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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

Half a Bottle of Wine and the Future Looks Blah

Jan.06.17

Half a Bottle of Wine and the Future Looks Blah

by Daniella Peled

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Israeli Merlot in London

Israelis don’t much go in for New Year’s celebrations. I spent this last one in a Tel Aviv flat with a handful of fellow media types and our assorted children.

We ate salty goat’s cheese and artisan bread and tried to last until midnight for form’s sake, indulging in typical left-wing ennui. The prospects for 2017 didn’t look good.

This year will mark half a century of Israeli control over the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the potentially apocalyptic presidency of Donald Trump, both facts likely to be celebrated by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

None of those present were fans of Bibi, as he’s popularly known. They sighed over my luck to be a British journalist based in London, and there was much talk of who had an additional European passport. Most had spent time living abroad and all planned to leave again.

But the wine was good: an Israeli-produced merlot. We drowned our sorrows, and I took a few bottles with me the following day when I flew home to London.

And, as I clanked my way through Ben Gurion airport, investigators from the national fraud unit questioned Netanyahu in his home under caution as part of an enquiry into a potentially massive corruption scandal.

Not a fun way for Bibi to start the New Year, but it would be very, very premature to predict his demise.

What’s particularly depressing to contemplate, even after half a bottle of the merlot I slogged home, is how disturbingly tolerant Israel has become of suspicions of wrongdoing.

The case against Netanyahu, who has already survived multiple police investigations during his career, remains unclear. To start with, he’s suspected of receiving gifts and favors from an array of multi-millionaire businesspeople, although just what these may consist of is unknown.

An additional investigation is also ongoing, with even fewer concrete details, although it’s rumored to be far more serious.

Nothing, of course has been proven, and no proceedings have been launched. But hard as it is to now imagine, there was a time in Israel when even the whiff of scandal was enough to herald resignation.

Most famous was the affair that toppled then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1977. At a time when it was illegal for Israelis to hold foreign accounts, it emerged that his wife Leah had $10,000 in a U.S. bank.

Even though she made clear that it was her account alone, her husband took responsibility for this relatively minor offense and stood down as premier.

The so-called dollar account affair is now seen in semi-mythical terms as a display of honor in public service unthinkable in Israel’s contemporary political culture.

Let’s not forget that Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, is currently serving a 19-month prison for corruption. Nor that Bibi’s interior minister Aryeh Deri also served a similar term for accepting $150,000 in bribes during his tenure as—guess what?—interior minister in a previous government.

Israel ranks 37th out of 175 nations in terms of corruption, according to Transparency International, which at first glance doesn’t look too bad. But out of its fellow OECD nations, it comes 24 out of 34.

Self-serving officials, apparently enjoying the benefits of impunity, don’t provide leadership so much as pursue their own agenda. For a country like Israel, embroiled in a long-running military occupation as well as facing growing social tensions and a region boiling with violence, the consequences seem particularly dire.

Netanyahu heads the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, intent on strengthening the occupation and diminishing Israel’s democratic institutions. (In comparison to some of his cabinet, Netanyahu is quite a pussycat.)

Netanyahu has spun this whole affair as nothing more than a smear campaign by a leftist judiciary and media elites. He does seem to buy into a kind of messianic belief that he is the only Israeli leader who can save the re-born Kingdom of Israel.

But most of his maneuvers appear politically expedient rather than ideologically motivated.

Witness his reaction to this week’s hugely controversial conviction of Israeli soldier Elior Azaria for killing an unarmed and gravely injured Palestinian assailant.

A stiff drink helps as one contemplates the whole disturbing affair. Thank goodness for that Israeli merlot.

A poll last year indicated that some 65 percent of Israeli Jews supported Azaria’s actions, and the military court’s decision was accompanied by violent right-wing demonstrations and furious condemnation from Netanyahu’s rivals on the right. True to form, Netanyahu’s response was devastatingly cynical.

“I support a pardon for Elor Azaria,” he announced, going on to express sympathy for the soldier himself, his family, and all IDF soldiers, rather than backing the judicial process.

Amid a corruption scandal and with the right wing snapping at his heels, Netanyahu chose populism over statesmanship. He’s done it before; he warned on election day last year that “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves.”

He won that election, but who knows if such tactics will be enough to save him from his current woes. By the end of the week, police had questioned him once again. And I had drunk most of my Israeli wine, and 2017 still didn’t look too hopeful.


