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Lafayette, CA is tucked away in the hills behind Berkeley, CA, through the tunnel and into an HO Railroad time warp. This cute little town is a classic Bay area amalgam of chic and blue collar in only the way that California can be. Lafayette Park fancies itself an upscale destination resort designed like a French Châteaux. In reality it is more like a local wedding location just off the highway next to a row of car detailing places.

All decked out for Santa

All decked out for Santa

Lafayette Park is part of the family-owned Woodside hotel group that includes the Plaza Hotel in Monterey. Frankly, the Plaza Hotel is a notch or three farther up the food chain (and we’re not just saying this because we were in the Presidential Suite last time we were there). That said, Lafayette has a few things going for it and a few things to fix.

For example, the food is remarkably good for hotel food. But the meeting rooms are dated and stuffy. The staff is gracious and well trained. But the same staff has a hard time going off script (as an example, try having the front desk deal with your car valet because the valet line is four deep and there is no time. No really, I am going to want you to do that.) The common rooms have interesting design. But the bathrooms (even in the superior class rooms) need serious redesign.

So it’s hit and miss.

NPS was assigned 354 (not the Presidential Suite sadly). The room has a fantastic ceiling and a real wood burning fireplace (sans wood of course since this is California but rather stocked with a walmart grade fire log?!). But (there it is again that proverbial “but”) who decided to keep the circa 1974 mirrored closet. At least the hangers are real hangers (but you can see on the pole back to the time when they were not).

Excellent ceiling

Excellent ceiling

Dated, but at the same time classic design in 354

Dated, but at the same time classic design in 354

A solid wooden writing table

A solid wooden writing table

But really, WTF?!

But really, WTF?!

The real drawback as far as this blog and its particular hangups goes is the bathroom design. Just start over.

Nope

Nope

So much tile ruined by obesity bar

So much tile ruined by obesity bar

Why all hotel bathrooms in properties grasping to be upscale still have shower curtains over bathtubs is beyond us here at NPS. We travel for glass showers.

Apparently somebody got some kind of memo WRT NPS arrival, because there was fruit and san pellegrino. Whoever brought this stuff up forgot to remove the default “upsell water” (an NPS pet peeve) and management seems to have overlooked the idea of writing a note. Oh well. So close and so “but.”

Fruit and sparkling water, a nice touch

Fruit and sparkling water, a nice touch

no

no

One last quibble or two and we’ll shut up. Outlets by the bed. Get some. Delete the clock radio from a previous decade. And conjur up some espresso to avoid the 5am walk to Starbucks just down the street (past all those car detailing places and Ace hardware).

All in all Lafayette Park earns four showerheads and best wishes for “but”-eradication. I guess we get surly when we travel during no fly noël. Can’t be helped.

Dressed up for Christmas at Lafayette Park

Dressed up for Christmas at Lafayette Park

The cocktail scene in Lafayette was surprisingly decent. After dinner at Postino one evening, we went around the corner to The Cooperage for a cocktail or two.

We were ably served by Ryan Wehrenberg who played along nicely with our gin range shenanigans.

Ryan also happens to be a local distillery rep for Bay Area Distilling company.

He mixed us up a cocktail called the chimneysweep which was interesting but not quite ready for prime time.

1.5 oz vodka
.5 oz orgeat
.5 oz lo-fi gentian amer
.5 oz fernet
.5 oz lemon juice
2 dashes bitter girl orange bitters
dash activated charcoal
shake. double strain into glass atomized with laphroig

The drink looked better than it tasted.

Back at the Lafayette Park hotel bar, we proceeded to get into the William Larue Weller (2016 edition)

The next evening we shlepped into San Fran for a business meeting at Forgery. They still have the bottle of Amer Picon that NPS dropped there before opening night.

We were served by a delightful server who dutifully made us a Liberal and then moved on to this “so darn close” cocktail Experiment Fifty-seven

.75 oz tio pepe palomino fino sherry
.5 oz amer picon
.25 oz agave syrup
1 oz partida añejo
.5 oz lemon juice
2 dashes bitter truth grapefruit
shake. serve up with lemon peel.

The concensus at our table was that the grapefruit bitters were overkill. Anyway, we’ll play with that one back at Coal Stove Sink Bar.

And guess who showed up? Our great friend Jacques Bezuidenhout himself. What a delight. And CONGRATULATIONS!

An evening that started with a nice dinner at Kirkland Tap and Trotter (not to mention some very nice cocktails) ended with a nightcap at sister restaurant (big sister, that is) Craigie on Main.

Craigie on Main has a fantastic bar program.

Oysters with Caviar at Craigie on Main

Oysters with Caviar at Craigie on Main

One of the many fantastic cocktails on the menu is the Pepper in the Rye:
1.5 oz peppercorn infused overholt rye
.75 oz cardamaro
.5 oz house amer picon
.25 oz aperol
splash lemon
splash lime
dash grapefruit bitters

stir. strain into cocktail glass. flamed lemon (discard)

The House made Amer Picon is fairly close (a bit on the orange side kind of like Torani Amer made with Reagans number 6). Can’t wait to compare iterations of this cocktail with real Amer Picon.

Craigie on Main Amer Picon Knockoff

Craigie on Main Amer Picon Knockoff

Bartenders Rob Ficks and Eric Books were on duty.

Craigie on Main Bar

Craigie on Main Bar

Rob is working on an experimental beverage as yet untitled:
1.5 oz mizu shochu
.75 oz cocchi americano
.75 oz pickled nectarine
.25 oz verjus
1 dash grapefruit bitters

stir. strain up in champagne glass. garnish with a violet.

According to the BVI people, I have never been here before. But I distinctly remember being here in 2012. Someone needs a computer.

The computer believes you did not exist in previous times.

The computer believes you did not exist in previous times.

Room 7 is gussied up in the standard BVI fashion. Heavy on the flower prints. The building is solid and nice. But the decorator needs to be replaced.

Room 7: Bedford Village Inn

Room 7: Bedford Village Inn

The desk with no outlets, designed before laptops, tablets, and the net.

The desk with no outlets, designed before laptops, tablets, and the net.

The grounds outside are lush and green with lots of actual real flowers

The grounds outside are lush and green with lots of actual real flowers

Marble clad bathroom

Marble clad bathroom

Big giant hot tub thing but it has a shoer curtain (wah wah waaaaah)

Big giant hot tub thing but it has a shoer curtain (wah wah waaaaah)

The sound track in the morning at the restaurant is Frank Sinatra. Somehow fitting. Oh, and there is a presidential candidate staying here on my floor. Who knows, probably some jackass from Texas.

The sound track the evening before after dinner at the Copper Door (right next door) was some live music on the patio. A spontaneous appearance by Where’s Aubrey. And real Liberals with a new bottle of Amer Picon. The evening was delightful and candlelit.

Where's Aubrey's new CD

Where’s Aubrey’s new CD

At least it’s not a massive chain of hamster cages! Three showerheads and some flowery print for the BVI. As far as we can tell, there is nowhere better to stay in Manchester, NH.

Glassaholic: The Liberal

January 16, 2014

For a number of years, the house drink at coalstovesink bar has been the Liberal. We started making them with Torani Amer and Orange Bitters (that is, incorrectly, American style) way back when. Then we started flying Amer Picon back from France. The Amer Picon version is incredibly great.

In our studied opinion here at noplasticshowers, The Liberal is the best drink on the planet.

We even named our band The Bitter Liberals after it.

The Liberal
0.75 Bourbon (Blanton’s is a good choice)
0.75 Sweet Vermouth…use the cheap Martini variety, really
0.25 Amer Picon
shake. strain. serve up with a real Marasca cherry (Luxardo).

The Bitter Liberals: 13

Now for the fun part.

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I’ll try to forget that I am trapped at yet another crappy Marriott hotel (this seems to be happening too often this year, but at least this time it’s free). That should be easy to do, because this is Paris after all.

One find worth noting is the Bistro a Vin (aka Paris Gourmand) gem in 14th close to the awful Marriott Rive Gauche. They have no website and tripadvisor sucks, but I have been there and the duck confit and citron tarte were out of this world. Very simple, authentic French cooking done properly. It beats the hell out of eating at the Marriott! (Well, I assume anyway. After one “croissant” there I didn’t eat another scrap of Marriott food.) The owners are very friendly.

Paris Gourmand (aka Bistro a Vin)

Paris Gourmand (aka Bistro a Vin)

In the mixology department, the bar that started everything in Paris is called the Experimental Cocktail Club. It is superb. Late on a Sunday evening after a delicious relaxed meal, we stopped in for a drink or two.

ECC stock photo.

ECC stock photo.

Barman Maxine Potfer was happy to play, willing to chat, and all around just a great guy. Mad mixing skills as well, with a particularly impressive pour. I have an appropriate Experimental Beverage made as follows:
cucumber (muddle)
2 cl Amer Picon
2 cl Salers Gentiane Apéritif (look here)
2 cl Gin (London style)
3 cl Genever (bols)
1 cl port wine
2 dashes French absinthe
Muddle. Shake. Serve on the rocks highball fashion.

Great. Now I have to get some Salers!

Sadly, a second visit only confirmed that Salers is hard to work with. It has a very large bicycle tire attractor.

Also of note was this.

Iron Maiden's  Bruce Dickinson geeks out.

Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson geeks out.

Eddie is much more dangerous.

Eddie is much more dangerous.

Way more striking than Eddie.

Way more striking than Eddie.

In restaurant land, I was taken by some foodie friends (from Minnesota no less) to Benoit for a very nice upscale meal. Very nice Pheasant. Supremely great desserts. A well stocked wine list (we had a Cote Rotie). Though it apparently has its ups and downs, Benoit has been around since 1912.

I ventured out i the drizzle this afternoon to find some Amer Picon to take home and ended up at a corner “supermarket” run by a Moroccan. He was very nice, but my broken French and his broken French met at right angles. Enter a friendly Mauritanian to translate, and lo and behold, we found 3 dusty bottles. I bought a bottle of wine for the Mauritanian for his trouble, happy to find the elixir I must bring back home. Smiles all around.

Later in the trip I enjoyed meals at the new, small and mostly secret Chez Edgar (which is in a superb looking boutique hotel), Le Souffle (just do it), and the absolutely incredible Spring (a Daniel Rose place). Americans win, hands down. In Paris. What is the world coming to?

Mortality? Why certainly.

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And then there is the Louvre.

Gorgeous day for a stroll though the Louvre.

Gorgeous day for a stroll though the Louvre.

Obligatory Venus

Obligatory Venus

Hermaprodite 1

Hermaprodite 1

Hermaphrodite 2

Hermaphrodite 2

How dare you think that.

How dare you think that.

Best painting at the Louvre.

Best painting at the Louvre.

Wow.

Wow.

Mona Lisa scrum.

Mona Lisa scrum.

Lunch across from Napoleon.

Lunch across from Napoleon.

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Good dog.

Good dog.

An then there was shopping. Computer bags, coats, shoes. You name it, all picked out with Pascual and Stefano. Their style trumps mine!

Prescription cocktail club is fantastic. Much noisier (with a DJ) than ECC. But fun spread over two floors. Master barman Yann Tesnier has created the very fresh Mary Action
1/2 tomato juliee
2 dashes celery bitters
2 cl lime
2 cl simple syrup
4 cl tequila blanco
1 spoon reduction of balsamic vinegar
+ pepper (on the top)
Serve on big cubes.

Paris rocks.

Maybe we here at NPS are getting even more spoiled? Or maybe hotel standards are rising? Probably both. Whatever it is, the College Hotel seems to be fraying around the edges.

What used to be a quirky and particularly stupid internet solution involving a password for each device (I have 4) and no tracking of MAC addresses is no longer tenable. Even with a monolithic wifi router for “VIP’s,” the throughput today is so bad that OOKLAs speedtest takes several minutes to load. Need to get some high-throughput work done? Better find better net elsewhere (like, say, the RSA Europe Conference). The net and its denizens have changed in the last few years, and the creaky unreliable net available here at College Hotel is no longer going to work.

When I went to see whether there was a better solution this morning, I was informed that the VIP net has a different ISP. I am pretty sure they mean different wireless router (same ISP). No dice. Need proof?

Speed test from the College Hotel (woe is us)

Speed test from the College Hotel (woe is us)

The bar program has also receded drastically since the days of Luke Gertsen who sadly has left rainy Amsterdam for Curacoa where he is, fittingly enough, running his own bar. You may recall that Luke and his understudy Mads Voorheove went so far as to procure a bottle of Amer Picon from France last time NPS was here just to try a real Liberal. That bottle has long since disappeared as has most of the mixology clue.

Case in point. As cocktail fanatics, we wanted a pre-dinner cocktail but the default list was pretty dull (no serious house concoctions anymore). I asked for a Liberal, wrote down explicit instructions, asked for them not to try to make one without the proper ingredients, talked about whether there was Amer Picon still in the house. Eventually they brought me something which they claimed was a Liberal. I even tweeted its picture. It was not.

Betrayed by a bartender. After dinner I went to show the bartender (who shall remain nameless) how to do it right and he revealed his trickery. I think that sucks. I would rather not be misled. And I sure as hell don’t want to pay to be misled. So as a reward I taught him to make a Nevada. At least there’s that. Grumble.

So how about the rooms? I am in 101 this time which is very similar in flavor to 109 but with a better bathroom.

One way 101.

One way 101.

Other way 101.

Other way 101.

The problems with this room are all small but niggling. Like, no outlets by the desk. Incomprehensible room light switches that do random things. No tissues in the bathroom. No music playback device. But the real kicker is bad net (as discussed above). These are all things that upscale hotels (like say, the Kimptons) are doing well. Time for Europe to catch up.

The shower is really nice though. A serious drencher.

Shower pod and toilet pod?!

Shower pod and toilet pod?!

There was a welcome note from the manager Bobbby and some candies when I arrived. That is a very nice thing for Europe and very rare indeed.

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While we’re on the very good aspects of the College Hotel, we need to give some serious kudos to the restaurant. I’ve had several meals there and last night’s dinner was the best so far. Very good oxtail ravioli soup followed by excellent and very Dutch/Italian risotto. Delicious and expertly put together. Thank you chef.

And a bar redemtion. Tonight, barman Rick made both a very good Dutch Negroni and a McSherry Sour:
4 cl Maccallan Amber
20 cc Amontillado Sherry (medium dry)
25 cc Lemon juice
15 cc vanilla simple syrup 2:1
Stir down. Serve on the rocks with a fancy lemon garnish. [This desperately needs a Luxardo cherry and a smidge of such syrup to make it perfect.]

We held an event at the College Hotel on night2, and the event was very nicely executed by the staff, including the barman. Live jazz always helps. After the event we headed out for a late dinner at Solo which was pretty not bad. Then late night drinks at the fantastic door 74. It’s still impossible to get in without a reservation. Absinthe hour stretched to 4am.

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Day3 included trick or treating with the kids (not mine…some friends’) followed by an absolutely world class round of sushi at Okura’s Yamazato Restaurant sushi bar. As good as any sushi I have had anywhere (NY and San Jose might be just a tad better), this restaurant is beyond authentic. No wonder they have a Michelin star.

Of course no visit to Amsterdam is complete without a visit to the exquisite Van Gogh museum. It was a particular treat for two reasons: 1) just after the Phillips visit there was lots of data in my head, 2) Friday night there is live music and video art.

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Better net and a better bar will earn the College Hotel the ranking it should have. Meanwhile, four showerheads it is.

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