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
"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.
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.
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).
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.
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".)
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.
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."
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.
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."
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 Jalapeño 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.