Good News: no smoking in Shanghai taxis

Bad News: apparently the driver is an exception




The bartender wears a white jacket and bow tie as he sets my IPA on a linen coaster. The bar is solid wood and the varnish is so thick it would probably repel a meteorite, and certainly the skull of any smart-mouth drunk who might get wise with a bartender. The room is dark, but not oppressively so. Behind the bar and above a triple-rank of underlit bottles of top-shelf hooch is a huge mural of a speakeasy, rising fifteen feet toward the two-story ceiling.

There is jazz playing, and real conversations. The only things out of place in the entire joint are my mobile phone, which feels like an unforgivable anachronism, and my bare head. I hide the phone in my pocket and yearn for a good Fedora to set on the bar as the jazz plays a seductive tune on my deep memories.

I pull out my notebook and start to write. The pen has never felt better, and I have time-slipped back to about 1947, maybe 1937. I keep my stool, ordering my desert dry vodka martini dirty, up, and shaken. I don’t want to turn my head, because I know sure as Hell that Sam Spade is sitting at the corner table under the stairs, like me waiting for a client.

The frosted window in the front door darkens. My client, in the company of a competitor, hasn’t arrived yet, but the meeting has already changed. I feel the tough guy surfacing, Spade now sitting next to me, telling me things can play the way I want them, and everyone will be better off for it. The door creaks and my client walks in.

I rise and greet the two women, and something or someone behind me whispers “order something tough, like the steak. Tough guys don’t order the petrale sole.”

The maitre’d greets us, picks up three large leather-bound menus, and leads us upstairs.

And the scene begins.

S. Patrick’s Revenge

The sun retreats behind the bricks of Fort Mason, but I barely notice the change in the room. The wood panels, the yellowed clippings, the dark oak tables glow under the lamps, and at the center of my vision sits a drink that almost defies me with its noxious smell.

It is an Irish Coffee.

Scratch that.

This is no ordinary Irish Coffee. This, as legend has it, is THE Irish Coffee, the original Columbio-Celtic concoction delivered as and where it was introduced to these shores sixty-odd years ago, thence to become a late-night mainstay of bars around America in a range of bastardized forms. I have had “Irish Coffee” a few times before and have even tried my own hand at making them, but after swilling consistently Gawd-awful concoctions of bar coffee and Bailey’s Irish Cream, I had developed a gag-reflex at the very mention of the drink.

And yet, here I am, at The Buena Vista. The salad and fish & chips are in my belly. All that is left is for me to sample the cocktail for which this pub is famous.

The drink is before me, alternately tempting and repulsive.

I gird myself, and take a sip.

The first taste is ridiculously smooth.

I cock my head. A fluke, surely. And sip again.

And it is even better.

My body and mind transform, turn inside out. I suddenly love whiskey and corned beef. My inhibitions leave me like they’re late for a train.

Another, longer sip. Well, okay, a slurp.

I check. All communications with my toes have been lost, and the lines are falling throughout my lower body. Somebody call the SFPD and the Coast Guard: there is an emergency here.

The hotel is two blocks away. I’m not sure I’ll make it. But at least I won’e feel cold.

I shake myself a bit, reluctantly discarding the temptation to have another while I still have a sense of direction. You know, like which way is up.

It’s 7:30pm, and I just barely retain the common sense to dread the dawn.

Now I know why people shouldn’t drink alone, and why we go into bars. With a drink like this, much less two, one cannot afford to be unsupervised at any time.

I pick up my notebook and rise slowly from the table. With great deliberation, I push my chair back in, straighten up, and walk carefully out the door and down the steps, and turn toward Hyde. I’m not walking, but floating on a mist of whiskey, cream and coffee.

Even Indoors

The air conditioner in the Beijing office crapped out. The solution: open the windows for a few breaths of a breeze.

Unfortunately, that breeze comes with particulates. My colleague Max wears a respirator mask and, like the rest of my colleagues, keeps an air purifier humming next to the desk.

A functioning air-conditioner would make things better, and we’re working on that. nonetheless, I suspect that even if we kept our office at 68º F/20ºC, the masks would stay on.

Coffee Mug of the Month: The Cherry of Seattle

Not far from Pioneer Square in Seattle is the Cherry Street Coffee House, a hidden oasis of superb coffee and healthy eats.

Sure, there are plenty of little joints scattered around Seattle, but I keep finding myself going back to this one. Cherry Street also boasts one of those bohemian dining areas that beg you to sit down, pull out your laptop or your Moleskine, and start creating.

That it’s a block from my company’s Seattle office, a block from my preferred hotel, and a block from the LINK light rail line to Sea-Tac make it one of the best-located writer’s nooks on my list anywhere.

I think it’s time to cook up a reason for a deductible junket…