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Lulu

The extended weekend part of the San Francisco trip was built around kitty sitting for 9 week old LuLu in Guerneville. Jim and Chloe arranged it all.

We started Friday morning in San Francisco and headed directly north. Lunch was in Sabastapol at Handline.

Wut?

Lulu

After dropping off the bags and taking a swim, we headed out to Flowers Winery for a tasting. Frankly, flowers is really nice in a Disney-eque, just a little too too kind of way. Nice people with a script, and wine with a story that’s been focus grouped. I’m sure most people love it.

Magnolia

It seems as if a majority of the wineries on the beaten path in Sonoma stick with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I prefer when they diverge.

We headed into Healdsburg for a cocktail in a plastic cup at Duke’s Bar. The highly tattooed bartender that originally served us (who just so happened to be a woman) was fantastic. The other hipster guy who looked exactly like one of those bartender guys was not. Not bad, but also not good. Don’t seek it out.

There there was a quick trip to Safeway for Crunchberries. We did manage to hold off to have those for breakfast. Some people had never tried them before.

Breakfast of champions

Photographic evidence

My view from the best seat in the house

Dinner at Bravas Tapas was passable. Nice food. Very touristy. Sadly the best restaurant in town was booked by people who plan ahead.

Saturday morning started with the kitty under the covers, crawling down the length of my body to my toes. Hilarious kitty. Also lots of purring by the head.

After our breakfast of champions, we headed to Flying Goat Coffee to meet a friend who joined us for the day. A hike at the Healdsburg Ridge Preserve was just what the doctor ordered. We brought a delicious picnic and consumed it on a bridge…kind of reverse trolls handing out cherries.

Then it was off to Stuhlmuller Vinyards for another tasting. Great vibe. We brought pastries, had a great chat, and tasted some good wine. The italian varietals mixed in made the wines in my view.

On the way home to swim, we risked death by patchouli hula hoop girl and stopped by Safeway where a Dead cover band has been playing since before the Dead actually started in 1962. The mission was Palomas. So we needed Pomelo San Pelligrino. Here’s how to make a Paloma:

Paloma
Squeeze 1/2 lime into whiskey glass and leave the lime husk in
2 oz reposado tequila
large cube
fill with sparkling San Pellegrino Pomelo

We escaped with our lives, but the music is still with us. The Palomas by the pool were absolutely worth it.

Jim and I headed down to town for dinner at Brot (in greater metropolitan Guerneville). Delicious and fun. Highly recommended.

Then it was nightcap and dessert time. We hit El Barrio (about which expect more in the future) for excellent cocktails and a shot of mezcal. Then the formica-clad bar at Main Street Bistro and Cabaret where we heard some very good local music. The band was playing “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” by Traffic.

Up early for a Sunday morning visit to Medlock Ames Bell Mountain location. This was the best winery of the entire California visit. Just fantastic. A great tour by an enthusiastic and very knowledgeable young woman, fantastic grounds (including nice gardens), a look behind the scenes at wine in production. Just very nice indeed.

The generous hosts

I have become a huge fan of this winery.

On the recommendation of our host at Medlock Ames, we hit Davero on the way home. There was no way to arrange a proper tasting at the very last minute, but we had a glass of Rose with a Barbera base in the incredible gardens. We were joined by the very happy dog. There was a pig.

Davero has so much down to earth charm. There are some wineries that could learn a thing or two from these interesting people.

We had a lunch to be forgotten on the way back home…something that remains with me now as I write this. Blerg.

After a last dip in the pool, it was back to the city to get ready to fly.

But first, ramen from Coco’s.

This second “first” trip post pandemic was memorable in all the ways. Excellent friends, great food, wine and cocktails, and interaction with many humans. May we all recover our balance and live life again properly.

One day soon I hope to be back at this very spot

How exactly do you get back on the horse after a year of not even being in the barn? Or remembering you’re on a farm? Or much of anything? Well, we’re well on our way to finding out. In all honesty the first post pandemic trip (to Mobile, Alabama) was so shocking that we skipped the blogging aspect entirely. Culture shock, people shock, and total documentation whiff. Great trip…but so rusty.

Here we are in California visiting friends we have not seen in just over two years. Dang. Actual humans not in our pod! We really missed them.

The first order of business was getting on an airplane. And of course, United was the default choice. We took a look at the trips put in deep freeze way back in February 2020, pulled one out of the freezer, and thawed it out. Other than the mask mandate, things are pretty much the same on a cross country B787 flight. The waffle thing was terrible. I mean serve Eggos for goodness sake.

The coolest thing about coming to California from Virginia has always been how much time you get back on the way out. By flying at 7:30am, not only is Dulles completely empty and easy to navigate in the morning, arrival at SFO happens around 9:30am.

It was off in an airport taxi (SF cabs STILL suck) for a tag in at Doug and Laura’s new house in the city near Golden Gate park. What a find! The showers are not plastic, the dogs are friendly (if a bit stinky) and the friends are priceless.

Dog of the slightly less stinky than the other one variety. Louis likes to hop up on the bed.

Lunch at Crepevine was a little too huge. The fries are really good.

Then it was over the bridge to Oakland for some BIML business with Open Philanthropy. This bridge thing was to become a recurring theme on the San Francisco part of the trip. Then of all places Ruby Hill for a friendly business visit with Neil and some delicious sushi.

Neil has a new house. It gives a tour of itself. We opened the very first bottle of wine in the new house…an NPS honor. Sushi was ordered and served.

The neighborhood dive nearest to Doug and Laura’s is called the Fireside. The bartenders are friendly, and the drinks are, well, I had fernet every time, so who knows how the drinks are. If you are lucky, you will be privileged enough to buy a beer for a Nigerian prince. Or maybe just someone from Rhode Island.

Our fearless leader in Sonoma

Tuesday was an all day run up to Sonoma with Jacob. We started with some oysters at Tony’s Seafood. Amazingly, it rained on us. But that was OK, because the big tent kept us dry and boy does California need the rain.

Oysters at Tony’s

After lunch (man was that bread good), it was up to Ridge Winery on mostly side roads. The drive was fast and beautiful. The sky began to dapple blue and soon the blue leaked into the clouds and covered the sky as we worked north.

Ridge is a great place to sit on a beautiful day and sip good wine from old vines. Delightful and recommended.

Ridge set a high bar, and one that Mazzocco could not reach. Great decor there, but nope on all other fronts.

Then it was back to the city for ramen at Iza Ramen. Yes please. Just go there. Wow. Real ramen like the before times.

Iza Ramen, San Francisco

A nightcap at Churchhill, which is a great old school bar. They used to sell the antique collection bourbons for way under retail price…sadly, they have figured out how much to charge now.

The real thing at Churchhill

Churchhill

Finally, a late night with friends at 54 Mint. I really missed the energy of Jacques during the pandemic!

Then somehow it was Wednesday. We started with tacos at Underdog Tres, a romp in the Japanese garden, and a visit to the botanical gardens (the latter two in Golden Gate park).

Underdog Tres

We were joined by Dr.Chess.

Then after a brief respite at home, it was off to ABV for some world class cocktails where we finally met Chris in person.

ABV

We tried to magic our way into State Bird Provision. But no dice. So it was back toward home for some peruvian food at Fresca.

Fresca

Then back to the Fireside. This time there were zero African princes around.

Thursday was reserved for Alameda, the beach, and a sunburn (?!). It was a beautiful day over there once we got over the confounded bridge.

Everyone assembled at Blackbird for pre-dinner drinks at six. Blackbird had just re-opened (like everywhere else), and the permanent staff was as great as always.

Blackbird

A deceivingly pink mescal concoction.

Then, just to put a crown jewel on the day we walked over to Izakaya Rintaro for a world-class dinner that was as good as anything in the before times. Excellent food, fun service and great friends. Yup.

After a last showing at the Fireside bar, the San Francisco visit came to a close.

See you soon!

And it was off to Sonoma bright and early Friday morning.

Hard to believe it has been five years since the last NPS visit to Pittsburgh!  Dang.  The great news is that the Hotel Monaco in Pittsburgh is like stepping into a Kimpton time warp—in all the good ways.

The first good thing was discovering that our ancient Kimpton points of yore (which were transformed into some kind of mystery pointy prickly spire IHG points) were still valid and useful!  Who knew?!  So a quick cycle with GM Rob Mallinger hooked us up with our very favorite room at the favorable price of zero.

You may recall that 835 is the bomb.  And the staff at this hotel is just awesome.  In particular we want to give shouts out to Matt for an outstandingly personal welcome and to Annalisa for going above and beyond the call of duty to retrieve some data for us while we were out and about.  Outstanding.

Welome to 835. Wine, cheese, a personal note. Yes, welcome indeed.

 

835 Living room

 

 

 

835 bed room

 

 

This shower is not at all plastic. Yays.

 

 

 

 

It snowed. Classic Pennsylvania. Arriving after 7, we found a sea of fundraising private school hipsters dressed to the nines. It was well nigh dinner time.  Fortunately, Rob set us up at Union Standard where there were oysters, Negroni’s and other good eats. Sadly, by the time a leisurely dinner was consumed, the plan to hit up Butcher and the Rye had the kibosh put right on it. Who closes a good bourbon bar at 11 on a Saturday night? Well, apparently the James Beard winners do.  Alas.

Union Standard

 

A dirty martini? On this blog?! WTF?!

So it was back to the commoner (found in the basement of the Monaco) for a nightcap.  Though the clientele leaves a little something to be desired (Trump country assholes abound in the PA private school world), there was good Rye.  Not to mention Gina, a delightful barkeep.  (The bar itself was established by Kenny many years ago and then properly curated by Mike Ryan before he headed to Sable to build another gem.)  The commoner bar is still world class.

At the commoner, Gina and some rye

So how do you recover from all that Rye?  With some “Pittsburgh hash” at Pamela’s (a great greasy spoon diner for breakfast).  Right next door, you’ll find some very interesting tiny ass doughnuts at Peace, Love, and Little Donuts (sic).

Pamela’s, a Pittsburgh tradition

 

Just like it says

The Warhol museum is a great place to visit in Pittsburgh.  Excellent art properly curated.  See pictures here.

Excellent Taiwanese comfort food can be found at Cafe 33.

And there is live music in Pittsburgh.  Saw an intimate show of aging punks featuring John Doe. See lots of pictures and videos here.

john doe krisin hersh grant-lee phillips pittsburgh

Day two breakfast was just super good. Great espresso, tasty crepes and art.  Make sure to go to Geppetto Cafe in Pittsburgh for breakfast.

Geppetto Cafe Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh is hoppin.

This old school Kimpton thing going on at the Hotel Monaco is well worth five showerheads with a couple of plus signs tacked on for good measure.  Wish there were more like this in the rest of the country!

Pullman Sydney Hyde Park

February 3, 2020

OK, so the Pullman Sydney is trying to update itself from the ’70s, but apparently this is all being done on a budget.  Time to spend some money you guys.  Here’s a list:

  • HVAC that works when it is above 80 degrees outside
  • Updated furniture for ALL guestrooms
  • A place to shower on arrival from flying across the world (that is not associated with a swimming pool or a gym)
  • Three working elevators

One of us staying here this visit got stuck in an elevator for 7 minutes.  Another waited 29 minutes for an elevator down.  A third ended up going up in a service elevator and walking down 21 stories to meet us in the lobby.  Elevator tech?  This is a solved problem.  Spend some money.

While we’re at it, lets talk about having rooms of the right category properly assigned.  The front desk, though super nice, was also super clueless and did not pay attention to instructions.  As a result, night one was spent in 1515, the proper kind of room on a non-updated floor.  No really, the decor needs work.  Here is 1515.

Ye olde ’70s color scheme

 

A not very clean couch that is orange. Nope.

 

Purple

 

 

After a set of progressively silly room swaps and 24 hours, room 1915 (which had, you guessed it, broken HVAC) became available.  The room category is right, and there is an updated much more hip color scheme.

