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

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

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.

Eddie Huang in the Bay

Say what you will of Eddie Huang, owner/chef of Baohaus, but for many folks, the only job better than doing Anthony Bourdain for the Travel Channel/CNN is doing the same show (with lower production value) for Vice Travel. Part 1 of his three part series in the Bay begins with killing wabbits in Livermore and hanging with the East Bay Rats in Oakland followed by the highly anticipated visit to AzN favorites Rice/Paper/Scissors in SF. #LivingtheDream. I’m telling you.

Grace Lee Boggs Double Header in the Bay Area

Can’t make today’s Grace Lee Boggs event in Berkeley that we posted a few days ago? Well then, lucky you, cause the Chinese Progressive Association is holding another GLB event on Saturday, March 3rd:

March 3, 2012 | Building the Next American Revolution: A Celebration and Tribute to Grace Lee Boggs

Building the Next American Revolution: A Celebration and Tribute to Grace Lee Boggs
Saturday, March 3rd, 2012
1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Chinese Culture Center
750 Kearny Street, 3rd Floor (in the Hilton Hotel)
San Francisco, CA 94108

Ticket price:  $5-$20 sliding scale. Purchase tickets in advance online.

As CPA celebrates our 40th anniversary this year, we are excited to begin 2012 by honoring the legacy of an Asian American movement shero, Grace Lee Boggs. We will co-host a very special event, “Building the Next American Revolution: A Celebration and Tribute to Grace Lee Boggs,” which will take place on Saturday, March 3rd, 2012 at the Chinese Culture Center in San Francisco Chinatown from 1-4 pmwith a reception and book signing.

This event will feature Grace Lee Boggs, who will reflect on Asian American activism and our movement during the current political times and key issues affecting the world today.

Born in 1915 to Chinese immigrants, Grace is a long-time activist and writer who has committed over 70 years of her life to building a movement for social change. She is a legendary figure in the civil rights and Black power movement. Now 96, she continues to devote her life to developing new young leaders and a vision for the 21st century.

The program will also include cultural performances, long-time friend and actor Danny Glover and Scott Kurashige, Professor of American culture and history and co-author of her book, “the Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century.

Learn more about Grace’s work at: http://graceleeboggs.com/

The New New Chinatowns

For years I’ve been hearing folks talk about gentrifying Chinatowns. This is a real concern in Chinatowns like Oakland’s, where an underutilized BART station (Lake Merritt) is going through a community planning process that can potentially lead to some pretty high buildings, higher population and higher rents and Chinese folks hightailing out.

Oak-rand

Oak-rand

Now, I could spend this whole blog post writing about how to protect Chinatowns, but to be honest, what does that mean? Part of it means keeping rents low (rental protections), keeping Chinatowns for Chinese folks (street signs in Chinese) and making sure the local amenities appeal to Asian folks and not Audi-driving yuppie parents. But what happens when a business closes (Chinatown knickknacks, boba tea cafes, Chinese breakfast restaurants). What do you replace it with? Another Chinatown staple? A Starbucks with Chinese signage? Should we maintain the look, feel and economic pulse of Chinatowns? What if a family business that’s been running for 40 years suddenly closes and sells to 3rd generation Asian Americans? What if a business gets passed on, within the family, to a 2nd generation Chinese kid? What if a Korean American kid takes over a family Chinese restaurant and turns it in a fusion Chinese spot that’s voted one of the top ten new restaurants in the country like Mission Chinese in San Francisco? What if MC opened up in the heart of Chinatown SF? What would the local CBOs and Chinese Chamber say? So that’s the dilemma I’m proposing to you. What does it mean to be Chinatown: Geography? Tenure? The things you sell? And how Chinese do you have to be to be Chinatown: Full Chinese? Chinese American? ABC? Asian? Asian American? Vietnamese/Filipino/Korean American? 2nd/3rd/4th generation? Angel/Ellis Island Asian?

