Tag Archives: beer

Drinking in Tokyo: Almost Like a Local

Selfie at the last pub in Tokyo (before blackout)

It was impossible for me not to drink while in Tokyo. The questions were: what to drink, where to go, and how smashed it could be. And I did so, almost like a local did or to the same level as I would in the home cities.

The first two nights of the four-night stay were mild. It started with some mainstream beer at the capsule hotel on the arrival. The following day, I got to taste the first craft beer of the trip in Tsukiji Market and more beer along the day. That was it. 

The last two nights, however,  were worth elaborated.

The Night Observing Locals

The drinking ramped up on the third night. I booked Shinjuku walking tour from Air BNB Experience. The guide showed us the area including where to drink. Of course, there wasn’t a shortage of it. I expressed I was into craft beer. He didn’t take us to one but after the tour, he directed me to a local brewery, Yona Yona Beer Works. Their beers were very impressive. I ordered more than I should have just because it nearly hit the end of happy hour. The cutest thing was a sheet of paper laid down to indicate what beers on it.

As the result, I was drunk already when wandered off. However, I went back to where the guide showed us—Omoide Yokocho—to get the feel of izakaya culture. This alley was my kind of scenery and atmosphere. But with the amount of beer prior consumed, I could only get one sake and some snacks on skewers and needed to catch the train back before it got too blurry to do so.  

But it didn’t end when got back to the hotel. After re-checking-in and changing in a robe, I order a potato soju at the bar. It was just after midnight and there were more people than any other time I was at the bar. I  could just assume they were stereotypical Japanese salarymen.

Last drink at the capsule hotel bar

The Night Drinking with Locals

That night cost me a bad hangover in the morning after but I managed to Sensoji Temple. It was a long walk and got back to the hotel late in the afternoon to decide how to spend the last night in town, searching for a pub within a walking distance.

I ended up in a local, 338 Counter: Ueno Music Cafe & Bar. There was no expectation but the place was the tiniest I’ve ever been to. It was on the second floor of a small building. The seats were only at the bar and could accommodate just less than ten people. When I entered the room, others had to squeeze to let me sit at the near end of the bar.

Full house at 338 Counter: Ueno Cafe & Bar

On the other hand, that intimacy translated into a cozy and friendly mood. The hospitality of the pub owner and other customers was incredible. Apparently, the night was exactly its three-month anniversary. The owner kept feeding us food which I had to turn him down because of the sushi (with sake) I had earlier.

The only lady in the house introduced me to Kirin Whiskey that I stuck with all night. She also drew each one of us a portrait and gave us as a gift. When other guys found out I was Thai, they told me they took a holiday in Thailand every year. There was even a framed photo of them, riding an elephant, in the pub. Later on, a new customer got in and handed his music to the owner to play. We made more space for him.

The night went on, the group of the guys left, and I was pretty pissed. The owner walked me down the building but I decided to get back up. There were only four of us left. We took a selfie and that was the last thing I remembered. I wasn’t sure if I could let myself get intoxicated like that if it wasn’t Tokyo.

Consequently, the next morning was a real challenge, getting to Haneda Airport in a peak hour with a terrible hangover. I made it on board though. It was a reasonable price to pay for an extraordinary night.

Wandering in NYC

Like last November in LA, before hitting Bangkok for a long work break, I took a detour to New York City. Unlike the LA trip, there wasn’t real agenda for it. Well, frankly, it was just to check the box that I had been there. The city wasn’t disappointing and neither was it as exuberant as it was hyped, I found.

I had some glimpses of the city twice: once in Queens last year and another one in Brooklyn on the way back to DC from Moscow. They were only overnight and my observations were limited. This time, four nights staying in the Bronx and wandering in the city gave me clearer thoughts about it.

Swamping Starry Night at the Museum of Modern Art

The first two days were mostly in museums: MoMA, Museum of the Moving Image and MoMA PS1 respectively. With those, there were beers in between.

After done those, I was at U2 concert at Madison Square Garden. It was spectacular but not so memorable. Post-concert, I got a chance to sit down for a beer in an open-air bar. The summer breeze helped calm the buzzing chaos. And my mind started to process the experience of the city.

Street food after U2 concert at Madison Square Garden

In the midst of the bright lights and busy street, it felt like everyone and everything was shouting at you but no one really cared to listen. It was hard to see contrasts I usually was drawn into. Until I ended up having long island iced tea at a Japanese karaoke bar across the street. It was a sanctuary from those noises.

Karaoke bar upstairs on 7th Avenue

However, the best of the city to offer was 24/7 subway system. It was convenient for a late-night drinker like me but it didn’t feel 100% safe to ride the night train back with plenty of beers and cocktails.

Night train back to the Bronx

After all of those seeing and drinking, it was time for my own photo shoots. I waited until late afternoon on the next day to go out. I walked from Chinatown to the Oculus and ended at Brooklyn Bridge.

Having a break in Chinatown, NYC

Obviously, NYC was more photogenic than LA or DC. But with those days in the city I just could not find anything really appealing for my eyes. But I was just scratching the surface and might not have been at a right spot for my taste.

It took around four hours from DC to NYC on a coach or a train . I could take that for granted by visiting Big Apple more often. But honestly, I wasn’t that thrilled about it and just didn’t see the point. Because this short trip didn’t add anything significant to my perspective neither did it inspire me that much. It would remain the biggest city in the US and maintain its cool but I wasn’t sure how it’d go further from it in the future.

