Friday, June 29, 2018

2016 Memories: Florida and Virginia

As we get ready for the virtual release party for Cheers and Amenthe book about our adventure of visiting a bar and a church in every state, we're sometimes torn between what we want to do and what we need to do. This past week, for example, we hoped to visit Papa's Place, a new bar in Clovis. 

Finalizing our move to Seattle ended up preventing that visit, so we may never know if Papa's Ramos Fizz is as good as the one we sampled a couple weeks ago at The Majestic Bar at Yosemite.

Still, we can recognize some of the memorable people whose stories didn't fit into the book.  To do that, we're sharing some of our favorite posts here. 

Mickey Quinn's Irish Pub, Seminole, FL
Originally posted 3/19/2016

Mickey Quinn's the morning after
"A leprechaun," was the answer not once, but twice, when I asked the question, "Who was Saint Patrick?" at Mickey Quinn's Irish Pub. Thursday is usually the day we go to a bar on this trek to visit a bar and a church in every state, and since this past Thursday was Saint Patrick's Day, we came up with the novel idea of going to an Irish themed pub. Apparently several hundred people in the Seminole area came up with the same idea.

the outside crowd
Now to be fair, both people who claimed the saint was a leprechaun were obviously joking.  And to be even more (or less) fair, both had already had more than a few drinks. I took a poll of a dozen people or so, and the majority of people I talked to at Mickey Quinn's had no idea who Saint Patrick was; even though Saint Patrick himself (or someone who looked like him; St. Pat has been dead for centuries) made an appearance at the pub that night.

the crowd inside
There were some at the pub who did associate Saint Patrick with the church. There was a guy named Brendan who said, "He's a saint, like Saint Brendan, the patron saint of sailors."  And Brendan's friend Nicky knew the legend that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland (though the fossil record doesn't jibe with that story).

sign in the window
I did find it interesting that there were a number of people who associate Saint Patrick with the church but associate the day with beer and parties. It is very likely that Saint Patrick was familiar with beer, but the real Saint Patrick may have felt out of place at this celebration of his day.

Mickey Quinn's on St Patrick's Day
The story goes that Patrick was a fifth century Brit who, as a teenager, was kidnapped by Irish pirates (and really now, why aren't pirates a part of the celebration?) and made a slave in Ireland. Patrick became a Christian as a slave, escaped, and returned to Britain. He became a priest and then, of his own free will, returned to bring the Gospel to Ireland. How this story resulted in a day where the goal for many is to get wasted as quickly as possible is rather baffling.

There were other responses to the importance of the day besides beer. Some people talked about celebrating Irish culture and family. And a man named Billy said the day was about freedom ("It's about when the Irish freed themselves from.... It's about the freedom to express yourself".)

The tent truck moving out
Mickey Quinn's goes to a special effort for the holiday, roping off a large section of the parking lot, bringing in a rented tent, live Irish music, no cover charge, and green beer. Customers come early and are served until 3:00 am.

Most people were wearing green but some people added other costume touches. I talked with young woman named Michelle who was wearing an orange beard. She, like many others, didn't seem to have a clue who Saint Patrick was, but she did have opinions on our standard questions of what makes for a good bar and a good church. She said for both it was important to have people with interesting personalities (but the bar needed good beer as well).

Billy (who associated Saint Patrick's Day with freedom) spoke of the importance of good leadership. He was taking management classes, and believed it was important that managers treated their employees well, in an ethical manner, as they would like to be treated themselves. He attends St. Mary's, a Catholic church.

morning after at Mickey Quinn's
His friend Greg said he was raised Catholic but now attends a nondenominational church, Pathways, and mentioned that Pastor Bill is awesome.

Brendan and Nicky, who had some of the better answers to the Saint Patrick questions, also had unique answers to the question what makes for a good bar. Brendan said it should be "civilized. That's a good word," while Nicky loved that the bar -- that night, anyway -- had "cute little birdies to watch."

busy bartenders at Mickey Quinn's on St Patrick's night
Their friend Denise had an answer for what makes for a good church, "It's where God knows your name."