Photo by: Akash Mehra

An Arab-American Angeleno Gay Journalist Walks Into a Bar…

Feb.24.17

An Arab-American Angeleno Gay Journalist Walks Into a Bar…

by Massoud Hayoun

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Tequila in West Hollywood

It’s a sign of the times, perhaps, that I find myself at a West Hollywood gay bar having a drink—alone—at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday.

It’s a margarita—no umbrella, salt rim, zero bull—sipped from a less-than-ceremonious plastic chalice at Fiesta Cantina, a cavernous hole of a dive bar in Los Angeles’s West Hollywood, one of the United States’—nay, the world’s!—gay centers of gravity. Cheap well liquor, fast and nasty.

I am an Arab American Angeleno gay journalist. I am the child of a single mother and left handed. Today, for many reasons, I’d like a rare—certainly at this hour, but also in general—drink. As a journalist, I speak to both sides of the political spectrum and withhold my irrelevant value judgments. But these days, man, could I use a drink as I contemplate the state of our state, California.

An emblematic drink? Tequila comes to mind. This place was Mexico less than two centuries ago. Since the election in November, I’ve wondered if there are scenarios whereby Mexico would have us back. My thoughts in this direction have been flights of fancy, but others take the idea more seriously. Some have called for a long-shot battle to secede from the U.S. entirely.

The movement has just tens of thousands of likes on Facebook (in a state of 39 million); supporters are a mere fraction of the many Californians frustrated with the tumult of an administration banning people from Muslim-majority nations, planning to deport millions of undocumented Americans, chucking environmental protections, provoking political standoffs around the globe, backtracking on nuclear nonproliferation commitments, angling to strip long-besieged reproductive rights protections, denigrating the press as “an enemy of the American people.”

I have no real opinion on the #Calexit; I haven’t seen a lot of support for or even talk about Yes California. Its support from certain sectors of Silicon Valley and its perhaps inexplicable Moscow headquarters has been cause for consternation from some sources and acquaintances of mine aware that there is such a bid to put separation on the ballot. But as I work on my buzz, my thoughts turn once again to Mexico, less than 200 miles away.

I look around at my fellow day-drinkers. Statistically, according to a University of Southern California study from May 2013, there’s a pretty good chance someone at this bar is an undocumented immigrant: 10 percent of all of Los Angeles falls into that category. A little over a week ago, about 680 undocumented people were reportedly rounded up by immigration authorities, and about 160 of those detentions were right here, in southern California.

To grow up in Los Angeles is, for the vast majority of inhabitants, to have gone to one or nine quinceañeras; it’s to judge a restaurant by whether the tortillas are handmade; it’s to watch Sábado Gigante so you know what your friends are talking about; it’s to participate in a culture built by immigrants but now inseparable from this place and this time. Percolating under the surface what’s often perceived from afar as little more than window dressing for Hollywood—an unsatisfying, plastic place—is the Chicanx community, the Mexican-American community more broadly, the Salvadorean community, the Guatemalan community.

And so I find myself at Fiesta Cantina, day-drinking my feelings. There are about a dozen people here, staff included, also day-drinking; more signs of the times, perhaps. No one here is talking politics, or the fact that one of the helmsman of the current administration has expressed support for so-called gay-conversion therapy. Los Angeles—at least West Hollywood—is at times blissful, at times unnerving in its characteristic absence of political fervor.

But I sit here with my drink, in this gay bar, among the day drunks, thinking of the fate of the undocumented, and think of what it means to belong, and who gets to decide.

I stumble home in the blinding daylight.

Three Cheers for Vermouth-Drinking Italian Grandmas

Feb.23.17

Three Cheers for Vermouth-Drinking Italian Grandmas

by Luciana Squadrilli

Vermouth in Rome

I can remember, as a child, the guilty pleasure in taking a sip of vermut (Italian for vermouth) from my grandmother’s glass, leaving my tongue sweet and my head spinning.

Later on I got to have my own splash of the drink, watered down with ice, as an official initiation into the aperitif ritual. Growing up, I left behind home and vermouth, embracing at different times beer, wine, more beer, organic wine, and gin & tonics.

I was not alone. Although vermouth held on as a key ingredient in iconic cocktails—such as the martini—the flavored, fortified wine created in Turin in 1786 by Antonio Carpano seemed to lose much of its allure as a “pure” drink over the last 30 years.

Recently, riding the vintage trend and to foster national pride in mixology, some historic brands have revamped the old-fashioned drink. (Its name comes from Wermut, the German word for Artemisia absinthium, a main ingredient for both absinthe and vermouth.)

