Labyrinth update

Ugh.

This past spring I replanted the grass in the labyrinth — again — so that it would look reasonably beautiful for the spring equinox.  That was a mixture called “contractor’s seed,” and it was a blend of winter rye grass and fescue.  Guaranteed, etc.

The winter rye sprouts quickly and is lovely, but it is a short-term seasonal solution.  After a few months, it dies.  No worries, because then the fescue sprouts and establishes itself, right?

Not so much.

Even worse, I was gifted a bag of seed from a grass specialist, which three weeks ago I planted in a test patch visible in the above photo.  This seed is zoysia, and I have misgivings.  Yes, it provides a lush, thick carpet of grass, but it will also devour anything in its path.  Our front yard is zoysia, and before we installed my parking place there was a brick walkway which I had to laboriously uncover at least once a year from the zoysia’s encroachment.

Still, this seed was professionally advised, so I thought what the hey?  Plant a test patch, see if it’s actually going to come up in the shade, and then I can decide from there.

Behold:

The two paths on the left have been seeded with zoysia and watered every day.  The path on the right is untouched.  There is no difference, Kenneth.

Right now, of course, the entire labyrinth is essentially mud, between last week’s rain and the daily watering.  I’ve turned the daily watering off for a while to see if that will allow anything to come up for air.

Maybe I’ll just kill all the grass and go with plain dirt.

Ugh.

Cocktails: A new chapter

After the bittersweet nostalgia of my cocktail reminiscence, you will be heartened to hear that when one chapter ends, another begins.

Behold:

This, class, is a smoker. A couple of months ago I went up to Ponce City Market to take a cocktail class at 18•21 Bitters, the topic of which was smoked cocktails, you guys!  It was fascinating, and as you can imagine added a whole new layer to the cocktails.  I came home and immediately added the smoker and the chips to my Amazon wish list, figuring I’d get it for either my upcoming birthday or Father’s Day.[1]

It was also super easy: you put like a teaspoon of wood chips in the little cavity in the top, light it with a regular lighter, flip the switch, and smoke emerges from the hose (not pictured) into whatever receptacle you’ve chosen.

Here are some photos from 18•21:

This one used a bell jar.  There was also a plain cedar board with shavings over which you placed your glass; a teapot; and a good old cocktail shaker.

You let the cocktail sit and smoke for about three minutes.

And then you serve it.

So remember, the next time you’re over for cocktails and I ask you what you would like, you really need to say I want something light and citrusy if that’s what you want, because otherwise you’re going to get a smoked cocktail.

—————

[1] Alas, the model I had tagged was no longer available; I had to buy my own because no one wanted to risk getting the wrong thing.  This model is actually cooler than the one 18•21 used. The chips however were a present from the Charming Child.

Cocktails: a memoir

Late on Father’s Day, my lovely first wife remembered she had forgotten to give me one of my presents:

These are called “Nick & Nora” glasses, after the main characters in the Thin Man movie series from the 1930s.  Nick and Nora were wealthy socialites who solved crimes while they drank and quipped their way through Manhattan.  I had expressed a wish for a set of these glasses to round out my extensive glassware collection.

Of course, I’m out of room to store my glassware, and in trying to figure out a way to make room for my new acquisitions, I had some thoughts.

Most of my cocktail ware is stored in the bar in the living room.

As you can see, a lot of it is from the early days of the Great Cocktail Revival: big old 10 oz things meant for swilling Cosmopolitans and French Martinis.  I would be loath to part with most of those glasses because I collected them deliberately.  However, very few are anything but mass produced.  The one or two handblown or handcrafted ones I could keep on display while boxing up the rest of them to be discovered by my heirs and assigns at some point in the future.

Assessing my stemware was not the only stroll down memory lane, however.

Yesterday was National Martini Day, and by martini they mean an honest-to-Cthulhu mixture of gin and dry vermouth, not any of the abominations that were listed in menus under the heading MARTINIS back in the day.  Whenever I ordered a martini and the server asked, “With gin?” I would simply raise my eyebrows and say, “Yes.  A martini.”

