coffee

Ejo #96 – My Dubai

Even though I still don’t (and probably never will) call Dubai home, David and I have actually lived here for a really, really, really long time. And when you live somewhere for that long, whether you like it or not, you kinda get to know the place.  We’ve been around over the years, but because of the constant, massive construction, everything changes from one day to the next, which makes it lack stability.  So the city always feels in flux, foreign, and weird to me. To tell you the truth, I’m still not 100% sure which exit to take off the freeway to get to the organic grocery store we’ve been going to for the last seven years. It’s madness. But still, there are some parts of town we do know really well, mostly because we’ve lived in them.

We started off in temporary housing in Garhoud, in a very small studio apartment, provided by the company we work for, while we looked for our own place. Even though Garhoud is not really an area that expats tend to live in long term, we actually really enjoyed the four weeks we spent there. It was a really fun and interesting way to be introduced to this crazy city, and in fact, I kind of miss it. Because the streets were real. They would come alive in the evenings, and not with loud, obnoxious, sunburnt British tourists downing pints (though there is a raucous pub called The Irish Village just across the street from where we were staying), but with the Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis that make up the majority of the population of Dubai. The community that they knit together, in this small part of town, had a really special feeling to it, comingling the amazing smells of regional street food, the cacophony of sounds (including the call to prayer) at all hours of the day and night, the hustle and the bustle of working-class daily life. It was gritty and maybe a little bit grotty, but it was real in a way that “new” Dubai never will be.

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Our temporary digs in Garhoud.

 

 

 

What is this new Dubai, I speak of? Well, I’m talking about the mushrooming clusters of skyrise apartments built in the last decade or so. Old Dubai refers to the original Dubai neighbourhoods of Satwa, Deira, Bur Dubai and Karama (also known as Dolce & Karama because of the roaring trade in knock-offs that goes on there). These were the commercial hubs that flourished when the UAE was formed in 1971 (excellent year, I might add), but which have recently started feeling a bit worn around the edges. So yeah, in this case, “old” means about 46 years. Which isn’t really that old (I mean, really!!!), but it’s definitely older than new Dubai.

When we first got here, in the gold rush days of 2008, Downtown Dubai was where it was at. Or rather, where it was going to be. It was essentially still an engineering blueprint, and the first apartment we signed a lease on was on the 32nd floor of a brand new, solitary tower called 8 Boulevard Walk right across the street from the Burj Khalifa and walking distance to the Dubai Mall. As far as I know, they never did build a 6 Boulevard Walk, or a 10 Boulevard Walk, or in fact any other number Boulevard Walk. Which is kinda weird, but you get used that kind of thing around here. It was a nice enough building and we stayed there for five whole years, enjoying the hell out of the view which really was extremely remarkable. Downtown Dubai, however, was a 24/7 construction zone when we moved in and it stayed that way the entire time we lived there. It’s definitely more developed now, but it’s still several years away from completion. When we moved on to the next place, it was weird not hearing the constant sounds of jackhammers and cement trucks backing up at 3am in the morning.

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The view from our living room.  The not quite yet completed Burj Khalifa, circa 2009.

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8 Boulevard Walk – weird, residential tower in the middle of nowhere, with a fucking amazing view of the world’s tallest building.

 

 

After five years in Downtown, including a couple of years of quarreling with our landlord over rent, we were ready to try something new and took over a friend’s lease on a 4th floor apartment in Dubai Marina. There’s just something special about living on the water, and after five years of cranes and sand and dust, it was fantastic having a great view of a beautiful body of water from our home. In the cooler months we would go for walks along the promenade and we were within walking distance of the beach, a mall, several five star hotels, restaurants and bars. It was also down the street from an amazing döner kebab place, which (in hindsight) probably wasn’t such a great thing. It was a lovely apartment, but again we had a problem with a greedy landlord and decided enough was enough. It was time to start looking for our own place.

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Dubai Marina Promenade

 

I’m going to leave out all the crap that we had to wade through in order to buy our own apartment, and focus on how awesome it is to now finally have our own place and be our own asshole landlords! Actually, we’re not that bad. We get things fixed pretty quickly, we always answer the phone and we don’t hassle each other about the rent. We’ve actually settled into a really nice part of town. You might have heard of it? It’s called the Palm Jumeirah. Whaaaaat? I know, right? Who would have thought? Not me. But here we are, in a lovely F-type Shoreline apartment with access to a gym and a private beach, yo!! Livin’ large!

