About Town Musings

Cool places on West 7th

Great to see a number of new, vibrant, and smartly-sophisticated businesses on West 7th, west of Smith Ave – especially in recent months.

One new place is Claddagh Coffee. Clean, bright, great service, and a nice hangout vibe. I’ll go out of my way to come back regularly.

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Favorite Cities Travel

24 hours in: Copenhagen

Copenhagen, Denmark – On my first visit to Copenhagen I flew in to Kastrup airport late on a hot, still night early one September.  As we made a banking turn to come in for our landing, I stared down on the still, dark Baltic waters crisply reflecting the city lights. The city exuded calm and hospitality.

That welcoming feeling stayed with me during the short taxi ride to my hotel as my driver chatted with me in perfect English, asking me if I’d visited before and helpfully suggesting the best places to see during my short visit. We all know about the typical ‘helpful’ cabby whose suggestions tend to steer businesses to places that help supplement his income, my driver had a passion for painting and sculpture and gave me a list of gallery exhibitions and a quick critique of the art on hand at each in such rapid fire delivery that I thought Copenhagen taxi licensing involved an art history course rather than The Knowledge. The answer to the mystery was much simpler, though: my driver worked part time at the Royal Danish Academy as a researcher.

Despite the fact that my hotel was down the street from the wonderful Galerie Asbæk, my visit would likely be too brief to allow time to attend any openings. In a lovely old building just  few minutes’ walk from the wonderful pedestrian Strøget, the Phoenix Hotel was the perfect place for me to settle in for the night.  The staff was efficient yet welcoming and I was quickly checked in and brought to my corner suite on the 3rd floor.  The rooms were spacious, comfortable, and decorated in a style that successfully balanced French indulgence with Nordic asceticism.

Having settled in my room and done a quick prep for the following day’s meetings, I strolled down the Bredgade to  the Kongens Nytorv in search of a late night meal. Turning east, I walked along Nyhavn toward the harbor front amidst the buzz of cafe society enjoying the balmy end of summer.

I gave up on finding a table outside despite the late hour and ducked into Fisken Pub to sit at the bar, enjoy a bit of fish and a glass of some delightfully light Danish beer (the name of which I have been trying to recover ever since), and admire through the open window the lovely sloops tied up along the quay.

Despite having spent most of the next day in meetings at Dell’s EMEA headquarters just south of the city not far from the airport, I had plenty of time before my flight so I had the taxi drop me off at Tivoli Gardens where I spent only 20 minutes or so before walking back to my hotel wandering through side streets, visiting shops and galleries along the Strøget.

Though such a short trip in many cities would have left me feeling rushed and frazzled, in Copenhagen I never lost that sense of calm and welcome.

Recommended:

The Phoenix Hotel
Bredgade 37
Copenhagen 1260
Denmark
tel: +45 3395 9500
http://www.phoenixcopenhagen.com/

Fiskens Pub
Nyhavn 27
Copenhagen 1051
Denmark

 

Sailing Sport

Rolex Baltic Week kicks off in Flensburg, Germany

Glücksburg, Germany – This corner of the Baltic, off Flensburg, serves as the site for some classic yacht racing this season.  Tomorrow sees the start of racing for the 12-meter and 8-meter World Championships and the 6-meter Sterling Cup.  Forty four yachts – eight in the 12-meter class, 25 in the 8-meter class,  and 11 in the 6-meter class  – have been entered for this year’s competition, the 8th season in its history.

12-Metre fleet races upwind during 2010 Baltic Week | Photo credit: Rolex / Nico Krauss
12-Metre fleet races upwind during 2010 Baltic Week | Photo credit: Rolex / Nico Krauss

Training this week on the course near Glücksburg harbor, the yachts presented a wonderful scene. The strong winds in this section of sea between Denmark and Germany had these narrow-beamed yachts burying the rails as they beat upwind.

Among this year’s competitors will be 74-year old King Harald V of Norway.  Nine races will be held each day starting noon.  The competition is held June 29 through July 3.

For more information on this summer’s sailing events, view our Summer Sailing Guide.

Sailing Sport

Guide to the 2011 Summer Sailing Season

Although this week’s completion of two terrific races – Block Island Race Week here in the US, and the 59th run of the Giraglia Cup, that early summer sprint across the Mediterranean from St Tropez to Genoa – marks the unofficial kick-off to the summer sailing season, there are many wonderful near shore, offshore and big boat sailing events to look forward to this summer.

Here is a guide to some of what’s ahead.