(I will allow a vodka martini, but you have to call it that.)

The only real argument you can have over a martini is the ratio of gin to vermouth.  Garnishment—olive or lemon twist—is simply up to you.  You might hold forth for one gin over another (dry, Old Tom, Plymouth, etc.), but the serious question is how much vermouth are you going to sully the gin with?

Older recipes may call for a 2:1 ratio of gin to vermouth, and I have seen “original” recipes call for 1:1.  My personal preference is similar to Winston Churchill’s, which was to hold up the bottle of vermouth and allow the sun to pass through it before it kisses the gin; the drier the better.  I have a little atomizer with which I can either mist the inside of the glass or the surface of the gin once poured, and that is more than sufficient vermouth for me.

However, in the spirit of the holiday, I mixed a 3:1 martini.

I drank about half of it before deciding that I would go back to Vintage Spirits & Forgotten Cocktails and revisit some of my favorites from that book in the spirit of the Nick and Nora glass.

Here is a sad truth: many of the cocktails I’d marked Delicious! are simply no longer delicious to me.  I made a Doctor Cocktail (rum, Swedish Punsch, lime juice) and drank only half.

I made a Pegu Club, though using the original proportions instead of the one in VS&FG.

And it was not bad.  However, my taste these days is for darker, boozier drinks: the Smoky Topaz or Smoky Quartz, for example. Or bitter drinks like the Negroni or Best Friend.

Just remember that if you come for cocktails and I ask what you would like, and you say, “Oh whatever you’re mixing these days.”  If you want a citrusy/sweet/lower ABV cocktail, you should probably express that preference.  Otherwise, you’re going to be drinking pure booze from the dark side.  With bitters.

One last thing:

Nick Charles: The important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. Now a Manhattan you shake to fox-trot time, a Bronx to two-step time, a dry martini you always shake to waltz time.

Nick, of course, is wrong.  A Manhattan, a Bronx, and a martini, having no fruit juice, are always stirred, not shaken.

Not even an answer

A few weeks ago I faxed my representatives in the Congress (using the very good https://resistbot.io/ to do so) about the Current Occupant’s praise of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “handling of the drug problem,” i.e., murdering drug users and drug dealers.  The question was very simple: Do you agree with the Current Occupant?

Here is U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson’s response, via email:

Thank you for contacting my office regarding the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. I appreciate your thoughts and the opportunity to respond.

As a member of the United States Senate, I am pleased to see constituents, such as you, taking the time to share your thoughts and concerns about the federal government and its policies. Your letter will be helpful to me as the Senate considers legislation dealing with the issues facing our great nation.

Thank you again for contacting me, and I hope you will not hesitate to call on me in the future if I can be of assistance to you.

I will address my comments to Senator Isakson:

Senator, you may not remember it, but you and I worked together a couple of times on the State STAR Student program, and we encountered each other once or twice through your chairmanship of the State Board of Education and my involvement with GHP.  You always struck me as intelligent and balanced.

But this unwillingness to speak out against the unconsidered comments and actions of the incompetent, venal, egomaniacal, and vindictive man you have in the White House is both craven and disappointing.  Is this how you want to be remembered, as an enabler of the disaster that the Executive Branch reveals itself to be every day?  Do you really want it said that you were willing to allow the worst excesses of this White House as long as your party’s social/economic agenda could be crammed through Congress, often flouting your own rules to do so?  Is this who you thought you were going to be when you ran for office?

Shame on you.

About that new cocktail…

You will recall that at AnonymouS Bar in Prague I asked the bartender to make me a drink that would delight me, based on my recipe for a Smoky Topaz.

For reference, here’s what’s in a Smoky Topaz:

Barrel-aged gin, Averna Amaro, yellow Chartreuse, and green Chartreuse—and AnonymouS had only the green Chartreuse.

What the bartender brought me was an amazing drink that captured the woodiness of the Smoky Topaz yet had its own distinct character.  He told me that it contained genever (an older version of gin), Grand Marnier, green Chartreuse, and amaro.  This delighted me because I had every single one of those:

…except… which amaro?  There are scores of these herbal liqueurs, as cataloged in Brad Thomas Parsons’ Amaro.