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So, our apartment is on the trunk of the Palm, at the top of the picture.  

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This lovely 2.7km walking track is literally at our doorstep.  I can’t tell you how nice it is to hear the sounds of birds chirping and children playing instead of dump trucks and jackhammers.

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Our beach.  Yep, it’s ours.  

 

I honestly don’t have any idea how much longer we will stay in this city, but I’m pretty sure the next time we move, it’ll be internationally. Our apartment is my oasis in a city that causes me turmoil. It is my haven, my refuge, my safe place. And I love it. It helps me tolerate…. stuff. Life. Perhaps I’m a little too attached to it, because honestly I don’t often venture far. I do my grocery shopping and I go to work at Al Maktoum International Airport, which is fine.

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My office.  Not too shabby.  

 

Every once in a blue moon I’ll check out a new restaurant or café that I hear about on the grapevine. Very recently I saw an ad on Instagram for a new café called Amongst Few at Palm Strip Mall in Jumeirah. This small group of shops along Beach Road has particular sentimental value to me because it was where we used to go to connect with people back home after we first arrived here, before we got internet hooked up at our place. It’s no longer there, but back in 2008 one of the shops used to be an internet café. I can’t even remember the name of it, but the place is etched in my memory. After all, it’s where I typed up my very first ejo a week after we got here – and now I’m going to cry.

So anyway, when I heard about Amongst Few, I wanted to check it out. As you know, I’ve not been very impressed with the quality of coffee in Dubai, or with the café scene in general. It’s actually been a couple of years since we’ve ventured out in search of coffee. But lately, I’ve been inspired to treat Dubai like I treat the places we visit when we travel. Do some research, and look at it through new, fresh eyes. So, we have been out and about the last couple of months looking for good coffee. Sadly, nothing has inspired a return visit – until Amongst Few. Can you believe it?? I’m not going to get my hopes up, but we have been there three times and we’ve had consistently good coffee every time. That, to me, is a fucking miracle. The meals are a bit hit and miss, but the hits are pretty damn good. I highly recommend the fish and chips. The fish is extremely fresh, and the batter super light and crispy, almost like tempura. The chips? Triple cooked, baby!!! Yum!

So, just as we used to do all those years ago, we make the trek to Jumeirah (though these days the trek is 26km, as opposed to just 10km) in the hope that the wonderful people of Amongst Few continue to make good coffee. Is it too much to ask??? I hope not.

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Amongst Few.  The internet cafe used to be just to the right of this place.  

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A view of Jumeirah Mosque across the street.

 

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The menu.

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Matcha latte and flat white.

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Smashed avo on toast with poached eggs, roast tomatoes and feta cheese.  

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Fish n’ chips.  The batter is super light and crispy – almost like tempura.  Even the coleslaw was tasty. 

The name of this ejo was inspired by a popular hashtag on Instagram (23.5 million posts makes #mydubai popular, right?). I do sometimes hijack this hashtag when I post pictures because… hey, who can say how a person “owns” a place.  This ejo, I suppose, is as close to describing what “my Dubai” means to me as we’re going to get.  I’ll never love this place, but over the years we have inexorably tangled into each other.  And as long as I can get good coffee, I can live with it.

Ejo #86 – Drunk In….. Tokyo (Part 2)

So, guess what? I love Tokyo. Tell you something you don’t know?? Don’t worry, I plan to. We just got back from our fourth trip to Japan a week ago and I am still recovering from all the awesomeness. It’s a truly vibrant city, absolutely chock-a-block full of wonderful establishments to get varying degrees of drunk in. So here we go with the second volume in what I’m sure will be an ongoing saga of tipsiness in Tokyo (Part 1 is here). We did return to quite a few of the scenes of our old crimes, but I’ll feature only all the new places we discovered on this trip. Are you ready?  Let’s go!

