Where does our Frolic Afield take us to this week? To Bardstown, Kentucky, by way of Alcohol Professor. Bottled History is a look at my visit to the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History. From bottles of old Coon Hollow to a still they claim belonged to George Washington, it’s a fascinating — and free — look at the history of my favorite tipple told by an amazing assortment of artifacts.
I walk a lot. Because I am cheap, and because New York is a city that rewards the walker. I walk a lot and take a lot of pictures, because this is also a city that changes with a breathless, frighteningly rapid pace. Sometimes for the best, sometimes for the worse, but either way what once was probably won’t be for long, so you can always stick around for the next iteration if you don’t like what you see today. So here’s thirty scenes, photographed with no particular skill on my part, in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Over at my other home on Alcohol Professor, I’m spinning the tale of the rise and fall and rise of the American hotel bar and cocktail culture. Or rather, in Cocktail History: American Hotel Bars, I am writing about “Rediscovering the American Hotel Bar,” a Manhattan Cocktail Classic event in which Rene Hidalgo, head bartender at the Iroquois Hotel’s Lantern’s Keep, recounted the history of hotel bars to us while serving an awful lot of really good illustrative cocktails.
It’s time for a Kentucky Derby Frolic Afield. I’m back on Alcohol Professor, and in An Urban Bourbon Trail Through History I’m taking y’all on a tour of Louisville’s three most historic hotels: The Brown, The Galt House, and The Seelbach. Or, more accurately, I’m taking you on a tour of their bars. Special guest stars Abraham Lincoln, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the hot brown.
The approach to the airport was through a maze of vertical green walls, mountains covered in foliage of the most brilliant green. The runway was short and ended at a river where people were busily tending to their laundry, as unconcerned over the approaching plane as was the air traffic controller, who was reclining on a bench outside the ramshackle terminal building. Dominica is not the Caribbean island you want to come to if you crave white sand beaches, clear turquoise waters, sprawling resort enclaves, or opulent amenities.
Our luck with volcanos had been disappointing. Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood, Mt. Rainier — they had all veiled themselves coyly behind a impenetrable curtain of mist and rain and gale force winds that rendered seeing them, let alone hiking them, a fool’s errand. Yet again and again we tried. AT Crater Lake we expected finally to be rewarded for our perseverance. It was sunny and 70 degrees when we began the winding ascent up to the lake itself. It was 25, snowy, and covered in fog when we reached the top. Turned away by closed roads and regretful park rangers, we descended the mountain, and found once again at the base it was a gorgeous day, the sky dappled with dramatic clouds and slants of warming orange sunlight.
Across the bay from downtown Sydney you will find the not-so-sleepy town of Manly. It’s good for surfing, good for seafood, and has the best hike in the Sydney metro area — which may sound odd, but Australia is a wild place, and even in the middle of a city, you can find yourself in the middle of nowhere with no one else around. The best way to do this in Manly is to follow Manly’s network of trails, which will lead you from beach town to beaches, then up coastal cliffs to tangled woods, rolling grasslands, the ruins of World War II gunnery stations, and swamps full of thousands of thousands of frogs (actually probably hundreds, but they make enough noise for thousands).
In our recent article about the Rabbi Loew/Golem trail in Prague, we mentioned the statue of the Iron Knight (or Iron Man) that stands vigil over Prague’s Old Town from a corner in the city hall building. Because the other corner is occupied by a statue of Rabbi Loew himself, and because the legend of the Iron Knight is relatively obscure outside of Prague, an overwhelming number of publications — including many that should be respectable enough to check their facts, like a 1938 issue of Life — misidentify the statue as Rabbi Loew’s golem (a few also identify it as Darth Vader, but what can be done about that?). Of course, it looks nothing like the golem, but with Rabbi Loew hanging around on the other corner, most people assume any strange monstrosity must be his golem.
Which is perhaps why the Iron Knight still hasn’t been able to lift the curse placed on him over four hundred years ago.
The history of Prague seems tailor-made to appeal to a vast number of my personal obsessions, among them my fascination with the history of magic and alchemy and the story of Rabbi Loew and the golem. Modern Prague has not failed to capitalize on this history of mystery and magic, as places like the Museum of Alchemists and Magicians prove. Fans of weird and mystical history owe a debt of gratitude to Emperor Rudolf II, the 16th century Holy Roman emperor who, because of his own obsession with the occult, turned his home base of Prague into the capital of European mysticism and alchemical pursuits. Rudolf II’s endless quest for the Philosopher’s Stone, as well as his craving for a potion of immortality, brought such notable alchemists as Edward Kelley and John Dee to the city, not to mention Jewish mystic Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel.
It’s an amazing testament to my willpower that on my latest Frolic Afield over at Alcohol Professor, I did not title the article “Czeching out Czech Whisky” or “The Head of the Cock.” Anyway, On the Prowl for Czech Whisky is my look at two Czech single malts, the low-end Gold Cock and much higher end 23-year-old Hammer Head, as well as one of Prague’s coolest whisky bars, Whiskeria, inside an old medieval tower.