February 18, 2004: Fáilte go Baile Átha Clíath! [Repost]

We’re here. The concert is tonight. In just a few hours. It’s getting dark already. Holy feckin’ crap.

It had been 11 years since I’d been to Dublin, and even when I was there before I’d only spent a couple of days there total. I’d forgotten what a big city it is, and hadn’t taken into consideration how much bigger it had gotten since I was there last. We spent a lot of time farting around in Kilbeggan, and when leaving I foolishly said to Wesly, “The timing is perfect. It’s about 4 now, so we should be hitting Dublin between 5 and 5:30.”

Yep, perfect. Just in time to hit rush-hour Dublin traffic. And to put us in a traffic jam the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever seen even in Los Angeles.

It was unbelievable. Un-feckin’-believable. It slowed to the consistency of chilled molasses when we were approaching the city from the N4, but once we hit Dublin city limits, it just stopped. Complete feckin’ gridlock. What might have made it worse is that we found ourselves on a road I didn’t think we should have been on, and I didn’t quite know how we ended up there. Somewhere in Chapelizod I missed a sign, and when I had been hoping to be on the Chapelizod Road just south of Phoenix Park, I ended up on a series of roads (St. Laurence, Sarsfield, Con Colbert, St. John’s West) that were just jammed. I might have taken a picture for you, just to document how bad it was, but I was too busy shrieking “FUCK!” (no, Mrs. Doyle, not feck, the actual F-word), pounding on the steering wheel and perspiring. It was so bad, and we were so far behind the schedule I’d hoped we’d be on, that for a while there I thought it might actually be possible that, after all this expense and travelling, I’d miss the show (at least the beginning).

My expert reading of the Dublin city map left a lot to be desired, too — it’d been over a decade since I’d been there, I hadn’t spent that much time in the city to begin with, and I’d forgotten how the streets tended to be one-way when you didn’t expect, and how hard-to-read the street signage was. Once we got past the traffic and into Dublin 1, I ended up taking a half-dozen wrong turns on the way to the apartments. We ended up stopping at a petrol station at a frighteningly busy intersection way the hell up Drumcondra Road to ask for directions. Apparently the gentleman inside seemed to think Wes was quite mad, but he headed us back in the right direction, which was, of course, back the other way … and it was impossible to go that way from where we were. “Can’t get there from here, though!”

Somehow, we made it … 42 North Great Georges Street, the Mount Eccles Court Hostel and Apartments, checked into apartment #2, looked around (okay, it was nice; not quite as nice as the impression the photo gave, but perfectly nice enough), double-checked the showtime (8:30 instead of 8 … thank CHRIST!), threw our stuff inside, left immediately, got back into the car, and drove to the venue. It didn’t take long to get there at all … but parking the car was another matter. Did I mention that it’s a relative nightmare to have a car in Dublin? If you’re thinking about it, don’t. It’ll cost you more to park it than to hire it, the disc parking system can be diabolical (buy a parking disc-permit from a machine on the street for between €1.60 and €2 per hour, with a three-hour limit, there are evil clampers everywhere who’ll clamp your car if you’re so much as a minute overtime, there are only 9 multistorey carparks in all of Dublin, and only four of them are open 24 hours. Jesus.

Finally, after more wrong turns and U-turns there was the beautiful sight of the multistorey car park on Usher’s Quay, a mere 10 minute walk from the venue … and there we were, a whole 40 minutes early. There was a nice lady outside who handed me our tickets. The bar had just opened. We were there. Good Christ, do I need a pint.

Liam O’Flynn / Liam Óg Ó Floinn (1945-2018)

I’m absolutely gutted.

The great uilleann piper and founding member of Planxty Liam O’Flynn has died.


The first time I heard Liam O’Flynn play, I burst into tears within ten seconds.

I was 18, and caught a snippet of something wonderful on WWOZ‘s Irish/Scottish music show “Music in the Glen” (I must confess I don’t remember who was doing it in 1980). I heard the back announce it was a band whose name sounded like “Planks Tea” and had never heard of them. Very soon after I went to my favorite record store, the late lamented Leisure Landing on Magazine Street, and dug through their Irish music section. “Oh, it’s spelled Planxty!” I said as I came across their latest album, “After the Break.” Bought it and brought it home.