We met a couple a little older than us, Lou and Linda, who love to travel, so they appreciated our journey and told us about some of their adventures driving through Europe. They associated Saint Patrick with the cathedral named for him. For them, music is important for a good bar; top forty, rock, dance music, Linda said. Lou added (and Linda agreed),"But not rap."

For a church they said it's good to have a priest or pastor that's a good speaker who's down to earth, and it doesn't hurt if he has a good sense of humor.

security was having a quiet night
We must admit that the evening was a bit more challenging for conversation than our usual bar nights, due to the large crowd, loud volume, and more people that were... um... sobriety challenged.

Often we like to talk with a bartender but with the crowd three deep at the inside bar and a line at the outside one - - there was no way that was going to happen. So we stopped to talk with someone in security, Ryan the Bouncer. He's a full time waiter now, but he'd worked as a bouncer for a decade previously. Now he just works as a bouncer for special events (and he assured us he's well paid for his services). I asked for a bouncer story and he told us about the time he had to break up a fight between thirteen people "Someone punched my beautiful face."

St Patrick's night crowd at Mickey Quinn's
We asked what makes for a good bar. He said the atmosphere is important, and that's set by the General Manager. He said the GM there, Ronan , is amazing. "He does literally everything even when it is slow."  He added that everyone should be good at their jobs, knowing what to do and doing it. "This is a nice bar."

In answer to what makes for a good church, Ryan assured us he was the person to ask. He was raised a Catholic back in Michigan, but says that, while it's fine for his parents, it's too old school for him. "I'm about the energy," he said, adding, " I know God's got my back... I can feel the Holy Spirit." He assured us he's not opposed to the Catholic church (his brother is studying to be a priest), but he feels the Catholic church needs to get updated. "It's a new age." He said he has a friend running a church in Michigan. "He's the man. He uses the internet to promote programs and youth events. It's exciting." He also mentioned that God's rescued him "a number of times."

We talked to one more person before we left. Nicky, who we'd talked to earlier, walked past us as we were heading back to our car. He shook our hands again and told us without prelude, "Thailand! That's the place you should go! Thailand! I'm going there next month." Now if we weren't already planning on going to South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee, we might have taken him up on that.

(In fairness to the patrons of Mickey Quinn's, I should note that the first ten people I asked at church Wednesday night had no idea who Saint Patrick was either. It was a Baptist church, but still...)

Los Toltecos Mexican Bar and Grill
First posted 5/7/16
We were very excited to go out on the night of Mexican Independence Day. (Wait... Oh, sorry about that. Apparently I got that wrong.) We were very excited to go out on the anniversary of the Mexican Army's victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, because Cinco de Mayo has become a big thing in the States over the years. Television networks have come to expect lower numbers on the holiday, because people do go out drinking.

If Mindy and I are anything, we are conformists, so we looked for a Mexican-themed place to visit in Sterling, Virginia. Many other people felt compelled to do the same. There were no spaces left in Los Toltecos parking lot, so we parked across the street in theSafeway lot. 

When we went inside, all the tables were taken. There was a pretty good throng around the bar. Finding a place to stand where we wouldn't get in the way of the wait staff was tricky.

We overheard one couple as they arrived. The guy said, "Man, this is serious!" And she said, "I told you." We're not sure if they actually went in, because last we saw of them, they were still outside, possibly waiting for friends to swell the throng.

You know those movies where a tremendous crowd drives a couple apart? Los Toltecos was kind of like that, sort of, because I (Dean) ended up going outside to try to talk to people while Mindy stayed at the bar to order drinks.

After awhile, she got close enough to the bar to reach a drinks menu; she looked for the margaritas (because, what with the holiday and all, we had to order margaritas. I guess we could have bought Coronas or Dos Equis, but we really aren't beer fans.) and ordered the Los Toltecas Original with a JalapeƱo Margarita for me. Her drink came in a red Solo party cup (the kind you see in every teen comedy party scene since American Pie), and my drink came in a round goblet that seemed to weigh as much as a small bowling ball.

