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Last time we stayed at “chez fu” in Ann Arbor it was May. And it was 2016. This time it is 16 degrees and 2019 in March. Brrr.

This trip is a quick hit to catch up, give a talk, and experience some winter. Nevertheless, we did fit in a few cocktails (and some fernet) at Nightcap. This visit, all of the drinks were too sweet. We’ll blame the nephew for that.

And yes, that is a piece of carbonized (charcoal’ed?) marshmallow on that cocoa-like thing we failed to finish. At least the fernet was good (??) and there was real Williamn Larue Weller 2016 in the house.

Dinner at Tomkun BBQ was delicious and chock full of meat.

Zingerman’s deli</a for lunch is an Ann Arbor must.

No hard labor on the outdoor bread oven was required of this visit, probably because our brick was confiscated by TSA.

Here we are again in a university town, this time Ann Arbor. This town is great. Books, coffee, food, cocktails. Almost everything you need, but still no good hotel.

The Residence Inn is a Marriott property, and it is brand new. It’s pretty much what you would expect of a mid-tier mid-market Marriott hotel. Shiny suburban fake is the style. NPS has different style.

When the reservation was made, we requested a high floor and a Panoramic City View Suite. The first room we were assigned was 414 which is ADA formatted. When asking for a non-ADA configured room instead were assigned down to 214. The rooms are almost exactly identical. Moving down was a big mistake because traffic noise starts at 5am. Alas.

So much for the high floor request.

The manager, having heard tell of checkin problems, was very gracious. We had a nice chat. His valet staff is super.

The view from 214 says it all

The room is filled with lots of shiny new veneer cheap furniture that looks better than it feels when you use it. The suite includes a kitchenette.

Entry hallway kitchenette

desk room

desk room couch

View from the bed to a nice bank of windows

large (impersonal) bathroom

The real problem is the shower, which is partially glass and partially plastic. It is open to the huge bathroom without a glass door. Cold air makes for a less than stellar shower experience.

shower. not approved

Anyway, we knew what we were getting into when we agreed to come to Ann Arbor. Apparently, there is a copy of The Graduate here too BTW. Sure wish university towns had better hotel kung fu!

Dinner at Mikette was delicious. Great service.

The cocktail scene in Ann Arbor remains vibrant. A Sunday night visit to Nightcap was optimal in all respects. Andy was a blast behind the bar.

Because there was Handy in the house, we present, The Handy Handy
1.75 Thomas Handy Rye
.3 oz Del’erborista ultra-bitters
.3 carpano antica
2 dashes scrappy aromatic
Stir. Strain. Express orange peel and drop in.

Three showerheads for the Residence Inn in Ann Arbor. Dang university towns.

Perhaps this is a trend. Hopefully not! Anyway, NPS finds itself in another city not staying in a hotel. What?! The reason this time has to do with the rather appalling state of hotels in Ann Arbor. For example, these hotels.

There is still plenty of information that NPS readers can benefit from WRT Ann Arbor. So here it is.

First of all, there seems to be some kind of underground bread oven thing going on.

Bread oven

Bread oven

And, not following the Mason-derived construction rules can lead to hard labor.

For a supremely good brunch (especially on a Sunday) try either location of Cafe Zola.

Excellent Cuban food can be found at Frita Batidos.

Finally, there are some reasonable cocktails to be had at Mash.

The Ravens Club has an outstanding bourbon and rye collection, including George T Stagg, Hirsch 74, and Thomas Handy.

Ravens Club bar

Ravens Club bar

Though dinner at Logan was truly outstanding in all respects (fantastic food, super bar, very good wine list, top notch service), we were left with a sour taste in our mouth when one of the owners (there are three) stopped the bar from providing us a recipe for a cocktail before heading out the door. Fuck that. In our view here at NPS, keeping recipes and techniques secret is the domain of children and assholes. Don’t be one.

Logan's cute little bar

Logan’s cute little bar

The attempt failed.

Here’s how to make a None More Black
1.5 oz black sesame infused blackstrap Cruzan rum
.75 oz cocchi americano apertivo
.5 oz root
Stir down, strain into coupe, express orange peel and balance.

The Last Word on a Tuesday

The Last Word on a Tuesday

At the quasi-underground Last Word, we had a Last word (it was almost chartreuse day) (of course) and proceeded with a Rye and Bourbon lesson using the antique collection 2015 offerings. The Last Word is a great place to drink.

