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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Drinking in the Bar Where Winston Churchill Ran Up a $100,000 Tab

Mar.16.16

Drinking in the Bar Where Winston Churchill Ran Up a $100,000 Tab

by Marcia DeSanctis

Gin in Marrakech

I had never, nor have I since, experienced so heady a sweep of history and atmosphere entering a hotel lobby as I did when I first crossed the threshold of La Mamounia in Marrakech. It was 1985, and unless you were a Getty or a Rolling Stone, Morocco was a quirkily far-flung place to travel, especially for young ladies from Boston like me. I had ventured to Marrakech on my parents’ coattails. My father is a cardiologist whose work, at the time, allowed him the privilege of traveling periodically to the kingdom. So they invited me, their youngest daughter, to join them for a week at the Mamounia.

When I arrived, I swooned at the dusky interior light, the fountains that spilled into pools strewn with rose petals, the pomegranate-red Berber carpets and the detailed woodwork on the lobby columns. I headed to the bar and in a brazen act of heartfelt cliché, ordered a coupe of the house champagne; Taittinger, I believe. My parents soon joined me. Dad is a Coca Cola kind of guy, but Mom ordered a gin and tonic.

I had read Edith Wharton’s On Morocco and a couple of books by Paul Bowles, the indisputable bard of the far western reaches of the Maghreb. But it was not them I channeled as I sipped in the Piano Bar. It was Winston Churchill.

Some hotels are forever graced by the presence of its most illustrious guest, and Churchill’s spirit lives on at the Mamounia. He fell in love with the place in 1935 and wrote beautiful descriptions of the snow-clad Atlas Mountains visible beyond his room. “The hotel [is] one of the best I have ever used. I have an excellent bedroom and bathroom with a large balcony twelve foot deep, looking out on a truly remarkable panorama over the tops of orange trees and olives,” he reflected in a letter to his wife Clementine. He returned often to paint the changing light on the mountains, setting up his easel in the Mamounia gardens amid rosebushes and 400-year-old olive trees. In 1943, he brought Franklin Roosevelt to see his favorite haunt when they escaped to Marrakech following the 1943 Casablanca Conference. Most notably, Churchill decamped to La Mamounia in 1947 to work on his memoirs. His entourage occupied an entire floor for five weeks, and their drinks bill exceeded $100,000. Years later in the Piano Bar, I pretended I could discern a faint remnant of Sir Winston’s cigar smoke, and we saluted him that day.

I returned to Morocco many times after that first trip and fell in love with the country. When I recently stayed there after almost twenty years, the hotel had been beautifully renovated. At last, La Mamounia has become what it was meant to be when it was built in 1923: impeccable, glorious, grander than ever.

After a walk through the beautifully unchanged gardens—20 acres of orange blossoms, bougainvilleas, and Barbary figs—I head for the Piano Bar. Only now, it’s the Churchill Bar, a lush space with an elegant barman behind the comptoir, above which spanned original 1930s frescoes of jazz musicians, dimmed perhaps by eight decades of smoke. With a dish of salty Moroccan almonds to urge on thirst, I order the obvious: The Sir Winston Churchill Cocktail.

The drink is made with gin strained over crushed marjoram from the Mamounia garden, shaken and poured into the glass. The bartender pours champagne over the herb-infused gin. The result is fresh and smooth, and the marjoram a delicate surprise. “It symbolizes Morocco and its aromatic richness,” Nicolas Everrard tells me later. He oversees the Mamounia bars and created the Winston Churchill Cocktail for the hotel’s 90th anniversary in 2013. “I chose this herb for its finesse, its subtlety, and for its ability to complement gin.”

I ask Lahcen, the bar manager, if he will show me the herb garden. It is just past dark, the air is scented with the honeyed perfume of flowers, and he leads me to a row of plants near the patio. He plucks bits of rosemary, geranium, and the potent marjoram, and I rub the leaves between my fingers. I am intoxicated by the aromatic plants, from the first sips of my cocktail, from the balmy dusk, but also from memory. I thanked Lahcen and he leads me back to the bar and my half-full glass.

I lapse into reflection. I am 30 years younger and my parents are, too. We are toasting my arrival, somewhere on this spot, with champagne, gin, and Coca Cola. We celebrate us and Sir Winston, who adored this place, its splendid location, its palm trees that floated over the gardens. I am alone this time, but I raise my glass anyway. To the grand hotel: may it never change.

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.

People, Stop Pretending You’re Just Stopping in for One Drink

Mar.16.17

People, Stop Pretending You’re Just Stopping in for One Drink

by Amrita Das

Cocktails in Kolkata

I looked at the panorama of Kolkata, lit against the dusk sky. I could see the historic landmarks that wrapped the city: the white marble dome of Victoria Memorial, the stout Gothic tower of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the incline of the famous bridge Vidyasagar Setu. Everything seemed close from my seat.

My mind was exhausted after two long work meetings. Further drained by Kolkata’s humidity, I patiently waited for my drink at the newly opened Monkey Bar in the heart of the city. Just a drink and then home, I tried to convince myself as I saw my cocktail gravitate towards me.

Because I was having only one drink, I had chosen carefully. My eyes moved through Monkey Bar’s signature drinks like Mangaa (vodka and fresh green mango juice) and Copper Monkey (a blend of whisky, orange juice and mint).

With help from my server, I decided on the Toast to Calcutta, because the name intrigued me. They told me it was made with local ingredients, and that it was an ode to the city. A surreal concoction of gin, basil, and Kolkata’s own gondhoraj (aromatic lime) cordial, Toast to Calcutta had surprising hints of sweetness. It’s made by lightly smoking the citrus, before infusing it with Kolkata’s famous jaggery (cane sugar) with the alcohol.

I lifted my glass for a sip and allowed the aroma of the fresh Bengal lime to fill my senses. I felt the exhaustion drain from my body. The refreshing mix of basil and lime relaxed my strained nerves. It completely absorbed the sweetness of the jaggery, leaving an aftertaste of cool gin.

In minutes, I felt alive with energy, forgetting my past exhaustion. Simultaneously the air outside felt lighter and breezy. All thanks to what was in my glass.

On a roll, I tried the other Kolkata-specialized drink on the menu: the Old Fashioned at Camac, named after the street where Monkey Bar is located. The bold whisky cocktail had a mix of bitters with praline, and was very potent. It made me crave the refreshing gin, so I switched back to my first choice for the next round.

I ended the evening with three Toast to Calcutta cocktails on my bill. I walked out, mildly intoxicated, into Kolkata’s streets.

Photo courtesy of Monkey Bar

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