While she was waiting for the bartender to mix our drinks, Mindy talked to the two guys who let her get close enough to the bar to order. She asked them our weekly questions ("What makes for a good bar?" and "What makes for a good church?"). Joseph said he values a patio because sitting outside and drinking is one of his favorite things.

Sadly, rain that evening was keeping everyone inside and adding to the claustrophobic (though lively) ambiance. Joseph's friend Connor agreed that a patio was good, but he felt something else was more important: "I would say good service, but you expect that anywhere. So, I'll say a kind staff." He said that kindness went beyond competent work to respect for the people being served.

As to what makes a good church, Joseph said there should be passion for individual members of the church from everyone, not just leadership. That's the quality that drew him to the church he attended in his teen years.  

Connor said that during his elementary years, he had attended a church and a private school that had provided him and his sister (who had attended through high school) valuable counsel for career goals and life beyond high school.

Meanwhile, I was in front of Los Toltecos, hoping to talk to the exiled smokers outside, where there were more reasonable sound levels. I chatted with Timur, who I think, based on his accent, was from Eastern Europe. I asked what made for a good bar, and he said, "I am debating the number one thing for a good bar between the surroundings and the people, but I guess the people are part of the surroundings so that would make it number one."

When I asked what made for a good church, he gave me a bit of his background. His mother is Muslim and his father is Christian, and he feels it is important to learn about all religions so that one can make a sober judgment about faith. He said it's important that a church is welcoming. But if they are judging you, thinking you will go to hell if you don't join them, then they're not welcoming. He compared judgmental people to a saying of his boyhood, "A drowning animal barks loudest as it is about to go down."

A friend of Timur's, Marjorie, came outside and graciously agreed to answer my questions. She said a "Spanish bar" is quite different from an American bar because it "gets crazy." She said that she could "go to an American bar with my girls, have a drink and go home, that's it." At an American bar you can smile at a guy, and it's just considered a friendly gesture, but at a Mexican bar the guy will assume there's more to it and may well hassle the woman who smiled. At an American bar there is respect.

She said she was at Los Toltecos with friends; her sister is the designated driver. She said her husband was not much of a drinker, so he was waiting at home, as were her parents. She went on to tell me that she came to this country when she was sixteen, and that she loves America. "It is the best country. You need to work hard, but there is a time for fun, if you're responsible. If you don't go crazy, you'll be happy."

She told me that one of the things that she appreciated most about this country is that it allowed her mother to have the heart transplant that saved her life. Her mother went to the top of the list because she was a Christian woman. The hospital didn't consider her religion, of course, but they did take into consideration that she had never smoked and didn't drink.  They considered her a perfect candidate. Her family had been quite worried as the heart was flown into the Fairfax hospital during a snowstorm that could have proved a deadly delay, but the heart arrived in time. After only two weeks on the waiting list, the operation took place. Marjorie said her mother had gone from 94 pounds to 140 (a more healthy weight for her), and you could never tell by looking at her that she had a heart transplant.

When I asked what made for a made for a good church, Marjorie said, "I like Christian, not Catholic. I believe in one God." It was quite obvious she was thinking of her mother's church.

On a crowded bar night, it is ironically more difficult to find people to talk to (we certainly weren't able to talk to a bartender or even any of the staff). But we're glad that, at Los Toltecos, we found the really delightful people we did.

2016 Memories: Arizona

We want to recognize some of the wonderful people we met during 2016 whose stories didn't fit into Cheers and Amenthe book about our adventure of visiting a bar and a church in every state. To do that, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts here. 

Beth Sar Shalom, Tucson, Arizona
First posted 1/12/2016
The course I took was nicknamed "Suicide Hebrew."  Hebrew was a requirement for the Master of Divinity degree, but you could take it as a six week summer class, and I did. Maybe the nickname of the course is what led me to use the song "Suicide is Painless" from M*A*S*H as learning tool for the Hebrew alphabet. So now I remember the first five letters of the alphabet, a few words, and little else. Therefore, I'm pretty sure what I was doing to the pronunciation of Hebrew during songs and chants at Beth Sar Shalomwas homicide. But everyone around me was most gracious and did not complain.

