only need to take a short 1 ½ hour flight back to Dublin, where we started. It seems so long ago now, doesn’t it? We’ve been around the world and back, literally, and the best bar in the world is just down the street from my house.

It will come to no surprise to anybody that The Woolshed has grabbed the gold medal in this competition and is the best bar in the world.

1.

The Woolshed, Dublin, Ireland.

Congratulations to everyone, past and present, on the Woolshed staff, who made the past 4 years so much fun. I had been living in Dublin for a couple of months, scanning the field, looking for a pub to replace Paddy Murphy’s as my home away from home. I tried numerous places, some better than others, but none of them had that homely feel of Paddy Murphy’s, where you could just sit in a corner and read the paper, or shoot the breeze with the other regulars. That was until one Friday morning, when I opened the listings magazine that came with the Irish Independent newspaper and saw a review of an Aussie bar called The Woolshed. I was intrigued by the review and decided to have a look to see what all the buzz was about. I couldn’t find it at first, having walked to the wrong side of Parnell Street, but a week later, when my sister and brother in law were over, I managed to locate it. (Result!) We watched Manchester United beat Chelsea in a Sunday afternoon penalty shoot out to win the Charity Shield and then we went somewhere else. But my Great Pub Radar had been triggered. I went back the next week, took up position at the bar and within 10 minutes I knew I was on to a winner and I had found my replacement for Paddy Murphy’s. This may sound bizarre to people who don’t have the same enthousiasm for bars as I do, but some places have a sparkle in the air. You sense it in the air, the moment you walk in. You know it is right. And this was one of those places. Despite being a large pub, the Woolshed still feels cosy and personal and I feel right at home. Throughout the last 4 years, I’ve been involved in a disproportionate amount of partying, at the most random times of day, from victory dances after Superbowl games to 12noon tequila shots after Tri-Nations rugby games to, ofcourse, the total and utter madness of Australia Day each year.

Home is where your heart is. Mine is right here.

So I raise my ale horn (or pitcher of Foster’s, more likely) to The Woolshed as the worthy Gold Medal winners in my Best Bar Ever competition.

Cheers!

Lennard

2 comments:

  1. Good Work Lennard :) you make me want to set off on a journey beer journey around the world!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, anonymous admirer :)

    ReplyDelete