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Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Cocktail Hour - Cincinnati Pub Crawl

Kicking off our Midwest Baseball Tour last year, we started with an impromtu pub crawl along the Ohio River.  The "Cincinnati" part of the title is a bit misleading, it's actually in Newport, Kentucky at the Levee District, just across the river from The Great American Ballpark, home of the Reds.

Watch the Video!

We started before the baseball game going on that night so we got a lot of the pre-game party flavor.  We didn't go to the game that night (our tickets were for the next day), so we stayed behind at a bar called Bulldogs, watching the game on TV.  That was a bit surreal, the actual game was a thousand feet away.  We could here it both from the stadium and on TV.

So here is the crawl.  We start off at a place called the Beer Sellar, which sits on a floating barge in the river that it shares with Hooters.  There's a large patio crowded with baseball fans getting ready for the game with their two-dollar Huddy Light specials.  They will soon depart for the game on a ferry that leaves right from the barge.

Next, it's over to a branch of Munich's famous Hofbrauhaus, just up the street, where we sample their delicious beers in about as authentic of a German beer garden you'll find in the states.  It's not quite up to Munich quality but darn good for over here.  We sample the hefeweizen, dunkel, and meibier.

Ending up the crawl, we're at Bulldog's where we try the Shafly wheat and rasberry ale from St. Louis and the house brand light beer, pretty good and a deal during the game at $2.50 for a 24 oz. mug.

We enjoyed them all, probably the Hofbrau brands the best.  Enjoy the video.

Copyright 2010

Friday, April 29, 2016

Game Day in Oakland, California

There are two facilities I need to bitch and moan about while we were in the Bay Area. First, was our hotel in Pleasanton. While I usually show you in great detail the features of the rooms we stay in, this one was just unnacceptable for wheelchairs.

Watch the Video!

While I got a confirmed ADA compliant room, the first room they put us in had no accessible features at all.

"You needed an accessible room?" I was asked, while I stood there with confirmed reservation in hand and son in wheelchair beside me when I went to complain.

We were re-assigned to an accessible room with a roll-in shower. Here's the shower:

Notice the 6 inch lip to get over and the glass door that's too narrow to fit through.  This is a newer hotel in a very liberal area.  That's their idea of an accessible room with a roll-in shower.  The pool did have a lift, however.

On Memorial Day weekend, it proved impossible to rebook so we just had to live with it. We're currently negotiating with the company to get our points back for this reward stay. (Note: Hyatt did restore our points plus gave us 1,000 point bonus for our trouble.)

Second, but not nearly as bad, is Coliseum in Oakland. Widely regarded, with reason, as Major League Baseball's worst, ugliest, and outdated stadium.

They share the park with football's Raiders, who forced an ugly, large seating section in the outfield common derided as "Mt. Davis" as a fitting tribute to the football team's owner.

The concourse is cramped, lines go on forever, and accessible seat sight lines are impaired by an overhead and concrete columns.

In short, a miserable piece of sports architecture.

The good news is you don't really notice it. As much as it pains an Angels fan like me to say it, the A's are a darn good team in 2014 and extremely well managed, the beer selection is fantastic, and the pre-game tailgating isn't bad either (check out Tim and I doing a little of that at the top of this post).
(Note 2: The A's were doing good, fantastic as a matter of fact, until Billy Beane traded Yoenis Cespedes away a couple of weeks later and the team went downhill fast and faded out of the playoff picture.)

The game play is great and the slugging grand, as in a grand slam that put the game away for good over the Detroit Tigers ending with a score of ten nothing for the A's.

With that, our time in the Bay ends. We'll be back with new travels soon, stick around!

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 25, 2016

A Sunny Sunday by the Bay: San Francisco

It's been awhile since we've actually set foot in the City by the Bay...the last time we were actually, technically in San Francisco was when we drove through at the end of our Napa Valley adventure, which you can see in the video.

In 2005, we visited to go to a Giants game and add AT&T Park to our Major League baseball stadiums visited. Way back in 1998, we visited Alcatraz and Tim got to go on the set of a TV show at the Maritime Museum.

Watch the Video!

We don't have a lot of time but we do have a whole day to spend here.

It's not far from the none-to-accessible hotel we had to stay at in Pleasanton to the BART station. It's the end of the line so the trip takes us 45 minutes across the East Bay, Oakland, then under the bay to the Embarcadero station.

