Monday, October 22, 2012

Murray Stenson Needs Our Help

I'm obviously not a cocktail blogger but since this little journal has a large majority of "cocktail" tags you can tell I like a libation. And so does Dayne. And so do most of our travel buddies. Because of this we rely on many recommendations from like minded connoisseurs and better yet, those in the biz, to aid us when we are on a world wide hunt for exceptional drinks.

No one has led us to more places, introduced us to more people and inspired more cross country and international liquor purchases than Murray Stenson.

Before this blog was around, Murray had pointed us to bartenders and bars in New York, Chicago, Boston, and elsewhere. 

Five years ago Murray pointed us to one of the only craft cocktail bars in London at the time, where we had our first 15£ drinks in a town of pints and gin and tonics. That bar remains a favorite and a recommendation to others heading across the pond.

Earlier that same year we traveled to New Orleans, where all things cocktail live, and rooted and cheered for Murray and Zig Zag as they won awards that put Seattle on the cocktail map. 
Murray & Amy @ Swizzle Stick
Three years ago while in Paris checking out a newish cocktail bar, I noticed they had a Last Word on the menu. When I struck up a conversation about the drink with the bartender she started to tell me about this great man named Murray from Seattle. I explained that I knew him and was going to be sure to tell him about the far reach of his resurrecting old cocktails. She was thrilled and he seemed amused by the retelling.

Later that same year we were in Japan and Murray asked if we could take friends of his, who were living in Tokyo, a bottle from him. We did and they also sent some bottles back for us and for him. We just served some of the Japanese brandy as an after dinner drink to friends last week.

These are just a few of the many, many, many connections and experiences we have had, being lucky enough to know Murray. Everyone has their story of his generosity, his kindness, his memory, his laugh. We are just two of thousands.

But the story now is this, Murray, like many others in the bar and restaurant industry, doesn't have medical insurance. When you have a cold, cut yourself or break a bone, that sucks. When you need heart surgery the suck factor increases tenfold. Murray needs heart surgery. And it goes without saying that he isn't able to work right now.

There's a MurrayAid Facebook page where you can find out about local events in which you will get to consume lovely cocktails at the finest bars and they will donate the proceeds. Please "like" the page and come join us at these events. There's also a Murrayaid.org site where you can donate directly. If you are lucky enough to know Murray or have heard a story about him I hope you will donate. And if you don't know Murray but are lucky enough to have ever met someone like this, I hope you will donate. As Dayne and I have found time and time again, it is a very small world, one that is made better by wonderful people.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Paris' Hidden Passages


One morning of walking was not going to take care of all the bread, wine, and cocktails, so on my last day in town Forest had planned a full day of exploring. A friend had sent her an article on the hidden passages of Paris so we set out to find these forgotten gems.
Paris
At the end of the 18th century, town planners build over 100 passages, covered shopping arcades in the spaces between larger buildings. These passages were a respite from the rain, mud and open sewage that the city was inundated with. They were beautifully adorned and many were connected, making them logical and pleasant routes for Parisians on their way to and from home. Time took its toll and many were forgotten, abandoned and left to crumble. Now only 20 survive, Forest and I set off to hit as many as we could.

We hadn't walked more than two blocks when we spied the Repetto shop, long known as the place for ballet shoes for professionals and also modern flats and heels for professional shoe shoppers. In we went and out we came, both with beautiful new patent leather heels. Ok, we are easily sidetracked.
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On the way to our first passage in the 10th we stopped at the smallest house in Paris. What had once been a passage of its own was turned into a ground floor shop with a room upstairs due to a family quarrel over possession. Blink and you could easily miss it!
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Passage Brady was our first on our list, it's comprised of Indian restaurants and shops selling fabric, spices, produce, etc. The first section of the passage wasn't covered and felt more like we had stumbled upon some cafe tables set up in an ally. The second section was more typical of the passages we would see throughout the day.
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We passed by but didn't go into the very Art Deco looking Passage du Prado, it's in the area of town where hundreds of hair extension salons are, you'll see the hair blowing down the streets. Weird. It is also just outside the arc at the Porte Saint-Denis.

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Over in the 2nd we arrived at Galerie Vivienne with it's stunning mosaic tiled floors and ornate architecture. The boutiques here, though closed for August, were very high end. We stopped in to Les Caves Legrand for a nice glass of wine and a peek around their cellar.

Across from Vivienne we stumbled upon two passages not on our list. Passage des 2 Pavillions, which was made up of only an adorable courtyard and two handmade shoe shops, and Passage Bourg l'Abbe which had many businesses but all of them closed.

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 We walked over to the 1st arrondissement and entered the recently restored Passages du Grand-Cerf, not far from Rue Montorgueil. A high end florist, a few antique shops and a cute little wine bar cheekily named Le Pas Sage (the naughty boy) all had residence.
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The Passage du Cair is not only a working garment district but it is the oldest of all the passages, opened in 1799. We passed store fronts of mannequins, bolts of fabrics and men pushing racks of clothing from one end to the other. There were many side passageways and a 2nd level with apartments above the shops.
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Passage des Panoramas is the second oldest, since 1800, and the first to have gas lamps. It has more than it's fair share of wine bars, including the much lauded Les Racines. It's bustling with locals and tourists alike and has a few separate branches that lead off in various directions.
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Exciting on Boulevard Montmartre, we crossed into the 9th and directly into Passages Jouffroy. Surrounded by touristy restaurants and shops this was the most busy of them all. Amongst other stores there is a funny wax museum, a store entirely for walking sticks, a book seller and two hotels, including a Best Western.
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And again here, when we exited we were directly across from our last passage, Passage Verdeau. It's easy to see how these connected the city. They are truly fantastic little spaces.
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I couldn't help notice more than once, that these passages were right near other things I'd been to time and again. Passage du Caire for instance, is just down the street from Frenchie Wine Bar. All these passages are hidden in plain sight, you just have to look for their entrances, and it was surprising that we found a few on our own once we started noticing. We found 10 and I'm planning on finding the other 10 in subsequent trips.

