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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

All the Drinks in the U.S. of A.

Jan.20.17

All the Drinks in the U.S. of A.

by Cara Parks

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Well, it happened. It really happened. There have been a lot of moments since Nov. 8, 2016, that have caused the world to stare, gobsmacked, at the smoking refuse that is public political discourse in the U.S. today, and each time, there was a sense, among some, that somehow this day would not come to pass. But of course it was going to happen, and now it has. There’s nothing much to say. There’s everything to drink.

So let’s raise a glass of wine and toast the demise of our democracy the Roman way. Vale! Let a single tear roll down your cheek. This is your mourning drink. Savor it. Let it trickle through the sandbox of depression that is your brain and fill the cracks in the empty plastic bag that was once your soul.

Mourning time is over. Move on to a shot of vodka. Toast our new Russian overlords in the style to which we will soon become accustomed. Ваше здоровье! Feel it burn away the vestiges of your belief in inevitable societal progress.

Now for a shot of baiju. Get it while you can, before the trade war with China really gets going.

Feeling a little better? No? Don’t worry, we’re just getting started.

Have a margarita before you can only get tequila by surreptitiously crawling over a border wall, Berlin-style. Ah, how we shall laugh when we tell our children of the days when tequila flowed freely and civil rights were respected and icebergs existed. Haha! Ha!

Now have a gin and tonic and cheers our fellow contestants in the race to the bottom of the political garbage fire in the U.K. Let the best pandering win!

Admit it, you’re feeling a littttttttle better now. Don’t.

Drink a martini in a wine glass filled with ice. Why would you possibly want such a thing? You don’t. But that’s what martinis look like in this brave new world. Drink it really fast, and you might not taste it. Good luck.

Perhaps you’re trying to stagger away now, but your legs won’t work. You shouldn’t have taken that shot of baiju! Now it’s too late. What are you going to do? You’re trapped in a foggy fugue state, filled with impotent rage and crushing sadness. Perfect! Now you’re ready.

Take a bottle of the alcohol of your choice and use it to crush a bag of Cheetos into a fine dust. Pour that dust into the alcohol and drink deeply. You have now consumed the essence of your opponents. Let the magic of this act imbue you with artery-clogging strength. Feel the courage of your enemies filling your veins.

Get a cup of coffee. Pour it into your eyes. Allow the caffeine to drag you away from the sweet, sweet void you were headed toward. Let one more tear fall. Farewell, sweet void. Farewell.

Get a bucket and fill it with coffee. Submerge your entire head in it. Let out a silent scream. It still happened. It will still be happening. It’s always happening.

Now stand up.

Photo by: Julia DeSantis

“Happy” Hour in D.C.

Jan.19.17

“Happy” Hour in D.C.

by Haley Gray

Beer in DC

In America’s capital city, nothing is more predictable than Happy Hour.

D.C. is not a city of politicos, necessarily, but rather of exceptionally motivated professionals. People put their work slacks on Monday-to-Friday, grind through their day, and rely on alcohol to return their body to a sustainable level of calm when their time in the office is done.

Tonight I’m drinking in Jackpot, a neighborhood dive, or so the bartender tells me. You can find it via an inconspicuous door off 7th Street in Chinatown, which leads down to a dim-lit basement. A warm glow emanates from low-hanging light bulb, but the contours of drinkers’ faces are mostly lit by blue glow of the three flatscreen TVs behind the bar (all playing sports). Bare walls are flanked by stacks of spent kegs. Drinkers gather and talk about their bosses and failed Tinder dates as they nosh on baskets of free popcorn. This is not a tapas crowd. This is a drinking crowd.

Not ready for hard liquor, I order a Gose from the ample beer selection. The bartender, his voice hoarse from shouting over the noise every day, tells me that today is slow.

“Happy Hour is usually off the chain,” the bartender tells me as I sip on a $7 Gose. (That’s not a bad pricetag for this city.) But today, Jackpot is far from full. I slid into a spot at the bar with no trouble.