Here is what 1915 looks like.

Brown

 

 

Much nicer

Some apology fruit was provided along with a note.

Apologies.

The shower in 1915 is still a hot tub based thing that is amusing.  The one in 1915 is better than the one in 1515.

As far as NPS is concerned, the Pullman has worn out its pretty clear warnings.  No more stays here. Ding. Finito. Basta.

On the other hand, it is Sydney.  So that’s good.  That means aquariums and maritime museumsArt and cocktails.  And great food.  Sydney is a fun city to visit.

95 degrees is too hot for this poor hotel

 

There was a boat race.

 

A visit to the rocks and the MCA was a blast on a Sunday.

Lunar new year

 

El Presidente at Old Maid’s Place

\

We’ll all have one please

 

Pisco sour

Dinner at Bibo was really delicious with great wine pairings and delightful company.  An after dinner drink at Shady Pines?  Not so much.

 

The Palisades is a very hip and fun place for dinner.  Cocktails at Door Knock are top notch.

We’re demoting the Pullman from a low three showerheads to two showerheads. We believe that is below the threshold.

 

 

 

You know how we feel here at NPS when it comes to generic hotels. The good news is that this trip (off season and not on a game weekend) the Grant Street Inn had our favorite room available. Needless to say, this place beats the heck out of the Hyatt Place.

So here we are in room 31. Sadly the fireplace has been disconnected and no longer functions. In fact, there are a few things that could use sprucing up…like better furnishings, no ancient radio, no phone that plugs into the wall, and some outlets built into the bedside table. You can do it guys!!

The first trip of 2020 started out great with a last minute upgrade from United who seems to have changed their upgrade policy to make things more nail biting for Global Services members. Not sure how we feel about that.

And then there was the hilarious stretch limo that the car service used to get us from Indy to Bloomington.

While in Bloomington, visit the Irish Lion for a stiff drink. And have some food at Anyetsang’s Little Tibet Restaurant.

The Grant Street remains our favorite location to stay in Bloomington. Four showerheads.

Ah the Lorien, it has been a while! Since NPS last visited, IHG has done all it can to change the Kimpton chain it acquired into something we don’t recognize. The good news is that many excellent people remain, like Steph Vogel who we count as a friend.

We were assigned little nicely renovated rooms without plastic showers. Just right for this one night extravaganza. NPS was in 414.

arty bed

The shower is OK, not plastic, but who picked out that shower head?!

Thanks for the Negroni Steph!

Negroni with Watershed by Catoctin Creek

Chef prepared us dinner (we didn’t order, just reveled in what arrived). Delicious.

Must say that all of the cocktails are too sweet at the Lorien now.

We called in the usual set of favors to get the booth at the Colimbia Room. Perfect evening for talking, drinking and figuring out life.

Columbia Room menu

Breakfast the next morning was the highlight of the visit! Great to see Steph and catch up.

Then it was off to a day of art at the Hirshhorn, the Phillips, and the Renwick…oh yeah and Richard’;s house too! Just look.

Make sure to go back to the Hirshhorn. It is vastly improved

Lunch at Bistrôt du coin. Always French as all getout.

The Phillips is a favorite most anytime

Dinner with Richard was followed by an evening of conversation. Anytime.

All in all, an incredible visit. Life affirming on all counts.

Four showerheads for the Lorien. This IHG thing. Harumph.

Last Licks in Tokyo

November 30, 2019

One more day in Tokyo before flying home. NPS is back in the very same room at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo with the progeny for another night. After taking the Shinkansen back from Kyoto it was time for sushi with Rio.

Lots of sushi pictures and videos on apothecaryshed.

Then it was off to “the local” for a pre-game negroni (that is, the Tippler’s Arms).

The Tippler’s Arms will make you a cocktail

Then a local train to Kitazaswa to see the Dead Bambis. First a fuel stop before the show.

The Dead Bambis are very loud and very good. (Earplugs are a necessity at these shows!). See more pictures and videos of the show on apothecaryshed.

