The rusty box cutter that is a Global Pandemic has cut jaggedly and severed deep for me, a person who thrives on visiting breweries and exploring other cities. Lately I’ve been reflecting back on some beer trips I haven’t written about, and this one particular trip seems to keep popping to mind. Frankly, right now it feels good to at least project back to better times and conjure up memories of not being quarantined – thoughts about when places were legally allowed to serve guests.
I was 37 in November 2017 – exactly three years as I write this. The focus of the trip was to finally get to see Tegan & Sara play live. They were touring, performing their album The Con in honor of its ten-year anniversary, which made it even cooler since The Con is my favorite record of theirs.
I’ve always been intrigued by the Canadian identical twin sisters because aside from them both being some of my favorite songwriters, they are exactly my age. For whatever reason most of my favorite musicians are always either five years older than I am, or much younger. I’m currently reading Tegan & Sara’s dual memoir called High School, about high school. I’m also raising twin daughters of my own now.
It’s a bit of a haze at this point but I know I left my apartment in Ukrainian Village on a Saturday morning to head to Kalamazoo, Michigan. If I know myself like I think I do, I stopped at Dark Matter Star Lounge for a coffee, lit up a Partagas Black Label Gigante, and drove due East on Augusta, heading for the interstate. In this life there is nothing better than driving somewhere on an autumn morning with a bitter black hot coffee being offset by a cool breeze and a giant chocolatey luxury maduro.
I made a few stops along the way including my first ever visit to Transient Artisan Ales in Bridgman, Michigan. I made it to Kalamazoo early afternoon and checked in to my hotel. The first thing I did was Uber to Bell’s Eccentric Café.
You could probably whittle down a list of the most important American craft beer establishments from the initial waves, and I guarantee Bell’s would be on a list cobbled together by anyone credible. It’s a must-visit. Larry Bell was pre-class of 1988 and Two-Hearted has sparked change in the lives and views of more enthusiasts than I can count.
Eccentric Café opened on Kalamazoo Ave in ‘93 and is still 100% family owned and still 100% maintaining an early to mid-1990s café décor and design trend. It’s “The Adventures of Pete & Pete witness Polaris play MTV Unplugged at Central Perk”, and it’s the most warm and inviting experience.
I got up to the bar and started ordering away. Kalamazoo Stout, variants of Oberon, 2017 Black Note. Cherry Stout, which people say tastes like cherry cough syrup in a bad way, but I say tastes like cherry cough syrup in a good way. My mind goes a bit dizzy at the spectrum of taps at that bar that day.
I should pause and talk about the idea that I don’t ever order flights or tasters at bars. I don’t ask to sample beers either. The reasons I don’t are in deep contrast to the reasons I should, and I don’t give anyone a hard time to who may. It’s not about fear of feeling effeminate or appearing novice, so much as I just fully enjoy sitting at a bar with a robust pour of beer.
My view is that a beer is designed to be enjoyed in a full-pour format to display visuals and enhance aromas. Beers, to me are meant to last for a while as to prolong conversation as opposed to dicking around with tiny glassware and fidgeting over notes. There is a time and place for tasting and sampling, please make no mistake. Overall, from my personal vantage point, quality time spent at a bar supersedes merely trying more beers at a bar.
Having said that, maintaining full pours of beer doesn’t specifically preclude me from drinking a whole lot of beer in one setting – especially when I’m in a new city, my accountability factor is (or at the time was) approaching zero, and my night ends with me crashing in my hotel room.
After a pristine jalapeño burger and some fun conversation with a rotating presentation of new friends, people I met who didn’t last quite as long as I did at Bell’s, I stumbled over to Hopcat.