A Last Word at the Last Word

A Last Word at the Last Word

When visiting Ann Arbor, make sure not to be sentenced to three or more years of hard labor building a bread oven.

I don’t know what it is about academia and academic towns, but the hotels in the academia sphere appear to be trapped in the late 70s. (For example, see State College, Palo Alto, Bloomington, and Ann Arbor where I find myself again again.)

Last time I was in Ann Arbor, I tried out the Campus Inn. Three showerheads for them and a resounding “meh.” This time I am staying at the Bell Tower Hotel. It is better, but it’s still trapped in the 70s.

So what does that mean?

That 70s hair.

That 70s hair.

Well, check out this collection of items. First there is the clock, on which I have superimposed my usual alarm clock (an android device). I had to unplug the wood veneer hotel clock radio thing to plug in my phone. (Equals not enough plugs near the bed.)

70's clock technology.

70’s clock technology.

And then there are these country club chairs which my mom had a copy of in her dining room way back in, yes, the late 70s. Their sales people must have been phenomenal, because these chairs are everywhere. (I believe the style is Queen Ann and the nice ones are mahogany or cherry.)

That 70s country club chair.

That 70s country club chair.

The key technology is also solid state. Really solid. Do not lose this key!

Solid state 70s style key technology.

Solid state 70s style key technology.

My great travel people requested a non-plastic shower, and lo and behold there is one! yay.

Glass shower.

Glass shower.

Orange.  Check out the curtains.

Orange. Check out the curtains.

The rest of the suite in room 212 looks like this.

212 Sitting Room.  Dark carpet.  Flowery curtains.

212 Sitting Room. Dark carpet. Flowery curtains.

212 Mirror Bar.

212 Mirror Bar.

212 Bedroom

212 Bedroom

Ultimately, the Bell Tower Hotel is functional and much better than the Campus Inn. But neither hotel is up to world level. Still looking for somewhere hip to stay in Ann Arbor. The Bell Tower Hotel squeeks by with a low four showerheads rating.

On the flip side of the coin, dinner, jazz and cocktails at the The Ravens Club was delightful. The barman on hand, Robyn, was great fun to work with even though he was really busy. He concocted some nice experimental beverages. The best one of the night was what I will call the Ann Arbor Ain’t Manhattan:
1.5 oz Elijah Craig 12 year
1 oz Apero
.5 oz Cardamaro (a house made bitters)
.5 oz “Nectar” sherry
2 t green chartreuse
Stir down. Garnish with orange peel.

Bass player Ron Brooks put together some great jazz sounds heavy on the Thelonious. The food was serviceable and good, but nothing super special. Come for the drinks and the jazz.  εὕρηκα heúrēka

Night two included a visit to the Last Word, which though hard to find is quite fantastic. We had Wiliam Larue Weller bourbon. We had house made concoctions. Like this one which we’ll call the Next to Last Word.
2 oz Rittenhouse Rye
.5 oz Punt e mes
.5 Bonal gentian quina
5 drops lemon tree bitters

And then a really bad idea. Cigars at midnight. Oh well.

Unlike an actual living wolverine, the Campus Inn in Ann Arbor is mostly harmless. It has a good reputation among University of Michigan alums, professor types, and parents on the “visiting their kids in college” circuit. But it feels more like a Marriott than the marketing on the net and the general buzz might lead you to believe. Mostly it’s cold up here in room 1501 (which according to the map on the door is exactly the same as every other room on this floor with one exception), because the ancient windows leak like sieve. Brrrr.

It’s not a Marriott, though, and that’s a good thing. For one thing, the arctic temperature keeps the flowers fresh! I have never seen fresh flowers at a Marriott.

You would never find this at a Marriott.

You would never find this at a Marriott.

Or this either.

Or this either.

This?  definitely Marriott.

This? definitely Marriott.

The staff are more like eager beavers than wolverines. Incredibly helpful, responsive and proactive. Check-in was smooth and quick.

But the room is, well, generic.

Generic and flowery.

Generic and flowery.

And the shower is one of those 1980s showers.

Tiny marble clad bathroom.

Tiny marble clad bathroom.

Shower over tub with wobbly door.

Shower over tub with wobbly door.

View from 1501.  Interesting?  Not really.

View from 1501. Interesting? Not really.

There is the rest of Ann Arbor, though: a great university, creative restaurants, and even a budding cocktail scene.

BBBB spiral.

