Category: Stories


St. Patrick’s Day, like many holidays, has been watered down into a poor parody of itself.

Everyone becomes Irish and dresses in garish garb that no one at Carnival or Pride would be caught dead in. Most people aren’t even Catholics so the idea of celebrating the lifting of Lenten restrictions with a little excess has no point.

Basically, it’s an excuse for people who work too much and don’t have enough fun to let loose. That being said, I’m not the sort of fellow who thinks any of my reasons for not liking this holiday should get in the way of people enjoying themselves. I’d just like it if people were a little more cogent of the wires working this puppet show.

So do it up. Laugh with your friends. Make someone’s night. But don’t do it because it’s a “holiday”. Do it because it’s just another day and you’re alive and well and things are (hopefully) alright. Head on over to The Ceili Cottage, the Dora Keogh or McVeigh’s if you’re a regular but any bar will do.

Me, I’ll be listening to the Pogues.

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Things still look pretty grim in Wisconsin. The Ivory CoastJapan and Libya are going down the shitter. Seems appropriate.

I’m not going out tomorrow. No matter who calls, what delicious beers they promise me along with all of that good company.

No, fuck that.

I will be staying in and maybe I’ll open that second bottle of Fuller’s Vintage 2006 I have in my closet. Maybe I’ll be really Irish and listen to Elliot Smith covers (like the one below) and be as dour as I possibly can be.

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Or I’ll just clean the house and go for a bike-ride. It’s going to be a lovely day tomorrow; loads of sun and temperatures hovering around the 15 celcius. I’ll probably get thirsty too and than of course I’ll have to stop at a bar. Maybe Betty’s but seeing as eyeing the traffic is the best part, I’ll probably settle for a patio on Queen St. West.

No sense drinking alone so I might as well call some of those friends and see what they’re up to and before I know it I’ll be where I said I wouldn’t be, having the time of my life.

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Do I stay in with Emily Haines or go out with Shane MacGowan and The Pogues? I think I know what by what power I’m compelled… Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Don’t bogart your liver!

I thought you should know why I suddenly split when you turned to talk with the guy on the other side of you. Yes, you were being loud and offensive which was why I gave you the cold shoulder outside of the washroom but I can chalk that one up to a simple misunderstanding.

Following me to the bar and trying to make amends by buying me a shot was a nice gesture but you fucked it up by sticking around afterwards and trying to be my new best friend. Newsflash: we’re not “relating” and while your proposal that we get “shit-faced” and sullenly mull over our collective sorrows is very Bukowski of you, I’m going to have to decline.

It’s not only that. Your repeated attempts to get the other denizens of the bar to cease with their celebrations of Canada’s triumph in Olympic hockey by screaming, “Shut the fuck up!” made me feel less like I was trying to enjoy a well-deserved pint at my local and more like I was baby-sitting a war vet with the emotional development of a fourteen year-old and PTSD to boot. Trying to throw a balled-up napkin at them was not such a hot idea but at least I was able to stop you. I might have had less success if you’d gone for a pint glass instead.

The reason we got along so well is because I’m a bartender and one of the more tiresome facets of my job is keeping idiots like you in check. I’m pretty good at it too but that doesn’t mean we have anything in common. The fact you occupied the seat next to me for over fifteen minutes when you don’t know me paints you squarely as a friendless dick who comes close to realizing the sad truth on the drunken, emotional rollercoaster that is likely a typical night for you.

I’d wish you the best of luck in finding other angry, young men to play with but I don’t think it’s in society’s best interests for you guys to congregate. For every Black Panther, there’s an Al Qaeda.

Just sayin’.

(Cross-posted from Craigslist. I couldn’t resist.)

Awhile back, I wrote about Bruce Buschel’s New York Times article on the 100 things restaurant staff should never do and the sometimes vitriolic debate surrounding the piece. Quite rightly, a lot of folks felt the list was pretentious and Buschel’s lack of experience certainly didn’t help matters.

He was roundly mocked by many people in the industry (and quite a few patrons) but just as many clueless freaks chimed in with support proving to me that a large segment of the population clearly has no idea how challenging it can sometimes be to a good server.