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MYSTERY IZAKAYA #1

Every single neighbourhood in Tokyo is crawling with tiny little izakayas* where the beer and sake flow freely (and usually the staff don’t speak English).  Here’s my advice to you. Learn a few phrases.  Some that we found useful are “Nama biru, o kudasai” which translates as “Draft beer please”.  Very handy indeed.  Another that we used a lot was “Osusume” which translates as “Whatever you recommend”.  This can be used to refer to a choice of sake, or an entire food menu.  We’ve used it for both with unmitigated success. Don’t be fussy, just eat what they give you.  It’s going to be amazing.

So, it was our first day in Tokyo.  We’d found our Airbnb, dropped off our bags and headed out into the mean streets of Shibuya looking for some action.  About two minutes later we found it when we walked by this little place.  The plan was to grab a beer to hydrate, and some gyoza for energy before moving on – there’s such a plethora of restaurants and izakayas, there’s no point staying in one place too long, you’ve just gotta keep moving.  Or at least that’s our motto.  So while we were relishing our gyoza and beer we noticed that EVERY single other person in the place was eating this weird looking cabbage stew.  We thought, fuck it and decided to get one each.  Oh my god, what a perfect thing to eat on a freezing cold Tokyo winter night.  Comforting, warming, delicious.  It was packed with chewy noodles, fatty pork bits that just melted in your mouth, and seafood galore.  It was a delight.

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Because every good izakaya serves beer.

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The first stop on our Gyoza Tour Of Tokyo

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Noodle, pork and seafood hotpot with cabbage.

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LAST:ORDER WINE BAR

There’s a whiskey bar in Minato called Bar Le Coq which we stumbled upon a couple of years ago and decided we had to go back to.  When we arrived, we were disappointed to find that the street sign heralding its presence in an unassuming residential building was no longer there.  Perhaps it had closed. Being the intrepid travellers that we are though, we decided to go upstairs and try anyway. We walked up the stairs and faced what appeared to be the front door of someone’s apartment.  We looked at each other, and pushed the door open. And there it was, in all it’s glory.  But different.  Unfortunately, the old owner had died of a heart attack in the two years since we’d last been and it was no longer a whiskey bar, having morphed into a wine bar called Last:order.  We ordered some whiskey as a tribute to the previous owner and looked around the empty bar, wondering how the place stayed afloat with absolutely no signage and no patrons, when suddenly the door flung open and a group of young movers & shakers took the place over (which wasn’t hard as it is a very small bar, probably smaller than your living room).  Over the course of our drink (which was supplemented with some very tasty Pinot Noir, compliments of the owner) we learned that we were in the company of a famous Tokyo film director and actor, and their entourage. That’s how we do, folks!

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Mmmm, Pinot Noir – oh, and a whiskey highball. And an incredible bar made of a single, twenty foot long, piece of wood.

INFO:
南青山4-1-8 Minato-ku, Tokyo
+81 3 6438 9864
1900-0200

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ABOUT LIFE COFFEE BREWERS

Every good lush knows exactly where to get good, strong coffee for those morning-after paroxysms.  I’d done my research and we tried a few different ones, but the best (and the closest to our Shibuya apartment) was About Life Coffee Brewers, a small little shop window on a street corner.  The coffee was tasty, strong and consistent.  And that’s about all you need to know.

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Good coffee’s worth waiting for.

INFO:
1-19-8 Dogenzaka, Shibuya-ku
+81 3 6809 0751
0830-2030

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SAKESTAND

Since we’re always on the lookout, our eyes peeled for drinking opportunities, we happened to notice that two doors down from About Life Coffee was a place called SAKESTAND.  We were intrigued, so we decided to explore (mind you, this was after a little skiing mishap I’d had, so navigating the steep stairs of this establishment was a bit of an ordeal, but totally worth it in the interests of research).  What first struck us is that the staircase is completely wallpapered in sake bottle labels.  Very fucking cool.  Upstairs revealed a cute (and yes, tiny) space that kind of resembled an espresso bar in Italy – standing room only, hence the name. We asked the lady behind the bar to recommend a sake for us (“osusume”) and she gave us a very fine selection indeed.  Unfortunately we had to pack for our flight home that evening, so we couldn’t linger, which is a shame.  But probably a good thing.  But we’ll definitely come back next time.  And so should you.