BBBB spiral.

Over at Grange, in addition to a serviceable dinner, they concocted a GCB Manhattan as follows:
3 oz bacon bourbon
.25 maple syrup
.25 blood orange bitters
Shake. Strain. Serve up with a cherry.

Verdict: too thin and way too sweet.

Bacon bourbon is made by rendering 2 strips of thick cut bacon and adding it to a fifth of bourbon. (Sadly, the Grange people don’t have any good bourbon so their result was thin and watery. I would suggest adulterating a bottle of Bowman‘s.) Steep for two hours, freeze and strain fat.

I’m pretty sure we can improve on this recipe in 57 ways. Stay tuned. At least they are trying to make interesting cocktails though!

(Because of the United fiasco trying to get up here, I missed the client dinner slated for Tuesday evening at The Ravens Club. Have to try that out next time. Looks like they have more of a mixology clue than Grange.)

Anyway three showerheads and a trip to the frozen midwest for the Campus Inn.

no fly July

July 3, 2018

Last year’s plan to cut down on travel was a resounding failure. NPS blew the target of 20 trips by just about 50%. 29 trips was too many. Not that they were not fun.
They were fun. They were just too many.

Too many trips in 2017

Several years ago, to keep sane, NPS instituted “no fly July” and “no fly Nöel” both of which remain in effect. No fly July started 3 days ago!

To give you some idea of how important taking a travel break is, consider these numbers from the United pile of travel. NPS has already qualified for 100K in 2019 and the year is not even halfway complete. Yeah, I would imagine we’ll retain our global services status.

So far we’ve been to: San Francisco twice, NY, Boston, LA, Ann Arbor, Germany twice, Austria, Sweden, Argentina, Uruguay, and London.

So yes, we will be not flying for a month. See you in August.

Leopold Bros Distillery

November 12, 2015

Those of you who read NPS regularly know that in our studied opinion, Leopold Bros makes the best gin in the world (the small batch gin). We always have some on hand at the home bar. Part of the secret behind the gin is separate distillation of the aromatics which are then combined with the base alcohol. It’s magical stuff which has come to be known as the Leopold process.

So we already loved Leopold’s by default, but then we visited. Now we can’t say enough good things about the distillery, its products, and most importantly its people. Wow, what an operation!

Leopold Bros Distillery

Leopold Bros Distillery

We were given a tour by Alec Ropes, one of the seven Leopold Brothers employees. Yes, they work hard and they work passionately at Leopold’s! Alec was just great, spending three hours with us in intense conversation. We were geeking out on alcohol production, and boy was it fun.

The genius behind Leopold Bros distilling-wise is Todd Leopold, one of the two brothers. Todd is a practicing intellectual with a master craftsman sensibility backed by many years of experience and vast quantities of absorbed knowledge. We were incredibly pleased to get to spend a few minutes chatting with Todd even while a vodka run was heading into the tails.

Todd Leopold and his new old still

Todd Leopold and his new old still

Todd and his brother Scott have built a distilling factory that is not only ultra-modern, it’s also environmentally sustainable. For example, a closed loop water system keeps water lossage (a huge deal for most alcohol production) way down. Natural light suffuses the floor, and a ceiling fan keeps the yeast aromas circulating with fresh air from the garden outside.

There are three types of still on line at Leopolds now.

German stills

German stills

Alembic stills

Alembic stills

The new three layer still

The new three layer still

Todd explained the new still’s operation to us. The four chambers all have different jobs to do during a twenty minute run, and the mash moves its way down the column between runs. The resulting process suffuces the water with as much flavor as the alcohol. (Looks like the new still goes along with the malting floor, the malt kiln, and the sherry barrels in the rickhouse. Hmm, what could they be up to?)

Tower still for vodka production

Tower still for vodka production

Special steam punk magic thingy

Special steam punk magic thingy

We paused for some pictures with Todd. What a great guy! Knowledgeable, funny, smart as a whip, and kind. Todd had some hilarious stories about the Denver health department people, physical phase transitions, and alcohol as a decontamination solution.

Antti flew in from Helsinki

Antti flew in from Helsinki

Of course all distilling starts with beer (which is how Leopolds got its start in Ann Arbor years ago). Several different mashes are in use now at the distillery. I was surprised how viscous the rye mash is. Slippery goopy.

Open mash tanks made of cypress and pine

Open mash tanks made of cypress and pine

Eventually, alcohol is blended (Leopold Bros makes 22 products currently with some awesome new ones coming on line any month now) and put into barrels. There is lots of “three char” white American oak in the house.

Floor rick

Floor rick

Rickhouse with 2 or 3 barrel ricks

Rickhouse with 2 or 3 barrel ricks

Alec with the product line

Alec with the product line

Of course we had to do some sampling. I already own 7 Leopold Bros products in my supply and was happy to add two more: Cherry Liqueur (to sub in for Heering) and a Digestif called something crazy due to American labeling laws. The Digestif is in the Benedictine/Chartruese range.

A mysterious new building at Leopold Bros

A mysterious new building at Leopold Bros

Anyway, thanks to Todd and Alec taking time out of their busy jobs to show around a couple of newby geeks. We loved it!

By the time we took off for dinner, the sun had set

By the time we took off for dinner, the sun had set

When we arrived at the fantastic Colt and Grey for dinner, the first thing we did was call for some Leopold Bros cocktails.

Here’s to passion, science, craftsmanship, and kindness. Leopold Bros you have my loyalty all sown up for this lifetime!

Make yourself a cocktail with Leopold’s Gin today:
Blue Moon
Corpse Reviver #2

Everybody Loves Bacon

February 15, 2013

After happening across the bacon bourbon idea in Ann Arbor recently, noplasticshowers was eager to experiment at home.

Bacon bourbon is made as follows:
Cook 2 strips of thick cut bacon until ultra-crispy, then let it cool and dry. Add the bacon to a fifth of decent bourbon in large pieces. Bowman brothers small batch is a good selection for the bourbon. Steep for two or three hours or a round of Oysters Rockefeller, freeze overnight, strain out bacon and remove fat.

We will pretend that the first drink attempt did not happen. The second attempt, however, hit the mark.

Everybody Loves Bacon

Everybody Loves Bacon

Everybody Loves Bacon (ELB)
.75 oz bacon bourbon
.75 oz Dolin’s sweet vermouth
.25+ oz Maple liqueur
4 drops maple bitters
dash amargo chuncho bitters

Shake. Strain. Garnish with lemon peel twist.

United’s delta-T of non-suck was much smaller than anticipated.

OK then, lets review. Finally got TSApre working (at least once), and then United went and changed the data for my Premiere account in order to “match up with my trusted traveller profile.” Fantastic (not)! All of my already-booked tickets are now toast for TSApre. Like today’s flight to Detroit. And the next few flights I have in the hopper too! It’s shoes off for me, and bathroom stuff in a stupid little baggy. At least there is no line for the “our computer thinks not” TSApre overflow line at IAD.

imgres

And then to add insult to multi-trip injury, I was on the plane on my flight to Detroit when we were informed that the equipment had been changed. Go to Gate 5A they said (we started at 3A on an actual airplane). On arrival, we discovered that the flight was actually cancelled. Double fantastic. (BTW, we happen to know that operations cancelled the low-revenue flight in order to give our plane to a higher-revenue regional flight. Not enough seats to Detroit it seems. But they forgot to factor in that I was on this flight.) HEY OPS, WE ARE NOT JUST BLIPS IN YOUR DAMNABLE COMPUTER.

I called the 100K desk to get things fixed up and was connected with an utterly useless droid. My bud Mike called the regular 800 number. We were in a race. He won. But sadly even after all of the flight switching, the client was unable to adjust their timing.

So United, you owe me one dinner with the CSO of a big account and five hours loitering at Vino Volo at IAD. But really would you please please please stop sucking in 2013? It is way too early in the year for this nonsense already.

United already found out about this on twitter. They responded, but do they care?

Special bonus Vino Volo tip. Great place for a glass of wine. And you can access the United Red Carpet club wireless too.

Of course it got worse! Check this series out.

My original email: Flight number: UA5760
Departs: 12:28 p.m. on February 5 from gate A3c, Washington, DC (IAD – Dulles)
Arrives: 2:04 p.m. on February 5 at Detroit, MI (DTW)

Then: Flight UA5760 5FEB from IAD to DTW is cancelled. You are now confirmed on UA5734 5FEB departing 5:00 pm from gate A5e, IAD to DTW. The flight is now estimated to arrive DTW at 6:41 pm.

Then: @United starts following us on twitter.

