Making the most of it

The timing for this post is kind of funny. Its 60 degrees and sunny … in February! Feels a little weird to talk about winter warmers when there’s no need to warm up. That said, its always a good time for an adventure, so here we are.

Which brings us to the question of the day: Have you heard of the Passport program?

If not, get on top of it! The current one — called the Winter Warmer — has sold out but their summer passport also rocks and should become available later this spring. Its in 10 cities across the nation. And, no, it isn’t some lame coupon book or far-too-ambitious social networking game. It’s so much more.

“More than just a field guide to hand-picked establishments, every venue featured in the Passport offers a two-for-one special on a signature drink! Participating venues get to show off their bar program by picking their favorite libations that best represents their establishment.”

Once you’ve hit 2 or 3 of the twenty or so establishments, you’ve saved enough with the 2-for-1 to pay off the cost of the passport.  And you’ve significantly reduced your risk of trying out a new place and/or a new drink. In my city of over 4,000 bars & restaurants  — with new ones opening every day — no one has the time or money to waste on boring booze or lame libations. 

Risk mitigation doesn’t sound sexy. Sounds like something you should worry about when it comes to your 401K or buying a house. But the truth is, we only have so many hours in a day. And really — without getting depressing, just being realistic — we only have so many days. So how I choose to spend my time matters.

Take it one step further: I only have so many hours in my life, and I use quite a few of them making money. (I love my job, too, but that’s another conversation.) Therefore, how I spend that money matters too.  Truth is, even if we had more hours to spend, I’m not sure it would be a good thing. Ever heard that saying “if you stand for everything, then you stand for nothing”? If we had endless time (and money) to spend so we could visit all the bars and restaurants, wouldn’t that end up making each one mean a little less? I’m sure I’d start forgetting many of them … even really good ones… cuz it would be just too much to handle.

Now, wait just a sec: from a certain perspective, this post can sound quite superficial. Believe me, there is a much deeper discussion to be had about how to spend our precious resource of time … loving people, making the world a better place, simply enjoying each moment. That said, if you can’t take care with the little things, then how well are you caring for the more important things?

A night on the town — spending time AND spending money — is something we can do well or do poorly.

Which is why its so awesome to have something like the Passport to make sure my hubby and I make the most of what we have. And, yes, they do a pretty smashup job curating. Of the 10 we’ve visited so far, all were worth it.

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For your own curation pleasures, are few of our absolute favorites:

Bar Fausto   – Delicious and creative cocktails, trendy vibe, delicious antipasto, super nice owner, a little spendy

Call to Arms Brewery – solid lineup (get a flight!), english pub feel, neighborhood gathering place

Ste. Ellie – classy speakeasy vibe, creative cocktails (that occasionally fall flat, but are mostly good), delicious bites

 

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The beauty of being human

Elephant Revival on Stage

Last night we saw Elephant Revival at the Ogden Theatre in Denver. It was exquisite.

Elephant Revival on Stage

Rhythmically robust and so beautifully simple. This group is anything but boring: their style melds bluegrass, gypsy, rock, folk, Celtic, and has the spiritual depth of an indigenous chant. One song might have Bonnie Paine’s antique-leather-clad hands dancing across washboard to accompany five voices weaving a harmonious chant while the next number might feature Bridget Law deftly spinning a story on her violin, supported by a chorus of washboard, djembe, cymbal, stomp pad, mandolin, bass, and guitar. And every song emanates an undeniable energy.

They even incorporated their long-time friends who are aerialists into the experience. What a night! Walking out of the venue, drenched in the joy of such an artful experience, we were shocked to see the clock. It was hours later than I’d thought.  The concert elevated our evening to transcend time.

Aerialists and musicians

Long story short, if you call yourself a lover of music, then you should absolutely look up Elephant Revival. And if you ever have the chance to see them live, do it.

So moved by the experience, I found myself contemplating why. Surprising, I know.

Confucius emphasized the role of the arts and humanities (especially music and poetry) in broadening human nature and aiding li (etiquette, the rites) in bringing us back to what is essential about humanity. For Friedrich Schiller, appreciating art and beauty is the most perfect reconciliation of the sensual and rational parts of human nature.

So, I think I say this…

Experiencing art like that created by Elephant Revival stirs our soul and reminds us what it means to be human:

powerful, capable of creating community, listeners, full of energy, delighted and able to delight, imaginative, focused, fun.

Being experientially reminded of what it means to be human is beautiful. It added depth to my daily life. However you define “art” (that’s a whole other conversation we can have another day), how does art affect (or not affect) how you experience and understand life? Does it elevate you too?

Husband/Wife aerial performance team

Investigating frustration

I was asked an interesting question the other day:

“What frustrates you?”