We came to visit the congregation because friends who used to attend church with us in Healdsburg, Chuck and Janet Setterland, are now members of Beth Sar Shalom. Janet particularly had wanted to understand Jesus and the Scriptures better by learning more about Jewish culture and Hebrew Scripture. One thing that interested Chuck initially was his respect for the nation of Israel and his desire to show support to the Jewish people.

Since joining the church, they've been taking Torahstudy classes and celebrating some of the Jewish holidays. Last Friday night we celebrated a Sabbath (Shabbat) dinner. Their friend, Murray, a Jewish Christian friend originally from Brooklyn, printed up some traditional prayers for the occasion. The roast chicken, challah, and wine tasted all the better because of the blessing. (And we had chocolate babka for dessert which tasted all the better thanks to Seinfeld.)

Beth Sar Shalom describe themselves in their literature as "a mixed group of Jews and Gentiles who gather together to worship God and His Messiah --Yeshua (Jesus)."

Many wonder whether someone can be a Jew and a Christian, but it's easier to reconcile since those who followed Jesus around were all Jewish, as was the Apostle Paul (who had quite a bit to do with the early Church). A big question that the Church wrestled with in the first century was whether someone could be a Gentile and a Christian. At Beth Sar Shalom, they believe that the Jews who trust in Jesus are still Jews. They believe Jesus is the answer to the prayer of their people for a Messiah.

On Saturday morning the congregation met in the gymnasium since the sanctuary is being refurbished.  (In the summer the pews will be replaced with more practical and comfy chairs, and there are plans to add sound panels to the walls and a mural recreation of the Wailing Wall.) In the gym, the basket over the worship team was covered, but the basket on the other side of the room was not.

Most people greeted each other with the words, "Shabbat Shalom." Some men wore prayer shawls and yarmulkes, and a couple women wore head coverings, but most did not. Some traditional Synagogue liturgy was used in the service such as the Kaddish, the Amidah and the Shema. But we also sang modern choruses such as Chris Tomlin's How Great is Our God with Hebrew lyrics added to make it Gadol Elohai.

One of the main announcements was for the upcoming "March of Remembrance," a commemoration of the Holocaust. There was a hope that other Jewish organizations in the Tucsoncommunity would also be involved. The Congregational Leader, Steve Shermett welcomed those who were watching the service via the internet. ("Congregation Leader" is apparently the preferred title in the church over "Rabbi" or "Reverend.") He welcomed viewers from Canada, Texas, South Carolina, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, California, and the twelve watching in Tucson. (He challenged the people in Tucson who were online to come to the service the next week. It reminded me of watching Miss Mary Ann on Romper Room as a kid when she looked through the magic mirror and greeted home viewers by name. She never seemed to get to Dean.)

Children were then dismissed to their Shabbat Class called Club Maccabee.

The scripture for the sermon was I Corinthians 2, but Steve began the sermon with the story of how he came to Christ. He was raised in a Jewish home, but his parents divorced when he was fairly young and his mother married a Gentile. Steve still prepared for his Bar Mitzvahbut before the ceremony took place, he realized he didn't know whether he really believed in God. He decided he couldn't go through with it. His grandfather tried to bribe him with a gold Krugerrand -- which only made him more opposed to completing the ceremony.

Steve was looking for meaning, so he asked his mom if they had a Bible. Though his mom was a big reader with an extensive library, she didn't know if they did. They found one on her bookshelves and literally blew the dust off it. It was a publication from a Jewish organization (and, of course, just had the "Old Testament"). As he read the Scriptures, he came to realize he did believe in God. He did wonder what to do about the commands of Scripture for sacrifice ("Was I supposed to kill my dog?").

Out of high school, he got a job working with Christian believers. They challenged him to reread the Torah with Jesus in mind, as the Messiah. And he found passage after passage (from the plural voice of creation to Jacob's wrestling with God) that seemed best explained by the Christian worldview. But he still couldn't receive Christ and go against what he had been taught throughout his life.