Bwahahahaha.  United dares to follow @noplasticshowers

Bwahahahaha. United dares to follow @noplasticshowers

Then: United flight UA5734 on February 5 is delayed and awaiting arrival of the crew.
Now departs: 6:00 p.m. on February 5 from gate A5e, Washington, DC (IAD – Dulles)
Now arrives: 6:38 p.m. on February 5 at Detroit, MI (DTW)

(By now my dinner meeting has been cancelled.)

Then: United flight UA5734 on February 5 is delayed due to late-arriving aircraft.
Now departs: 8:30 p.m. on February 5 from gate A5e, Washington, DC (IAD – Dulles)
Now arrives: 10:08 p.m. on February 5 at Detroit, MI (DTW)

Then: United flight UA5734 on February 5 is delayed due to late-arriving aircraft.
Now departs: 9:00 p.m. on February 5 from gate A5e, Washington, DC (IAD – Dulles)
Now arrives: 10:38 p.m. on February 5 at Detroit, MI (DTW)

I walked down to the gate at 8:30. Why? Good question.

Then: United flight UA5734 on February 5 is delayed due to late-arriving aircraft.
Now departs: 9:25 p.m. on February 5 from gate A2f, Washington, DC (IAD – Dulles)
Now arrives: 10:38 p.m. on February 5 at Detroit, MI (DTW)

Then: United flight UA5734 on February 5 is delayed due to late-arriving aircraft.
Now departs: 10:45 p.m. on February 5 from gate A2f, Washington, DC (IAD – Dulles)
Now arrives: 11:23 p.m. on February 5 at Detroit, MI (DTW)

Who is in charge? Jeff Smisek of course. Hey Jeff you suck! Who is on the United BOD? They need to fire you.

And I have not flown yet. I do hope I get to Ann Arbor before my two public talks tomorrow! An eight hour and thirty-four minute delay. Imagine if they had to pay my last billable rate for this nonsense! United, you owe me $4250 and two meals so far. Expect to hear from me.

United is so awful I could just scream!

United is so awful I could just scream!

Finally after waiting for over 11 hours for a flight that never took off, I bailed. I am now booked for the first flight tomorrow morning. Absolutely the worst United flight experience in my flying history.

Somehow the world has passed right by State College, PA and nobody seems to have noticed. I was expecting a town like Bloomington, Ann Arbor, or Charlottesville. Though there is a major university here and it is the main employer, State College feels more like West Lafayette than those other (amazing) towns. Must be too many engineers here?!

The Carnegie Inn is apparently about as close to upscale as you can get near Penn State. No cigar. And no tobasco for your eggs. And the bar closes at 10pm. And your grandmother would feel right at home in the decor. And the new wing construction is suburban sprawl cold. At least the staff is very friendly and warm.

I was in room 22, which is a suite whose dimensions are disproportionate in just the same way that a McMansion entrance hall with a huge staircase to nowhere is. It’s like everything is off by a foot or two. The floor joists are too far apart and the construction is thin. You can hear other people clonking around in the building. The stairway is just plain cold.

Entrance.

Entrance.

Chandelier.  Now that's tasteful.

Chandelier. Now that’s tasteful.

Bedroom (room 2 of the suite).

Bedroom (room 2 of the suite).

The bathroom in 22 is huge. But also wrong. For example, the shower is an expanded one of those 1970 showers with the thin wobbly glass doors like at your parent’s house. The floor, which is plastic, sproings like a trampoline. To make up for this, there is a huge tub thing by the window, which must be fancy in some alternate dimension.

Shower = nope.

Shower = nope.

Being naked in this tub might cause the neighbors to gasp.

Being naked in this tub might cause the neighbors to gasp.

One word: wallpaper.

One word: wallpaper.

Anyway, it’s all told probably better than a Doubletree, but fancy it is not. Two showerheads and a “nice try” to the Carnegie Inn.

In town for dinner, we tried Zola’s. Zola’s is as upscale as you can get in central PA. So close, but so not ready for primetime. Our server was superb and fun. But the confit was not so good. And the sommelier, instead of learning how to use a carafe when decanting said, “They did not teach me to do it that way in sommelier school.” Uh, right. Mr. wine dude, you are hereby sentenced to a life of mediocrity in State College.

The American Alehouse is kind of like a non-chain Cheers. Nick scraped together a decent Manhattan. But no mixology in this town. Feels like a sports bar. Nah, is a sports bar.

Coffee = Starbucks. Sparkling water = non-existent. Youch. I hope there is a good bookstore!