I was confused at Hopcat. I don’t think I understood how popular craft beer had become at that point, to where college bros were hanging out in craft beer bars and twenty televisions on the walls would be displaying twenty different sporting events. I was used to Local Option in Lincoln Park, directly adjacent to DePaul University yet occupied by literally zero college bros, ever. Hopcat felt like when you saw that kid born in the year 2001 wearing a Nirvana tee shirt his mom tossed in to the cart while shopping at Target for wrapping paper and milk. I had one beer in a shaker pint and I sauntered out almost as quickly as I had hobbled in.
The Beer Exchange was as confusing to me as Hopcat, but in a more pronounced and increasingly baffling way. By this point in my night I was three sheets to the goddamn wind, I don’t see a reason to lie. I strolled in like I owned the place, not knowing what was going on, and as I write this from my memory and my perspective as an inebriated individual, I recall a quickly devolving vantage point which melted to oblivion the longer the seconds ticked on.
It felt like a combination of video arcade, options exchange floor, and Photon laser tag arena. Laserbright LCD, carpeting, stairs, carpeted-stairs, black iron railing – lots of noise and alarms (but I may be making that alarms part up by accident).
The prices of the beers on tap scrolled across by ticker on the giant flat panel screens and they changed every few minutes as they whizzed by. So basically you order a beer and a few moments later you either get a false sense of buzzing accomplishment that you juked some sort of system if your beer price rallied, or you feel really pissed off that you paid too much if the price of your beer price took a nosedive. My best guess is that if you stay long enough, you break even, but if you take your winnings or your losses and head out, you’re either annoyed or you had a blast.
In my drunken haze I just assumed all of this was tied to a complex algorithm with regard to commodities trading prices for ingredients like barley, or adjuncts like wheat, oats, corn, and rice. Maybe a lowered supply of various hops or a bottleneck on certain yeast strains? What if they laid off the janitorial service at that moment and the price of every beer dropped a dollar? Perhaps another brewery sold to Inbev and the demand for their once-hyped stuff tanked in real time. The people near me at the bar and the people tending bar didn’t even pretend to know or care, and that really pissed me off.
But no, I came to find between rifling through Google searches, fumbling on digital groupchat, and zapping sloshed drunk texts to friends, that the price fluctuation at Beer Exchange was nothing other than random. It wasn’t based on supply and demand of, well, anything – which honestly pissed me the fuck off even further. I had to pack my shit and get the fuck out of there, man. Dark, you can’t come soon enough for me.
I got in my Uber and went to my hotel seething in an annoyed rage. Not because the price of my beer dropped after I ordered; no, I was infuriated because the pricing models were not tied to any factors – at all! What is this, roulette? Just give me a game of chess so I can feel connected to something. Fuck. I can never go back there.
The next morning I stopped for coffee (probably lit another cigar), and carried on my way to Motor City.
I love Detroit and it was cool to spend an entire day there driving around and walking to different places in various neighborhoods. At the time I was mainly familiar with Corktown and Midtown so I revisited some spots within those realms. I got pizza at the bar at Motor City Brewing Works and I stopped by Astro Coffee, a staple for me absolutely anytime I’m up there. I went to some bookshops and a record store where they refused to sell me the Cypress Hill Remixed and Revamped record because they hadn’t listened to it yet. In the past, I’ve written about returning for that record one year later.
I took a trip to Ferndale and swung by my favorite record store of all time: Found Sound. The biosphere of enticing album-jacket aroma and the sounds of flipping through stacks of records is highly conducive to spending hours at a time browsing there as well as completely devastating one’s bank account. What they have to offer is mesmerizing and I never exit without a few esoteric treasures to add to my music assemblage.
I found a cigar lounge on the same street there in Ferndale that has a full bar with legit beers on tap. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen that before, and certainly nothing on that level exists in Chicago. After my evening of leisure, I had an hour or so to kill before the Tegan & Sara concert so I snuck over to Woodward Avenue Brewers for a beer and some dinner. Then it was off to the neo-gothic Detroit Masonic Temple in Cass Corridor.