Around this time, he had a dream of hell that shook him up. He prayed to receive Christ -- and he didn't have to tell his co-workers he'd done so. They could tell he had changed "by the glow" on his face. He began to read the New Testament (along with the Old) voraciously. He began to go door to door to share the Gospel. He joined Jews for Jesus. He eventually went for training at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago where he not only learned the Bible but also more about his Jewish religious heritage. He then came to Beth Sar Shalom where he has served for the last 25 years.

Steve says that God was faithful in showing Himself when Steve sought Him. He encouraged the congregation (and those viewing at home) to seek Him, for He would be faithful.

After the service, we had many opportunities to hear stories from the very friendly folks of the Beth Sar Shalom congregation. One of my favorites was from Janet, a woman who showed me some of the books and other items available in the Bistro, where coffee was also available after service. She was raised in a Jewish family, but not exactly an Orthodox one. Her mother would serve the family ham; Janet asked how she could do such a thing. Her mother told her it was "Kosher ham."

That term is nonsensical, of course. But some think the same of the  term "Jewish Christian." Nonetheless, Janet has lived as such a person for the last 23 years. Along with many other faithful believers she has proved that the phrase means very much. 

Miles from start: 765


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

2016 Memories: Wyoming

We want to recognize some of the wonderful people we met during 2016 whose stories didn't fit into Cheers and Amenthe book about our adventure of visiting a bar and a church in every state. To do that, we'll be sharing some of our favorite posts here. 

Backwards Distilling Company, Casper, Wyoming
originally posted 11/26/2016

To be honest, most of the bar recommendations we’ve gotten at churches have been lousy. We usually hit a bar in a state before we make it to church, but on occasion, we’ve gone to church first, and people at the church have told us where we should go. Sometimes we get recommendations like, “They make the best burgers!”

So in Wyoming, when a pastor told us we should try Backwards Distilling Company, we weren’t sold. And then, when we went to a Baptist Church for Thanksgiving dinner and a few people told us we should go to Backwards, we thought, “What do Baptists know about bars?” But then we went to a second Thanksgiving dinner (because, why just one Thanksgiving dinner?) at an Episcopal Church and people told us about Backwards Distilling Company. Well, when Episcopalians talk spirits, we listen.

So we went to forward to Backwards.

No one had mentioned clowns. There is a circus theme, and as you enter, there’s a cool ticket booth. There are circus pictures throughout, but the theme carried out in a tasteful way, and none of the pictures of clowns frightened me. Whew.

Backwards is a family operation for the Pollack Family. The “Back” in the title uses the family’s first initials (‘B’ for Bill the father, ‘A’ for Amber the daughter, ‘C’ for Chad the son and ‘K’ for Kathy the mother). Though no one in the family had been in the bar or distilling business before, they decided this was a business they could do together.

They opened just two years ago this December. The tasting room can legally serve only products of the distillery, which is in the same building. When the distillery opened, vodka was the only spirit distilled, so it was the only spirit served, and six vodka cocktails made up the entire menu.

Now that gin, rum, and moonshine have been added to the list, the cocktail options have greatly expanded. We had a wide variety of choices on our visit. Mindy greatly enjoyed her Mr. North, described in the menu as “The best adult hot chocolate you’ve ever had! Cinnamon Moonshine, hot chocolate, homemade whipped cream.” Mindy asked for regular moonshine instead of cinnamon. I chose from the Oddities section of the menu, going with “Zorilda’s First Act: Rich and mysterious with plenty of complexity. Rum, apple cider, molasses, lemon juice, almond orgeat, Angostura bitters.” It was also very good. There were many drinks that looked good on the menu, including several punches for sharing and two non-alcoholic options.

Samples of the spirits are also available (we tried the gin, the cinnamon moonshine, and the Ringleader vodka). The vodka is their best seller; right now it’s the spirit that pays the bills. The next best seller is the gin or the cinnamon moonshine (it’s close), followed by rum and then the straight moonshine.
In years to come, they also plan to sell whiskeys, but whiskey needs years to age. (Backwards expects to have whiskey for sale in 2017 or 2018). They hope to focus on American Whiskey and Four Grain Bourbon, but they continue other bourbon experiments. We saw a barrel of Choco Bourbon and “Franken Bourbon”. (Franken Bourbon is the combined leftovers of a variety of batches mixed together. They plan to sell it on Halloween once it’s ready. Each barrel is unique and can’t be reproduced.)