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What it says on the label. Immediately to the left of this door is About Life Coffee.

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Steep stairs. Sake labels.

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Sake in a wine glass, coz we’re fancy like that.

INFO:
〒150-0043 Tōkyō-to, Shibuya-ku, Dōgenzaka, 1 Chome−19−8, 2F
+81 3 6416 4200
1500-2330

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MYSTERY IZAKAYA #2

Here’s the thing about Tokyo.  As of a few minutes ago there are 82,824 restaurants in the city.  And that’s only counting the ones that are registered on Tripadvisor.  Our favourite restaurant in Tokyo, No Name Teppanyaki isn’t even on there.  Thank god or it might be overrun with tourists (we’ve never seen another gaijin eating in there and I hope we never do which is pretty awful of me, but that’s just what I’m like, and if you didn’t know me by now, well… that’s on you). Anyway, what I’m trying to tell you is that when you want to get drunk in Tokyo, just take a walk. There’s an izakaya calling your name, just around every corner.  For instance, one afternoon after gorging ourselves on Nagi Golden Gai ramen, but before heading out for a late fancy sushi dinner we needed somewhere to go for an in-betweenie.  We spotted this mystery izakaya half a block from our house, and we took the plunge.  This place was a particular challenge as it had signs all the way down the staircase exclaiming “No English, Japanese only”.  We slid open the door and a lady stared us down.  In my very broken Japanese I asked if we could come in for some sake.  She looked dubious.  I looked her in the eye and said, “I understand Japanese” in Japanese, and she bought it!!!  The farce didn’t last long (who the fuck did I think I was fooling), but she served us sake anyway and then told us to get the hell out.  But it was nice while it lasted.  My advice to you?  Give it a go.  Walk through that curtain, slide open the door and say “Konban wa”.

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She filled our glasses to overfilling, but refused to refill them because we wouldn’t order anything to eat.  I liked her.  I liked her a lot.

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SUMO WRESTLING

If you travel to an amazing city like Tokyo just to get drunk, sorry buddy, but you’re doing it wrong.  You need to balance all that drinking with some culture (especially the kind where you can grab a beer at the same time).  This is something I refuse to compromise on, being the high-culture hound that I am (cough cough). And so, we went to see the Sumo.  Firstly, this is some serious Japanese culture right here. I’m not going to go into the history of it, but there’s a LOT of history – check it out. Secondly, I am going to make a huge confession and admit that the last time we’d had reservations to see the Sumo, we missed it because we were so hungover from karaoke the night before (more on that later). And just to give you some perspective on that, you can enter the stadium anytime up until 3pm.  So yeah, we were hungover.  Anyway, this time we made SURE we got there on time – and we were so glad we did.  We expected to maybe hang around for an hour, watch a match or two, tick the box and leave.  But no, we were there for nearly three hours, drank a few beers each and had a rip roaring time.  Check out the video below of one of the earlier bouts.  AMAZING!!  If you’re in Tokyo during Sumo season this is a MUST do – we’ll definitely be back. Word of warning, if you stump for those ringside seats be prepared to have a Sumo wrestler fall on, and probably crush, you.

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This is the crowd at 3pm on a Thursday!!!!  Completely booked out.

Check out the unbelievable athleticism. No, I’m not joking. These guys train like warriors. They’re agile, flexible and STRONG!!!

INFO:
Ryōgoku Kokugikan
1 Chome-3-28 Yokoami, Sumida-ku, Tōkyō-to 130-0015
+81 3 3623 5111
Various tournaments throughout the year

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DAVID BOWIE IS

OK, so I’m posting two culture hits in a row.  Whaaaaaaat??  Who am I anyway??  Trust me, I was drunk at both, so it’s fine.  But seriously, when a friend (thanks Cath) gives you the heads up that this exhibition is going to be in town at the same time as you are, you book the goddamn tickets. And because I am rather self-actualised, we paid extra for the “come-whenever-you-want-and-not-at-a-specific-date-or-time” tickets.  Worth every yen. Unfortunately, cameras were strictly forbidden in the exhibition itself, so I couldn’t take any pics of the exhibits, but let me just say that we spent three hours poring over his handwritten notes, mind-blowing costumes, video footage, interviews, music clips and much much more. The most I have ever spent in any museum or gallery is an hour – tops.  We actually ate into valuable drinking time by staying that long, but it was just so mesmerising.  I loved David Bowie before.  Now, I feel like I know him, and love him even more.  If you have the chance, go. Just go.  It’s on in Tokyo until 9th April 2017.