Still, I’d never have imagined that I would turn back to my grandma’s habits. Yet, as I enter the brand new Vermut Bar at Ercoli restaurant in Rome, I have to reconsider. The 108 different labels from all over the world hint that I have no choice. Bartender Federico Tomasselli hands me a tiny vintage stem glass over the wooden counter, and there is the refreshing aroma of lemon peel soaked in the clear mix of white vermouth and a splash of soda. This is the lighter, girlie version of vermuttino, the staple after-work drink in Turin until the 60s, a forerunner to today’s aperitivo.

Real men, apparently, drink it with less soda and less ice, to better capture the botanicals: elderflower, cinnamon, nutmeg, Artemisia–of course–and others, depending on the recipe.

There is still a world of vermouths to choose from and to decipher. There are the traditional white vermouths from Piedmont, the big brands such as Martini & Rossi, and even the “evening” versions such as the Cocchi Dopo Teatro, with a distinctive bitter taste from the double infusion of cinchona. “If someone comes in and asks for an evening vermouth, this means he knows his stuff,” Federico says.

I’ll come back to taste some of Federico’s signature drinks, such as the Bianco Conciato—a dangerous mix of white vermouth, bitter angostura, Marsala, crème de violet, and mezcal—and to experiment with his tips on food pairing, like matching spiced red vermouth to gratiné oysters, or maybe a refreshing white vermuttino with Parmigiano Reggiano.

After all, I’m a lady, and I’m sure grandma would be proud of me.

A Nuclear Fallout Shelter Stocked With Booze is the Best Place to Be Right Now

Feb.21.17

A Nuclear Fallout Shelter Stocked With Booze is the Best Place to Be Right Now

by Dave Hazzan

Beer in Geneva

Every Swiss home has a nuclear fallout shelter. At least, every Swiss home is required by law to have a nuclear fallout shelter. Your choice on whether to comply or not depends on how thoroughly you think the inspectors are going to look at your new home.

Since 1978, any new residence built in Switzerland must have a room able to withstand a 12-megaton explosion—800 times larger than the Hiroshima bomb—at a distance of 700 meters (765 yards).

If you don’t live in an apartment, or your house happens to be built before 1978, there are plenty of communal bomb shelters, stocked full of emergency rations and fresh water. In the event of a nuclear holocaust, it appears the main survivors will be cockroaches and the Swiss.

Although the Swiss are required by law to keep their fallout shelters in good operating order, most have been converted into gyms, rec rooms, sewing rooms, and other sundry places. My friend Pete, a Canadian who works for an NGO in Geneva, has converted his into a music studio. After all, if the walls can withstand a 12-megaton thermonuclear blast, they can probably withstand your guitar amp.

“The only good man cave is one that is fully soundproofed and ready-stocked for the apocalypse,” Pete says. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know I speak for at least a few when I say that when the bombs fall, I’d like to be good and drunk.

As a result, many of these down-home bomb shelters have been turned into places where you can drink, either informal places to crack a couple with your buddies, or full-blown bars, with stools, taps, and teak table-tops.

In Pete’s house, we relaxed in his music studio, careful not to upset the flamenco guitars, the microphones, or the Fugazi records, propped against the insulated grey walls and the long, ugly ventilation system.

We drank Calvinus Pale Ale, a Geneva beer named after the great Christian reformer and moralist John Calvin, who would have heartily approved of nuclear holocaust preparation, but might have been less enthused about having a beer named after him. It’s a mild session beer, good for whiling away long Geneva afternoons, no matter the weather or radiation levels outside.

In the event of Armageddon though, Pete prefers something stronger, and keeps a bottle of Barbancourt rum from Haiti behind the amps.

A final point to remember: if you find yourself getting drunk with a Swiss dude in his bomb shelter, try not to start any arguments or provoke him–along with the bomb shelter, Swiss men are required to keep a gun in their homes.

Somebody Call Justin Trudeau Because We Just Hit Peak Canadian

Feb.20.17

Somebody Call Justin Trudeau Because We Just Hit Peak Canadian

by Russ Rowlands

Pale Ale in Toronto

The temperature on Toronto’s waterfront was that magical number where the Celsius and Fahrenheit scales cross, at -40. That’s the kind of number that makes you cringe just to read, so I wasn’t particularly happy to be walking 30 minutes in it to the docks district. But, being a trooper, I wrapped up in my warmest gear, strapped ski goggles to my face to prevent my eyeballs from freezing, packed an axe in my bag, and headed east.