Upstairs, we catch one of the historic trolleys of MUNI's F line to get us to Ghiradelli Square. Tomorrow is Memorial Day and this first weekend of the summer travel season finds us elbow-to-elbow with other travelers.

A little over an hour since our train departed Pleasonton, we're at the destination of Taylor and Beach Streets, between Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, except we can't get off the trolley yet.  Another trolley...who's driver is on a blocking the wheelchair ramp and our driver decides that's a good reason and time to go visit the bathroom.

For a few minutes, it's just the three of us on an empty, antique trolley.

Our first stop is to be the Buena Vista bar, home of the Irish coffee, across from the cable car turnaround. We cannot find an accessible entrance, although my wife thinks there could be a way through the kitchen. Nevertheless, the place is packed and we don't want to spend our time pushing in and waiting for a table.

The Buena Vista is scratched.

Instead, we head to Ghirardelli Square and McCormick and Kuleto's, a branch of the McCormick and Schmidt's chain, to try the Irish coffee in their bar. It is good and comes with a stunning view too.

You can see more from here and our other San Francisco drinking spots in our San Francisco Pub Crawl Cocktail Hour article and video.

Outside, while Letty browses one of the shops, Tim and I talk with a concierge who shows us which of the buildings used to house the chocolate factory (which moved in 1963). In exchange, I told her about the ruins of Domingo Ghirardelli's first U.S. chocolate factory that we'd found in the Gold Rush town of Hornitos.

Kara's Kupcakes was nearby and Letty was still in the store, so Tim and I sampled the Red Velvet and Carrot Cake varieties to our mutual pleasure. When Letty came out, we went to the chocolate store to buy some, then to the ice cream bar where Letty and Tim shared a sundae.

After, it was some street wandering around North Beach and Russian Hill before we went back to the trolley and the Ferry Building at the end of Market Street.  One more stop there for a crowded dinner at Gott's Roadside, a bathroom break at a nearby Hyatt, then back on the BART for the trip back to Pleasanton.

Tomorrow it's baseball...stay tuned.

Copyright 2014 - Darryl Musick

Pictures Copyight 2014 - Letty Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Cocktail Hour: San Fransicso Pub Crawl

Coming off of a 5 month travel hiatus, we'll celebrate with a pub crawl through one of the United States' most interesting cities. Since it's much easier to navigate this city without a car, that makes our limitations a bit less.

Accessibility, however, puts some of those limits back on as we find no way in to our first planned stop, the Buena Vista which is the originator of the Irish Coffee. 

Watch the Video!

It's a long trip via BART and MUNI trains from our hotel in Pleasanton, so we're thirsty. Luckily, I remember a bar from another trip far in the past nearby in Ghirardelli Square.  

At McCormick and Kuleto's (part of the McCormick and Schmick's chain), we are able to indulge in our Irish Coffee. It's much better than I remember the Buena Vista's version to be, too.

Another benefit of drinking at McCormick and Kuleto's is the wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling views of the San Francisco Bay. From the Golden Gate Bridge on the left to Alcatraz on the right, the scenery is stunning.

Fifteen minutes of walking will get you to our next stop on the crawl, my favorite neighborhood bar in the city. La Rocca's Corner sits in a flatiron shaped building on the corner of Columbus and Taylor.  

It's a bit a of dive but a friendly one. I've never been here without getting into some great conversations with the locals.

Bartender Sil, who's been here for over 30 years, will be drinking with you and is happy to tell you the history of the place.

No longer owned by the La Rocca Family, who's only survivor is near 90 and suffers from dementia, the new owners are still interested in not changing a thing about this drinkers paradise.

We have a couple of shots chased by a hefeweizen for Letty and an ale for me.  The drinks are great, the company at the bar even better.

Our last stop is probably the most disappointing of the three. Gott's Roadside is a hamburger stand in Napa Valley. They's expanded to include a new location here in the city at the old Ferry Building at the end of Market Street.

The beers are good, as are the burgers, but are way overpriced at this crowded and very noisy location. Although we enjoyed the Napa location, this one is more of a mall food court atmosphere and not nearly as nice.

As a bonus, we tasted some beers at the Colosseum the next day which, although a decrepit and outdated facility, has an outstanding array of beers on tap.  The better so you don't notice what a crap hole the stadium is.



Friday, April 22, 2016


We've been covering our home state of California with a summer long series of reports up and down the Golden State. That summer long tour concludes today with the finale of our trip to the Monterey Peninsula and the cities of Carmel, Pacific Grove, and Monterey. Hope you had fun on this trip, be sure to let us know via the comment link at the end of the report.

