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5 O’Clock Somewhere

Drinking the World Every Afternoon

A Negroni, Per Favore, As the World Burns

Dec.09.16

A Negroni, Per Favore, As the World Burns

by Caterina Clerici

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Sbagliatos in Milan

The atmosphere in Milan on Monday was eerie: a mix of fog and the looming political void.

When the results of Sunday’s constitutional referendum started pouring in late the night before, it was immediately clear that the country had answered with a roaring NO. It wasn’t a “no” to the proposed changes to the constitution, but to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Approaching a thousand days in office, Renzi arrogantly thought it would be a good idea to turn this referendum into a validation of his time in office. The result? Renzi lost what had effectively become a midterm election, and I needed a drink.

Despite asking all my sources at the prime minister’s residence, the Palazzo Chigi—who surely had nothing better to do the day after their boss declared his intention to step down—I wasn’t able to discover Renzi’s favorite cocktail. So I opted for a negroni sbagliato (commonly known simply as a sbagliato). The negroni was invented in Renzi’s hometown, Florence, where he was mayor for five years until becoming Prime Minister, and ‘sbagliato’ means wrong, as in this version of the drink, brut spumante replaces gin. I figured it’s a bit like him: solid, does the job, but not something you’re excited about.

The occasion deserved the best possible sbagliato, so I headed to the place where, legend has it, the wrong mix was first poured, by mistake, here in Milan: Bar Basso, an Italian drinks Mecca and a safe-haven for professionals and elites on all sides of the political spectrum; to each his aperitivo, after all.

“Italy is ungovernable: we’ve been stuck for ten years and we’ll continue being stuck for the next ten,” was the first thing I heard as I walked in.

A group of men in their sixties and seventies, wrapped in their coats and scarves, were talking politics while looking at YouTube videos on their phones. I later found out one of them had been the head of the city’s health department for ten years in the late nineties. He voted no. “But it doesn’t matter—whatever happens, Italians land on their feet.”

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I would have never thought I’d vote for Renzi, and even the first sip of negroni sbagliato couldn’t soothe my guilt. He speaks like a know-it-all classmate who throws in a word or two of approximate English in every sentence, just because. But more importantly, Renzi is the man who ruined la sinistra, the Left, the people I remember marching in the streets chanting slogans from 1968 as I grew up.

Still, I somehow found reasons to stand with the ‘Scrapper,’ as Renzi famously called himself as he tried to reboot Italian politics. Maybe it’s because I’m part of the ‘elite’ that has become too disconnected from la cosa pubblica and the dire economic state of the homeland, but what scared me most was the thought of political paralysis. Our system is admittedly rusty, but it had just recently started working again, if not perfectly. And I feared—and still do—the international repercussions of a no vote, which will be twisted into the destructive narrative of a growing anti-establishment wave, destined to reshape Europe and the rest of the world.

The victory of the no vote in Italy is different from the Brexit and the Trump-astrophe: here, we’ve long been fans of the anti-establishment voto di pancia, literally ‘voting with the belly.’ We witnessed the rise of our own Trump, Silvio Berlusconi, as early as 1994, and with him we welcomed our homegrown UKIP, the Lega Nord, into the government for the first time.

Now, we’ve reached a new milestone in political thinking: reverse-reverse-psychology. If we wanted to vote against the usual political caste, we should have voted YES, since every familiar face in the country’s political landscape, from Berlusconi to the old roster of leftist leaders to the ‘anti-establishment’ Five Star Movement, supported NO. But we didn’t!

The antipathy for Renzi and the utter rage caused by high unemployment rates and poor economic growth overshadowed the fact that he was the closest we could get to change. Or maybe it’s the Italian habit of voting against the government, often oblivious of the repercussions abroad and at home. Not all Italians land on their feet, and the parties that backed NO have a pretty unsuccessful record of providing for those who don’t.

“I wanted to get rid of some seats,” said Renzi in his concession speech late Sunday night, “but eventually the one that blew up was mine.”

Back in the bar, the four men were cheering. “Viva Mattarella,” joked one, referring to the president, who must now form a provisional government before Christmas. The other three replied with Italy’s beloved all-purpose epithet: “Ma vaffanculo!”


Every Friday, we bring you an angry rant about something terrible fuelled by alcohol.

If You Think You’re Living Your Best Life, Read This and Then Reevaluate

Feb.27.17

If You Think You’re Living Your Best Life, Read This and Then Reevaluate

by Russ Rowlands

Chablis on Sagami Bay

Two red-faced older Japanese men crashed into the common room at the guesthouse I was staying at in Atami, south of Tokyo. They flopped bodily into bean-bag chairs and raised a beer to me, smiling broadly.

“Kanpai!” they chimed in unison.

“Hello, how are you?!”

I smiled back and raised my can of chuhi, a boozy soda lemonade. Their affability was a nice change from the more reticent Japanese tourists who were the primary occupants of the guesthouse. They introduced themselves as Yuki and Hiro. We got talking and they asked what a single Canadian traveler was doing in Atami, mostly popular with locals and families as a hot-springs destination.

I told them I had come to Japan on a slim chance to race sailboats, after cruising in the South Pacific. Their eyes lit up and Hiro choked on his beer.

“You’re a sailor? You sailed the Pacific?”

Only from Panama to Tahiti, I admitted.

“We’re sailors! We sailed from Tokyo to Atami today with our friends! We have to sail back in the morning, do you want to come with us?”

I couldn’t believe my luck. Atami had a marina and I had been planning to go down and attempt to make some sailing connections, language problems aside. But here were two exuberant locals eager to invite me along for a full day of sailing. I happily accepted and we agreed to meet in the morning.

The next day I ganged up with Yuki and his wife Fujiko, Hiro, and ten other Japanese sailors to head down to the docks. They were a varied group, ranging from their mid-30s to mid-60s, equally mixed between men and women. They were friendly and curious and hungover, a fact for which they profusely apologized to a comedic extent. Traditional Japanese hospitality blended with seemingly-genuine interest in my adventures, and everyone took turns introducing themselves, some in English, some in Japanese.

The boat was a slick, 40-foot racer-cruiser named Big Bird, with just enough room on deck for all 14 of us to find seats or hang our legs over the rails. I squeezed onto a space on the stern near the huge steering wheel and watched as Hiro and the primary sailing crew skillfully guided her out of the marina. It was a grey morning with enough wind to keep us moving but not to get us wet. We tacked northeast and she leaned over into the breeze as Atami drifted into the background.

For the next seven hours this amazing group of sailors plied me with beer and snacks and stories and questions. They were morning drinkers, the best kind of drinkers, and we cracked our first cans of Asahi as soon as the sails were set. At one point in the middle of the day an out-of-place bottle of Chablis made an appearance and was quickly demolished in cheap plastic cups. Hangovers were successfully slain, and good friends made. The day turned bright blue. I chalked it up to sailing serendipity.

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.

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