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It was light when we went in.

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Dark when we came out.

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Yes, he is.

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Oh, you pretty thing.

INFO:
Check website for details.

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Bar Martha

This bar in Ebisu is on the same street as our favourite No Name Teppanyaki.  It’s kind of an imposing place, inside and out, and it definitely divides people.  Tripadvisor is peppered with reviews saying things like “worst experience in Tokyo”, “very unfriendly to foreigners”, “rude people, not worth the visit”, “rudest staff I’ve ever encountered” and, quite alarmingly, “the downside of Japan”.  On the other hand, some of the reviews state “a must visit if you love early rock music”, “amazing listening bar” and “not for everyone, but I loved it”. Guess which camp I sit in!  So, you walk in to this place and are abruptly told not to take photos.  And then the bar staff kind of ignore you until you actively seek their attention.  There’s no cocktail menu, per se, so that pisses people off too.  And then, there’s the fact that the staff don’t speak much English.  How inconsiderate!!! Seriously people, get over yourselves.  The bar has great booze, amazing records spinning and a lively atmosphere. What the hell is not to like about that.  We got the attention of our surly bar lady and with our broken Japanese ordered some whiskey cocktails, dealer’s choice.  She whipped up some very tasty concoctions and left us to enjoy them while she changed records.  She seemed to be in charge of the music, so of course I started wondering if she was Martha.  After our second round of osusume cocktails (gin for me and tequila for David), I mustered up the Dutch courage to hobble together in Japanese the question, “Are you Martha?”.  A huge smile crossed her formerly surly face and she ran to the back of the bar to flick through some albums.  She came back and showed me the back of Tom Waits’ album, Closing Time and pointed to one of the songs, “Martha”.  She smiled again as we put on our coats and left.  See, it’s not that hard to make friends with people that others might consider rude.  All you’ve gotta do is be silly, nice and just a little bit drunk.

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Uh, I’ll do what I goddamn please. In the toilet anyway.

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But not where people can see, and evict, me – in which case I’ll use a photo I found on Google Images. Two walls are completely covered, from floor to ceiling in records.  Vinyl heaven!!!

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The last song on Side 1 – Martha.

INFO:
1 Chome-22-23 Ebisu, 渋谷区 Shibuya-ku, Tōkyō-to 150-0013, Japan
+81 3 3441 5055
1900-0500

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EBISU YOKOCHO

What is a yokocho, you ask.  I must admit, I was also in the dark until our most recent trip enlightened me, as I am about to enlighten you.  The literal translation is “an alleyway off to the side of a main street”.  How that translates into real life is a collection of small eateries and drinkeries all collected in an enclosed alleyway.  This is NOT fancy food.  It’s rough, and it’s a little bit intimidating, but it’s also a lot of fun.  We were in between eating gigs (again) and only had time to drop in for a quick sake.  This little shop had a few big bottles peering at us seductively, so we stopped for a while.  The only other customers were three burly Japanese men who good-naturedly (I think) made fun of us until we took off our coats and sat down. Once we were seated, I instantly felt at home and we osusume’d our way to this delicious sake (I told you that phrase came in handy).  My suggestion to you, if you want to visit a yokocho – have a drink before you go, just to loosen up a bit, and then walk through and try a little something something from each of the shops.  While they all serve something different, the one thing on the menu that they all offer is Japanese hospitality.

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So you can aim where you’re drinking.

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Really delicious sake in a really rough and tumble alleyway.