Experimentation was called for.

Here are the actual amaros that I currently have.  I eliminated the Nonino without even trying it: it’s too light, and the drink was rather dark.

The original, for reference

I also eliminated the Angostura, because that flavor profile didn’t match the drink.

That left the Montenegro, which I don’t yet have a handle on.  I made the drink, and it was not the cocktail served to me in Prague.  (It also was not one I want to come back to later.)

Next, even though I knew the missing amaro was not Averna, it was all I had left so I tried it.  It was of course not correct.

All this time I was futzing with the proportions, figuring the genever was at 1.5 oz and the other ingredients were probably in a 3:2:1 kind of stack.

I looked in Amaro to see what my other options might be.  There were two likely suspects: Becherovka and R. Jelínek Amaro Liqueur, both from the Czech Republic.  I figured it couldn’t be Becherovka because that’s kind of the Czech national liqueur and the bartender would have named it.  I figured I was doomed to begin my search for the R. Jelínek.

Or…

I could email the bar and see if they’d be willing to give me at least the name of the amaro if not the recipe.  (Bars are generally very jealous of their signature cocktail recipes.)

So I emailed AnonymouS and got a reply rather quickly.  Did I know the bartender’s name?  (I had called him a waiter, but all the waiters at AnonymouS are bartenders.) Or could I describe him?

Naturally I did not know his name, and as for description: “young, slender, dark-haired” was not very helpful.  But perhaps he would remember the quartet of older Americans who rather enjoyed themselves that evening?

Indeed Jaroslav Modlik did remember us, and he remembered the drink.  And since it was not one of their signature cocktails—”I make just especially for you,” he said—he was happy to share the recipe with me.

The amaro was the Angostura.  I felt like an idiot: that was the basic woody flavor (along with the chartreuse).

It is Jaroslav’s privilege to name this drink, but for the moment it’s going into my cocktail book as the Smoky Quartz (with full credit and back story of course).

The Smoky Quartz

(original recipe)

  • 4o ml Bols Genever
  • 20 ml green Chartreuse
  • 15 ml Amaro Angostura
  • 10 ml Grand Marnier

(Americanized)

  • 1.5 oz Bols Genever
  • .75 oz green Chartreuse
  • .5 oz Amaro Angostura
  • .33 oz Grand Marnier

Stir with ice, serve with orange peel.

This was the drink from Prague, and it is every bit as luscious here at home as abroad.  I find that I need another bottle of Bols Genever, which frankly I didn’t think I would ever need to replenish.

It is a point of extreme pride for me that Jaroslav Modlik is head bartender at AnonymouS,  and he invented a cocktail for me.  Is that cool or what?

Up the Danube, The Swag edition

Part of the fun of any major trip is buying All The Things, right?  Even though we are in death nesting mode, I still found a few things I could not resist.

In Vienna, the Haus der Musik is open till 11:00 pm, but when we bought our tickets at 9:00 the young man cheerfully told us the gift shop closed in an hour, so of course we went there first.  And the first thing I saw were these wooden drums:

They have a great little tick-tock sound.  They come with little cards for die Kinder, but I plan to make great use of them to annoy the neighbors, if not here then at a burn.  (You hear that, Black Lodge?  You just keep that karaoke going until 2:00 in the morning.)

At Faber-Castell’s gift shop, you will recall that I had no choice but to buy new ink for my brand new replacement fountain pen.

I really wanted the grey ink, but I’ve had correspondents complain that it’s hard to read.  ::sigh::

In Nuremberg, I found this little charm, which I think is supposed to be a Christmas ornament, but it’s going on a little chain I have added to my Utilikilt for burn events.

Likewise in Nuremberg, this little lizard spoke to me at a street vendor’s stall and asked to be added to my collection of lizards.

I did a lot of shopping in Prague mainly because I had the time to do so.  At our first lunch at the cafe, there was a crafts market set up in Republic Square.  I was attracted to the weaver and his wares.  (His young helper who helped me find the right size of shirt and hat had spent last summer in Florida with his girlfriend who was working there; he liked Savannah, he said.)