In Part One of our Monterey Peninsula trip, we dodged poison oak to get breathtaking ocean views, had breakfast in a patio across the street from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and walked the streets of Carmel. Now on to part two...

The next morning we have an even better breakfast at Toasties, a comfortable and cozy diner parked in an old house in downtown Pacific Grove on Lighthouse Avenue.

Omelets filled with chorizo and avocado accompanied with silver dollar pancakes, along with French toast for Letty, make a great start to the day.

Monterey Peninsula Video

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Passionfish…our favorite area dinner house…is across the street. Tim, having heard us rave about it for years, says he wouldn’t mind giving it a try.

This is a surprise as Tim would not usually volunteer to eat at a mainly seafood restaurant.

Our plan today was to go to the fair and load up on the fair food as our lunch and dinner. This throws a happy kink into our plans as I was lamenting not being able to eat there this trip.

“If I can get a reservation, we’ll go for dinner,” I tell Tim and Letty.

Walking across the street, I see there’s no one inside. There’s not a phone number printed on the sign or the menu posted on the door. Should we just try our luck later…on a Saturday night…to see if they have a table available?  Sounds very iffy to me.

Letty goes to a stand of newspaper machines nearby and pulls out one of the local freebie flyers. We’re in luck…Passionfish has an ad in it with their phone number.

Driving off to the fair, I call the number and leave a reservation request on their voice mail.

We get to the fairgrounds about a half hour before opening at noon. Even now, there is no parking available at all. Probably due to the fact that this facility has no parking lot…it’s all adjacent street parking.

Remote parking is available…with a wheelchair accessible shuttle too…but we could not find any confirmation at the time that the shuttle was available. We end up parking about a quarter mile away on a side street and walk in.

The fairgrounds here are small, a long narrow strip about two blocks long. There are exhibit buildings and a kids carnival at one end, a lot of food and drink booths clustered around the entrance in the middle, and the animal exhibits, the main carnival, and an arena at the other end.

The arena, quiet while we’re there, is also home of the historic Monterey Jazz Festival which has featured some great performances over the years including Jimi Hendrix’s historic performance back in the 60’s.

After watching a local dance troupe perform, we wander around a few exhibit buildings ending up at the Agriculture building where, in  addition to seeing blue ribbon winning produce, there’s a farmers market stand where you can actually buy the produce…pretty cheaply too!

I get a quartered navel orange in a plastic bag for a quarter. Nearby is a table giving away samples of berries.  Strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries…all very delicious and, even better, free.

Back in the mid section, the local high school wrestling team sells fried calamari. It’s sort of a famous tradition here at this fair. I’m not a seafood lover but I buy some for Tim and Letty, who seem to really like it. I try a piece, just to shut them up. It’s good…really good.  I want more. It’s some of the best fair food I’ve ever had.

We get to the other end of the fair to check out the animals. Cows lick our hands, goats climb up the side of their pens hoping for a neck scratch, and lambs want to see what we smell like.

It’s all a lot of fun…just wish they had better parking.

After a fun-filled day at the fair, we head over to Passionfish for dinner. We’d gotten a call while at the fair saying the only time they could seat us was 5:30 so off we went.

Dinner was excellent and it’s nice to see how this place has taken off over the years. I see we’re not the only ones who think it’s the best the area has to offer.

With plates of scallops, braised lamb, and duck confit preceded by an appetizer of prosciutto wrapped dates, we were overwhelmed with the deep flavors and fun atmosphere of Passionfish.

One more night, but in the morning it’s time to pack and make that long drive back to L.A.

Copyright 2011 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 18, 2016

MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA - Looking Beyond the Usual

The trail had lead to a bluff precariously perched about fifty feet above the breakers and rocks below. It was smooth and wide enough for the wheelchair to roll easily and avoid the hedges on each side that appeared to be about halfway composed of poison oak.

A mild enough scare watching Tim navigate his way out through that bit of a challenge and the wooden railings at the edge were enough to bring my parent’s worrying pulse rate down a bit.

Monterey Bay Video

Watch the Video!

Beyond, however…where the ocean had eaten away at the edge...the railing gave way to rope strung across metal stakes about ten feet apart.

“We’re not finishing the loop,” I told my wife. “We’ll go back the way we came.”