INFO:
Some stalls are open from 1100, but most open at 1700 and stay open until very late

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BIG ECHO KARAOKE

What to say about karaoke in Tokyo.  Bloody hell!  Just… bloody hell.  It’s fun.  It’s dangerous. It’s addictive.  It’s something we do every time we go to Tokyo, and something we will continue doing whenever we go back.  We like the Big Echo chain, and in particular the one across the street from Ebisu Station.  They have different size rooms depending on your group, and we always get the smallest but there’s still room for at least four people in there (maybe you’ll join us next time!).  It ain’t fancy but it has everything you need.  There’re booths, a table, a television and speakers, microphones, tambourines, a telephone and a drinks menu. There might be a food menu too, but I wouldn’t know coz we don’t come here to eat, bitches! We come here to sing, and we come here to drink.  What we like to do is order bottles of dry sparkling sake and glasses of umeshu, a kind of sour, kind of sweet liqueur made from ume plums.  And what we do is tell the staff to keep ’em coming!! Because everyone knows you can’t do karaoke unless you’re drunk!  Time behaves differently in Big Echo. You walk in at 10pm, all bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to party, and about forty five minutes later you’re stumbling out into the cold street and it’s 4.15am! This happens ALL the time.  I tell you – it’s dangerous.  This time we decided we had to do a David Bowie, George Michael and Prince tribute. Seven hours wasn’t enough, so we did another five hours a few days later.  Dangerous.

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Enter these doors if you dare.

INFO:
Various locations throughout the city

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AFURI RAMEN

Thank god for Afuri Ramen.  In more ways than one.  Firstly, it’s fucking amazing ramen – a lighter variety that’s made from chicken rather than pork stock, it’s also seasoned with yuzu, a tangy Japanese citrus that makes the soup dance in your mouth. Secondly, it closes at 5am which is the ONLY reason we ever left the Big Echo karaoke before the sun came up. I swear, if this place was open 24 hours a day, we’d still be doing karaoke.  This ramen calms you down, but revitalises you at the same time.  It’s a miracle cure for whatever might ail you, especially if you’ve gone a little overboard on the drinking.  You MUST eat here if you are ever in Tokyo.  And when you face down that vending machine all written in Japanese, just press the button with the handwritten sign that says #1 Classic.  That’s all you need to know. You will thank me later.

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What you need to perk you up at the end of a long night of drinking.

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We stuck to the classic Tanrei (which was recommended), and never once felt we were missing anything.

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Oh my god, the ramen.

INFO:
1F, 117 Bld., 1-1-7 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
1100-0500

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LIBRARY LOUNGE THESE

So there was a LOT of beer and a LOT of sake drunk on this trip (did you happen to notice that?).  Sometimes, you just get a hankering for a good ol’ cocktail, so we headed out to find Library Lounge These (with a minor accidental detour to a French/Japanese fusion izakaya for a glass of wine along the way). When we arrived, we were greeted warmly (a stark contrast to the welcome we received at the edgier Bar Martha) and shown to the bar before being presented with a bowl of fruit and asked to pick a couple each.  David went with pomegranate and lemon, while I chose mint and lemongrass.  Hey, we’re nothing if not adventurers.  We watched the man behind the bar do his magic and then marvelled at the beautiful libations he presented us.  And then we drank them, and we ordered some more.  This is a really lovely place where you could spend some serious time having some seriously good cocktails.

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Fruit, glorious fruit

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Pomegranate & lemon

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Lemongrass & mint

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Pear & ginger

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Tequila negroni – YUM!

INFO:
〒106-0031 Tokyo, Minato, Nishiazabu, 2−15−12, カルテットビル 1F
+81 3 5466 7331
1900-0400 (-0200 on Sundays)

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* an izakaya is a place that serves sake but usually only with food – it’s not a bar, it’s not a restaurant, it’s an izakaya.

Ejo #68 – Drunk In….. Budapest

It’s been a few months since I popped my “Drunk In…..” series cherry in Tokyo and it’s about time to bring you the next edition.  This time we get tipsy in Budapest – an excellent city to continue the series.

If you have the means (and you do - it's extremely reasonably priced), I recommend you get your ass to the Danube Symphony Orchestra.

If you have the means (and you do – it’s extremely reasonably priced), I recommend you get your ass to the Danube Symphony Orchestra.

Budapest is a very old city bursting with youthful exuberance.  It is a most charming blend of classic (architecture, culture) and contemporary (street art, night life).  So whilst David and I most definitely delighted in a healthy dose of cultivated entertainment (Danube Symphony Orchestra, yo!), we also really enjoyed the more down to earth, rustic pleasures the city had to offer.  And those consisted mostly of something called ruin bars (or ruin pubs).