I ask him if he thinks business will pick up tonight. It’s only 6 p.m., but he says he doesn’t know. “Most of our customers left for the weekend, I think.”

On the eve of Donald Trump’s presidency, Washington is not humming the same way it did last Thursday. The streets are flush with visitors, with fewer J Crew-clad paper pushers.

The buses crawl between motorists clogging the roads, clustered on a portion of the city’s throughways thanks to the guarded red and green zones–the areas shut down by security for tomorrow’s event. On foot, movement is much easier. Wide-open streets, bare enough to see strewn trash blow over their asphalt surfaces, funnel into the clogged corridors. Thirty-somethings in sports coats hold iPhones to their ears, commuter backpacks slung over just one shoulder as they strut. They command their route, I thought, as I made my way to 7th Street, with their familiarity and lack of regard. They know exactly what they’re doing.

I ask the paralegal ordering a drink to my left if she’s going to the ceremony tomorrow, and she says no. “I would have, because it’s, like, historical, you know?” she says. “But I heard it’s going to rain. Darn.”

She smiles.

Be Careful What You Say About Soccer After the Sixth Beer

Jan.18.17

Be Careful What You Say About Soccer After the Sixth Beer

by James Connolly

Mahou in Catalonia

It was half-time, and with the game poised at 0-0, beer was beginning to flow more quickly than before. For 45 minutes, Spain’s two best soccer teams had been engaged in a chess-like battle of wits. The atmosphere at my friend Mario’s family home in Reus, an industrial town around 60 miles from Barcelona, had grown tense.

When FC Barcelona play Real Madrid, there is much more on the line than three points. El Clasico, as the match-up has come to be known, represents a historic battle between two cities, two soccer philosophies and, some would argue, two political ideologies.

As the froth settled on yet another freshly poured Mahou, I remarked to my hosts that I had never tried this brand of beer—that I was more familiar with the locally brewed Estrella Damm or Moritz. As with seemingly every aspect of life in Catalonia, even one’s choice of beer can be a profoundly political statement.

The reason that we were drinking Mahou, explained Mario’s father, was that it is the quintessential brew of Madrid. “Everybody in the capital drinks this beer. It’s hard to find anything else down there,” he continued. “The Catalans have their beer and we have ours, but everybody knows which is better.”

By now I had figured out that this family of Madrid fanatics, who originate from Andalusia and today call Catalonia home, were proud Spanish nationalists. In recent years, the Catalan independence movement has gathered pace, with polls indicating widespread support throughout the region. Yet for the likes of this family, who have been in the area for generations yet maintain a strong connection to their roots in the Spanish heartlands, the question of independence is far from straightforward.

Next, it was Mario’s uncle who chipped in with an explanation: “When our parents came to work here in the 50s, Spain was still a very poor country.” He took another gulp of Mahou. “Thousands of people left the countryside and came north to work in industry. Their hard work helped turn Spain into the modern, wealthy nation we have today and without them, Catalonia would be nothing.”

The match resumed for the second half and conversation turned once more to the game. As I reached for yet another bottle of Mahou, Barcelona striker Luis Suarez scored, putting the Catalan side ahead just eight minutes after the restart. I made sure to refill everybody else’s glass before my own, sensing that they needed it more than I did.

As Madrid searched frantically for a retort, I decided to lift the mood with some more light conversation. “So this independence thing, what do you all think about that?” I asked, the sixth glass of Mahou lending an unintended arrogance to my tone.

This time it was Mario’s mother who replied first, a strong-headed woman who still carried a distinctly southern accent whenever she spoke. “It’ll never happen. We need to stick together, just like before, and things will get better.”

The rest of the family nodded in approval and with that, Real defender Sergio Ramos kicked a late equalizer for the team in white. As my hosts celebrated wildly, jumping, hugging, kissing, the cramped living room became drenched in sticky Spanish beer.

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.

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