Strolling back to the hotel one day, my lovely first wife was attracted by the window of a glass art company, and so we popped in.

She wanted just the white champagne flute—we really have no more room for glassware—but the owner was quite piteous with her “but the box is for two..” gambit, and so I picked out the blue one.  Since we have until recently given ourselves a pair of champagne flutes for our anniversary, we were happy with our choice.  (I stopped doing this last year because a) we have no more room; and b) death nesting.)

As we waited for the concert our last night in Prague, I was attracted to a store selling Czech garnets and amber.  After some deliberation, I ended up with another pendant for my kilt chain.

I can’t explain my attraction yet.

And finally, my booze haul.

In the center, the apricot liqueur from the Göttweig Abbey in Krems.  On the left, absinthe from Prague, which is going to the burn with me tomorrow.  (The deal is that Euphoria, the spring Georgia burn, had to be cancelled at the beginning of May; many of us are attending the Tennessee burn, so I’m offering this to the Euphoria refugees as a “shot of Regret.”)

And then there’s the Ayrer’s Malt Gin.

This is the gin that I made a mad dash back to the store in Nuremberg, arriving just as the shopkeeper locked the door.  Was it worth it?

Oh my.

This is a small batch, single malt gin that will never be mixed with anything.  I am going to sip it in thimblefuls.  You may be allowed to watch me, if you’ve been good.

Usually I am not a fan of heavily floral gins, but this one is Elixir.  Very strong citrus notes, both lemon and orange. Undergirdings of hops.

We will now begin searching for an American distributor.

I have one last Danube story, about the cocktail that AnonymouS Bar created for me, but it will have to wait until I get back from Camping with the Hippies™ on Sunday.

 

Up the Danube, coming home, and pro tips

Monday, May 22, we came home.  Once again, the Viking River Cruise folk were super organized, telling us when to have our bags out in the hall and when to report for the bus.  We were driven to Prague Airport and bade farewell.

One more funny English:

So vending.  Much wow.

The flight home was a lot more bearable than the flight over, mostly because we were not trying to sleep, but soon enough we were home and the jet lag claimed us.

—————

So what advice do I have to give those considering a Viking River Cruise?

First and foremost: do it.  If you can snag a two-for-one deal, that’s awesome, but even though these things are nowhere close to cheap they are exactly what the commercials imply.  The shipboard experience is flawless from the moment they pick you up at the airport till they drop you off again.

Having said that, do not expect anything from the bus tours other than a brief overview of the city you’re touring.  The tour guides are excellent and very knowledgeable, but you won’t actually have a lot of time to stroll or see all the museums and churches they are pointing out to you.

On board, do go for the prepaid tipping.  We did our calculations on the last day and found that the amount pretty much covered what we would have tipped anyway, and it’s a whole lot easier than trying to decide which of the staff you really want/need to tip.  We added some specific tips for specific staff we found especially helpful, like the ever-adorable Sorin.

You probably do not need the alcohol package.  Wine and beer (usually regional) are included with the meals, and even if you have one or two cocktails a night in the lounge, the total comes nowhere close to the $300/cabin package cost.  It may be that the package covers bottles of wine not on the menu; you’d need to check that yourself.  If so, and that’s your thing, then then alcohol package might be economical.

Do not be afraid to use the concierge staff.  That’s what they’re there for.  Ask questions; get them to call you a cab; use their services.

Be bold in your dinner partner choices.  Viking does not assign tables, so it might feel a little like middle school all over again, but we never failed to have a great evening with whomever we sat.  You also get to meet the different servers that way.

The food is first rate.  If you take lunch in the lounge, that may be a buffet, but all meals in the dining room are all white table cloth service with gourmet preparation.  Every meal has a menu with three choices of appetizer, entree, and dessert.  There are also “always available” options for those days when Bavarian chow is just not going to do it for you.