(Update: 2 August 2018)

Beers in LA

One of some few things I liked about living and working in the States  was beer. I was curious to see what east coast had to offer when I got to LA last November. And it wasn’t a disappointment at all. On top of that, there was a good guide to take me for a pub-crawl—my nephew.

Angel City IPA, Angel City Brewery

The first taste of the local, Angel City IPA, was a brief introduction at a pub next to Egyptian Theatre before the movie. Unfortunately, the only choice I prefer at that same night at the Thai pub was Blue Moon. So, it didn’t count.

The day after we had a big yum cha lunch with my cousin and his family. And his son offered me to be a guide to the local breweries in Art District. We got to Angel City Brewery, Wurstküche, and Art District Brewing Co. That was one of the best things in the trip for having good drinks and chat with a right person. Moreover, what made it so special was that the person was your own relative you hadn’t met since we were little kid.

Somehow, it wasn’t enough. After parted with the family, it was still early in the night (with three hours time different from DC). I got down to the Brickyard pub to get some more beer. There, no beers on taps, no worries. It was a chance to explore from bottles. And I got some journal written and digested my thoughts on the trip so far. I had been full on. By the end of the night, I was pretty smashed.  Well, there were nine different beers I had that day.

The morning after, the plan to get out somewhere, like a cool café by Venice beach to write something, was scrapped. I stayed in the room for the whole last day of the trip. However, it really didn’t feel like I needed to do anything more. Considered missions accomplished.

Getting around and Getting Drunk in London

In my little London adventure, there are two things that come to my thoughts: the experience of excellent public transportation and, to my surprise, pubs and beers that turn to be a big let down.

In the Tube
Getting to Waterloo

First of all, as a first-time visitor I commute in London without any confusion. These days, my main tool for travelling is Google Maps. With its accurate information, I can get around without having to ask anyone for directions. Moreover, the clear signs on the ground reflect exactly in the app. I have had this problem in Detroit where I couldn’t find the bus stop, which appeared in the Maps.

However, when you plan the trip with the app and start to get into the Tube system, it could be difficult to change the route because there is no mobile signal down there and will have to find out from that complex Underground map. My friend and I have to do that while in the pub crawl session.

I just can’t help comparing it with other cities I’ve lived. Sydney improved when I visited last year. DC is adequate but Metro network is not widespread. Bangkok train systems are reliable but they are not totally integrated with each other or with other systems—i.e., bus and ferry services.

More evidently, getting from/to the airport shows how to move people painlessly. Even though Sydney, DC, and Bangkok are not bad, Heathrow Express is the best. Many cities frustrated me in terms of getting out of the airport. To name a few: I queued up for a taxi for hours in Kuala Lumpur, I got confused with Uber pick-up point in Detroit, I was rudely dropped off a wrong destination in Chiang Mai because Songthaew driver misheard me.

I’ve got prior perception of the city’s public transport system from a couple of works I was involved. London was one of the success case stories in a report about urban transport in Malaysia. And we once interviewed CTO and Director of Customer Experience, Transport for London on how they could assist other cities with their experiences. To finally experience it first hands with this background is great.

On the other side, my expectation with pubs and beer is high but it just lets me down. Two nights out of three in the city, I get last call bell before midnight. I’m not sure if this is a norm but I don’t remember the last time I had to rush out of a pub.

Mushrooms at the World's End
A urinal at World’s End, Camden

And a quest for good local ale also fails. London Pale Ale I have in Oxford is fine. But others than that don’t jump at me at all. The tap selections are quite the same along the pubs I’ve been too. Unlike DC or Sydney, where they’ve got different beers in different pubs. My regular, Songbyrd, always changes beers on their taps.

Late Night Underground
Getting back to Notting Hill, tipsy…

To end this note, I’ve got one of the most embarrassing moments in my life in the last night in London. I can’t hold it to the hotel and have to release it on pathway by a park. Just a few second later, a police car pulls over behind me. The cops get out of the car and ask me questions. This could be the first time ever I got caught red handed with no excuses. I know I could be in a trouble with it but they let me go anyway. Oops! Lesson learned.

More Aussie Beers Please

Coopers Pale Ale
Coopers Pale Ale at Bank Hotel

Over the years, I have developed a fondness of craft beer. It could not be possible to resist exploring Australian brew when I got down there.

My drink list wasn’t as long as food craving mission. The very first beer I got had to be Coopers pale ale at the Bank Hotel, one of my favourite spots to watch the world flowing by. Coopers and James Squire were the two established breweries I was longing for. There were also  my new-found favourite local craft beer, especially Young Henrys from Newtown. Shame that I didn’t get a chance to visit their bar.

That was simply because my the pub time was in the regular one, Kelly’s on King. And another one that I went more often this trip was the Townie, where I stopped for variety of Young Henrys and to write travel journals.

It was good to see that Kelly’s, the Townie, and Warren View Hotel still had as the same vibe as when I left the city. Most of others in the local has changed. The Duke and Newtown Hotel became so hipster. The Sando was renamed to Newtown Social Club even tough it got the same spirit.

Closer to Sydney’s CBD, Lansdowne Hotel is gone. The Clare Hotel turned posh. However, Stonewall Hotel on Oxford Street were still the same gay bar. And fortunately, Brighton Up Bar were as a dive bar as I hoped it would be.

Brighton Up Bar
Brighton Up Bar on Oxford Street

Although the pub wasn’t my usual spot because of the location but it always have a special place in my heart. It was where I started transitioning works. One day in winter 2007, I randomly sat down there to write a script for Anywhere Chairs while sipping beer. Since then, I found pubs have been my preferred choice of writing environment.