While I’m no hater (hell, at least a third of Buschel’s advice was solid) everything else he said left me with flashbacks to the motley assortment of owners and managers that I’ve had the misfortune of working with. Like many things in life, the service industry has far more bad eggs than good ones and it gets stinkier the higher you look.

Leaving aside the bickering between staff and guests (some things never change) and a certain segment of the workforce that will never amount to anything (I like to call them “the doomed”) the blame for staff performing poorly can almost entirely be laid at the feet of the owners and those power-hungry assholes they hire to manage their venue for them.

Training is clearly lacking here and while I’d like nothing better than to put together a helpful, concise training manual nobody who matters is going to pay attention and it’s way more to fun to right a shit-list of no-nos anyway…

And so, I present the twenty-five things restaurant owners should never do (I initially considered adding seventy-five more but there’s something to be said for brevity). A lot of this applies to managers as well and quite frankly, I see no harm in lumping ‘em all in together. To my mind, if the manager sucks, the owner’s either not much better or wilfully ignorant.

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Although I spent Christmas Eve and Day at my apartment, my mum picked me up on Boxing Day to spend the next four days at their house in Bowmanville with the rest of the family.

Most of our get-togethers revolve around food and drink but I can’t remember one where we got so into it. I arrived to find a fridge full of beer; pretty much anything you could think of. There was Duchy Organic Ale, Westephaner HefeWieiss, Rogue Yellow Snow, Lowenbrau, Warsteiner, La Fin du Monde, Beau’s Lug Tread (which is now available at the LCBO!) and Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2009. The latter two were particularly good with Beau’s being a dry, crisp lager and the Vintage Ale surprising me with it’s almost-sweet alcohol taste reminiscent of cognac.

We made our way through most of that on the first day and went out to resupply on day two. I picked up a bottle of Century Reserve 15 Year Old Rye (discontinued and unavailable in Toronto) and a six-pack of assorted tallboys. Thus suitably supplied, we settled down for some serious drinking, punctuated by some terrific meals and snacks.

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At the hotel where I work, the most popular beer is Keith’s India Pale Ale.

Obviously, we’re not the only establishment that serves this beer and it’s pretty uniformly popular across the city. It kind of bridges the vague, drinking gap between those older guys who only drink Molson Ex or Labatt 50 or Blue and the little shits who’ll drink whatever’s put before ‘em. Along with Stella, Heineken and Corona, Keith’s flagship brand serves to represent Canada on the international front as Belgium, the Netherlands and Mexico purport to stand for the formers, respectively.

Much like it’s cousins, Keith’s Red and White (we don’t serve it’s ugly little brother the Staghead Stout so I’ll discount that here), Keith’s is not really an I.P.A. at all but a mutant clone, watered-down and designed to appeal to broader tastes; in much the same way Labatt Blue is called a pilsner.

It’s not even as good as Rickard’s (Molson’s brand) but people will continue to order it everyday. Now clearly, the marketing and perceived credibility of the brand affect the likelihood of a consumer being familiar enough to feel comfortable ordering it but I would argue that this actually has very little to do with what people actually order at my hotel.

Can you guess who’s responsible for Keith’s products being the biggest sellers? Why the bartenders of course! They recommend these beers and not because they like them but, in blind subservience to a vicious cycle, recite their names first when asked because they’re big sellers!

I take a different approach. If asked what we have on tap, I mention Mill St.’s Organic Lager and their Tankhouse Ale as likely options. 9 times out of 10, the guest will order one and be done with it. If they press me I’ll mention that we serve a number of  big brands and ask which one they would prefer. Sometimes, only a Stella will do and I’m not going refuse someone’s request. Still, the majority of guests will go with my suggestion and, particularly in the case of the Tankhouse Ale, I’m comfortable offering them a beer I consider to be one of the better ones produced in Ontario.

There are two factors at work here. Many people, when arriving at the critical juncture of the meal where they must choose from a number of options will often go along with a timely suggestion from their server. These people don’t want to have to give a lot of thought to their choice and they’re comfortable letting their choices be influenced by a confidently-knowledgeable server.