Be sure to attend the “port talks” each night.  That’s when your program director will give you the outline of the next day.  It may save you looking like a clueless oaf the next morning and will certainly save you from having to stand in line at the concierge’s desk with all the clueless oafs.  Also, you may discover that your tour leaves at an ungodly hour in the morning that you were planning to sleep past.

In that same vein, if you’re on a ship with the little lavalier tour guide headsets that you have to charge in your room, please figure out how to do that right.  I’m not going to point fingers, but too many of our shipmates were hapless when it came to getting these things to work.  They were nice enough about it, and the tour guides were unflaggingly positive, but still. Don’t be that guy.

And in that vein, be aware that the average age of the Viking River Cruise patron is north of 65.  There were a handful of couples younger than us, but on the whole these are people who have been retired for a while and who can afford to do this out of boredom.  (There were a couple of tables that never left the ship as far as I could tell, just playing cards in the lounge every time I saw them.)  This fact has nothing to do with your experience; only once did we encounter someone who might be described as crabby, and certainly I never saw anyone being unkind or rude to the staff.

Don’t be afraid to chat with the staff.  They have interesting stories to tell.

If you can afford the time and money, book an extension after the cruise like we did in Prague.  It truly gives you a chance to decompress before being whisked back to real life and wondering if the past week were all a dream.  (We are now also proponents of booking a pre-extension as well.)

If you’re not overly familiar with architectural history, do yourself a favor and learn the major styles: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Classical.  Google is your friend.  The reason you want to do this is that the tour guides rattle these things off and usually assume you know what they’re talking about.  (In education, that’s called the “curse of knowledge.”)

My lovely first wife is a keen reader of the Top 10… series of travel books, and indeed they are quite handy.  Again, you won’t be getting to many of the items on a Viking River Cruise but the books are a good overview/prep for what you will see.  We make fun of her for her devotion to them, but the truth is we let her do all the research and rely on her for where to eat and what to see whenever we’re traveling on our own.  Also, if you’re determined to see the Klimts in Vienna, for example, knowing ahead of time what you absolutely have to do will let you make plans with the staff’s assistance to make it happen, if possible.

You will need to tip your tour guide and your bus driver every trip, so lay in the small euros when you can.  Public restrooms on your tours are usually not free; your tour guide should be able to warn you how much they are and tell you where free ones are.  (They will always plan for restroom breaks, and they try to make them where the facilities are free.)

There’s at least one tour each day that’s included as part of the tour.  You can add others for an additional charge, and you can do that ahead of time, but it is possible to wait until you’re on board to do so, when you can ask for details from your program director and when you have a better idea of the trip.  Also, be aware of your own stamina.

Speaking of which: buy really good shoes, up to and including orthopedic numbers.  You’ll be walking a lot, often on cobblestones, and this is not the time for those cute little sandals. Or heels.

And DO NOT OMIT THE NAPPING.

Up the Danube, Day 10

One reason we loved Prague so much was that we were there for two and a half days and were able to get out and explore it, which is not really possible on the cruise. And while we had assiduously avoided all the WWII tours, our guide in Passau had encouraged us to take the Jewish Prague walking tour, and so this morning we headed out to the Jewish Museum complex.

Our first stop was the Old-New Synagogue, the oldest in Europe.

Pure Gothic.  It shows my ignorance when I’m always startled at the architecture of European synagogues: I’m not sure why I have it in my head that the Jews would have their own ecclesiastical style divorced from their time and place.

The portal into the sanctuary:

The tree is the symbol of the twelve tribes of Israel bearing fruit.

Seating is still as it was when the synagogue was built: around the periphery.  There are windows in the thick walls for the women’s gallery to be able to see in.

The Ark containing the Torah is behind this tapestry, hand embroidered of course.  The crown indicates that this is a Sephardic congregation; the Ashkenazi Jews used bells as their symbols.

Our next stop was the Pinkas Synagogue.  It was gut-wrenching.

The walls have been covered with the names and villages of the 80,000 Czech Jews who were deported and killed by the Nazis.  And then upstairs is the exhibit of children’s art from Terezin.