Baltic Week –  June 28 through July 3, 2011, Flensburg, Germany

The eighth Rolex Baltic Week will be held on the Flensburg Fjord in Northern Germany close to the Danish border. Flensburger Segelclub is hosting the event in cooperation with Kieler Yacht Club. The event is open to the 6-, 8-, and 12-Metre classes, with the 12-Metre and 8-Metre World Championships set to be the highlight of the week.

Ilhabela Sailing Week – July 3 through July 9, 2011, Sao Paolo, Brazil

The beautiful island of Ilhabela provides a stunning setting and challenging conditions for Rolex Ilhabela Sailing Week. The event, which had its first edition in 1973, has become a tradition for Brazilian sailors and its unique blend of hospitality, competition and camaraderie attracts sailors from all over the world. The steady trade winds produce great sailing conditions that test a fleet facing a mix offshore and inshore racing.

Bayfield Race Week – July 4 through July 8, 2011, Bayfield, Wisconsin

This week of sailing, which occurs annually over the Independence Day holiday, is really one of the highlights of the summer. When trotting around Bayfield or La Pointe, you’d be forgiven if you thought you were in New England instead of northern Wisconsin. The islands, though, remote as they are rising above the deep, cold waters of Lake Superior have a decidedly Baltic feel.

Trans-Superior Race – August 6 through August 11, 2011, Sault Ste Marie, Michigan to Duluth, Minnesota:

Covering roughly the same distance as the biennial Newport to Bermuda Race, the race begins near the Gros Cap Reefs Light located at the entrance to St Mary’s River from the eastern most part of Lake Superior proceeds westward keeping the Keweenaw Peninsula to the portside and onward to the Duluth Entry at the western most part of Lake Superior.

Photo credit: Rolex / Carlo Borlenghi
RAN, the 2009 overall winner, approaching Fastnet Rock

Rolex Fastnet Race – August 14 through August 19, 2011, Cowes, England to Fastnet Rock to Plymouth, England

The biennial Rolex Fastnet Race has been an established fixture on the ocean racing circuit since 1926 and attracts a diverse entry list capped at 300 yachts. The 608 nautical mile race is a test of strategy and skill with challenging tidal currents and changeable weather. The fleet starts from the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes, races out of the Solent down the English Channel to Land’s End and across the often tempestuous Celtic Sea to the Fastnet Rock, before returning on a reciprocal course to the finish off Plymouth.

International Women’s Keelboat Race – August 29 through September 1, 2011, Rochester, New York

In 1985, Rolex supported US SAILING in establishing a women’s international keelboat championship. Over thirteen editions the biennial Rolex International Women’s Keelboat Championship has hosted over 2,500 of the world’s best female sailors. It has helped alter the course of women’s sailing and is universally recognized as the pinnacle of competitive keelboat racing for women. In 2011, for the second consecutive time, the Rochester Yacht Club will host the regatta.

Maxi Yacht Cup – September 5 through September 10, 2011, Porto Cervo, Italy: The Costa Smeralda provides a unique backdrop and world-class sailing conditions for the Maxi Yacht Rolex Cup, one of the highlights of the Mediterranean yachting season. The event developed from the first-ever Maxi World Championship held in Sardinia in 1980: the brainchild of the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda and its president, the Aga Khan. The regatta is now an eagerly anticipated annual event and attracts a sizeable fleet of the biggest, fastest, most technologically advanced yachts to Porto Cervo each September.

Big Boat Series – September 8 through September 11, 2011, San Francisco, California

Established in 1964, the Rolex Big Boat Series takes place annually on San Francisco Bay. In 2005, Rolex became title sponsor of this prestigious regatta, which comprises extremely competitive one-design and handicap racing. Widely recognized as one of the most important sailing events in the USA, this grand-prix racing regatta attracts top competitors and boats from across the USA and abroad.

New York Yacht Club Invitational Cup – September 10 through September 17, 2011, Newport, Rhode Island

The first edition of this biennial event, hosted by the New York Yacht Club in 2009, proved a huge success: international Corinthian competition between yacht clubs was long overdue. The 2011 event promises to repeat the excitement, with a fleet that includes the top six finishers from the previous event, ten invited international clubs and three American yacht clubs determined by a qualification series. The Invitational Cup is raced in one-design NYYC Swan 42s, which are identically tuned and equipped with supplied sails. Racing is over five days on Narragansett Bay and Rhode Island Sound.

Photo credit: Rolex / Daniel Forster

Musings

Just One Last Thing…

We were sad to learn of the death this week of Peter Falk who, among his many roles, intrigued the young Observer on Sunday nights as the frumpled-but-shrewd Columbo, added an understated element to The Princess Bride, and served as a fascinating narrative anchor in the under-appreciated Wings of Desire.