The show was awesome. My seat was great, and they played the entire record along with 6 or 7 encore songs. I thought their banter between songs was really cool and I can only hope my twin daughters are anywhere near that closely bonded when they are 37.
A Lengthy Tangent on Correlation and Causation.
The Masonic Temple venue had a multi-person occupancy, gender-neutral bathroom. Clearly it was a makeshift setup probably depending on the event being held at any given date. I used the restroom in two separate instances before and during the set.
To preface: I fully believe we need to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, on a national level. Shouldn’t have to be stated, but here in November 2020, just less than half of our country recently actively voted for a wannabe-fascist, illiterate megalomaniac to retain his greasy spot in the White House. I can’t even risk being associated with any idea which reflects his views or anyone who might support his bullshit.
But look, men are disgusting and do reprehensible things in public bathrooms. I can’t be apologetic for the fact that men and women, on average, have a very different methodology in terms of how public restrooms are utilized. Combining all these people together, I’d estimate about thirty individuals, in to one bathroom experience with a line out the door; well…the women are, by far, the losers in this scenario. It’s unfair.
Every person in that bathroom seemed embarrassed and uncomfortable. The tension was palpable with stage freight at peak levels, yet everyone in there definitely felt a need to pretend it was a regular thing, you know, for the sake of society. It was obvious. It would be comical to me if I weren’t appalled by the atrocious stench that these women had to put up with. It was just familiar to me as a man, yet humiliating that women had to witness it, and I had to be there for it. I’ve been using men’s rooms for 40 years now and it’s just…it’s not good. Combining gender-specific bathrooms in to one, thus entrapping women in our solitary gas chamber of filth will never conform to the side that has nice couches and pleasant scents. Ever. It defaults, every time to the borderline subhuman bathroom nature that is the typical male.
Of course, anti-discrimination regulation is about a lot more than bathroom access. The laws are about ensuring the LGBTQ people won’t lose jobs, be denied housing, or be rejected from public service and licenses due to who they are, or whom they love. These issues are always on the brink of being derailed by baseless fears, founded by our country’s cultural misguidance. Sometimes well-meaning people don’t allow for certain ideas when they set out to make things equal. I’m here to discuss bathroom access.
Here is what I propose: One bathroom for people, male-identifying or female-identifying, who wipe properly, understand the concept of flushing toilets, and disposal of paper towels, as well as acceptable hand-washing methods. This restroom would be reserved for people (i.e.; weighted toward women, but not specifically discriminatory against men) who have planned well enough in advance to not have to drop horrendous bombs of human waste leaving public, looming clouds of particles behind. You show up in sweatpants? Male or female, you’re not allowed in. But you do have
One other bathroom for people who leave those streaks in the toilet bowl, expose their ass cracks and grunt and let out other noises while urinating, and leave wads of soggy toilet paper all over the urine-soaked floor. This bathroom is normally reserved for men, but women are perfectly welcomed and allowed inside if they so choose to go on a grimy adventure. Really it’s for anyone who is going to be filthy and disgusting, but typically, ya know, this is only men.
Tampon machines and baby changing stations shall be in both restrooms.
On my drive back to Chicago that night, I thought about how touchy a subject it is. While gender differences should not be discriminated against, I also feel they should be celebrated and embraced. I don’t fully understand the idea or decision that everyone is physiologically the same or understands the same etiquette in a setting that is very personal, vulnerable and possibly unsanitary. My trip was great overall but the bathroom stuff was awkward for everyone that night.
I can’t wait to spend more time in Detroit, can’t wait to see Tegan & Sara play again, and I definitely can’t wait to drink beer inside of a taproom again. I shudder to think of the next time I have to be involved in a bathroom situation like that again, but I’d do it 100 times over if it meant I could drink inside a bar OR see live music again some time soon.
Maybe I’ll regret saying this;
This thing that I’m saying.
Is it better than keeping my mouth shut?
That goes without saying.
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