Terezin was the Nazis’ “model” concentration camp, a kind of Potemkin village that they used to show the rest of the world how well they were treating the Jews.  There, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, an artist from the Bauhaus school, taught art lessons to the children.  Before she was deported to Auschwitz, she hid 4,500 pieces of art in two suitcases, which were found ten years later.  The Jewish Museum stores them now; the exhibit in the Pinkas Synagogue are reproductions.

All you could do is cry.

The sanctuary itself is a kind of pseudo-Romanesque.  I found the Art Nouveau windows to be particularly lovely:

The Spanish Synagogue is spectacular.  It was built in the 1860s by the Reformed community in the Moorish Revival Style, which you may be familiar with from the rather newer Fox Theatre in Atlanta.

The dome:

There were a couple more stops on the tour: the Jewish Cemetery, the Klausen Synagogue with its exhibit of religious paraments and service vessels, and the Ceremonial Hall of the Jewish Burial Society, which has made no concessions to modern crown control in its narrow stairs.  The restroom in particular was difficult to negotiate via its single narrow spiral staircase down.

Then we were free for the rest of the day.  We wandered back to the Old Town Square to see what we could see.

Art Nouveau details:

Amusing English:

We do not know whether this is high-falutin’ cuisine or comestibles for Kafka snobs.

All the streets in Prague look basically like this:

There is a place on the Old Town Square which has exhibits of Dali, Warhol (née Warhola, i.e., of Czech extraction), and Alphonse Mucha.  It was the latter we wanted to see.  (You paid separately for each exhibit.)

Who is Alphonse Mucha?  You know him:

Also Sarah Bernhardt posters, etc. etc.  The man was prolific and unstoppable, the Czech equivalent of Louis Tiffany.  He designed anything and everything: posters, cookie tins, furniture, calendars, notecards, stained glass—everything.  He was the soul of European Art Nouveau.

The irony?  He was rejected as a student by the Prague Institute and advised to “find another career.”  Oops.

I found this amusing:

Vin des Incas, available, the poster says, in all pharmacies, for convalescents.  And why is this wine “Incan”?  Because its not-so-secret ingredient (in the little white circle to the left of the name) is “la coca du Pèrou.”  Cocaine.  Ah, the Fin de Siècle…

We were thinking we would head back to the Kokorovka Cafe for lunch, but take a different route.  That’s when we saw this poster:

Talk about Top 40.  But the selling point was the Widor “Toccata” from his Organ Symphony No. 5.  Here, go listen to this in the background.  Turn up your speakers.

The Widor Toccata was played at my lovely first wife’s college graduation, and she made her poor church organist learn it to play as our wedding recessional.  It is a glorious piece.

The poster was one of dozens outside a little shop that sold tickets to these events all over the city.  Prague is and always has been a very musical city; Mozart premiered Don Giovanni there because Prague was a lot more enthusiastic about his music than stuffy old Vienna.  We went inside and bought tickets.

Then we had to change our lunch plans, because we had made reservations at the Café Imperial for dinner.  We went there to cancel our dinner plans and to have lunch instead.

Can you say Belle Epoque?

Walls and ceilings covered in tile.  Food was delicious.

The English again:

Here, have a dessert photo:

We retreated to the hotel for a nap (DO NOT OMIT THE NAPPING!) and then ventured out to our concert.  We arrived super early and strolled the street: art galleries, beer garden with live jazz, shops and restaurants.

And there it was:

Alas, there wasn’t enough time for me to visit and genuflect.  We will return.

Finally it was time to head back to St. Giles Church for the concert.

Simple Romanesque exterior.  But you know how that ends:

The house opened at 7:30, but there was a service going on; the Dominican monks whose monastery is attached were singing mass.  We were allowed to go in and have a seat, but no photos of course.  (A sign asked for reverence with the irreverent advisory, “The monks are not monkeys.”)  Their singing was perfect, reverberating throughout the nave with no amplification: if that had been the concert it would have been enough.