For that cold night I was going to participate in my first session at the axe-throwing league.

Old warehouses hunkered in the gloom and the snow squeaked as it compressed under my boots. I turned down a dark alley marked only by a hand-painted sign indicating the league’s location. As I unwound my frost-crusted scarf and approached the metal door, I was struck by the muffled but familiar sounds of a bowling alley: raucous voices, rock n’ roll, and a heavy, repetitive clunking sound. I pulled the door open and was flooded by the cacophony.

“Shut the fucking door!” a dozen voices yelled in unison.

“Welcome to the league,” a young, pretty, tattooed woman smiled at me from behind a simple counter.

The interior space was exactly what you’d expect if someone described an axe-throwing league in Canada in the winter. Plywood and chicken-wire, bare concrete, plaid everywhere, beards, tattoos, ripped jeans, loud rock. I was in heaven.

After signing a million waivers, I wandered over to the Green section where my league was set to play. The building was divided into four quarters—Red, Black, Green, Blue—each with two ‘lanes’ made up of a pair of wooden targets. The Red and Black leagues had been running for about two years, and the players wore the grizzled, self-satisfied air of veterans. The Blue corner went unused that season. My Greens, though, were all noobs like me, and as I shuffled into the milling crowd I felt the peculiar, awkward unease mixed with vast potential that I felt on my first day of high school two decades ago.

It was obvious that most of the crowd felt the same, so I smiled at the first pretty girl I saw and made a joke about getting the location wrong and ending up in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. She didn’t get it, but was nice enough to laugh anyway.

In addition to its lanes, each league corner had a gallery for watching play and socializing, some table space, and a big ol’ white refrigerator. Because, counter to all sound reasoning, the axe throwing league was a BYOB affair. I hung up my coat, unpacked my axe, cracked a beer and cheersed the small group of Greens chatting around me.

“Hey, ha, look’it that,” laughed a tiny, black-haired girl who couldn’t have been much larger than a fire axe. “Kevin over there looks exactly like the guy on your beer can!”

We all paused to consider. She was right. Kevin resembled the Canuck, from Great Lakes Brewery’s Canuck Pale Ale, and the only more natural setting for him would have been riding logs down a river.

In A Place with Cheap Rum and Cokes, Nobody is A Stranger

Feb.17.17

In A Place with Cheap Rum and Cokes, Nobody is A Stranger

by Shelley Seale

Cuba Libres in El Salvador

The street was quiet in Suchitoto, a small town in northern El Salvador full of history and artists. We had been told about Café Bar El Necio; it seemed like it was the place to be in town, though the surrounding sleepy buildings gave nothing away.

Suddenly laughter and dim red light spilled out of windows at the corner. We had arrived, and the small bar was packed, both with people and with the Salvadorean Civil War and Communist memorabilia that filled every available space on the walls.

I grabbed a place at the end of a dark, pockmarked wood table while my boyfriend headed for the bar. I gazed around at the flags hanging from the rafters above my head; the posters and black-and-white photographs from many countries and decades lining the walls. There was Fidel Castro; there was Che Guevara. Artifacts, including rebel hats and guerilla guns, were displayed proudly. It was quite a collection.

My boyfriend returned with two Cuba Libres, the unofficial national drink of El Salvador. They were refreshing, very, very strong—and at just over a dollar a pop, a very good deal.

Sipping the cold Coca-Cola and rum amid the conversations around us and the bartenders bellowing from behind the gunshot-scarred wooden bar made me feel as if we were a part of it all, too.

Another Cuba Libre? Why not? The drink, along with cold, local beers such as Pilsener and Suprema, seemed to be the beverages of choice among most of the patrons. A couple of young men came in carrying instrument cases and began setting up in a tight corner with barstools and microphones. Couples and groups of friends, locals and tourists, young and old, crowded the bar and milled in and out of the wide, open-air double doorways.

As I sat in El Necio, cooled by the breeze drifting in and my Cuba Libre, I felt like I was woven into the tapestry of the Suchitoto community. It was a feeling I’d had all week, thanks to the gregarious host of my small inn, his friend who ran the art gallery across the street and ushered us into a private exhibition and party, and the theater director we ran into by chance who invited us to tag along to watch his newest production.

I realized that Suchitoto was one of those places where no one is a stranger, and here, sipping cold drinks in El Necio, I had discovered the heart of the place.

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