I don’t know the answer to all of this, but I do know that folks like me who hang out in Chinatowns like second homes need to be thinking about this shit cause our generation and younger need a PLAN. To start, I’d like to provide you a few examples of what Chinatowns might look like a few years from now, businesses I’m calling Chinatown 2.0 cause these aren’t your typical paper money shops. These are hybrid old school/new school uses, Asian American type businesses, or just hip (probably gentrifying) uses that we need to pay attention to before Chinatowns become ethnic Disneylands crossed with Portlandia: food trucks, secret dive bars, and two girls/two shirt stores everywhere. I’ll be including a gentrification meter rating between 1-10 that’ll predict how this business will affect the pushing out of Chinese folks from the premises (1 being 中文地狱 and 10 being American Apparel next door to a Anthropologie).

Li Po Lounge, San Francisco California. Made famous by the latest Anthony Bourdain Layover SF episode and Sweater Funk (a sweaty/grimy soul party every Sunday night). How legit is this place? Old school chinese bar up top with Tsing Tao bottles and the soul party downstairs. Gentrification Meter: 4 before Bourdain, 5 post-Bourdain. Its grimey and the hipsters are hidden downstairs.

San Francisco's Li Po Lounge

San Francisco's Li Po Lounge

Fortune Sound Club, Vancouver, British Columbia. I don’t know much about Van City other than I like everything about it. I especially know nothing about the City’s Chinatown if only cause I learned early on you gotta go south to Richmond to get a taste of real Chinese food. So I don’t know why there’s still a Chinatown in the City and who actually lives there. But that didn’t stop me from including the only real CLUB I’ve ever been to in a Chinatown (sorry Grand Star, which comes up next). Gentrification Meter: 6? On one hand, you got Saul Williams coming up in March at Fortune, but on the other hand, are there Chinese folks that actually live here? Any Vancouverites wanna fill me in?

Can you spot an Chinese folks in this crowd? Oh there's one! Two, three.... Three...

Grand Star Jazz Club, Los Angeles, California. So hip, Blacklava sells a shirt for this spot. New York tribute night be damned, this spot is so cool and confusing. On one hand, you have Britney making cameo appearances and on the other hand, step one foot outside and you’re a drunk walk away from a big bowl of steaming jook. Gentrify Meter: 7. Did I mention Britney Spears in the same sentence as jook in the previous sentence???

Still see a lot of Asian American folks here no matter what party is going on.

So what can you do? If you’re Chinese, open up a new business in Ctown, USA. Just be culturally sensitive and if you’re gonna sell food, it damn well better be good. And please, no more vinyl toy shops. The ones in San Jose JTown and Chinatown LA haven’t been customer magnets unless you want 12-yr old kids loitering and playing street fighter on your in-house Super Nintendo. I really wish I could have showed you some viable Chinatown retail businesses that fit this Chinatown 2.0 category, but I really don’t know any. Please send them our way if you do know!

Friday Fuckery: Obama Booty Grab

While on a West coast fundraising tour, President Obama swung by unannounced to the Great Eastern Restaurant yesterday in San Francisco’s Chinatown to nab some takeout.

What ensued was a gaggle of ecstatic customers, a lot of handshaking, and a few old Chinese ladies partaking in a fistful of Presidential rumpus:

The expressions of the guy in the tan shirt and the Secret Service agent are the next best things about this photo.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

That’s right, Chinese matrons appreciate a good ol’ rear squeeze as much as the next law-abiding, Buddha-revering civilian. But they have the cahones to do it brazenly in front of Secret Service, the American press, and their grandkids. And repeatedly:

Nothing woos a Prez like a flossin' COOGI sweater

Saul Loeb, AFP/Getty Images

Some onlookers will claim that such sweet seniors are virtuously bereft of all bawdy intent (or just short), but I say: THEY KNOW WHAT’S UP. If anyone is hip to using physical and social stature to honey badger through life — whither cutting in line at the bakery, running you over with a laundry cart, or taking the liberty to cop a patriotic feel, it’s your gangsta ass Ee Ma and Pau Pau. You know they’re gonna be bragging about their Mack Meemaw skills at the mah-jong table til next Lunar New Year.