While we were waiting, I found this:

St. Martin of Tours—my name saint, which I didn’t realize at the time because a) the donor of the statue was Spanish and I didn’t make the leap from Torres to Tours; and b)

… what?  St. Martin’s myth is his cutting his cloak in two to share with a beggar.  I’ve never heard of —and cannot now find —any connection with household animals.  The placard on the wall is completely in Czech other than the title, so I guess I’ll never know.

The monks finished the mass and withdrew.  An elderly Dominican welcomed us to the church and to the concert in a lovely speech about caritas, music, and God.

The concert itself was satisfying: a string quartet alternating with the organist.  Yes, the music was Top 40, but it was flawlessly performed with great musicality so you’ll get no quibbles from me.  If I had wanted 12-tone nonsense I would have stayed in Vienna.

The concert gave ample opportunity for examining the church, and I found myself considering it in terms of entertainment, i.e., for a populace who were largely still illiterate, before our own time of constant stimulation, the exuberance of the altarpiece for example must have been rather exhilarating.

—click for larger image—

The music of the monks, the organ, the incense, the shining of the gold decor, the drama of the angels — just look at these weightless beings in full flight! —the physical presence of saints and bishops in statuary: what a powerful experience to a person who has never seen a Michael Bay movie.

And the Widor was everything we hoped for.

Up the Danube, Day 9, part 2

You will recall that I had arrived in Prague with a list of some twenty bars which, according to my internet research, were highly regarded by the craft cocktail world.  Filip, bartender at the hotel’s Cloud 9, had recommended without hesitation AnonymouS Bar.

I did a little further research at their website, anonymousbar.cz, and found that they had recently opened a second bar, AnonymouS Shrink’s Office, which played off the work of Rorschach. Decisions, decisions.  I finally opted for the original because 1) they opened at 5:00; 2) they took reservations online; 3) they took credit cards (a bar bill in koruna? no thanks); and 4) it was nonsmoking.  Next time we’ll brave the Shrink’s Office.

Our cab driver used his GPS to get us there, except that when we arrived AnonymouS was nowhere to be seen on the narrow cobblestone street.  The driver was a little flustered, but I assured him it was fine.  It was all part of the game.

I led our crew down to a nondescript wooden gate, where there was a courtyard piled with what may have been discarded HVAC equipment, and there across the courtyard was the bar, still without any kind of sign.

Upon entering, I was little nonplussed to find that they did not have our reservations, but it was after all 5:30 and the young pretty people weren’t out yet.  It was not a problem.

AnonymouS Bar looks like a place the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would congregate, mixed with overtones of the hacker group Anonymous.  Our waiter was bright, friendly, and ever so arch, as if he knew a secret.  Which he did.

The menu is a little booklet, with the first page a list of descriptors followed by cryptic instructions: Follow the Script.  Follow the Vision.   Then there’s a simple list of five cocktails, each based on a standard classic like the Negroni or Manhattan.  Between these five drinks there are large blank rectangles, labeled OP, which we never did figure out.  There are boxes: Follow the Vision—Ask for More.  Then there’s the standard listing of beers, wines, and spirits.

We ordered our first round, and while we were waiting our server donned an Anonymous mask trimmed with EL wire and snapped a Polaroid:

That’s me in the Anonymous mask.  At this point we were hooked, trying to read a message into random events, like the weird b in Remember.  (Who knows?  It might have been a puzzle we never tumbled to.)

Marc and I had ordered a V’s Blood, their version of the Negroni.  It arrived first, and thus it began:

Yes, presented in IV bags and drained into our glasses.

I will say right now that all this gimmickry would have been enough to drive me from the bar if it were nothing but gimmickry.  But this place knows its show biz, and the drinks were nothing short of the best cocktails I have ever had in my life.

My lovely first wife got a Remember Remember the 5th of November, a Manhattan:

This was by far the best Manhattan I’ve ever had: bourbon, sherry, and black walnut bitters.  I will be desperately trying to reconstruct this one.

MF had The Scarlet Rose:

Yes, those are rose petals.  This was a version of the Ramos Gin Fizz, and it was tasty.