First things that came to mind: clothing left on the bathroom floor, stop and go traffic, tedium, ignorant shallowness.

I answered the question, but wasn’t satisfied with my answer. So it kept pecking at my mind, like a woodpecker on an old tree. Thankfully, I found myself experiencing frustration later that day. (Wierd, I know. I’m a nerd and think too much.)

We had heard a new brewery in Golden was opening its doors. On first impression,  Barrels and Bottles was authentic and full of craftbrew romance. With several garage doors and windows rolled up, the building seemed to stretch out a welcome, beckoning fresh air and new friends. Tables hewn of rough barrel staves cried “we’re the real thing!”. And the din of friendly conversation, compliments of a packed room, confirmed we must be in the right place for a good time.

They only had 2 of their own beers on tap. We ordered one of each and wiggled some room on a bench. With much anticipation, we sniffed… and sipped… and looked at each other quizzically. We expected the rye and blond ales to evoke descriptors of fresh or malty or nutty, but all we could think of was… toilet water.

Just in case we were wrong, we looked across the knotty table to some fellow customers. They concurred: skunky, metallic fizz was posing as an excuse for craft brew.

I felt the frustration welling up within me…

And then I wondered, why frustration?! Why…?

Because it didn’t make sense: the brewery owners had to know how bad their beer was! The 20 guest taps comprised a delicious, eclectic, and sophisticated collection, so I knew someone there had a trustworthy palette. This made the whole scenario all the more strange. Why didn’t they refuse to serve the bad beer, citing high standards or a desire to offer only the best or a fictional sob story about barrels leaking? I just couldn’t understand.

Aha! A small personal victory: the brewery helped me see that what frustrates me is not understanding. (Maybe that’s why I couldn’t let go of that question… because I didn’t feel like I had a grasp around what frustrated me… and not understanding that about myself frustrated me… driving me to this revelation and this post. Ha! Talk about going meta on this whole thing.)

Why, oh why, must such a seemingly decent establishment defame the name of beer like this?

What’s more, after having chewed on it for another day, my perspective has evolved to include thoughts like “Should I have said something to the owners?” “What if they really are clueless?” and “Why don’t I have the capability (or the requisite lack of social grace) to interview the owners or hunt down the reasoning behind what seemed like a poor decision?”. So sadly frustrating.

Tap line at B and B

That all being said, as a tenacious optimist, I can’t end this post on such a depressing note. So, I leave you with two thoughts:

  • Given the delectable selection of guest taps, I’m hopeful Barrels and Bottles knows good beer and therefore might brew tasty suds themselves one day. So, perhaps if we give them a few months and offer a second chance, we might find less frustration.
  • They did have an amazing contraption I’d never seen anywhere else: a hops fusion tank. While it looks like something out of a mad scientist laboratory, it’s pretty straight-forward. Simply pour any beer through the tank, let it sit for a few minutes, and voila! It’s now bursting with dry-hopped freshness! We tried with Colorado Native and, let me tell ya, it was delicious! I usually am bored by Colorado Native… but not with the beta acids of fresh hops added. Mmmmm mmmm, good. That might make it worth the second-chance trip in a few months, too.

BandB Hop Fusion Tank

Reunited! And it feels so good…

Yuzu Berleiner Weisse

I’m back! After a hiatus this summer (partially due to a stint in our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C.), the curation of the Centennial state is back on track. And what better way to re-start the engines than with a quick story about another reunion… with New Belgium.

Years ago, the hubby and I had gone on the fabulous beer-drenched adventure known as the New Belgium brewery tour. We particularly cherished our memories of tasting the couple Lips of Faith beers, which are NB’s experimental line. This was craft brewing… beer-making with a whole lot of heart and art.

Fast forward to this summer. As I was gallivanting across the country, I saw New Belgium brews everywhere. But the offerings were limited… Fat Tire, 1554, and perhaps a little Abbey Ale. Fat Tire is good, but its not that good. I understand the strategies behind mitigating distribution risks by first entering markets with the old standbys… but when compared against the Flying Dog and The Brewer’s Art and even some Belgian imports, the brews just weren’t on my short list. Sadly, I started to believe that the beloved king of Colorado craft brew had become just another big, soul-less brewhouse out to reach the masses.

Then, last weekend, we took a little road trip back up to their tasting room. I was delightfully surprised to see not two, not three, but twelve experimental beers on tap! On tap! After sampling the likes of fresh Coconut Curry Hefeweizen and a Berliner Weisse-inspired brew with a twist of the asian Yuzu fruit, I realized NB’s soul had stayed strong!

Label for Coconut Curry Hefeweizen

It was like being reunited with an old friend

who I hadn’t spoken to in ages…

only to find nothing had changed.

We still understood each other.