There are two wheelchair accessible trails here at the Point Lobos State Park in Carmel, California. Not enough parking in general and especially in regards to handicapped spaces, I pull halfway into a regular spot so I can unload Tim from the van, then pull the rest of the way in.

It was the last spot left. If I didn’t do that, I’d have no place to park and the ten dollar entrance fee would have just been for a short, but scenic drive through the park.

The trail was nicely maintained and a park docent was set up with a spotting scope pointing out to sea. He was very helpful and maneuvered the tripod to where Tim could roll up and get a close-up look at the hundreds of sea lions lounging on an offshore rock.

This was the second day of a Labor Day getaway for us to the Monterey Peninsula. We’ve come up here many times and thought we’d come up for an end of summer trip pegged to the Monterey County Fair, which runs a week or so from the end of August to just after Labor Day.

The hotel for this trip was the Rosedale Inn in Pacific Grove, just a block from the ocean sitting on the backside of Asilomar State Park and Conference Center.

Our room had a king size bed, queen size sofabed, tub with bench and shower hose, roll-under sink, fireplace, free wifi, and a big open area to wheel around in. What it didn’t have were any extra seats which would have come in handy for friends that were visiting us there.  It did have an expansive outdoor deck adjacent to the room that served that particular function well.

After sleeping off the long drive from L.A…made longer by a meal stop in Bakersfield and more traffic than we bargained for…we have a delicious and lingering breakfast at First Awakenings.

Technically in Pacific Grove, but just across the street from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, we feast on crepes, crab benedict, and French toast on their outdoor patio while the nearby fire pit helps chase away the morning chill.

After our hike, we spend a little time in downtown Carmel. Cute, charming, and full of shops, it’s nice but a little shopping goes a long way for Tim and I.

There's more to come, stay tuned for part 2...coming soon!

Copyright 2011 - Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 17, 2016

THE COCKTAIL HOUR: Whiskey, Women, and Song

Well, two out of three isn't bad. You can find the song over at our sister blog, "Musick's Music." The whiskey is below.

Tim and I have had requests to do a whiskey tasting for the Cocktail Hour. This week, we come through.

We're tasting four reasonably priced spirits plus a very popular guest star.

Watch the Video!

We start with Rebel Yell, a straight Kentucky bourbon from Louisville. It's smooth and tasty. We'll use that as our base to compare the other three. Rebel Yell is available from Trader Joe's in the$11-12 range.

Our first comparison is White Rabbit from the good people of Lynchburg, Tennessee at the Jack Daniel's distillery.  It's also very tasty and smooth. Smoother that the classic Jack Daniels, if I'm remembering right.

Next, it's Red and Blackie...Johnnie Walker Red and Black labels. Although the Black is aged 12 years, we didn't enjoy either as much as the first two.

As for the special guest? You'll have to watch the video above for that one.



Friday, April 15, 2016

Historic Dining: Eating in Some of the West's Oldest Restaurants

Snow flurries make wispy clouds across the pavement. Train passengers are told the Truckee Pass is closed with heavy snow and they’ll have to make due here on a cold Reno night until the California Zephyr can continue on the rails to Oakland.

Wearily, a passenger wanders down the street from the downtown station until he sees a cheap, basic looking hotel. Getting a clean but Spartan room for the night, the desk clerk tells him dinner is served downstairs starting at 5:00.

Showing up early, he has a stiff cocktail at the bar before being shown to a seat at a long table in the next room.  Other stranded strangers are seated with him at the table, even though the room is more empty than full. A pitcher of red wine and glasses are on the table for the diners to help themselves to and to lubricate the dinner banter.

As polite conversations start up, the food is brought out. The pea soup is exquisitely hot on this cold night. The large salad bowl has more than enough for everybody. The beans are savory. And, what’s this?  Small, thin strips of meat are served with jack cheese.

“Pickled tongue,” the server explains.

With wrinkled nose, but curious, the traveler takes a bite.  “Delicious,” he admits.

Thick lamb chops are brought, some of the best he’s ever had. After dessert, sated and maybe just a bit tipsy, the tired traveler sleeps easily until the train can resume its trip over the mountains to the San Francisco bay.

Scenes like this have played out for over a century in Nevada’s other city but at one place, you can still get a taste of that experience. The old Santa Fe Hotel, behind the mammoth Harrah’s casino, still rents basic rooms and still serves a seemingly endless Basque meal…family style…in its unchanged dining room.