Chad, who has taken on many of the distilling responsibilities, is looking forward to producing absinthe. Chad’s sister Amber bought Chad a bottle of absinthe for his 21st birthday several years ago, and he’s been fascinated with the spirit ever since. Chad said people ask him why the family have a distillery instead of a winery or a brewery. “I’ve made beer and I’ve made wine, and I don’t like it. I love distilling.”  And as he said, they don’t have many grapes in Wyoming, but they have great barley (and beets and wheat).

The distillery is, of course, the heart of the business, but the tasting room is a wonderful element of the business. When Mindy and I came in, there wasn’t room at the bar. We went to a very comfortable side room with couches and chairs that tastefully suggested the circus theme.

Micky, one of the servers, allowed us to ask her our two standard questions. It was busy, so at that point she only had time to answer the first, “What makes for a good bar?”

Micky said, “Atmosphere is one thing. It dictates the kind of clientele you bring in and what kind of drinks you serve. Quality is the other thing -- consistency in drinks and service.”  

We also asked “What makes for a good church?” But she said she needed more time to think about it. Just about then, two seats at the bar opened up and another server had saved them for us, so we carried our drinks to the bar.

A couple next to us, Mandi and Dave, seemed to be regulars at Backwards. We asked what they liked in a bar, and Mandi expressed her appreciation for this place. “I like the atmosphere and good drinks. They play the music quietly, and it’s not the usual alternative or oldies.” She mentioned Billie Holiday as a typical musician, and said the music was “not too soft, not too loud.” She said the atmosphere at Backwards was “kind of original, with a warm and cozy feeling.”  

Dave said he appreciates a “knowledgeable staff” (Mandi said, “Can I add that foo?”)

Mandi also said she appreciates attentive but not overbearing staff who can help customers find a drink. She said, “Here, I’ve never had a drink I didn’t want to finish.”

As for what makes for a good church, Mandi said it would be where people “weren’t judgemental, who are open to different ideas” and “didn’t preach down your throat.”  
Dave said the church should have “the ability to practice what they preach” and actually do “love others.”  He added that churches should practice the Golden Rule.

Micky came back to us with her answer to our church question. She said, “It depends on the individual. If they want community, the church should be welcoming. If they’re looking for something spiritual, the church would have altars and a place to be quiet.”

Amber, of the Pollack family, was working behind the bar. I asked whether the family hired bar staff that had experience, and she said no. The family learned about the business through travel, study, and conferences. She said they expected their staff to learn the business as well, and that they had all trained together. Almost  all the staff has been with them for two years.

We asked Amber what she thought makes for a good bar. She said, “The warmth of the bar is important. Do people feel welcome? A cocktail menu can be intimidating.” She said the staff should make people feel as comfortable as possible and they need to make people feel safe in trying something new. Again she emphasized “the warmth factor.” She said that a bar should be a social hub. “That’s why we don’t have wifi or loud music. People should meet more people than just the people they came in with.” As for what makes for a good church, she said, “Basically the same thing. Do people feel safe? Do you feel comfortable pondering the big questions?”

We met Everett, another of the staff who’s been part of Backwards since the place opened. He’d worked in oilfields and been a manager in a grocery store before working at Backwards Distilling Company. He knew the owners, and they hired him. He likes bartending, but he also does marketing and sales. We asked him what makes for a good bar, and he said, “Quiet. I don’t like loud music. And they should have good quality, even if it is just one good signature drink. That’s what I go for.” As for what makes for a good church, he said they should be open minded. He was raised LDS and said, “They aren’t open minded at all. They should be treating everyone with respect.”

We came out of Backwards with a great deal of respect for the Pollacks who came up with this wonderful place, as Amber said, “directly out of our imagination.”  I’d have a hard time imagining a better place to go for a drink than Backward Distilling Company.