I can still remember putting on my gigantic Koss headphones, placing the needle into the groove, and listening to the first song, “The Good Ship Kangaroo.” That’s a wonderful singer, I thought, called Christy Moore. (Who sang at our wedding, in fact. Well, a recording of him did. Try as I might, I was unable to get the greatest living Irish musician to do a wedding in Pasadena on a Thursday during rush hour.) The interplay of strings — mandola and … Irish bouzouki?! What the hell?! — between Dónal Lunny and Andy Irvine. I’d never heard anything like it. Gooseflesh broke out. And then, after the second chorus, Liam burst in with the uilleann pipes.

And my head exploded. And as Andy himself sang years later, recounting the story of the first time he heard the Clare piper Willie Clancy, the tears welled in my eyes. I’d never heard anything so beautiful.

I wore that album out, then bought a second one and wore that one out. The LP copy I now have is the third one, and the CD I bought afterward I’ve managed not to wear out.

From those four musicians, the other bands they played in, or with, or produced, and all the othe rmusicians that they led to, and their bands and solo records, all branched out into not just a tree but a forest of Irish music that led to a wall of records, all from the seed of that one song.

I’ve been privileged to see Liam perform in person several times — the first at McCabe’s when he and Dónal performed as a duet, right after I got back from my first trip to Ireland. I got a front row seat, and made the both of them laugh and give me a strange look when they announced that they were about to play one of my very favorite tunes, and I kind of yelped. Everyone cracked up, and I sheepishly murmured, “It’s my favorite tune.” “Well,” Dónal said, “we’ll play it grand for ya!”

Then there was the Planxty reunion in 2004, the single greatest musical experience of my life. More on that later.

I’m still having a hard time dealing with this — his music meant so much to me. All the lads in Planxty are getting up there too — Andy turns 76 this year, Christy 73, Dónal 71. They all seem perennially youthful to me though, and their music to this moment surges with energy and life and vivaciousness. I’ll miss Liam terribly but fortunately he’s left a lot of great music behind. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

Here’s a great remembrance by Leagues O’Toole, whose Planxty documentary in the early oughts led directly to the reformation of Planxty for their first reunion show in 23 years in Lisdoonvarna, and then their legendary 10-night stand in 2004.

I’ll be doing a few reposts from my old, pre-Wordpress hand-coded weblog back in 2004 when Wesly and I went to Dublin to see Planxty, the show I’d waited more than half my life to see. (I have no idea if anyone’s still out there and will even notice this old, dead weblog, but here it is anyway.)


Twelve Mile Limit

There are those who would say that I’m dashing off this quick and dirty post quite literally at the 11th hour before the turn of the month from November to December, so that I will not be publicly castigated by my frien Cari Hah (who keeps me honest) for failing to live up to my pinky swear to post at least once per month.Those people would not be wrong. In fact, those people might point out that I am a great big cheating bastard for posting this on December 1, in the time zone in which I currently exist in New Orleans, squeaking it through the gate while it’s still November 30 in Los Angeles. Those people would not be wrong either. Ah well, one does what one must.

I will take this opportunity, though, in the 42 minutes in which I still have the post this before I truly have violated my pinky swear, to tell you about one of my new favorite bars back home in New Orleans — Twelve Mile Limit, on Telemachus and Baudin in Mid-City. This is been a major oversight in my appreciation of good drinking in New Orleans, as the bar has been open for four years and this is the first time I’ve been there. Spending six hours there last Saturday helps make up for lost time though, and I was having such a good time those six hours went by in a flash.

Just arriving to tend bar when I got there was owner T. Cole Newton, a most excellent bartender and host, who had previously bartended around the city at places like Commander’s Palace and Coquette. He’s managed to open a bar that is pretty much my ideal bar – it’s an unpresuming, unpretentious neighborhood joint, located right in the middle of a residential neighborhood, friendly, funky and comfortable, full of neighborhood people and regulars, with a fantastic jukebox, good food, fantastic collection of spirits behind the bar and a really interesting drink list. It’s also the kind of bar or you can just have a shot and a beer and play pool, if that’s what you feel like doing. If I were ever ambitious and completely insane enough to open a bar, this might just be the kind of bar I’d want to own.

It’s the kind of bar where you can go there by yourself and you’ll still have a great time for hours, because the people around you are so welcome and and friendly and interesting and fun. It’s the kind of bar that has regular events, such as (from what I’ve read) trivia nights centered around comic books and science fiction. If I lived in the neighborhood I would probably be attempting to organize Firefly board game nights. If I lived in the neighborhood my ass would be on a barstool there more than a few nights a week.

And on top of all of that, the drinks were terrific. In fact, Cole made me some of the weirdest fucking drinks I’ve had in a long time… and they were all really good. Jamaican rum, Fernet Branca, Catdaddy spiced moonshine and a bit of vermouth. That’s the first time I’ve had that particular flavor combination, and I really enjoyed it. White Louisiana rum, lime, orgeat … and Branca Menta. (I had a gigantic hot sausage po-boy earlier that day, so I needed Fernet-laden drinks.) I very nearly interjected on that one – “You know, I’m really not much of a Branca Menta fan,” I almost said (and which Wesly may well have said, because he really hates that stuff). But I didn’t. He’s been taking great care of you all night, you idiot – trust your bartender! Good thing I did, because it was a really enjoyable and interesting drink. I don’t know what the hell it was called, but I’m sure I could get him to make it for me again.

While there I heard a story that I loved. I had been chatting a couple of regulars and was enjoying talking to them; at one point one of them called out and said, “Hey Cole, tell Chuck how you happened to buy this bar.” He laughed and said, “It’s kind of a one-liner. I opened Google and typed, ‘available bars for sale.’” It had been kind of a scary place in its previous incarnation, but Cole was able to afford it and now four years later he’s got a bar that I wish I could come back to again and again. And I will, every single time I’m back home.

As the clock is ticking, I’ll cut it short for the time being and share one of my drinks from that evening. Cole was kind enough to share the recipe with me and I hope he doesn’t mind my sharing it with y’all. (I forgot to ask, d’oh.) A beautifully balanced combination of blanco tequila, a light, citrusy bitter, lime and a dash of spice – this one is going right on our home menu.


by T. Cole Newton
Twelve Mile Limit, New Orleans

1-1/2 ounce blanco tequila
1/2 ounce Aperol
1/2 ounce orgeat
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
1 dash Bittermens Habanero Shrub

Combine ingredients with ice, shake, serve up with a lime wheel garnish.

 Hey, y’know, this bar is only a 25-minute walk from the Fat Pack house where we stay sometimes …

(And posted with three minutes to spare!)

I got yer bitter right here, pal.

Anybody who knows Wesly and me know that we love bitters and amaro.

“What is amaro?” some of you may ask. (Oh hi, you must be new!) The word “amaro” means “bitter” in Italian, with its Romance language counterparts “amer” in French and “amargo” in Spanish. Synonymous with “digestif” and “digestivo,” an amaro is a bitter liqueur, usually with some sweetness, comprised of herbs, roots, barks and spices, that is primarily meant to be taken after dinner to help settle one’s digestion. Most amari (plural of amaro) are quite effective at this; they’re a perfect example of herbal medicine at work. Italy is a wonderland of amari, with myriad examples made throughout the country, most of which are incredibly local and bound by their ingredients to the regions from which they originate. If liqueurs of any kind could be said to have a terroir, that would describe amari — they tend to feature local very local plants and herbs among their ingredients. The amari we have available to us in the U.S. is but a mere fraction of what’s available in Italy, as most of them aren’t exported. (When we finally go to Italy I’m going to need two suitcases just for booze.) But I digress.

Our addiction to bitters runs the gamut, starting with “dashing bitters,” aromatic or single-flavor bitters that are generally used by the dash rather than by the ounce. The bar at home used to have a dedicated “bitters shelf,” the short shelf on the top. It still does, but our collection of aromatic bitters has far outgrown that space. Now we have aromatic bitters on top of the bar, including a whole pretty row of our locally-made varieties, Miracle Mile Bitters and Olive Heights Bitters. We used to have a piano in the living room that we hardly touched; that went to Wesly’s sister’s house for our nieces to not touch, and was replaced by a bookcase. The bottom shelf is entirely devoted to our drinking bitters — amari, digestivi and aperitivi. At last count we had 48 different kinds of amaro, including bitter apéritifs/aperitivi.

Oh wait, make that 49.

It’s a doozy, too. From our good friends at Haus Alpenz comes Elisir Novasalus, a wine-based amaro that is one of the most bracingly, unrelentingly bitter amari I have ever tasted.