A ruin bar is what it says on the label.  It’s a bar set in a ruin (of which the city boasts many). Essentially, they are derelict buildings converted into watering holes.  It is the diametric opposite of the type of bar that blooms in Dubai, where everything has to be huge, shiny, new, glistening and glamorous.  These ruin bars revel in being as crude, rudimentary, homespun, makeshift and DIY as possible.  They are outfitted with various bric-a-brac, found objects and second hand stuff.  They are a tonic to my soul.

The very first ruin bar was Szimpla Kert (kert means garden in Hungarian).  Rather than allow the demolition of an abandoned building back in 2001, a group of entrepreneurial, young, free thinkers managed to convince the city to leave the vestige standing and allow them to open up a bar/open air cinema which they outfitted with whatever furniture they could find. It stands today, not only as a monument to the progressive and tolerant ways of this European city, but as an inspiration for an entire subculture of taverns that remain unique to Budapest. Why allow these abandoned buildings, relics of a painful past, to stand empty? Why spend money to demolish them, simply to build new, garish constructions?  And why not allow their historic bones to be fleshed out with the spirited liveliness of youth and enthusiasm.  Why not, indeed?

We tried several ruin bars and these are our favourites.

Mika Kert
This was the least well known but our very favourite kert.  It was ultra relaxed – an unkempt dive-bar in a back yard, strung with fairy lights and odd garden furniture (including a boat!!!). One of this place’s strong points is that they make VERY strong, cheap drinks. There is a nightclub attached to it but we just went to the beer garden, which was great. Very relaxed.

Amazing street out looks over this relaxed bar.

Amazing street art looks over this relaxed bar.

OK, so we got the strongest drink on the block (Long Island Ice Tea), but I have never seen it served like this.  That is pretty well just spirits (five of 'em) and a dash of coke for propriety.

OK, so we got the strongest drink on the block (Long Island Ice Tea), but I have never seen it served like this. It’s pretty well just spirits (five of ’em) and a dash of coke for propriety.

Anker’T
This place can apparently get super busy on weekends and late at night but we went in the afternoons and it was very chilled out.  It was another favourite because again, it was very easy going and laid back and it was literally a five minute walk from our house.  Always service with a smile (not something you get at all the ruin bars – I’m looking at you Szimpla!!!) and again, super cheap.

Anker'T

Anker’T

Look for the big A.

Look for the big A.

Inside the courtyard.

Inside the courtyard.  Notice the “ruin” setting.

Grandio Bar
This great ruin bar is part of a hostel complex – so there are always backpackers slouching around, but that’s cool.  The wonderful, thing about this bar is the gorgeous garden.  It feels like a real escape into a garden of Eden (where they just happen to serve cheap drinks).  It’s a wonderful place to spend a few hours reading a book and enjoying the chirping of the birds while drinking $2 beers.

Grandio's beautiful garden.

Grandio’s beautiful garden.

So, apart from ruin pubs there are also a few other types of drinking establishments.  Two of our favourites are both very nice, and very different.  The first is a craft beer bar and the second a high end cocktail mixology den.

Kandallo Artisinal Pub
Budapest is renowned for its cheap beer (and seriously, it’s fucking cheap) but this place serves not just cheap beer, but artisinally made craft beer, along with the kind of food that is perfect for soaking up an afternoon of being drunk in Budapest.  Wonderful chicken wings and an assortment of burgers.  If you’re feeling game, try the cherry beer (it’s a unique flavour, popular in Hungary).

List of craft beers (you may need someone to translate for you - or.... just point to one and hope you like it)

List of craft beers (you may need someone to translate for you – or…. do what we did and just point to one and hope you like it)

Yep!  Cherry beer is EXACTLY what we wanted.

Yep! Cherry beer is EXACTLY what we wanted.

Spicy chicken wings hit the spot (as did the accompanying, thick-cut roast potato).

Spicy chicken wings hit the spot (as did the accompanying, thick-cut roast potato).

Pulled pork burger with yummy coleslaw.  Perfect end to a night trawling the ruin bars of Budapest.