Requiescat in pace.

Food | Drink Restaurant Review

Restaurant Review: Pier 500

To celebrate the end of the school year and because we were feeling a bit restless, I took the brood to have dinner at Pier 500.

The restaurant is in a great spot.  Situated on the riverfront in downtown Hudson, WI, it has a large terrace overlooking the St Croix which throws off the same vibe as the deck of Lord Fletcher’s: great views of the river, near the Marina, and just the perfect spot to refresh yourself after a day of sailing.

The weather was cool and threatening rain so we ate at one of the tables off the bar.  The dining room and bar is a big, open space with an open kitchen. The restaurant was full without being crowded and everything had the nice hum of people relaxing at the end of a good week.

The food was good but not fabulous.  The Caesar salads were crisp and fresh but fairly standard. The chopped onion and tomato salad was flavorful and not overdressed.

The LSW raved about the Walleye cakes, which must have been good since I had no chance of trying any.  The kids split an order of ribs which were tender, flavorful and you could still taste the meat through the marinade. My choice of the Ahi Tuna and the Brie Cheese Curds was a good indicator of my restless mood.  Both were fabulous – just not when eaten together.

The service was attentive and the wine list showed a great range of choices.

Recommended.

 

Field Trips

Field Trip: Dave’s Brew Farm

A few weeks ago, I received an invitation from my friend, The Musical Genius, to visit Dave’s Brew Farm. I don’t see a lot of TMG but certainly enjoy those occasions when we do manage to get together. When the spice of a field trip was added in, I was certain we’d have a terrific time.

I wasn’t disappointed. TMG drove us out and, knowing plenty about the place already, gave me the background. The brew farm is the dream, the ‘lifestyle business’ of Dave Anderson and his wife Pam. His vision is one of providing craft beers using sustainable growing and production methods. A large craftsman-style farmhouse-cum-brewery houses what Dave calls “the LaBrewatory”, the upper levels of which are the residence, and is towered over by a large wind turbine. The turbine is a Jacobs 31-20, a 20kW wind generator perched atop a 120-foot tower, which provides most of the power needed at the farm. The wind generator is only part of the ‘sustainability’ vision. The building also has solar panels and a geothermal heating/cooling system.

Who doesn’t like a field trip? As a kid, field trips were a sweet escape from school, a chance to buzz out of classes, board a bus, then drive hours to see something interesting. Since I grew up in the city, a field trip usually meant driving out to a field – somewhere out in the country. We’d see bee keepers gather honey. We once visited a cranberry bog. There was that time, too, where we saw a dairy farmer with a latex glove up to his shoulder checking to see if one of his heifers was pregnant.

Dave’s Brew Farm is in Wilson, Wisconsin which is about 50 miles east of St Paul and an easy drive on a Sunday afternoon. Though relatively close to the city, the final shot north of 94 to reach Wilson takes you through fields and forests and is enough to make you feel pleasantly distant.
The brew farm does feel a world away. Situated on a ridge at a ‘T’ in a country road, you’re greeted with a vista of cornfields, hills and woods.

The building sits on 35 acres, a few of which are used to produce some of the hops used in brewing with the excess sold off. The remaining acreage is rented out to neighboring farmers. “The BrewFarm is an innovative demonstration project showcasing the latest in renewable and sustainable business practices, and rural development,” Dave explains. “Our hope is that through ‘leading by example’ other businesses will adopt these (and other) sustainable strategies, realizing that every effort helps the planet – and the bottom line.”

TMG parks the car and we head into the tap room – one section of the lower level where the kegs and vats are housed which is set up with a long bar.

Now we get to the point of the visit – tasting some of the beer. Dave employs Belgian-style brewing and we’re treated to an assortment of brews with interesting flavors and varying levels of alcohol.

After creating a number of experimental batches in the LaBrewatory, Dave has settled on a few that he thinks are worthy of sharing with the dedicated crowd that makes the pilgrimage to his farm.

The interesting names match the interesting flavors. On our visit, we sampled a Matacabras (which is Spanish for ‘the wind that kills goats’) a dark ale with a creamy texture and a dash of spice that gave the beer a distinct tanginess. Another that I can recommend is the Mocha Diablo – a pepper stout and a hybrid ale/lager with a healthy dollop of hops.

Having enjoyed our short, refreshing visit, we say farewell to our hosts and settle in for the return trip. We’ll be back.

Details:
Dave’s Brew Farm
2470 Wilson Street
Wilson, WI 54027
davesbrewfarm.blogspot.com

Tap room tastings are frequently held on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.  Check the website (above) for details.