L’Elisir Novasalus (“The new health elixir”) comes from Distilleria Cappelletti in Trentino in the north of Italy — they make a wide range of grappa, liqueurs, aperitivi — including the fascinating and delicious wine-based Campari alternative Aperitivo Cappelletti — and amari; this appears to be their flagship amaro. Unlike most it has a wine base, in this case dry Marsala wine, infused under the direction of an “erborista” (herbalist) with over 30 plants, flowers, roots and herbs from the surrounding region and in particular the high Alpine region of Alto Adige just north of Trentino; or, as the label says in Italian, “amaro based on wine and plants from the Dolomite mountains.”  Burdock, dandelion, aloe, gentian, alder buckthorn and cinchona are in the mix, as is some kind of tree sap brought in from Sicily (although which one is unclear).


The Marsala gives it a solid flavor base (and of course also means you’ll need to keep this one in the fridge), and the first sip is … like getting kicked in the crotch by a tree. I know, that sounds bad, but it’s actually … not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s bitter — very, very bitter. You’ll make a face. But then your face will soften, and you’ll find yourself compelled to sip it again, and again. After the initial shock of the first couple of sips Novasalus’ marvelous complexity becomes apparent. It’s a very dry liqueur but then a touch sweetness comes in. My first thought was “earthy,” and you want to keep sipping try to figure out what all those myriad layers of flavors are. “It grows on you” is a cliché but in this case it really does, and it’s fascinating, and while you want to make sure that whatever’s growing on you isn’t something out of a horror movie, you find that this liqueur, this elixir, this amazing new medicine, isn’t going to last long enough to go bad in your fridge.

My favorite description of its medicinal effects were from an Italian website, put through Google Translate: “Elixir Novasalus helps all organs to work in the best way to obtain an improvement in the regularity of the organism. It can be used as needed or for long periods.” All righty, then. Many folks also say it really does help settle your stomach after dinner, and I can testify to this as well.

In Italy, as with most amari, it’s consumed neat, room temperature or chilled, or over ice, and sometimes with a spritz of sparkling mineral water. From our distributor comes this interesting tidbit: “While not traditionally mixed, it is nicely followed by a small glass of sparkling wine,” and that it is of course also “famously comforting after a large meal.” There are those of us who love to mix with amari, though … and our household is no exception. Wesly had tasted some along with our friend Jenn Wong and said that “it reminded me how much I wanted to play with it. I liked the idea of a Manhattan-esque thing, and there was general agreement that this could work.” When he got home he disappeared into the kitchen. “I went with bourbon as I wanted a sweeter base spirit up against the intensely bitter Novasalus (even based as it is on Marsala wine). Did some experimentation while working on overall balance. Ended up with [this].”

Photograph by Wesly Moore, http://instagram.com/weslymoore

Photograph by Wesly Moore


2 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon
1 oz Carpano Antica Formula sweet vermouth
1/2 oz Elisir Novasalus
4-5 dashes Olive Heights Don Benito Orange Bitters

Stir with cracked ice and strain into chilled cocktail coupe; twist an orange peel over the drink and garnish with the peel.

“Familiar and yet not…sweet, spicy, earthy, bitter, musty. I don’t hate it,” he said. I didn’t hate it either. Jenn didn’t hate it either. Haus Alpenz replied to our Bar Keeper Instagram repost and said, “Well done! We don’t hate it either.”

Never has “we don’t hate it” been such a ringing endorsement, but it is. As we’ve sipped more and more of it, not only do we not hate it … we kinda love it. Make no mistake, this is a challenging amaro. But if you love amari as we do, and if you love to explore the flavors of Italy via spirits, you really can’t miss this one.  It’s inexpensive, in the $23-25 range, well worth it for the bold amaro lover!

What we’re drinking


#WhatWereDrinking has been a hashtag we’ve been using for the Bar Keeper Instagram feed (y’all know I work at Bar Keeper now, yes?), and I thought it seemed time to start a similar series in the newly revitalized Looka!

Just messing around tonight, but can’t take any particular credit for this as it’s just one or more variations on one or more themes. Arguably this is kind of a Black Manhattan/Negroni/Old Pal hybrid or some such. Equal amounts Congenial Spirits Twelve Five Rye, Aperol, and Amaro CioCiaro, with Bitter Truth grapefruit bitters and an orange twist. Delightfully smooth and mellow, but still aperitif-y.

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