We ended our very full day of walking in another hidden spot, the back terrace of the Hotel Amour, were we each had a glass of something cool while surrounded by lush greenery.  

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All the passages photos are in here
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Promenade Your Partner


Between all that lounging around in the South of France and all the good eating and drinking in Paris, I needed to burn off a few wedges of cheese! During my trip in 2009, on the way to meet friends at Le Baron Rouge in the 12th, I spotted a funny old raised train platform with various flowers and greenery. Forest told me it was the Promenade Plantee and I told her I wanted to check it out one year. Viola!
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The walk is just under 3 miles and almost spans the entire 12th. There is so much to look at! Like this building with the (many) reproductions of Michelangelo's "The Slave".
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Most of it is on this viaduct but at other parts you drop down to the ground and walk a bit past businesses and shops. The assortment of plants are super pretty and there's even a big bamboo grove.
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It takes you past, over and through interesting buildings, neighborhoods, tunnels and a larger park. It's a great stroll, especially if you have a couple of nice meals you are working off!
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Paris pics

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Hot Days in the South of France

Is there anything more romantic sounding than heading for a holiday in the south of France? Images of lavender and sunflower fields, tiny stone villages hugging hillsides looking down on great vineyards.

That is exactly what it is like and if you get the chance you should absolutely grab a few friends, rent a house or a chateau, and enjoy this amazing region. I was very lucky to go for the third time this summer and since I've visited a few of the regions' picturesque towns in the past, I was looking forward to just soaking up the sun and catching up with friends.

I flew into Paris CDG, upgrading to Delta's Economy Comfort section which was good for the money but not great, and caught the TGV train right from the airport to Avignon. It couldn't have been easier. Friends Nicola and Luke had generously invited me to come and join the fun at the house they had rented for the month of August when they heard I'd be visiting Forest in Paris.

Forest and Thibault picked me up from the station and we drove the short distance to Villeneuve les Avignon. I hadn't even really asked where the house was and it was funny to see that it was just outside the small town that we had lunch in the last time we were down there. Also staying at the house were Clidhna and Declan who I had heard about for years but somehow always seemed to miss them while in Paris.

It was hot as blazes and as soon as I was given a tour of the crazy house we'd all be sharing, lunch was served with chilled rose on the back patio. This was the first of a week of meals outside and it was fabulous.

I had planned to eat lunch and then take a nap to make up for the lack of sleep on the plane but one glass of rose turned into two and the cool pool was a stronger lure than the bed. That night we grilled hamburgers for dinner. In the south of France. Funny!

The rest of the week was spent very much like that first afternoon. I'd sleep in and get up to 90+F degree weather and immediately put on a swimsuit. Make some tea, have a croissant from the bakery down the street and then dive in the cool clean pool. We'd all lounge around while the cicadas made quite a din. There were races in the pool, diving contests and many trashy magazine swaps. We'd make a little salad for lunch, break out the rosie wine and return to the pool.

In the evenings Forest would make cocktails and we'd have them with an assortment of delicious cheeses and saucisson sec, the boys would fire up the grill or Nic would roast a chicken, Clidhna would put together a fabulous tomato salad and then we'd all stay up much too late chatting, drinking and sometimes singing with Dec acting as DJ (turns out the Irish love a good duet!).

I think in the week at the house I left it 4 times. Once, I walked to the grocery store for more wine. It was across the street. Another time Luke dropped Forest, Thibault and I off in the town center of Villeneuve les Avignons to enjoy a bottle of wine at a really good little olive oil producer, while he took the kids to a playground.

On my second day in town Nic had planned a girl's wine lunch in Chateaneuf du Pape at Chateau des Fines Roche. Declan was a gem and drove us giggly girls, which was about a 30 minute ride thru crazy, twisty, turny, tiny roads in Luke's car which drives on the wrong side! The chateau had an incredible terrace with stunning views of the surrounding vineyards and far off in the distance, Avignon.

We spent the next four hours tasting thru a few bottles of the regions best. The lunch was good but the wine was fantastic. We started with a pretty blanc and then moved onto the reds, the manager actually asked me who was driving as I ordered the 5th bottle. When I explained that we had a "driver" coming he was all too happy to grab another bottle from the cellar, the lunch service long over.

Dec arrived with Naoise and after a dish of icecream for the tot we made our way back to the house, now even more giggly with wine! If ever there was a perfect afternoon...

And the last time I left the house was the end of our time in the south. Forest, Thibault, Nic and I went for a lovely lunch on the banks of the Rhone River before 3 of us headed back to Paris. Thibault picked a great restaurant with a fantastic terrace and wonderful views of the partial bridge and the river. Le Bercait has a very traditional menu with all the southern flavors such as tapanade, ratatouille, artichokes, etc. It was the perfect ending to an incredibly relaxing and fun week.

Thanks to my friends for their generosity!! Until the next time!

Photos
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