Pulled pork burger with yummy coleslaw. Perfect end to a night trawling the ruin bars of Budapest.

Bar Pharma
AMAZING cocktails. Very intricate recipes and exotic ingredients – high end mixology.  The first night we went, we managed to sneak in, just as they were preparing to close (the owner/manager was sweet talking a young lady who was sitting on a stool in the corner of the bar and I think we interrupted his smooth moves).  The second night, we were greeted like old friends.  This place is not for everyone, but for the travelling drinker that appreciates fine cocktails, you will find a home at Bar Pharma.

Bar Pharma is the place to go for precisely measured concoctions that will tickle your finer sensibilities.  Go at the start of the evening, rather than the end.  You'll appreciate the art of the drink better.

Bar Pharma is the place to go for precisely measured concoctions that will tickle your finer sensibilities. Go at the start of the evening, rather than the end. You’ll appreciate the art of the drink better.

Having studied chemistry at high school and university, there is something very appealing to me about a bar that takes it's ethos from the lab.

Having studied chemistry at high school and university, there is something very appealing to me about a bar that takes it’s ethos from the lab.

Cocktail 1

Cocktail 1

Cocktail 2

Cocktail 2

Cocktail 3 (yes, that is a popcorn rim)

Cocktail 3 (yes, that is a popcorn rim)

Cocktail 4

Cocktail 4

Cocktail 5

Cocktail 5

Eat & Meet
Not necessarily adjunct to the drinking experience of Budapest, but most certainly one that I would highly recommend anyway, is an interesting pop-up restaurant called Eat & Meet (which is a godawful name, but a really wonderful concept).  Suzie, a young Hungarian woman with a love of food, entrepreneurial spirit and pride for her city, hosts up to ten guests at a time for dinner in her parent’s apartment.  Suzie’s parents serve up delicious, home-made Hungarian food and local wines while Suzie sits at the table and entertains.  It’s a truly unique experience and one that I’d highly recommend.  If you are interested, Suzie also does foodie tours of the city.

The view from the apartment.

View of the Danube from Suzie’s parents’ apartment.

Dessert - chocolate cake with cherry filling.  Divine.

I was too busy enjoying the food and chatting with other guests to take photos of the three other courses.  Suffice to say I had seconds of the main dish.  Here is dessert – chocolate cake with cherry filling. Divine.

Retro Bufe Langos
Langos is a typical Hungarian snack of fried bread (oh yeah, baby, I said fried bread!!!!) topped with various ingredients. Hungarians eat it with just cream cheese and cheese, but other offerings are available too.  This is very, very naughty food – but soooooooooooo good.  I’d say this particular langos shop is the best one in Budapest (going from my research and how damn delicious it was!!!).

Menu

Menu

Hungarian style (plus fried, crispy onion - which I can never say not to if it's offered to me)

Hungarian style (plus fried, crispy onion – which I simply can’t refuse, if it’s on offer)

And, coz I like my onion, Hungarian style (cream cheese and cheese) but with a topping of fresh onion.

And, coz I like my onion, Hungarian sausage langos: cream cheese and cheese, fresh onion and Hungarian sausage.  Mmmmmm!  Wash it all down with a refreshing Hungarian brew.

My Little Melbourne
Anyone who’s ever been drunk anywhere knows how important coffee is the next day.  My regular readers will know how much I love coffee (and how I despair at the crap coffee found in Dubai). So whenever we travel I compile a list of the “best” places to get coffee and we make an effort to try all of them before settling on a favourite.  For me, My Little Melbourne was the best coffee in Budapest, hands down.  Espresso Embassy is supposedly ranked up there, but it tasted like they made the coffee with long life milk (which is unacceptable to me). The owners of My Little Melbourne aren’t actually Melburnians but a Hungarian couple who went to Melbourne on a vacation and loved the coffee so much, they brought the style and ethos back to Budapest.  They do perfect lattes and flat whites.

My Little Melbourne serving (what I think is) the best coffee in Budapest.

My Little Melbourne serving (what I think is) the best coffee in Budapest.

Look at that froth.  Cappuccino perfection.

Look at that froth. Cappuccino perfection.