Then a visit to a new bar in Shinjuku bound to become a classic—Jeremiah. We met the owner K in Kyoto at Bees Knees and he told us about his new project in Tokyo. K then met us in Tokyo. Awesome.

Blue blazers, corpse revivers, extra fun shots. Just go!

Finally it was across the street to the LGBTQ neighborhood Hanazono Nishi for some people watching and dog patting.

Short, but fun last day in Tokyo!

Pontocho Misoguigawa in Kyoto is a legend. Incredible Japanese/French fusion food served Kaiseki (懐石) style. If you miss your milk, butter, and cream while in Japan, just pay a visit.

Chef (and owner) Inoué Téruo is a delight and a master. His annual trips to France show in his cuisine.

The Thousand Kyoto

November 28, 2019

Outside art at The Thousand

The brand spanking new hotel called The Thousand in Kyoto is a high design treat. Open, artful, tasteful, and gorgeous. We arrived via Shinkansen from Tokyo and walked the few hundred feet to the hotel. We had some tea.

Green Tea at The Thousand Tea Room

Yoshi meets the progeny

Kubota Ramen

Our first order of business was meeting Yoshi (@kemono4shikazu) who NPS met last time around in Kyoto. Yoshi is a delightful person. He took us to Kubota Ramen, a great way to start out a visit to Kyoto.

We stopped by Saredo coffee on the way back to check in.

Check out Yoshi’s super terrific band!

We booked an incredible Japanese style suite at The Thousand and were assigned 803. An amazing room indeed!

Leave your shoes in the anteroom

Pile your suitcases by the closet

Suite 803

The suite features a terrace overlooking the train station.

Of course the shower here is NPS approved.

The shower room includes a tub

And also of course, the toilet is complicated (and plugs in for power). Not sure what

Plug in your toilet

Not sure we even want to know what “pulsate” does.

After stashing our stuff and a short respite, we headed out to Nishiki market for some consumer spending.

Bees Knees Kyoto is a great bar

As it was cocktail hour, we stopped in at the incomparable Bees Knees bar. Great cocktails and super people. We had some Japanese renditions of classics (CR#2, Last Word, Aperol Spritz), and then it was
off to dinner.

We wandered into Steak and Wine Ginjiro for a very touristy meal of Kobe beef and bad wine. These kinds of restaurants pervade Nishi-kiyacho Ally and can probably be safely skipped. The food was good nonetheless.

Table art at Ginjiro

Never flown

Kobe

Our attempt to visit the French bar was thwarted by crowds of tourists so we had some ice cream and refactored our plan. Next we went to Nokishita711 for some gin. Simply put, Nokishita711 is a very strange place. NPS is not so sure whether that is good or bad. A “root of all evil” cocktail was interesting indeed. But the whole scene is just a little too too.

Nokishita711

Um, a cocktail?

And then for the last few cocktails and shots of the evening, it was back to Bees Knees. We had a few with the owner. Too many shots later, we somehow managed to make it home.

We bow to the owner of Bees Knees

Sazaracs

Sleeping in late was mandatory after the raging party at Bees Knees. It was all those extra shots all around that did it.

The good news is that there is no more perfect food to cure a hangover than ramen. In Japan, evemn commercial ramen is great.

A visit to Fushimi Inari in the late afternoon put us at the top in perfect time for sunset. Magical. See lots of pictures and videos on apothecaryshed.

Get a fried chicken dinner at Sugar Hill. Delicious.

The gym at The Thousand is pretty standard issue for a hotel. Seems bigger because of mirrors. Up early to work out is good.

Breakfast on day two Kyoto was at Kawa Cafe, a French/Japanese fusion place right on the river. Highly recommended (though it is rather strange that a cafe can’t make a macchiato!).

Kawa visitors

Deliciousness at the Kawa Cafe

The walk back down was beautiful.

Walking Kyoto

In fact, being in Kyoto for autumn is a thing. Do it!

Autumn in Kyoto is gorgeous

The obligatory trip to Arashiyama included the temple gardens. Should have done that last time!

Bamboo for you

Arishayama Shadow

Obu cafe is worth a visit.

Lunch in touristland

Excellent espresso in Japan can be found at Karusa Kyoto.

Best coffee in Kyoto?! Could well be.

The Straight bar makes an excellent Japanese Negroni.

A once (or twice) in a lifetime experience involves dinner at Pontocho Misoguigawa. Just wow.

Dinner at Pontocho Misoguigawa is not to be missed.

And to top off the evening, some jazz and a Gin Rickey at Hello Dolly.

Hello Dolly jazz

A gin rickey (DC’s signature drink) in Japan

Mount Fuji from the Shinkansen. See more on apothecaryshed.

Fuji

Kyoto, NPS will be back for sure!!

Five very impressive showerheads for The Thousand Kyoto

After a 19 hour trip from Washington, the Tokyo Station was a welcome sight. A quick taxi ride to Rappongi and we arrived at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo. NPS is traveling with the progeny. We’ve been here before, and it is great to be back.

Taxi stand Tokyo Station

Tokyo on arrival

Checkin was smooth. We requested a Twin Club Deluxe room with an extra bed to suite three adults. Our room 1013 is on the concierge level where the club is. Super convenient for breakfast and cocktails.

1013 twin club

The bathroom is spacious and well appointed with an NPS approved shower

Omnipresent screen

1013 is a very nice room, just fine for three adults.

The elevator hallway

A late dinner at The Oak Door steakhouse was impressive indeed. One of the best steaks NPS has ever eaten. Just wow.

Porterhouse (off menu)

The sides were just as fantastic as the steak.

And then it was time for much needed sleep. Sleeping on planes in pods is a fitful and pretty much unfulfilling experience. (United Polaris remains among the best in the business for international travel).

Some tips for Japan travelers. Make sure to reserve a wifi device for your wanderings so you can connect your phone(s) through that. You can pick up your device on landing at Narita at the fourth floor post office. Then get some cash if you can. Japan is all about cash. Finally, try to get a Japan Rail Green pass before you arrive. This trip, the US Post office screwed up delivery of our passes by imposing a six week delay. That meant we had to purchase passes on arrival (still recommended, but more expensive). The US Post Office sucks.

Shibuya mural

Day one in Tokyo started kind of late due to the inevitable jet lag suffered by the progeny. We started at Shibuya station to see the famous mural, the dog statue, and the world’s busiest pedestrian intersection. We also had some soup.

Tokyo Sunglasses

Next was a walk up towards Meiji Jingu that took us by an excellent sunglasses retailer, and the pedestrian shopping streets (very different) Ometesando and Takeshita. Trifles were acquired.

Espresso on the Street

Meiji Jingu

Meiji Jingu is a magical place. Any source of peace is much needed for NPS at this juncture. Shinto.

Meiji Jingu

We exited the north end of the shrine by some yellow ginkos and walked up to a small mall to share a bottle of french wine.

Samurai Museum

There was just enough time to stop in at the Samurai museum (well worth a peek) before dinner.

Sushi at Makoto Sushi was outstanding.

Then it was off on a cocktail bar crawl of sorts. Sadly Ben Fiddich was full (a reservation is a must, but the only slot we could get by phone was for 6pm, too early for us). So we found a nearby dive bar. Three bar was very professional. Nice ice. Great Negroni measured with care.

We walked from Three Bar through piss alley. Golden Gai was our final destination for the day. We visited Baobab (the first vinyl bar in Tokyo) to listen to some old funk and drink some rum. Then it was off to our final destination Le Parrain (a godfather themed, old school, very smokey bar). Great cocktails included a Jack Rose, and over sweet Old Fashioned, and a Corpse Reviver #2 or two. (Special thanks to Jacques Bezuidenhout for excellent cocktail and food data.)

Le Parrain cocktail round

Day two in Tokyo also got off to a late start, this time because two of three of us on this trip work working (hint: not NPS who is “retired“). The day was devised with some help from Patrick who has lived in Tokyo for 10 years or so. The trip began at Hinade pier where we caught a city ferry up to Asakusa pier. The trip was about 40 minutes and a fun way to get around Tokyo.