This is a bit of history that you can experience now. It’s not recreated, it’s not trendy… it’s just the way it’s always been.

I like to call it historical dining.

One of my favorite ways to eat is to find these old gems and have a meal the same way diners did 30, 40, maybe even 100 years or more ago. California (and a bit of Nevada) is sprinkled with such geriatric establishments.

On the corner of Geary and Van Ness lies the 70ish year old Tommy’s Joynt. It’s basically just a beer and sandwich hall.  Locals come in to get roast beef, sliced to order, and a cheap beer to wash it down.

Not fancy or pricy, but just good, solid food served the same way today as it was when it opened in 1947. Where else in The City are you going to get a solid sandwich and a mug of Anchor Steam for less than $12? The ancient dining hall and quirky décor are just gravy on top of that.

While you may not want to drink your lunch, La Rocca’s Corner in San Francisco is an old dive bar with legends about mob hits and nefarious doings in its back rooms and basements. Don’t worry about food, though. The owner usually puts out a spread that the bar flies help themselves to.

It is a true and authentic dive and the crowd here is among the friendliest you’ll find.  Not much has changed in this circa 1934 bar. Leo Larocca is no longer with us, so he doesn’t play is guitar or accordion in the corner anymore and there are a couple of TVs for sports.

You’ll still find Sy behind the bar dishing out drinks, feisty banter, and hugs for the ladies.

Going east, up high into the Sierras near Lake Tahoe, you'll find the Gold Rush era Kirkwood Inn near the ski resort of the same name on highway 88, the Carson Pass.

Since 1864, this little cabin has been keeping high country travelers warm and well fed. Have some prime rib or a satisfying sandwich as you belly up to the same bar that Kit Carson and Snowshow Thompson sat at.

Down in the Central Valley, ice cream fans can satisfy their sweet tooth at a couple of century old creameries.

Superior Dairy in Hanford dishes out giant servings of a few flavors in their ancient shop across from the town square. Their SOS sundae is truly a sight to see.

Bakersfield’s Dewars Ice Cream and Candies has a more extensive menu in both its original location downtown and a new, more modern branch on the west side of highway 99.

Philippe’s in downtown Los Angeles is well into its second century of serving its signature French dip sandwiches (which are said to have been invented here but an equally old Cole’s nearby begs to differ) is still the place where you sit with strangers on long tables, sawdust on the floor, with a news and candy stand by the door.

Expert servers at the counter serve such delicacies as purple pickled eggs and pig’s feet from an extensive menu. And the hot mustard, oh-the hot mustard, on each table takes that basic sandwich to new heights.

Down at the beach, the Bull Pen still serves a thick and delicious prime rib in a 65 year old dining room disguised behind a dive bar in Redondo Beach.  Locals come early to imbibe and hear corny jokes from the bartender.

Well hidden in a Redondo Riviera strip mall on a block progress has passed by, somehow people find it and fill it up every night. Some of them might even be the original customers.

For more refined tastes, hungry customers head east to Rancho Cucamonga where the 1848 era Sycamore Inn delights with its steak Dianne and extensive wine list while its younger (only 70+ years) neighbor, the Magic Lamp, serves superb crab cake, steaks, and chops in its wonderfully whimsical building…built by the Clearman family of Northwoods Inn fame…fronted by a large lamp shaped sign, belching out real flames nightly.

While in the Inland Empire, after spending a day on Route 66, tasting olives from the historic Graber farm in Ontario or sipping wine from the old Galleano Winery in Mira Loma, we like to end our day as we started this story, with another Basque meal at the old Centro Basco in Chino.

Also starting life as a boarding house for lonely shepherds from the old country, the almost 80 year old restaurant has shed its rooms-for-rent, although it kept the handball court out back for pickup games. 

Run by the heirs of the Basque family that has owned it for generations, it also has dinners with others at long tables but most customers these days prefer the more traditional restaurant seating in the back half of the restaurant.

Again, diners are brought out heaping bowls of soup (their split pea is among the best I’ve had), salad, cheese, beans, pasta, vegetables, and entrée.  Tongue is only by request here but is also one of the best things on the menu.

These are just a few of the dozens of old, sometimes musty, dining and drinking rooms sprinkled throughout the west. You may find one of your own on a slow road trip sometime.

With all the establishments listed here, one of the best things is sitting back with your full stomach, reveling in the unchanged dining experience that you’re amazed still exists in this modern age.

© 2016 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved