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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

When in a Crisis, Consider Better Wine

Oct.24.16

When in a Crisis, Consider Better Wine

by Michelle Arrouas

Wine in Alto Douro

The excavator ate its way into the side of the mountain. Slowly, the rocky slope took shape and began to resemble the rest of the well-kept vineyards that spread out in every direction. The Quinta do Vale Meão winery in Portugal’s Alto Douro wine region was planting new vines after an explosive and surprising demand had left its wine cellars empty. The region had been world-famous for its sweet port wines for centuries, but people had now discovered its dry reds and whites, too.

Francisco Olazabal, the owner of the winery, walked around the muddy fields, picking up handfuls of soil. He sniffed at the earth, exchanged a few words with the construction workers and gestured at me to get in his car.

“Get in, let me show you the old vineyards,” he said.

On the way to our next stop he told me about how the Portuguese wine trade had experienced surprising growth while the rest of the country had been on the brink of bankruptcy. The industry had invested in education—sending winemakers to train in France and Italy, and acquiring winemaking equipment from abroad—and it had paid off.

Francisco pointed at newly planted vineyards, all naked and new. “It’s expensive, planting new vineyards in mountains, but it’s our shot. I hope it’ll be worth the investment,” he said. Not long ago, the winery had been forced to reject prospective customers because it didn’t have enough bottles to keep up with the demand for dry Portuguese wines.

We drove back to the heart of the winery, a mansion in the middle of the vineyards. After a tour of the cellars, Francisco led me into a dining room, where winemakers, engineers, and architects involved in the expansion of the winery were gathered for a business lunch—with wine, of course.

I was a newbie reporter and an amateur wine aficionado, reading and writing about wines I couldn’t afford on my intern salary. Now some of them were right in front me, and Francisco kept topping up my glass.

The men were complaining about the Portuguese government, the European Union and the IMF, and lauding the wines being passed around the table.

I asked what had caused the sudden spike in sales in the wine industry at a time of countrywide crisis. Francisco looked at me, surprised.

“The wines got better. What other reason could there be?” he said.

I took another sip and agreed.

A Great Little Bar in Northwestern Lebanon

Mar.23.17

A Great Little Bar in Northwestern Lebanon

by Abby Sewell

Almaza Beer in Tripoli

As I passed under a stone arch bearing a simulacrum of the Hollywood sign and entered the narrow cobblestone walkway that hosts the few remaining pubs of Tripoli, I felt my nerves—on edge from a day navigating northern Lebanon on buses and shared taxis—finally calming.

I had trekked for three hours that afternoon from Beirut to Akkar in far northeastern Lebanon, where I had befriended a number of Syrian families when I was volunteering in a refugee camp near Halba last year. One of those families had just gotten word that they would be resettled in Italy, and I had gone to congratulate them on the news.

After my visit to the camp, I planned to meet a friend from the States who was performing with a circus troupe in Tripoli, a coastal city mid-way between Halba and Beirut.

There have been clashes in Tripoli in recent years between supporters and opponents of the Syrian regime. Although the situation has now calmed, many Beirutis continue to regard it as a no-go zone. Furthermore, as a predominantly Sunni Muslim and conservative area, Tripoli is not a place most people think of for night-life.

But in the seaside community of Al Mina, on Tripoli’s edge, home to a small Christian enclave, there is a row of pubs tucked away in the old city. My friend Mali and I decided to do a small pub-crawl there.

We began the evening at Timmy’s, where a stream of mostly young and well-heeled patrons buzzed a bell, to be ushered in by a silver-haired maître d’ who greeted many of them with cheek-kisses like old friends.

After a round of drinks in belated honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we headed around the corner to Mike’s, a cozier establishment with a row of bookshelves under the television on the back wall. The young man behind the bar, Wahib, turned out to be one of the proprietors. He was happy to tell us about the history of the neighborhood as we sipped a pair of submarines—a mix of light beer and tequila.

Raised in a Greek Orthodox family, Wahib was one of the few young men from Mina who had not departed for Beirut or abroad. Most of his patrons now are foreign aid workers, or Lebanese from towns farther down the coast. Years ago, he told us, there were 16 bars in the area, but their numbers had slimmed to five.

When Mali suggested that we should complete our pub crawl, Wahib—reluctant to lose a pair of customers—offered to give us a tour and bring us back, which he did, even buying a round of shots at the cheery restaurant-pub next door.

Back at Mike’s, Wahib’s brother entertained as with card tricks while we had one more round and congratulated ourselves on having successfully bar-hopped in Tripoli.

Photo by: Celine

Albert Camus, Edith Piaf, And Antoine De St-Exupéry Walk Into a Bar

Mar.22.17

Albert Camus, Edith Piaf, And Antoine De St-Exupéry Walk Into a Bar

by Dave Hazzan

Pastis in Casablanca

Albert Camus, Edith Piaf, and Antoine De St-Exupéry walk into a bar. Inside Le Petit Poucet, in downtown Casablanca, they each order. An imported beer for Antoine, the pilot. A glass of wine—rosé, of course—for Mme. Piaf. And a fresh pineapple and coconut martini with a frilly umbrella for the absurdist Camus. They then each light each other’s Gauloise Noirs, those disgusting black cigarettes all French intellectuals once smoked.

Today, the Gauloise Noir is gone, and the Petit Poucet holds fewer famous agents. Camus, Piaf, and St-Exupéry have been feeding worms for over half a century. The bar may be a hold-out of French colonialism, but the clientele is most definitely Moroccan, particularly old Moroccan men, hunched over small bottles of Casa beer, smoking, talking among themselves.

They have a slight look of shame about their faces. Not only are they drinking, they’re drinking in the middle of the afternoon on a weekday. A gloriously French way to spend a day, but an embarrassing one for most Moroccans.

It is all men—guidebook warnings abound about how bars are the preserve of men. But my wife, Jo, walks in confidently, eyes straight ahead, and mounts the bar stool like a seasoned drinker. She removes her sunglasses and rests them on the green countertop, said to be the original from colonial days. Then she orders a draft Heineken, even as the bartender looks at me to give her order.

I get a pastis—the oversized bottle of Ricardo hanging upside down behind the bartender is too hard to resist. The bartender, dressed in a burgundy suit, white shirt, and bow tie, brings it to me with a bottle of mineral water. I mix the drink and sip, and the bartender rings it up on a cash register, probably also the original.

I drink my pastis and Jo drinks her beer, and the men try not to stare at Jo, though they can’t help it. She’s a beautiful woman, of course, but it’s more that she’s a woman of any kind, in a bar. We wonder if Edith Piaf ever got looks like this.

Once our drinks are finished, we put our sunglasses back on, thank the bartender in French, and walk out into the Art Deco cross-roads of Casablanca, at Rue Mohammed V and Rue Mohammed el-Qory.

It’s strange to get a drink at the corner of two roads named after a Mohammed. But then it’s also strange how hard it is to get a drink in Casablanca, a city made famous by a movie almost entirely set in a bar. But then, that’s fiction.

Photo by: Jo Turner

I Went to Mount Everest And All I Got Was This Beer Slushie

Mar.21.17

I Went to Mount Everest And All I Got Was This Beer Slushie

by Sarah Morlock

Beer at Everest Base Camp

Deep in the Himalayas, the great house of snow that runs like a backbone along the north side of Nepal, lies Everest Base Camp. For some, it’s the destination, but for others, it’s only the beginning of a higher adventure.

After seven days of cold, tortuous walking, I pull myself up to the EBC at 17,600 feet. I’ve finally made it. Catching my breath, I meet the eye of the other hiker at the top. He smiles. (Or I think he does; it’s hard to tell under his sunglasses and muffler.) Four other foreigners strike silly poses as their sherpa guides snap dozens of photos.

Sunny skies create a deceivingly pleasant atmosphere, but a hard wind blows down the surrounding snow-covered giants. Prayer flags wave here and there, and a pile of knick-knacks left by the hikers of days past takes center stage, nearly overshadowing the main attraction. Above us, Mount Everest calls.