Get some, golden gurls! I can’t wait til I’m an old Chinese lady and I can just grope with abandon, up to the very highest echelons of the American political system. Thus is the beauty and true meaning of democracy.

Cheers to Obama and the Granny Grab!

Thanks Sherilyn! – This seriously made my year.

source (and more heartwarming pics!): San Francisco Chronicle

Street Eats Benefit for OneVietNam

What can be more street than eating dinner created by all the best chefs in SF at the Ferry Building for a benefit to raise moola for OneVietNam? I guess this isn’t the best example of being street, but they’ll be slanging street food for this benefit and what better restaurant/chef can do that than Charles Phan from the Slanted Door? Peep this link to see the list of restaurants (of which, Dosa, Hapa Ramen and Nom Nom are BcB approved) and to cop tickets!

My Like/Indifferent Relationship with the City of Oakland

The following is a tirade by AzN and does not reflect the overall feelings of all BcB writers. Past and present.

Let me start by saying, I really like working in Oakland. I enjoy the warm, sunny side of the Bay, Monday-Friday. 9AM-6PM. Sometimes 9-10PM. But I gotta say, I’m not a fan of much else. I realized that this weekend when I was at the Apple Store in southside San Jose. Right before walking over to another part of a mall to watch a movie in the theater. My realization: Oakland is just so damn difficult. Everything is difficult. Its not easy to live in Oakland. You gotta LOVE Oakland to live in Oakland. Props to folks that live in Oakland, cause they really are down. Great to be you, I’m so proud. But for me, it would be hard.

Why? Oakland has the worst attributes of a suburban city and ALSO all the side effects of an urban city.

Suburban problems: suburban tract homes, dependency on cars, poor public transit, disconnected neighborhoods with separated land uses, long commutes to work (cause you probably don’t work in Oakland), fast food stores everywhere, things to do in general, and highways/highways/highways.

Urban problems: access to conveniently located stores (1/3 a TARGET doesn’t count), parking, traffic, crowded/ill-timed buses, crime or perception of crime, Race Wars!, rioting, downtown Oakland after 11PM, active parks, and Piedmont (need I say more?).

You wanna go shopping? Oaklanders drive to Emeryville. Wanna go see a movie? That’s in Alameda. Wanna work? Take the ferry to SF. Nice romantic dinner for two? Better hop on BART to Berkeley. Eventually wanna raise your kids up in a good public school? That’ll be Albany. Wanna take the kids to the mall? BART over to Union Square or Hilltop (if you’re adventurous). Wanna see Doug E. Fresh or De La Soul perform, oh wait, you can stay in Oakland for that and head to Yoshi’s in Jack London… Oh Shit, they’re not performing at Yoshi’s in Jack London, they’re at the new Yoshi’s in SF… damn.

I’m not saying Oakland isn’t a great city, I’m just saying it doesn’t have any the benefits that a suburban city provides a family and it ain’t got the benefits that an urban city provides it yuppie DINC couple (dual income no children). Sure, Oakland has San Jose and San Francisco beat when it comes to diversity cause there aren’t many Black folks in those other cities. But what about that couple from Germany you run into when you’re in SF or that family from Japan that’s on a 1 year contract to work in San Jose? I consider that diversity as well.

So I’m not sure what any of the counter arguments will be, cause I’m sure I’ll see some. But all I can say is for now, while I’m single and looking for an urban environment, I’m happy in The Mission. I can walk to cafes, bars, grocery stores and BART. And when I want to settle down and get coerced  by the missus to move to the suburbs, I’d go to San Jose where I can shop at Target and CostCo and take my kids to soccer practice, all without leaving my car. I’m not saying I would actually want to do any of this, mind you, cause I f’n hate the suburbs. But I’m just sayin’, Oakland is going to attract the folks that want a little urban/suburban mix. But getting a little of both means you’re getting both sides of a shitty coin. And the look in my friends’ eyes after happy hour in Oakland when they have to ride AC Transit or hop in their car (usually drunk) to go back home while I hop on BART to continue the party in the Mission. That shit is priceless and I’m glad I’m walking those steps to BART and not waiting for the #18 to never come on Broadway.