At this point I felt the need to send photos of these marvels to a Facebook group I belong to that updates everyone on their drinking habits, mostly beer but some cocktails, because what’s the point of being in the best bar in Europe if you can’t make everyone else jealous, amirite?  I noticed that the bar had wifi, so I asked our waiter if I could get the password.

“Yes of course,” he said and shimmered away.

With that settled, I got online and began posting.

SPOILER ALERT: If you want to go to Prague and experience the fun and games of AnonymouS Bar for yourself, read no further.  I am not kidding.  I almost don’t want to tell the rest of this experience because it would be a shame to short circuit someone else’s delight, but given that most of you will very likely never be in Anonymous I will go on.

But seriously, if you think you want to go do this yourself, stop reading right now.

As we were mulling our choices for our first round, I made so bold as to “ask for more” like the menu instructed.  We were told that that option would be available after our first round.

When the time came, there were two options for More: one for vision, one for smell.  I asked for the olfactory menu.  We were brought a wooden case that slid open to reveal five tiny bejeweled flasks, each a different color.  We were instructed to smell them and choose one.  That would be our next cocktail.  There was a printed menu for reference.

My lovely first wife then asked for the visual menu, and we were brought a ViewMaster.  There the cocktails were linked to video games.

Round two:

THE SCRAP (Resident Evil)

Vodka, pickled beets, lemon, pistachio syrup—entirely too sweet we decided… until the gelatin eyeball dissolved enough to release citric acid crystals into the drink which, sucked up through the straw, were a perfect balance.

EAU DE BLEU

Bourbon, peated honey, vermouth, jasmine aperitif—and under that little bell?

Dried ham, to be munched on while sipping to complement the drink.  Amazing concept.

EAU DE VERT

apricot-infused cognac, syrup of oyster mushrooms/truffles, bittering spices/herbs, accompanied this time by mushrooms.

EZIO AUDITORE (Assassin’s Creed)

wine blend, vanilla syrup, lemon, egg white, honey; probably our least favorite, but still tasty

Round Three—oh yes, at this point we were on a roll.

Now here’s an odd thing: we seemed to be the only patrons in the place who were actually thrilling to the chase, as it were.  It was a light crowd, still very early in the evening for young barflies, and everyone else seemed to be ordering your basic drinks, and mostly bottled beer at that.  Of course, it was Czech beer so that’s something, but who goes to one of the world’s premiere craft cocktail bars and orders nothing but Pilsner?

There were a couple of groups of young men, which we assumed were bachelor parties.  (Prague is a destination for young parties like that, especially Brits.)  One of them at least ordered a showy coffee:

Later in the evening two young women came in, one of whom was doing a dead-on Scarlett Johansson.  As far as we know, it could have been.  ScarJo, where were you the night of May 20, 2017?

Anyway, Round Three:

CODENAME 47 (didn’t get the video reference written down..)

Sorry for the fuzzy photo: Scotch, absinthe bitters, maple syrup

Marc enjoying himself:

EAU DE ROUGE

Vodka, gin, wine leaves, blend of French aperitifs, “forest fruits,” dried candied hibiscus

And for my last drink, I played a game of my own.  I showed the waiter the recipe for my Smoky Topaz and explained that this was my favorite drink in the world.  He began to tell me they didn’t have all the ingredients, and I told him I knew they didn’t because I had scoped out the bar.  I wasn’t asking them to make the Smoky Topaz—I was asking them to use that information to make a drink that would please me.

The results were stunning:

Genever, green chartreuse, Grand Marnier, Amaro (but which one?)  It was, if I’m being honest, better than the Smoky Topaz.  It precipitated a bit of an existential crisis.

I’m going to work on this one, and if I’m successful it will be the Smoky Quartz. (Update: see here for how that turned out.)

Three rounds of phenomenal cocktails being more than enough for anyone, we asked for restaurant recommendations and were sent to MANU, an Italian seafood restaurant floating in the Moldau.  It was top shelf, a lovely way to end our day.  (Our waiter had been an au pair in Dunwoody.  Yep.)

And when you absolutely have to connect your Art Nouveau hotel to the Renaissance guard tower: