The Best Bars in America (according to the word of AzN)

Cause I’ve always wanted to make this list and folks always be asking me for recommendations when they’re “forced” to visit any of these cities. Why even bother going to some of these cities? Because when I travel through Asia, I’m one of many. I’m Thai in Thailand, Vietnamese in Vietnam and for damn sure I’m Korean in Korea. But when you’re in most of middle America, you stick out like a bright yellow jaundiced thumb. So in no particular order other than me just trying to remember these drunken nights:

Buckhorn Exchange

Buckhorn Exchange, Denver CO: The oldest restaurant in Denver is over 200 years old and has a bar upstairs with Macallan 16 for $12. There’s taxidermy everything on the walls, even a zebra, which would only be possible if Teddy Roosevelt himself shot and killed it in Africa and brought it back (which he did).

Wood Tavern

Wood Tavern, Miami FL: By the time I got to the Wynwood District, apparently a one block version of Silverlake in the heart of Miami, I was sick of beach deco and sugary tropical drinks. After a dinner at the Shepard Fairey designed restaurant across the street (not as bad as it sounds), we walk into this bar and all we see is cheap beer, a taco stand inside a car and a trivia night going on in the auditorium in the back. Loved it so much we went back the next night and the whole block is practically closed down for the weekly biker meet up. In any other hipster bar in the country I would mean bicycle. But these are Harleys and it was a sight to behold.

Murray Bar, Livingston MT: As seen on No Reservations, the chef next door makes a mean steak and even invited us to some hot springs up the road the next day. That’s how nice they are in Montana. I’ll also never forgot the woman who left the bar for a minute and used her wallet and her flip phone to save her seat and drink. Where the hell am I?

Nye’s Polonaise

Nye’s Polonaise and Polka Bar, Minneapolis MN: One side of the bar has a lady on a piano who plays along with your karaoke stylings. The other side is an award-winning polka band. You can go back and forth and did I mention you can order piroshkies here?

Taos Mesa Brewing

Taos Mesa Brewery, Taos NM: Steel corrugated tilt-up brewing company with live music and great beer in the MIDDLE OF NO WHERE New Mexico. Drive a few miles down and look straight down the Rio Grande. Get scared and go get drunk.

Kennedy School

McMenamins Kennedy School, Portland OR: Portland is the greatest drinking town in America. I said it. These McMenamin guys convert anything and everything to a bar: hospital, hotel, and in this case, an elementary school. The classrooms are now hotel rooms, the boiler room is a restaurant, the school auditorium is a music venue and everyone wants to go to detention (its a bar, duh).

Robert’s Western World

Robert’s Western World, Nashville TN: I don’t like country music, but give me beer, bourbon and BBQ and I will line dance all night at this honky tonk just down the street from the Grand Ole Opry.

Riverhorse Inn, Milwaukee WI: So this one time I went here cause a random electro DJ crew was playing and next thing I know I was buying a round for the bar (its Milwaukee prices folks) and convinced some couple to drive me back to my hotel. So yea, this place is awesome.

Whiskey River

Whiskey River

The Whisky River, Charlotte NC: Dale Earnhardt Jr’s bar in downtown Charlotte is huge and has a mechanical bull. Went with a group of folks from NYC and we saw two girls ride it the same time and all we could talk about was how ironic this bar would be if it was in Brooklyn.

Angel’s Share

Angel’s Share, New York NY: Like everyone else, I like this bar cause no one knows its there. Which is a lie, cause now everyone knows its there.


Big, San Francisco CA: Just like Angel’s Share, its hard to find. No menus, the bartenders have a conversation with you and find out your favorite ingrediants and liquor and make something according to your táste notés. They don’t even have a WEBSITE folks!

Zig Zag Cafe, Seattle WA: Best Fernet cocktails ever. Will make you zig zag back and forth on the way home, especially up those stairs.

Bar None, Vancouver BC: Some white girl with a tattoo arm sleeve stepped up to ME at this bar and it was fantastic. The bar itself? OK.

Maker’s Mark Distillery, Loretto KY: I can drink Maker’s Mark for free and all I have to do is drive an hour outside of Louisville to do it? Done. Bonus points: only place in the world to buy the moonshine version of Maker’s.


Marvin, Washington DC: If the Thievery Corporation opened up a restaurant/bar and named it after their favorite singer it would be this. Cause they did. Did I mentioned how great laid back and awesome the music is? I wonder why.

Jacoby’s German Biergarten, Detroit MI: Within stumbling distance of the Renaissance Hotel across the river from Canada. The bar tender played hyphy all night for us when he found out we were from SF and Oakland and then he convinced us to go to a secret bar in a warehouse 5 miles from downtown where they only served beers and balloons of nitrous. Did I mentioned how fucked up Detroit is these days? Or how awesome Detroit techno is? Cause all the above is interrelated.


The BcB Design Team Honors the Greatest Logo of All-Time

Non-profits usually don’t have the capacity to even do what their workplan says, so you can usually throw out communications and design aesthetics when it comes down to it. But hot damn if I didn’t see the greatest logo of all time come out of the Lao Center of Minnesota.

This isn’t a hometown biases (well, I guess it doesn’t count if I only spent a handful of years in Bloomington, MN) but how can you have a logo of a Lao dude on an elephant inside an outline of Minnesota inside a globe surrounded by laurels and not be the most badass logo of all-time? LAURELS? Come on! This isn’t just a logo. Its the start of a movement. WINNER.

April is Asian Pacific Awareness Month at Macalester College

According to my moms, there was an 8% chance yours truly could have been born and raised in the great state of Minnesota… Bloomington, MN to be specific. So any chance I can to rep the Midwest, I will (my first two branded crews: Minnesota Gophers and Miami: Vice).

So check out the following API events in St. Paul, and don’t forget to check out AzN’s favorite bar in the world when you’re in the Twin Cities.

Film Screening & Discussion with Director: Lixin Fan’s Last Train Home

April 13, 7:00pm to 9:30pm @ the JBD Lecture Hall
Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105

Join us for the Minnesota premiere of the award-winning documentary film, Last Train Home, by acclaimed Chinese-Canadian director Lixin Fan. Every Chinese New Year, 130 million migrant factory workers make the epic trip home to their rural villages by train, overwhelming the transportation system, human resources, and any sense of personal space. Fan follows the heartbreaking journey of a young family struggling to stay together as China “hurtles towards modernity and global economic dominance.”  The 87-minute film will be followed by a discussion with the director to examine the role of globalization on tradition, gender roles, and normative nuclear family structures.

Watch the trailer at

Keynote by Gary Okihiro: Third World Solidarity in an Era of Global Capitalism

April 15, 7:00pm to 9:00pm @ JBD Lecture Hall
Macalester College, 1600 Grand Avenue, Saint Paul, MN 55105

Gary Okihiro is the professor of international and public affairs and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race at Columbia University. Hear him speak on where the Asian diaspora stands in Third World Solidarity, especially with the recent economic developments and changing power relations of nation-states and multinational corporate interests.

White People Love Bikes

I didn’t learn much at the conference I attended that could be used for any BcB material… until now.

I love my bike(s). So I decided to attend  a bicycle transportation session that the planning nerds appropriately titled Bike Network Design Lessons from Europe. In the large convention hall theater, one of the speakers stated the following statistic when explaining the relationship between car drivers and bicyclists in the U.S.: 


1/2 of 1% of people in the U.S. bike to work. Of that, the vast majority are white males. 

He later explained that the people who bike regularly, including daily to work, are a certain type. The type that don’t give an F that you’re driving an SUV behind them at their bike pace. Or that you’re honking or trying to pass. The ones with no fear of cars. Cause although a bike has the right-of-way, the car, inevitably, has the true right-of-way cause a car vs a bike is not a fair fight. So it takes someone that, in his words, is “entitled” to the road to overcome the perceived fear associated with riding a bike through oncoming traffic, daily, through the rain and cold, to get to work on a winter morning in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And that person with the sense of entitlement to the road, in more cases than not, is the young, white, American, male, bicyclist. 

So which came first, the young, white, American, male, bicyclist living in Portland/Minneapolis? Or does Portland/Minneapolis draw the young, white, American, male, bicyclist? hmmmmm.

Changing Identity: Recent Works by Women Artists from Vietnam

Running now through May 24, 2009 at the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota campus is an exhibit titled Changing Identity: Recent Works by Women Artists from Vietnam. It’s the first exhibit of female artisits from Viet Nam and the U.S., and Minneapolis will be the last stop for the exhibition. The exhibit focuses on “gender roles, stereotypes, cultural identity, and what it means to be a woman artist in Vietnam”.

At the Weisman Museum, University of Minnesota

At the Weisman Museum, University of Minnesota

If you think it’s hard to get Vietnamese artists to have exhibitions outside of the country, then imagine how hard it is to get the works exhibited any where in the U.S. where there’s a sizable anti-Communist Vietnamese community. Now imagine if the artists are women… 

Minneapolis is probably the only location where this exhibit is backing into a sizeable Vietnamese population, but unlike San Jose, Orange County, and to some degree, Houston, the community isn’t fervently anti-Comunist enough to stop the exhibit. Which is ironic, cause didn’t we all leave Viet Nam to avoid such repression?

I just went to the exhibit, and although its small (well, the whole museum is just one level of artwork) and the Frank Gehry designed building its in is probably only slightly better than Frank Gehry’s other monstrosity (The Seattle Music Experience Project SLASH Science Fiction Museum Flop), the Changing Identity exhibit is a good start for showcasing this far too marginalized minority. Plus, IT’S FREE! 

I especially liked the photographs by Phuong M. Do (that’s her on the exhibition’s cover), a Vietnamese American who took self portraits of her herself  in family settings in Colorado, France, and Viet Nam while her aunts and uncle ignored her clicks and flashes, oblivious to the resulting photographs. Gave me chills cause I felt the same way in Viet Nam and when I’m overwhelmed at family parties… She also has her work displayed this month through May 31 at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service at the Puck Building’s Gallery Space, 296 Lafayette, 2nd Floor (I would have inserted a snide comment about Wagner being a great Public Policy/Urban Planning grad school to go to if you can’t get into Berkeley, but since I’m out (wo)manned 2-1 on this, I think this side note does its job). 


Click here for a link to the Press Release for the Wagner/Puck Exhibit

Click here for a link to the Press Release for the Wagner/Puck Exhibit


So peep the exhibit, and also check out the Guthrie Theater and Walker Museum while you’re in MN. Cause the Minneapolis art scene is being slept on, big time.

The Best Bar in the World is in Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minneapolis is a weird, weird place. Its a big (small) mid-western town that consists of Scandinavian descendants living alongside Somali/Vietnamese/Hmong immigrants. So if you see an Asian or Black brother, he’s probably Hmong or Somali. But it doesn’t matter, cause no POC is kicking it at the bars… Which leads me to this blog post about one of the greatest bars in the world. Nye’s Polonaise Room. Why is it so great? Well, to get any real info, you’ll have to find their Yelp review,  cause their website only has a phone number and google map link and the words: Nye’s Polonaise Room with Piano Bar, “The Best Bar in America”. 


So here’s the scene, me, Angela, and Hope at Nye’s. Going back and forth between the live karaoke of the piano bar and the live polka band bar. Our new buddy Nathan shows up with another dude, who I assume is part of the band he’s in. It takes me one round of drinks and this awkward conversation: 

Me: Yo, so what’s your name? 
Dude: My friends call me Frannie.
Me: Cool, Frannie. My name’s Vu.
Dude: You can call me Phil.
Me: O-K. Sure.

before I realize this guy Phil is a hustler/possibly homeless guy that Nathan just met on the way in from the street. Throughout the night, this guy’s got the most classic lines and moves. 

When I went to hang out with other people:
Phil to Nathan: Where’s our little Chinese friend?

When I was just chilling with Phil:
Your people do great nails. They make a lot of money too! (proceeds to look over my nails, flipping them over twice). 

And when girls are walking by, he did this awesome, stare-at-girl and air grab move. And when they’re too far, he would “air caress” their boobs. It didn’t work on the homely Minnesotan girls that night, but even if he has a 98% score rate with that move, that’s 2% too many, right? 

But there’s nothing I could really have done. Dude came from off the streets and I ain’t gonna impose my PC ass on him. I ain’t gonna get shanked! So if you’re reading this, and you saw a black dude, a white dude, a Chinese dude and two Asian girls at a downtown Minneapolis Polka bar in April 2009 (trust me, we stuck out like a Benetton ad in an Abercrombie store) this story explains why one of the dudes was sexually harassing you with his eyes and hands from across the bar.

Hmong in Hminnesota

So it took me some time and some creative driving in my rented Ford Focus, but I was finally able to find a Hmong food joint in St. Paul, Minnesota, where the largest population of Hmong people live in an urbanized city (cause they’ve historically been a people without borders, duh!). The Hmong are pretty damn engrained in life here in Minnesota, they’re the largest Asian American population in the Twin Cities. And it was pretty (un)surprising that they didn’t have a legitimate restaurant. I mean, they didn’t have an actual country and the U.S. government pretty much left them in the cold (literally) in Minnesota. So to come up with the funds to get a Hmong restaurant open, try to attract Hmong eaters (who probably get better food at home) and lure White Minnesotans (who still can’t handle sushi) would spell disaster for would be restauranteurs. 

The whole adventure required me to drive to St. Paul from Minneapolis to a crappy strip mall with a closed down Hmong restaurant attached to the Foodsmart Grocery store (their Hmong restaurant will open in May 2009) where I randomly asked Hmong Americans where (other than their homes) I could go to buy some prepared food. The answer? Double Dragon Foods (I have no idea why every Hmong grocery store pluralizes “food”). 

So when I finally get to the Hmong deli attached to Double Dragon Foods, I feel completely out of place. I’ve never felt so out of place at an Asian spot before. Not even in Asia. I feel like I personally made these people lose their land and promise them immigration to America if they killed them some VCs, only to take it all away, send them to America for the promised dreams of a white picket fenced house and a pink Cadillac. Only to force them into Christian groups and sh!tty apartment buildings in snow-all-the-damn-time St. f’n Paul, minutes from the state capital (the house that Jessie “The Body” Ventura built). Plus, I stood out like a sore thumb, dressed appropriately for an American Planning Association National Conference, not for a Hmong deli in St. Paul. Twice I was asked if I was Chinese (completely out of context to the conversations I was having with people). 

But you know what? It was worth it. Cause I got sticky rice, chicken & eggs, the best f’n papaya salad ever (made from scratch), 3 color dessert drank, breaded beef kebabs, and rice sausage all for the Second Great Depression price of $19. Wait, what is rice sausage you ask? Funny you should mention it, cause I didn’t know what it could be either. I had to axe somebody. Is it rice or is it sausage? Is it sweet like a dessert or plain like white rice? Its everything and anything. But the best part is it looks like this: 

Its rice, shaped to look like sausage. But it has the same texture as sausage, including an eerily accurate intestine-like tasting skin.

Its rice, shaped to look like sausage. But it has the same texture as sausage, including an eerily accurate intestine-like tasting skin.

So please, if you’re in Minnesota for some reason, check out the above places, just don’t tell anyone about them. Cause they’re barely Yelp’d, and we all know a great Asian restaurant getting Yelp’d is equivalent to what Chris (the American GI) did to Kim (the Vietnamese hooker) in Miss Saigon.