The second factor is one of novelty. These guests will often be up for trying something new if it’s well-presented by the server with a minimum of bullshit. I find that many foreigners are extremely keen to try a local beer but many Canadians will go for it as well.

The bartenders I work with don’t give a shit about supporting local products. They take the franchise element of the hotel to the extreme and offer  what they feel will be most comforting and familiar to a traveler.  They just can’t be bothered to concern themselves with the idea of which items are better.

One of them, seemed to be slightly irked by my constant orders for Mill St. beer. She wanted to know why I always sold their beers and did not agree with my assertion that they were the best of what we had to offer. According to her, Keith’s was obviously the best beer because it was the most popular.

This is coming from someone who doesn’t even drink beer. Mind you, she’s a fairly-good bartender for this hotel and a nice person to boot but I simply can’t wrap my head around her view-point.

She thought I was being pretentious in my devotion to our local brewery and while that may be true, I still think Mill St. makes a better beer. You may like Keith’s and Stella and could argue that those beers are different but even if you get technical and hold up Keith’s Red to the Tankhouse Ale, the latter comes out a clear winner. End of story.

So I’ll continue to sell as much Mill St. beer as I can (and if you guys are reading this, I’d be up for some kind of brand ambassador position…) and my coworkers will continue to think I’m odd but I can’t imagine selling anything but what I like myself.

I think servers owe their guests that kind of honesty.

(Photo taken from the Go There Guide.)

bars_professionals_mcvittieHe’s the first contributor to the Jolly Inebriate and I’m quite pleased to have him on board.

I first got to know Ryan back at The Comrade, the bar he co-owns in Leslieville. After a long shift at Joy Bistro, I’d frequently start a night of drinking there because they had a fantastic selection of seasonal beers and Ryan could always be counted on to make a damn good cocktail when something stronger was required.

I’ve had quite a few good dates end up there and many quiet evenings on my own as well; although other bars have taken its place, I’ll always remember the good times.

I’ve seen Ryan at a couple of places since then but one thing remains consistent; he enjoys making classic cocktails, knows their stories and can experiment with ‘em when called on to do so. He’s a solid bartender and I hope you get as much from his experiences as I have.

In completely-unrelated news, I can’t get enough of this cover by The Arcade Fire. I couldn’t tell you which show it was recorded at or who did the original but it’s good. Give it a listen, download and share because it’s a bitch to source out on Hype Machine. ‘Tis the season!

(Photo taken from Toronto Life.)

When it’s past 10pm and everything is closed, go to the Wine Rack. Breeze past all of that shitty wine from Inniskillin, Sawmill Creek and Jackson-Triggs and go straight for the coolers. Grab a 2L bottle of Grower’s White Cranberry cider and a magnum of Spumante Bambino sparkling wine and get yourself home.

Get out a couple of flutes, use some ice if you need to make it cold and fill with equal measures of both.

It’s not too sweet and the low alcohol content ensures you can have quite a a few… Delicious!

So I figured that since I’m behind on several updates, I’ll just smoosh them all into one big post and get it out of the way so I can get ready for the next season (and perhaps even become more timely with my writing!).

The big thing for me this summer was festivals and travelling. I went to the Cutting Edge Music Festival at the start of August and when not enjoying some hard, hard music, I did my fair share of drinking as well.

My friend Kat (who bartends at one of my favorites, Rasputin Vodka Bar) and I packed a couple 24′s worth of booze. There was no liquor but I brought Corona (my go-to camping beer) and she brought half-a-dozen types of coolers.

I can’t stand the damn things due to what I feel is an excessive amount of sugar and Kat doesn’t generally drink beer but over the next couple of days we dipped into each other’s stashes and I have to admit that Bacardi’s Blueberry Guava Breezer was actually quite refreshing, dare I say even buyable if one were prone to that sort of thing.

bud busIn terms of where one could drink there was a licensed area set to the side of the two main stages which was a Budweiser Bus. I generally hate segregated beer gardens with a passion and there was no way in hell I was going to pay $7 for a plastic cup of Bud when the camping area was licensed as well.

Unfortunately, drinking there required leaving the pit, making your way through security without getting anything confiscated, climbing up a monster hill and trying to find your way through Tent City. I’m not exaggerating when I say this was a 10 minute walk, made exceedingly challenging for many folk dealing with the variety of substances playing havoc with their bodies. I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard stories of people dropping where they stood but I can’t believe that fucking hill didn’t claim more victims. Still, I made the trek over twenty times and I’d do it again if it meant not drinking a Bud.

CEMF was my first music festival and I’m definitely looking forward to attending more although I think I’d prefer ones in other countries that don’t have such draconian licensing restrictions.

The next big thing I went to was Toronto’s Festival of Beer. I’d never been and I figured I should probably go to see what the fuss was about. I was a bit put out by the steep entrance fee ($45!) and getting in to the event was a challenge of labyrinthian proportions but I still enjoyed myself.

I know that Greg Clow of Beer, Beats & Bites was largely unimpressed with the festival, Troy Burtch at Great Canadian Pubs and Beer also had some quibbles and Save Your Fork… There’s Pie‘s Sheryl Kirby gave a number of good reasons why it sucked when stacked up to the Hart House Craft Beer Festival and while I agree with pretty much everything they said I think I’m coming from a different place in my take on the event.

dug those barrels!

They’re right when they take issue with the smaller number of craft brewers in attendance, the roaming packs of drunken louts (and requisite “beer Nazi” security force) and all the cringe-worthy accoutrement of the Molson-Coors/Anheuser-Busch Inbev crowd.

Beerfest was all of that but it was also fun! Tecate’s human foosball was a glorious mess of tangled limbs and drunken saves and almost good enough for me to forgive them for the piss they call beer. Sure the hats you received for winning looked dumb but my group largely negated that by stealing ours. The Steamwhistle photobooth was also nice carnival-style throwback but other than those two promotional tie-ins, I mostly stuck with drinking as much beer as possible.

My friends were already trashed by the time I got there but I managed to catch up pretty quickly with a stop at the Trafalgar Brewery booth and I had another go at their Critical Mass and Korruptor strong beers. Both tasted much better than I remember from that three-pack I bought back in the spring (or maybe I was just happy to finally have a beer in my hand).

In quick succession, I hit the Wellington, Radeberger & DAMM and McClelland Premium Imports booths. The first two didn’t do that much for me but the last one featured both the Erdinger Weissbier and Dunkel, Fruli and Affligem’s Dubbel, Tripel and Blonde. Unfortunately, they were out of Delirium Tremens by Sunday; this saddened me because I’ve always loved it and since it was banned by the LCBO awhile ago, it’s been very difficult to source it out beyond a few bars.

One of my friends had a massive hankering for wings and that was just fine with me because it allowed us to sit in the southwest corner of the festival where Great Lakes Brewery’s CASKapalooza! held court. I’d heard good things but I had no idea they’d have so many great brews just waiting for me to sample!

We ended up spending over an hour here; quite a feat when you consider that most booths didn’t merit more than a couple of minutes at best. During our time there, I tried the Snaggle Tooth Pumpkin Ale, Kaptain Kolsch, Iron Eagle Pilsner, Simon Says Stout and Superior I.P.A.

All were pretty good with the Snaggle Tooth and Kaptain definitely meriting a place on the shelf. My disappointment at not being able to try more of them has been tempered by the hindsight that I was pretty trashed by this point and wouldn’t have made it through much more.

Still, there was more of the grounds to traverse and I forced my comrades to take me back to the Bier Markt’s Oktoberfest Experience. There, we dined on sausages, sauerkraut and a most excellent weissbier which I believe was imported. The only finer example I’ve had would be the rather untraditional Edelweiss’ Snowfresh or Denison’s.

After this point, my memories of what we did next begin to jumble together like a night of partying… I remember watching some booth girls playing a drinking game that involved some kind of soccer chant and being extremely disappointed by the Eastern European lager I got when it was my turn.

We ended up in the center of the grounds and although I think I tried some great beers I don’t recall what they were called or even what they tasted like. I remember a couple of friends climbing up into a tree and getting reprimanded by security and one of our cups getting confiscated by the beer Nazis after we doubled up while one of our friends went to the washroom. We ended up dancing in front of the bandshell to some no-name band playing a cover of Home for a Rest, a song that is somehow synonymous with being smashed and Canadian. (On a sidenote: there are so many concert videos of that song being played by the band on YouTube… they must be very tired of playing it but if the festival is any indication of public opinion, no one seems to very tired of hearing it.)

In retrospect we were pretty much like everyone else by that point; very drunk and very, very happy. This may not be the best way to try out new beers but it can be a terrific condition in which to enjoy yourself. I may be getting older but I still take some pleasure in this sort of thing from time to time. The day I stop doing so may very well coincide with the day I start taking my writing more seriously but it hasn’t come yet. I saw plenty of assholes but I also met some incredibly-fun people and drank some damn good beer; those are the memories that stick.

When not going out, I’ve had the opportunity to buy a few beers here and there but not too many of them stick out in my mind.

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Boris Organic (not pictured here, I misplaced the can, but I’m sure you can picture it) is a middle-of-the-road lager with that slightly-malty, clean, inoffensive taste that features in so many beers of its kind. There’s not a whole lot of carbonation and you’re left with not much of an aftertaste because it’s so damn watery. It reminded me a bit of Mill St. Organic except not as good.

Both Nektar and Ochakovo Premium were both equally bland and I’d stay away from both of them. I don’t like the Eastern European lagers the LCBO brings over here and neither of these changed my mind.

Estrella Damm, on the other hand, is a lot better but that’s faint praise considering the company it was keeping. It poured with a nice thick head that left a lovely amount of lacing on the glass which was unusual given that I wouldn’t call this a full-bodied beer.

Still, it was quite lovely; dry, crisp and refreshing. The nose was definitely light and there was a decent mouthfeel but I would’ve preferred more carbonation. It’s definitely less grassier than some pilsners with some malt and just a touch of bitterness. Bonus points for no evident skunkiness or overt sweetness. There was very little aftertaste but the dryness definitely became more pronounced which I didn’t mind.

Everyone I know who doesn’t generally enjoy beer and has tried Damm has enjoyed it; this is definitely one of those beers you can satisfy most people without sinking to the level of your garden-variety macro-brews. I’ve had a couple cans with everything ranging from a tuna-melt sandwich to pasta and found it worked quite well as a “carb-soaker”. My only real caveat with this beer is that is has to be served ice-cold; it loses points for not aging well in the glass. Overall, it’s a decent beer to get drunk with but there are cheaper tallboys that don’t sacrifice too much in taste.

(Top photo by Matt Eckensweiler.)

awkward-adolescent-party-poTomorrow, my roommates and I (collectively known as 585 GRRD) are having another party. Mike’s girlfriend came up with the theme explicated in the title and things proceeded quickly from there. You can check out the invite here but suffice it to say, dressing up is encouraged and the playlist will cause nostalgic orgasms in all who hear it.

Booze-wise, it’s going to be simultaneously more complicated and yet simpler than previous affairs. I’ve hired a bartender for the evening. Farah works with me at Nocturne and she’ll be serving beer, vodka and slushies… alcoholic slushies of course.

Mike’s brother (he runs Ed’s Real Scoop in Leslieville, go get some ice cream) has graciously offered us the use of his slushie machine. Take some juice, ice, add 60oz of vodka and you’ve got just the thing to cool down 80+ sweaty bodies jammed into a tiny apartment.

With the slushies, I plan on getting a bit creative. I’m getting some aloe and pineapple juice and I imagine I’ll add the rest of my strawberry syrups at some point during the night.

Of course, I plan on letting people bring whatever booze they might want but when it runs out they can pony up to the bar. We’ll be selling tickets for a measly $5 or 4 for $20.

It should be tons of fun and I’m planning on leading a raid on the public pool in the wee hours of the morning should things get too muggy.

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