Tagged in: drinking

Exile in Bondi: Australia’s Hard Drinking Manly Men (and Women)

Aussies like to drink. They take it seriously, and they don’t mess about with those that can’t hang. They seem to have something of an obsession with the cause of (and solution to) all life’s problems: alcohol. How do I know? I’ve been in Sydney for nearly two months and I’ve experienced all of the following.

No fewer than three people have told me that Americans need to drink more, and that perhaps this perceived lack of drinking has lead to us being more uptight than we could be. It happened in three disparate settings: a raucous sports bar, a table outside a coffee stand, and inside a class room. The speakers were varying ages, genders, and occupations. I’m not sure exactly where this repuation for being lightwieghts started, but clearly these Sydneysiders have never experienced a Tallahassee Thursday, smelled the putrid aftermath of an 8th Jaeger Bomb gone awry at a Brevard country Ladies Night, or seen an episode of Intervention. If they had, they would know that any problems the American people have with drink tend to flow more toward over- than under-consumption. So wither this reputation? Perhaps its a vestigial outgrowth of our Puritan heritage, or history of prohibition. Either way, I’m not convinced that we really are that prudish.

They do seem generally more tolerant of drinking to excess here. At the orientation for my exchange program, all the speaker’s jokes kept circling around to the liquor-fueled debauchery that awaited us as temporary UNSW students. It was kind of funny, but I can hardly imagine an official school function at any university in the U.S. where the speaker referred to Spring Break as “one week of being constantly drunk” and promise non-stop chugging. Granted, American universities as are currently pushing for a re-examination of the way deal with alcohol consumption by the 16-21 set. This is a long way from the Operation: Quiet Storm attempt during my undergrad days at Florida State, where roving task forces took to the streets in concerted effort to stamp out keg parties and downplay the status of FSU as a party school. But even so, I think fear of potential civil liability would keep them from mentioning the joys of inebriation in their addresses to incoming students. Mind you, I’m not offended and not complaining. I’m just noticing the differences. It seems to me that a lowered drinking age and at least some social acceptance of it would lead to less hypocrisy if nothing else. Though I’m long past the age at which it affected me, I have never been convinced that the 21st birthday magically confers a sense of maturity and responsibility. Aside from the whole “I can join the army and go to war, vote on the future of my country and smoke but I can’t order a beer?” argument, I think a younger age limit would allow people to get the more knucklehead stuff out of their systems earlier and lose their minds doing kegstands after they hit the big Two-One.

And at the same time, the Aussie’s don’t approach drunk driving with kid gloves, either. How hardcore are they? The other day I was walking through Paddington and came across a DUI checkpoint where they were randomly breathalyzing the stops. Nothing too unusual, except for the fact that this was going on in broad daylight. It was 11:00 on a sunny Tuesday morning and the Aussie po-pos were cracking down on the unwary. Not only does thism speak to the intensity of Australian police response to getting behind the wheel with too many shots under your belt, but is also indicitave of the verve with which the people embrace drinking. In the U.S., these checkpoints are usually set up on Friday and Saturday nights, a net for the unwary who crawl through the parking lot after last call. That’s when poeple tend to get drunk. Here: just before lunchtime at the beginning of the week.

I think this international culture clash requires further research. I will also do my part to uphold America’s reputation, trying to set these people straight one pint at a time.

Or schooner, I guess.

Beards, Books, and Beer: Portland Rock City

portland oregon columbia river

Ah, the Pacific Northwest. It’s a land of tall trees and grey skies, where the men are bearded and draped in flannel and the women are strong and the coffee is stronger. The entire region smells faintly like pie. At least that’s how I always imagined it. But there’s more to the place than the lumberjack ethos and damn fine coffee.

I’ve just returned from Portland, one of the coolest cities I have ever wandered around. It’s young and it’s modern, with one of the greenest public transportation systems in the country. I took advantage of the free streetcar rides in the downtown area because it gave me a chance to get the lay of the land while staying dry and warm. It’s a city with a purpose, and it feels like it was made for people who work hard for a living. Not that its some industrial wasteland like Detroit, but the parts I saw lacked some of the more ornate urban flourishes of cities like San Francisco. The buildings were mostly brick, square and hard but with ample charm. There’s a massive library downtown that lends the city a collegiate air. The presence of at least three universities also help.

I did notice an inordinate number of bearded men, though. I guess some stereotypes are true. Many of them seemed to be carrying guitars. I guess the music scene here is either pretty big or there’s something about Portland that draws furry-faced troubadours.

It was cold and raining for the duration of my visit. The only blue sky I saw was for a few hours on my last day. But I’m the kind of guy who revels in gloom, and it really felt like the rain gave the city character. You would think they would be used to that sort of thing there, but as near as I can tell rain is still big news in Portland. I enjoyed the hazy mist, and the rain itself was strong enough to be serious but soft enough to endure if you have to. It shaped my experience and I can’t imagine what the streets would look like if they weren’t rain-slicked.

powells books map brochure

Powell’s is the single most enjoyable bookstore I have ever gotten lost in. And I don’t just mean in the metaphorical sense, the place is massive and multi-layered. It’s not just a store, it’s a whole city of books. The rooms are divided into different sections and color coded. The sections are marked out in a retro-style guide but I preferred to just drift through the store at random. There is no sales tax, so my to-be-read stack got tall again just when I was getting to the bottom of my backlog. There are worse problems to have, I suppose.

Cold weather produces hardy beer. Portland has an ass-load of small breweries and locally created beer. And it was all delicious. Few things in this life bring me more pleasure than sitting down with a tray full of beer samples. I love beer for all the sensual joys it brings. Yes, hard liquor does the job faster and more efficiently and I am a certified whiskey taster. But I love the way beer bubbles burn slightly and the foam gets in your nose just a little bit. I like the belching, too. I felt at home in Portland and tried to hit as many local brewpubs as I could before I would have trouble stumbling back to the hotel.

Rock Bottom Brewery felt like it was one of the larger places and seemed almost more like a regular bar than the smaller, more traditional brewpubs.

portland oregon columbia river

Bridgeport had a bad-ass ESB, and they baked their own bread. It was warm and doughy and oh-so tasty. The beer tasted good, but it came a little slowly. There was a steady influx of factory workers that seemed to come into the pub and while I didn’t see any of them leave it didn’t seem to get too crowded. The people seemed to be drinking despite the fact that it was only around lunch time, and I heartily approved.

McMenamin’s is actually more than just a brewery. I spent a few days at the Edgefield house they operate just outside the city in Troutdale. It’s a little pleasure compound where they brew their own beer, distill their own whiskey, and do whatever you do to make wine. The main hotel used to be some sort of rest home or something and it’s decked out with weird-but-not-in-a-disturbing-way art work. There are like five different bars on the premises, and you just wander from location to location with a mason jar that they keep refilling for you. It was glorious. The IPA was nice and hoppy and I kept going back to it despite the many other styles. One of the pubs looked like it was built by and for hobbits.


mcmenamins edgefield portland oregon pub

This one actually had its own movie theatre. There are also a few restaurants on the grounds, and the serve a mean salmon hash for breakfast.

mcmenamins pub portland power station

After coming back to San Francisco from Portland, I find myself wishing it was colder and wetter here. And soon, I’ll be heading back to Florida where it’s even warmer and drier. But I’ll be returning to the Rose City sooner rather than later, and not just to get drunk and buy things without paying sales tax.