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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

This Is the Best Story You’ll Read All Day Just Trust Us

Dec.06.16

This Is the Best Story You’ll Read All Day Just Trust Us

by Russ Rowlands

Bordeaux in Toronto

“Hey, bartender,” the old guy gestured at me, almost whispering in a sonorous rumble. “See those gentlemen over there? Ask them if I can have two fingers of their wine.”

I looked over my shoulder to where a couple of brokers had just ordered a $700 bottle of Bordeaux, then back at Sonorous Rumble and hesitated, not sure how to politely tell him he was nuts. He looked a little nuts, all decked out in an admittedly stylish tweed in the middle of summer. Shrugging amiably, the old guy got off his bar stool and circled the big marble slab to go speak directly with the brokers. I watched the way you watch a shopping cart rattle toward a Porsche in a parking lot: morbidly curious, shoulders slightly hunched in a pre-loaded cringe.

“Kelly!” I called the other bartender over, compelled to share the scene.
“Dude’s mooching a hundo worth of red off Merrill Lynch there.”

Day bartenders didn’t get much excitement, especially in our fancy financial-district venue. Kelly slid closer and put a hand on my shoulder, trying to look like we had something to discuss other than Sonorous Rumble and the brokers.

“When I asked what he wanted for lunch, he said ‘You on a bun,’” she told me.

The brokers didn’t bat an eye when Sonorous Rumble sauntered up and shook hands. They gestured to Kelly and asked for another glass, then poured the old guy a full serving with a big smile. The three of them chatted quietly, with the usually-boisterous brokers manifesting more civility than I was accustomed to on a post-martini Thursday afternoon.

“Huh.” Kelly shrugged at me and we went about our work.

The restaurant was quiet and I could feel, more than hear, Sonorous Rumble’s voice from the end of the bar as he joked with the younger bankers. Drama avoided, my attention drifted back to my regulars and I leaned on the marble to gossip while Kelly served a young couple behind me.

“Another one of these, on my tab,” Sonorous Rumble rumbled at us an hour later, tapping the empty bottle of Bordeaux. I pierced the cork while Kelly polished three fresh glasses, all conversation paused during the ritual. The cork came out cleanly and I let out a silent sigh of relief while Sonorous Rumble waved off his taster. Spidery fingers of wine clung to the inside of their glasses as the old red settled. I had offered them a decanter, but evidently no one was standing on ceremony.

At the end of our shift, the bar manager came over to wrap up the afternoon’s cash-out. “How was Leonard Cohen?” she asked. “Nice guy?”

Everything Sucks But At Least There’s #SaltBae

Jan.17.17

Everything Sucks But At Least There’s #SaltBae

by Sara Nasser

Burgers in Istanbul

After a bloody start to the New Year and a currency weakening by the day, Istanbullus needed some respite. That respite came in the form of a handsome butcher: Salt Bae.

At first, it didn’t occur to me that Salt Bae was Turkish. But upon closer inspection, I found he was none other than Nusret Gökçe, who runs a wildly successful chain of steakhouses called Nusr-et. A man with the word for beef in his name (et in Turkish), Nusret Gökçe is a butcher from Erzurum, in Turkey’s east, with a flair for the dramatic. His Instagram videos of massaging, cutting, shaping, rubbing, and sprinkling salt on meat have gone viral. But it was the salt shower seen around the world—over five million views on Instagram so far—that put him on the map and got him Bruno Mars’s attention.

But what about the meat? I wondered. Could it match the hype of a meme?

As you walk into Nusr-et, mood music and mood lighting set the tone for you walk to a wooden table. The all-male waiters sport thick mustaches, some of them groomed and curled at the tips. Our waiter mentioned that it was a requirement: “No mustache, no meat is the saying here.” We asked him if there had been an uptick in customers since Salt Bae caught on, and he nodded yes, of course. Right behind us, a table full of tourists had just been seated.

I like beef, and meat in general, but I could never put away a whole steak. So we opted for the smaller, cheaper burger option. We ordered the nusret burger and the lokum burger (lokum is the Turkish word for Turkish delight). When the burgers came out, our waiter cut them in two over a wooden board, precisely, plopping each type of burger on our plates. The lokum burger was soft, with thin cuts of beef dissolving in our mouths. The nusret burger, outfitted with caramelized onions, a strip of pastirma, melted cheddar, and a toasted bun, was by far the best burger I’ve had for the quality of the meat itself. Unlike most American burgers, it was simple.

Around me, I saw a woman in a niqab, a South Asian family, and another family speaking loud Persian. A waiter with an especially curly and thick mustache was doing the Salt Bae sprinkle over a plate of meat for the tourists next to us. They clapped, wowing, as the salt danced down his arm, down the tip of his elbow. It’s a comforting thought in these times: the story of how a Turkish butcher with a bit of creativity brought such disparate people together in one place for a meal.

Doing Unspeakable But Delicious Things To Italian Espresso

Jan.16.17

Doing Unspeakable But Delicious Things To Italian Espresso

by Valerio J Farris

Manhattan Specials in Brooklyn

My Italian-American boyfriend and his Brooklyn family seemed to have an aversion to that final vowel sound that gave the Italian language its operatic cadence. Around their table, mozzarella became mozzarell’, prosciutto became prosciutt’ and ricotta became ricott’.

As the son of an Italian immigrant to the United States, I strained to accept this lexical reimagining. How could you take the names of such well-known foods and just chop off those syllables? My boyfriend explained that their disavowal of the vowels I so heavily associated with the end of Italian sentences was actually a central element of Italian American-ess—a way of taking Italian culture and making it theirs, equal parts Italian and equal parts American.

Over eggplant parmesan heroes and arancini at Ferdinando’s Focacceria, a Brooklyn mainstay for the local Italian-American population, we exchanged heritage narratives. I told him about my dad’s arrival from Sardinia in the early 90s. He described how his great grandparents met on a farm in Brooklyn after traveling across the ocean in the early 20th century.

With a stomach full of Sicilian-American specialties, I flagged down the waiter and asked for my usual post-lunch espresso. Instead, my boyfriend interjected and ordered us two Manhattan Specials. I watched as the waiter returned with two cups I had watched him fill at the soda fountain. The bubbly brown drink looked like something closer to a Coke. I opened my mouth to protest.

Try it, the waiter urged. He told us it was a recipe from 1895, and claimed they were the only restaurant in New York to serve it from the fountain. The Manhattan Special is espresso mixed with seltzer water—an Italian-American specialty.

The marriage of the bitter espresso with a syrupy taste and bubbly fizz was unorthodox, but playful. The seltzer water provided something distinctly new, something distinctly New York. I laughed, picturing my family across the Atlantic pouring their tiny cups of espresso into large plastic glasses of seltzer. My boyfriend tilted his cup towards me. Salut, I offered. Salut, he responded and downed the rest of his drink.

One Wild Night in Trump’s Moscow Kompromat Palace

Jan.13.17

One Wild Night in Trump’s Moscow Kompromat Palace

by Nathan Thornburgh

Vodka in the Moscow Ritz-Carlton

I, like my classy, soon-to-be President, once had a wild night at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton. It was 2011, and I was in Moscow wrangling a profile of the mildly erotic, defrocked spy Anna Chapman. Good fortune (and connections, always a valid currency in Moscow) had gotten me a decent rate at the hotel, where most of my interviews would take place. But then somehow I, a working reporter with a canvas messenger bag and sensible shoes, was upgraded from the 1 percent to the .0001 percent. I was moved into the Club Level on the 10th floor.

Not that the rest of the Ritz is shabby. It sits on one of the most coveted lots in all Eurasia, second from the corner at the end of the magnificent Tverskaya Ulitsa. Cross the street and you’re at the Kremlin, where Putin spokesman Dmitri Peskov once spent an afternoon with me chain-smoking Marlboro Reds and autocratsplaining democracy. A bit further and you’re on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, where opposition leader Boris Nemtsov once caught four bullets.

The lobby of the Ritz is as gilded as our new White House north, a delicate waiting room for petro-princes and coltish escorts. The standard rooms are suitably overstuffed: little music boxes of chiffon and chenille. But the real velvet touch is found on the 10th and 11th floors, where the rooms have tables and antechambers, where the pile of the rug is a touch deeper, the rustle of the curtains a shade more sensual.

In truth, I had been going to the Moscow Ritz-Carlton for years. On assignment in 2007 for TIME’s Putin Person of the Year issue, I went to the newly opened hotel’s O2 rooftop lounge and found it “mostly empty except for a few prostitutes in glinting lamé and spiky heels.” In subsequent years, I watched it mature into a hotel that catered more subtly to the predilections of both new money and old. The lounge kept its name, but replaced the syphilis buffet with $200 sushi platters. The commanding view of the Kremlin remained.

From all my years in and out of that hotel, I know one thing for certain: if some corner of the hotel had indeed been turned into a high-thread-count urinal by Drumpf, it would have been on the Club Level.

These rooms presumably also would have been the most glamorously bugged of them all. I was not short on paranoia on my visit five years ago, given that I was in town asking peevish questions about Kremlin-backed startups and a former spy. And yet, on my first night on the Club Level, I did what any prole would do: I invited some old friends over to party.

I did it in part to share in my good fortune, and maybe also to gloat a little. My fortunes vis-a-vis my Russian friends had always been a shifting thing. I had brought them desperately desired Levis as a high-school exchange student, and later awed them with my Ralph Lauren cologne. But then, as we grew up, I became nearly penniless while at least some of my Muscovite friends had begun earning hefty petrodollars. So when I landed on the Club Level, I felt a sudden desire to be social. I called up Kirill A., who was a successful truck dealer in Siberia back in Moscow for the week, and Ivan S., a restaurateur who brought his wife and an unknown quantity of vodka.

To bring us back to the buzzword of the moment, there could certainly have been kompromat from that night. It would just not be exciting to any Russians. We drank riotously, laughed thunderously, toppled furniture and sang and shouted and smoked enough cigarettes to make our little corner of the Club Level look like La Cañada Flintridge during wildfire season. By the time I woke up the next morning, my suite smelled like the sweatband of Tom Waits’ fedora. But even though I proceeded to get prodigiously sick and then stumbled disgracefully through the blini bar in the Club Level Lounge, it was nothing special. Keep in mind that when the Kremlin tried to discredit married men in the opposition by filming them with prostitutes, everybody shrugged. So long as boys weren’t involved. So it went with my kompromat: to Russians, it was not a scandal, it was a Tuesday.

Nor did I receive as much as an arched eyebrow from the impeccably discreet hotel staff. Instead, I stayed out my week there, interviewing oligarchs and entrepreneurs and even managing to lure Anna Chapman herself for coffee on the rooftop lounge. That week also coincided with the end of the brief Medvedev summer. Putin had just announced that he was returning to the Presidency, and all the light went out of the reformers’ and the innovators’ eyes. I haven’t been back to the Ritz since.

Photo by: James Whatley

Get Ready to Spend Some Time Contemplating What a Birth Canal Hand Gesture Looks Like

Jan.12.17

Get Ready to Spend Some Time Contemplating What a Birth Canal Hand Gesture Looks Like

by Russ Rowlands

Craft Beer in Ontario

I’d been looking out my window at the seemingly limitless expanse of Ontario for 36 hours. The 2,700-mile train trip from Toronto to Vancouver takes four days and nights, approximately half of which is occupied by trying to get the hell out of Ontario.

Winter may have been receding down in the civilized part of the province,
but up in the north, temperatures remained well below freezing. I’d been treated to an Arthur Lismer vista of frozen lakes and snowy pines for long enough to forget what century it was.

Needing a change, I climbed into the observation car just before sunset, around 4 p.m. Three guys were sitting around one of the tiny, 1950s bridge tables at the front of the car, laughing rather more politely than you’d expect from three unsupervised boys.

I’d met Josh, an Australian, earlier, and he gestured me over to join them.

“Rusty, meet Waleed and Joe,” Josh said, indicating a curly-haired youth and a heavyset guy around my age, mid-30s.

“Want a beer?”

I acquiesced with thanks, accepting a can of Ontario craft beer, and squeezed into the booth beside Josh. Joe and Josh had been smart enough to pack a good selection of beers into their bags before boarding the train; the commissary downstairs only offered bland Molson Canadian.

We all cheers’d and made a round of introductions.

Four strangers on a train in the middle of nowhere have a lot of good stories to tell, and we each took a turn explaining why we’d opted for the train over a much more practical flight.

The backpack beers lasted another round or two, after which I went downstairs to buy up the train’s stock of Molson. Joe got drunk.

“I think this is the first time I’ve ever been drunk,” he told us unsteadily. We were incredulous. Here was a bearded Canadian in his 30s with a backpack full of beer, who claimed to never have been drunk.

“I used to be a preacher.”

Oh. That shut us up briefly while we considered it, before sparking an explosion of teasing that only fueled further beer consumption.

Joe eventually told a story about the joys of becoming a father, including a very detailed hand-gesture-wiggle-dance about the moment he first caught sight of his son emerging from the birth canal. We made him reenact it multiple times just to be sure we understood exactly what it was he was attempting to convey. There could be no mistake. Birth canal. My face hurt from laughing.

The next afternoon, Joe passed by my seat carrying his bags.

“This is my stop,” he said, holding out a hand to shake.

“It was good to meet you. When I recover from my first hangover and come to grips with our discussion last night, I think it’ll be very cathartic for me.”
I nodded solemnly and made the birth-canal hand gesture, then gave him a thumbs-up. He snorted coffee out of his nose and had to retreat to the washroom before the train pulled into his station.

A Beer That Is Mostly Foam: Interesting Idea or Absolutely Not?

Jan.11.17

A Beer That Is Mostly Foam: Interesting Idea or Absolutely Not?

by Laura Marie Tabor

Milk Beer in Prague

I’ve volunteered at beer festivals and I know what a terrible head of foam looks like. You opened the tap too slowly or you didn’t angle the glass right or the keg is about empty and now you’ve got one inch of amber and four inches of beige. That is what the milk beer looked like to me when I received it: like a bad pour.

I had been worried that the whole trip to Prague might be that way. My best friend suggested that I visit her friends there, but I’d never met them, and I had no idea whether or not we’d get along. I arrived in Prague at dusk and looked out to the frigid bus stop, where the stranger who had come to fetch me stood.

Prague outdoors felt like the setting for a daring mystery novel, all shadows and grey skies while I was there. But inside, I felt like everyone was my friend, even if I was only play-acting, because the spaces were warm and the chairs were close together and there was always a rounded mug of beer available.

The days were full of immediate choices: would we walk up the hill and talk about Kundera? Yes, I said, almost before I knew the choice was one among other options. Would we go see the many fountains and unique architecture? Yes, of course. Every question was answered with a yes in the way that travel must often imply an affirmative answer: if you liked it enough to offer it to me, I want to be a part of it.

On my last day, we went to a restaurant called Lokal, where my new friend ordered potato dumplings for me from the many hearty options available and then ordered me this strange beer, which came in a large clear mug and was almost entirely foam. “It’s called a milk beer,” he explained. “The foam is drinkable, real dense. Drink deep.”

Mlîko, or milk beer, is not a brand or type of beer, but a method of pouring that results in you drinking quite a bit less beer, but feeling far less heavy afterwards. It’s one of three ways of pouring beers that in Prague are intentional, done to achieve different kinds of effects: it’s not some kind of beer-festival mishap. I put aside my beliefs about how things should be done and what I thought I’d like.

The creaminess of the beer went down so smoothly that I saw at once where the name came from; it didn’t leave me with any of the swallowing-air feeling that a badly poured beer gives. You are supposed to drink it quickly, to get every drop of the foam before it melts back into ordinary beer. I wanted to take in everything that Prague had to offer, but right then, I just wanted another mug’s worth to down.

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