It’s February 2015. Soon, this base camp will fill with hopefuls in the weeks leading up to the big climb. But for now, it’s too cold, and the path through the icefall hasn’t been set, a job reserved for the most experienced sherpas.

Standing in the shadows of the Himalayas, it’s hard to forget that tragedy struck just the year before. Sixteen sherpa mountaineers were killed in an avalanche while preparing the route. My guide told me his friend was one of them.

Shaking off a bit of melancholy, I dig around in my pack. With gloved hands, it’s a bit difficult, but I’m able to locate the can of beer I’d purchased for the occasion.

Back in Gorak Shep, the last accommodation point before Everest Base Camp, the innkeeper had asked if I’d like a can of Everest Beer to take with me. Her latest supply shipment had arrived yesterday by yak. I accepted her offer, ready to toast my accomplishment. Now, I wonder if I’ve made a mistake.

The altitude sickness, which my body has barely held at bay through the past 48 hours, is beginning to set in. Dozens of EBC hikers are evacuated every year, a fact made evident by the red helicopters we spot daily. For most, the sometimes deadly affliction begins with headaches and nausea, symptoms I’ve felt come and go for the past 48 hours. Altitude sickness is only exacerbated by alcohol.

Throwing caution to the wind and joining in the celebratory atmosphere, I revel in the refreshing snap of tin as the can peels open. Waiting for the sound of carbonation escaping its confines, I’m instead rewarded with an eruption of what can only be described as beer slushie. Elated, I slurp up a few sips as my exposed hand freezes against the can.

Quite suddenly, angry clouds gather around nearby peaks, and the mood shifts. The eyes of my sherpa guide dart around, assessing the situation.

“We must go. Snow is coming.” My guide is ready to leave. I glance down at my still full Everest Beer sitting among strings of colorful prayer flags.

“Leave it. The gods will enjoy,” the sherpa says.

The Only Place in Minsk More Popular Than the Restroom at McDonald’s

Mar.20.17

The Only Place in Minsk More Popular Than the Restroom at McDonald’s

by Sabra Ayres

Beer in Minsk

The place to meet up post-work in Minsk is the first floor of a communist-era grocery store called Centralnaya, or Central. There’s no bouncer, no bartender, no pretension here. The long hallway is lined with individual kiosks, where attendants in bland uniforms sell bottles of beer or cognac shots for about $1. At least one of the kiosks has local draft beer. Chandeliers dangle from the ceiling and socialist murals on the wall depict Belarusian collective farm workers stoically pulling in their harvest.

The Oscar is Centralnaya’s signature cocktail. It’s a mixture of coffee, cognac, and a raw egg whipped until it’s foamy, served in a paper cup.

A Formica countertop lines the other side of the hallway across from the row of kiosks, where customers rest their beverages, look out the floor-to-ceiling windows onto Independence Street and hash out the news of the day. Don’t expect a lot of bashing of the current president, Alexander Lukashenko, whom the George W. Bush administration once called “Europe’s last dictator.” After 22 years of Lukashenko’s autocratic reign, Belarusians have learned how to speak of him without actually naming him. Instead, they use terms like He, the Man in the Big Office, the Guy in Charge.

“You guys in the West have different political parties to debate about,” my friend Viktar Kontar says. “We don’t have real political parties. You either support him or you don’t.”

Kontar, 29, is known as the mayor of Centralnaya, a title he was given a few years ago when Foursquare was a popular social media sport in Minsk. He and his group of friends explained why they return to this unlikely stop, instead of one of Minsk’s more hyped-up venues.

“There’s chandeliers! Is that not luxury?” he says, pointing up to the ceiling, where the glass chandelier glimmers. “The thing is, you can show up here without any prior arrangements and always run into someone you know. It’s convenient, hassle free.”

Centralnaya opened in 1954 as Store No. 13, a grocery store German soldiers started when they were forced to rebuild Minsk after the Second World War. In 1977, the city government renovated the store and built the second floor. Groceries were moved upstairs, and first floor became a café area frequented by all walks of Minsk’s life. By the late 70s and into the 80s, the space was the hangout for Minsk’s alternative scene in a strictly controlled Soviet society: beatniks, hippies, artists, musicians, and writers.