Label for Yuzu Berleiner Weisse

In our world of constant change, there is something our human hearts crave in dependable authenticity. While we definitely need change to grow, we also find immense peace and trust in something we can rely on. Thank goodness for friends who stay authentic… and breweries who stick to their soul!

If you haven’t yet, definitely take the New Belgium brewery tour. Its an adventure for the social drinker and beer-snob alike.

An Ode to the Quirky

The crawfish carcasses, after being eaten

What makes for a fabulous Saturday? An epic meal and some good downtime always helps, but what’s really refreshing on a weekend is an adventure…

A chance to go outside the ordinary humdrum of the work week.

I’d been to the Dark Horse before. This fried food and beer joint, with its quirky staff and fantastical decor, always provides a welcome escape from the real world.

Items hanging from the ceiling at the Dark Horse.
A section of the ceiling at the Dark Horse. Can you tell what all is up there?

It probably helps that every element of the building — from the heavy wooden door to the movie-prop-laden ceiling to the perpetually dim lighting — makes it feel like you’ve entered some ancient burrow, like something you’d find in Alice’s Wonderland or a wealthy hobbit’s hideaway. What would normally be mundane lawn furniture or old wagon wheels transform into whimsy as they hang over my head, suspended from an amalgamation of madness that doubles as the ceiling.

But this weekend was even more adventurous thanks to the annual crawfish boil!

Stamped with the Cajun seal of approval (from our friend who hails from New Orleans), these crawfish were something else! Having never eaten a single crawfish before, it took some gumption for me to wade through a whole lb of the little critters… popping off the head, cracking the tail, peeling off the exoskeleton, carefully pulling out the “poop vein,” only to finally eat… and repeat. I vacillated between being rather disgusted by this whole process and enjoying the other-worldliness and spice of it all.

The crawfish carcasses, after being eaten
The crawfish carcasses, after being eaten. Oh, the carnage!

Thank goodness for the beer. It helped referee my competing thoughts and emotions: the enjoyment won out. For some crazy reason, the Cajun crustaceans were delicious with my creamy Deschutes Obsidian on Nitro.

As quirky and downright nasty as it was, I loved it. Why?

While we all need stability and predictability to survive, the human spirit craves — and indeed requires — new experiences to thrive. Think about it: from a strictly physical standpoint, what happens when our muscles do the exact same thing over and over and over again? Those muscles stop growing, stop improving. That’s why I’m always having to change out my workout routine. (Or should… but that’s another topic for another day.)

I think our mental and spiritual self reacts analogously; without something outside our comfort zone, we hit a plateau. The daily grind becomes more grinding. Our quality of life atrophies. We need the quirky or the “strange” to stay healthy!

So, thank you Dark Horse, for helping me find something marvelous in the midst of the mundane.

Exciting comfort food?

Bang! restaurant
Bang! restaurant
The back of bang, which is actually the front. You have to go there to see what i mean!

It had been a long, exhausting week at work. All I wanted was a snuggly robe and a cushy couch. Or to curl up with a bowl of comfort food. It was Friday night, but I was spent. You know what I mean.

The problem was this: it was the weekend. And as a young(ish) professional without kids, I wasn’t about to spend the entire weekend watching movies. Plus, the family was coming into town. Since this was their first time visiting me in Colorado, they weren’t about to spend the weekend in my tiny one bedroom apartment either.

So what to do?

Bang!

Yes, Bang! An incredible amalgamation of down home and super cool.

The unusual entrance and rainbow-colored paint of the restaurant gently roused me from my state of exhaustion… just in time before I dove into the epitome of comfort food: mashed potatoes and fried chicken. The BEST mashed potatoes and fried chicken I’ve ever tasted. Tender, well-seasoned, just like you’d hope it would taste but with enough culinary creativity that you’re pretty sure you couldn’t reproduce it without some serious magic. The meatloaf was just as spectacular. (On a side note, don’t miss the fried calamari. I forgot we were landlocked!)

And then a bonus! Located in Highland Square, this little area has all the funkiness to make me feel like I was doing something with myself—and to impress my guests with mellow, walkable, and hip shopping– we walked off our meal by perusing the wine shop, cheese store and several little boutique clothing shops. After our adventure to this little place, I not only felt well fed, but well rested and ready to go. The rest of the weekend was a blast (more on that to come).

So why am I adding this place to my collection? It seems so unique to find a place that can satisfy the stomach and the soul. Moreover, one that combines so many aspects of an energized, hip, forward-moving approach to life (the bright colors, the hip neighborhood, the funky building) with the very bedrock of comfort food (mashed potatoes, fried chicken, meatloaf, iced tea).

So if you’re feeling like you would aspire to “do something” but need a little help getting the energy or inspiration, Bang! is your ticket to exciting comfort.