For those of you who can’t make the trek, you can get Dave’s Brew Farm Select – a full-flavored, all-malt craft-brewed golden lager – at major liquor stores throughout Minneapolis and St Paul.

Books Diversions

Meet the Wodehouseans

If you happened to be relaxing in the lobby of Saint Paul Hotel on a June weekend last summer, you may have seen a collection of bowler-hatted gentlemen clustered in the bar chatting about the horse races, or seen a procession of fellows in white flannel trousers bearing cricket bats heading for the field at Harriet Island. You might have witnessed a diminutive woman in a flapper gown giving precise instructions to the bartender for making a proper martini – viz, using orange bitters, a bottle of which she discreetly produced from her handbag with a delicate flourish – or overheard a genteel-but-vigorous debate as to whether that chap’s memoirs were – not to put too fine a point on it – merely a manuscript rather than a book.

If so, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to Edwardian London instead of mingling, unwittingly, with the throng of attendees of the convention of The Wodehouse Society. TWS, as it’s known, is an organization of admirers of the author PG Wodehouse, the British humorist, with chapters and members throughout the world and who travel great distances to descend on some unsuspecting US city to engage in their biennial literary revels.

I suppose you’re saying to yourself that it sounds as though this would be a fairly tame bunch, and you’d be right, as a rule. Peopled with leaders of academia, commerce, and the military, members of TWS are a thoroughly respectable collection of citizens. They are the backbone of society – staunch and upright. But they do somewhat resemble that chap in the book “Cocktail Time”, who leads a blameless life in the country but can’t be trusted to stay out of trouble during his annual trip to London. There was that time, for instance, that a bread roll-throwing mêlée broke out during dinner.

The honors for this year’s event (or disgrace, depending on your perspective) fell on St Paul and, the city appearing to consider it an honor, welcomed the group with open arms. You may not have heard the town crier wandering about the square announcing the glad tidings of the event to one and all, but the weather was cooperatively sunny and warm and Mayor Chris Coleman went so far as to declare Friday, June 12, 2009 “PG Wodehouse Day”.

Describing the convention as a literary event may be a bit misleading. Considering that Wodehouse wrote a goodish number of books – 95 or so – there is much in a literary vein to discuss. He was, however, also just as successful as a Broadway and West End lyricist, collaborating on a number musicals with the likes of Jerome Kern.

Friday’s events featured an afternoon of pick-up Cricket, if you can imagine such a thing. Dozens of players, variously suited in white-ish outfits chasing or avoiding cricket balls, according to their preference, about sums up the level of competition.

The vigorous afternoon of sport was followed by an evening dinner and a terrific selection of songs with Wodehouse lyrics sung ably by Maria Jette. Maria, who is well-known for her appearances on “A Prairie Home Companion” (but who is less well known for carrying around a bottle of orange bitters in her purse and lecturing experienced bartenders on the art of mixing a proper martini) has a magnificent voice and a mesmerizingly-entertaining stage presence.

Other events included an entertaining series of lectures (known affectionately by the attendees as the ‘Riveting Talks”) on topics with a more-or-less-Wodehousean connection.

In harmony with the theme and Wodehouse’s timeless, vaguely-Edwardian era, the group continued their revels with a fancy dress/costume ball aboard a riverboat enjoying dinner and cocktails, with the more brave attendees dancing to the strains of a banjo band.

Capping off the weekend was a Sunday afternoon watching the races at Canterbury Park. The Society sponsored the Goodwode, an inside joke related to the pronunciation of Wodehouse’s name and a famous horse race, a variety of which figure throughout the Wodehouse stories.

So a literary event it was, of course, but add in these other things along with the general reveling and it becomes much more – a bit like The Chap Olympics. With books. If you missed it all, you may want to pay closer attention to what’s going on around you next time you’re hanging around the lobby of the Saint Paul Hotel.

Food | Drink

Restaurant Review: NOSH

Humor is a difficult thing to begin with and we live in a humorless age.  After a visit to Rochester, I took the family on the scenic route for the drive home and we headed northeast to Kellogg to stop at a LARK toys.

LARK, known for its handmade, pre-electronic age toys, has a carousel, a collectors’ shop, and a decent kids bookshop. Unfortunately, it’s all housed within a building that would aspire to brown paper if it were a bag.

One of the most distressing elements of modern architecture is the unironic mix of high- and low-quality materials.  Like hand-joined oak paneling on walls which rise from poured concrete floors. And handmade, wooden toys on oak shelves labeled with sheets of letter paper printed from a laserjet.