Today, the nostalgic drinking hall is frequently a pre-gaming spot for some of Minsk’s young IT crowd. They gather here for a few hours before hitting the bigger clubs and bars. The software designers drink imported beer and rub elbows with pensioners drinking vodka out of plastic cups.

Later in the evening, talk briefly turned to making a move to another bar. Everyone agreed to stay for a few more beers. At 8 p.m. on a Friday, Centralnaya was packed with a cross section of Minsk society taking a load off.

“There’s only one bad thing about our Centralnaya: There’s no bathroom,” says Veronica, 26, who is chatting with Viktar and a few engineers and marketing strategists from Wargaming, the multimillion-dollar, Belarus-based company that designed the World of Tanks video game. “Luckily, McDonald’s has bathrooms next door, so we use theirs. So, it’s sort of the second most popular place, after Centralnaya.”

Photo by: Brendan Hoffman

St. Patrick’s Day Sucks But Dammit This Year It’s Sort of Great

Mar.17.17

St. Patrick’s Day Sucks But Dammit This Year It’s Sort of Great

by Cara Parks

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Guinness in New York City

Last weekend, I met my parents in Philadelphia. As we walked through the downtown area, we encountered a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Children were step dancing, the sound of bagpipes filled the air, and the crowd cheered as various anachronistic municipal associations marched past.

We rounded a corner and came across a crowd of green-clothed youths. And as I walked by with my smiling, red-haired mom, one of these happy-go-lucky kids proceeded to sit down and vomit all over himself. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I am largely of Irish descent, like many Americans; it is the second-most common ancestry in the U.S. My mom recently did one of those mail-in DNA tests and was more Irish than the average Irish person, because everyone in Europe is secretly from Denmark (because Vikings). So when St. Patrick’s Day rolls around, I dutifully drink whiskey and bake soda bread and eat cabbage and call my family, because that’s what you do.

But you know what? I’m ready to admit it: I fucking HATE St. Patrick’s Day. I hate it so much. I love a tipple as much as the next person, but the last thing the world needs is another excuse for mobs of white people to get shit-faced and take to the streets. Seriously, if these “parades” were mostly comprised of people of color, the National goddamn Guard would be called in. I live in New York City and this day rivals SantaCon for “most likely day to find someone peeing on my doorstep.” It’s like everyone decided that douchebags needed their own holiday and stuck it right in the middle of the worst month for extra impact.

This year is particularly noxious as it fell on a Friday, which somehow translated into TWO weekends of debauchery, as some celebrations were hosted the weekend before. In between them has been an entire week of exhortations to make corned beef, eat green food, stock up on whiskey, etc. And as happens every year, someone joyously wished me the luck of the Irish. We all know that to say someone has the luck of the Irish is to say that person is fucking CURSED, right? This is a European nation that is basically synonymous with famine and terrorism. Come on.

But hating St. Patrick’s Day doesn’t mean that I hate all things Irish. I love Ireland and I love Irish culture. When I was in Dublin on Bloomsday a few years ago, a group of drunk old men dressed as James Joyce characters serenaded my mom with traditional drinking songs. What is possibly not to like about that? It is the opposite of the college students I can hear drunkenly screaming at each other on the street right now.

And I love that today, Enda Kenny, the Irish Prime Minister (or Taoiseach) of Ireland, decided to completely fuck with expectations about his ceremonial visit to the White House. Kenny took the opportunity not to joke with the U.S. president, as is customary, but to call for a path to citizenship for the roughly 50,000 Irish immigrants living illegally in the U.S. “All they want is the opportunity to be free,” he told the crowd.

So while I continue to hate St. Patrick’s Day, this year, I bought myself a can of Guinness. And as I drink it, I’m thinking of my own forbearers, who came to this country hoping for a better life. I’m thinking of a dear friend of mine, now living in Dublin, who worked and paid taxes and sent money home to his family and fell in love and generally built a life for years while living illegally in the U.S. I’m thinking of friends from around the world who are doing the same right now. I’m raising my glass to all of them, and thinking of the day when they, too, will be free to puke on street corners with impunity.

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