Difficult enough, so far, I agree.  Yet taped to one of the shelves was a sign describing the displayed toys which said “Native Americans and Cow People”.  I can’t honestly tell you whether the author of this sign was serious or joking.  And it distressed me that I had to stop and wonder.  A chap needs to be able to tell whether he’s in friendly or hostile territory, after all, and it’s terribly disorienting when he’s not sure.

After refusing to allow my children to spend fifty cents to smash a penny into the shape of the White House (or some similar capital-destroying ruse), we headed north on 61 and enjoyed the winding drive along the bluff above the river.  With the smooth, black ribbon of road wedged in the snowy hillside, it’d be easy to think you were in the foothills of the Alps if it weren’t for the Treasure Island casino billboards and Kwik-Marts you encounter along the way.

Arriving in Lake City, we stopped near the marina and spotted NOSH. Stepping inside, we had the instant feeling of sanctuary.  The warm colors of the rooms, the dark wood and big windows overlooking the harbor are inviting.  The four of us were taken to a window table in the dining room upstairs. Not many people there but we were on the early side of prime time.

The bar selections were good. I had a Macallan 15 and the Long-suffering Wife ordered a Vinho Verde, an effervescent Portuguese white that we hadn’t encountered elsewhere.

Perhaps sensing our efforts to help our kids understand that they could enjoy foods whose names they can’t pronounce, the kitchen sent out a delightful amuse bouche (take that, kids!) of pumpkin puree topped with a small, crisp bacon chip for us to sample.

Our starters were the grilled shrimp, which were firm and whose garlic-and-oil saute had just the right amount of spice.  The calamari was, thankfully, both free of breading and very tender.

The LSW ordered a roasted beet salad followed by a small plate of seared Marlin.  The tenderloin I had was nicely done, covered with a brandy reduction and served withsimple, fresh mashed potatoes.  Nothing so difficult to pull off well as something simply done and they pulled it off.

The staff was patient and attentive and provided some eminently palatable, off-menu options to the junior members of The Firm.

This is a great, cozy place to have a winter dinner and it must really buzz on a lovely summer evening.  That’s when we’ll be back.

Diversions

Dawn Ride – The Joys and Serenity of an Early-Morning Bike Ride

I prepare quietly, in the dark. Step briefly out on my front porch, first cup of coffee in hand, to get a feel for the weather. It will be a cold ride, but there’s little wind. I linger out there a moment longer, relishing that familiar quickening when all that is aging and reluctant in my being gives way to a weightless, bracing anticipation. It is delightful: The shoulders relax, my movements become sure and efficient, there is a lightness. Each small sound – clicks of chains, bottle cages, then straps of helmet and gloves – is for me full of portent.

My bike is dry and clean, and a marvel of design. You buy a bike like this, and it’s worth the price for the exquisite engineering embodied in its feather-light frame. Then you ride it for a thousand miles, and it becomes priceless, an extension of yourself as familiar as your home, and as dear.  I lift it down to the floor next to my low stool, and set my floor pump in position. The tires will have lost a bit of pressure since yesterday’s ride, and I top them off with a couple drops of the plunger, to precisely 120 pounds per square inch. I check the bike over – brake pads properly gapped, chain looks good, derailleur okay, flawless tires. All checks done, I’m out the door to the corner lamppost, waiting.

Then come the strong riders. They coast briskly out of the gray, one from the east and two from the south. Right on time, as usual. “Mornin’ boys” I intone softly – it would seem somehow profane to disturb the solitude with any expression of exuberance just yet. Soon, though. “Ready to do this?” asks the Climber, and we click our cleats onto the pedals. “Le’s go.” I drop my riding glasses and push off as the sun spills over the horizon – awakened, I imagine, by our burgeoning zeal.

This is perhaps my favorite part of the ride. We are loosely arrayed, and our postures are varied. The Grinder is riding at a high cadence, no hands, and is zipping up his wind jersey to his neck as we accelerate. The Climber is down in the drops, out of the saddle and pushing a large gear in slow, exaggerated strokes, warming for a challenge. The Hammer is always ready first, and already displays the form he will have for most of the ride. Then we fall in, silently coalescing into the paceline formation, a peloton in miniature, the most kinetically efficient grouping not only in the realm of human sport, but in the natural world.

My thoughts are expansive as we begin, but that will change soon. By the end of the first climb my world will be small, the externalities becoming only the simple facts of wheels and pavement, the outside world shrinking in some inverse proportion to the drama expanding inside my skin. After an hour, I will again be in full commune with things essential, wondering at the interplay between mind and body, exploring shadowy boundaries that move as I approach them.

The last mile will be a small celebration, with coffee and conversation at the end. Kids, business, travel plans, shared with a common gratitude. This was our hour, and we lived it well.