Monthly Archives: June 2011

The Chop Goes to the Middle East… Again

It’s the last week of June.

Do you know what that means?

It means we’re going to do the same exact thing we did in the last week of June last year…

which was to go to the desert for several months.

The Saudis are known for their playful sense of humor, flirtatious women and joie de vivre... right?

We’ve got bills, you know?

Grown folks’ problems.

And blogging doesn’t pay those bills. Doesn’t solve those grown folks’ problems.

So we’re gonna put the blog on hiatus until October.

We’re gonna go over to the desert and sweat our ass off and try not to get it shot off.

Wish us luck.

See you when we get back.

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In Praise of the Cocktail Pitcher

As the weather here in Charm City becomes ever more pleasant and temperate, we’ve found that we’re spending a lot more time in the great out-of-doors. Of course, we’re not really the trail hiking and mountain biking type- most of our outdoor activities have more to do with following our bliss than with following a trail, and for us that often means raising a glass. Or three.

As anyone who’s sat outside relaxing for more than 10 minutes can tell you, running inside for anything is an incredible hassle. Man invented coolers because no one wants to take down their feet and leave a cool breeze for a steamy kitchen just to get another beer.

The cocktail pitcher: Summer drinking done right.

Whether you’re drinking beers in the backyard or cocktails on the veranda, the same principle applies. Yet for some reason when most people build their bars they’ll gather their bottles and even buy some quality barware, but neglect a crucial component to Summer drinking: the cocktail pitcher.

When most people think of cocktails in pitchers, they think of very specific occasions and drinks; the pitcher of margaritas for Cinco de Mayo, a pitcher of mojitos for a holiday cookout, or breaking out the blender for frozen daquiris. There’s some irony in that though. Most people hope to impress guests with their secret-recipe sangria, only to end up serving it in a crummy old tupperware pitcher which has seen more than its share of dishwasher heat and kool-aid stains. This will never do.

At the Chophouse, not only do we have a dedicated cocktail pitcher, but it occupies a prominent place on our bar. We keep it out in plain view because most dedicated cocktail pitchers are as elegant as they are useful. Whether vintage or modern, standing alone or matched as a set, cocktail pitchers are typically given as much care in their creation as in their design, usually being mouth-blown from crystal or very high quality glass. With most ranging from $20-$50, you can shop with confidence knowing that you’re likely to end up with more than your money’s worth.

Whether it’s sake punch or one of our favorite homespun highballs, we’re not sure how we ever got by without a pitcher. Pick one up for yourself this summer, and we think you’ll agree.

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Chop Style: Pocket Knives

It’s time to talk about knives. It’s time to talk about knives because we’re in the market for a new one before we go back overseas. We never really thought we’d be the type to carry a knife around everywhere we go, but over the years we’ve come around to the opinion of Gentlemanly Means, and we’re almost never found without one.

The makers and retailers of pocket knives would have you believe that their products can be elevated to the level of talismanic objects; heirlooms passed from generation to generation, the old romantic notion of this was Grandpappy’s GI knife and he used it to cut his way out of a POW camp in Korea and all that. That’s entirely possible with a quality knife… if you don’t lose it first.

Our favorite knife to date... the CRKT Carson M16. Approximate actual size.

We lose knives all the time. As the GMP post points out, it can be tough to find the right intersection of price and quality, because you have to buy thinking you’re going to lose it sooner or later. We can hardly keep a knife longer than a pair of sunglasses, and usually end up having to buy a new one every 12-18 months. By now we’ve formed a pretty strong opinion, and knife shopping doesn’t take nearly as long as it once did.

For us, less is more. We’re not a fan of the Leatherman multitools or the top of the line Swiss Army models. That’s just too much steel. We want one blade- and we want that blade to feel large in the hand and small in the pocket, and be designed in such a way that it matches a suit as well as everyday jeans.

the first knife we really liked was ta Buck Nobleman, which served us quite well until it ended up at the bottom of the bay. It drew a lot of compliments, and our only real complaint about it was the lack of a belt clip, a feature we really like. (Tip, most belt clips are easily removable.)

We replaced that with a Gerber EVO Jr, which was a crappy piece of junk that fell apart in hand in less than a year. Last Gerber knife we’ll ever buy.

Our most recent knife, and quite possibly our next knife, was a Columbia River Tanto. We bought it for less than half of the $50 price tag on the website, and it was worth twice as much to us. It did absolutely everything asked of it, sharpened up nicely, and looked as good as it felt clipped to the pocket when not in use. In fact, throughout our travels we’ve probably met half a dozen others carrying knives from the CRKT EDC series, and every one swears it’s the best knife he’s ever owned.

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House Rules: Buybacks

We’re loathe to admit that New York City has ever done anything better than Baltimore. Sure, they do everything bigger, but that’s not necessarily better.

It almost killed us when we were forced to admit that they’ve outdone us for happy hour, and it hurts us again when we have to discuss the matter of buybacks.

The next round's on the house, Hon.

For those unfamiliar, a ‘buyback’ is a round of drinks received on the house after buying a few rounds in a row. The idea of the buyback is an old tradition which is present in bars nationwide, and even internationally, but nowhere is it more ingrained than in New York. In Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs, a round on the house is almost an entitlement in any bar worth drinking in. Instead of giving bartenders ‘shift drinks’ to comp at discretion, it’s not unusual for management in NYC to have stated policies on buybacks for employees and patrons to follow.

Granted, it is a decidedly old school practice, and like much of old New York is barely fighting to stay alive. This is why we were so pleased to discover by accident a website devoted entirely to finding and documenting the best bars for buybacks on the internet.

BuybackNYC.com never appears to have made it out of beta, and their scant blog hasn’t been updated in some 14 months. Still, their FAQ page is an excellent primer on the culture of buybacks, and the idea of mapping buyback bars is absolutely genius. We’re sorry it didn’t work out better.

Here in Charm City, people are currently still in a months-long frenzy over ‘deals’ sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, Chewpons, CityCents, Mobile Deals, Google and Facebook deals, etc. Personally, we’ve never understood the appeal of most of these, as a lot of them are designed to get you to buy something you wouldn’t otherwise, and to spend more than the value of the ‘deal.’ How many times has a $10 for $20 worth of food coupon turned into a $50 restaurant check? Many, we’d wager. Then there’s a whole host of restrictions and limitations to deal with, not to mention the problem of places closing down before you’ve got a chance to claim your deal.

We’ve always been more partial to specials that are offered directly by bars and restaurants themselves, and we’ve long admired the potential for sites and mobile apps like 600 Block, which like BuybackNYC is still in beta, and seldom if ever updated. At its inception, 600 Block was an invaluable tool for keeping track of the cheapest drinks in town. Unfortunately, a site like that is just too much for one or two people to keep updating daily when the only revenue is Google ads and a few local restaurant sponsorships.

The only solution we can see to the failure of such great ideas is is the publication of a fixed list, with regular specials that recur year in and year out, or to make happy hour calendars a wiki, which can easily be updated and edited by anyone, whether they happen to work in a bar or not. We’d love to see a wiki buybacks site here in Baltimore, to help prevent certain neophytes from walking into bars and behaving like a hipster dufus.

In the meantime though, we’ll continue to find our buybacks and happy hours the old fashioned way; on a barstool.

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The Slack is Back: Why Hipsters Are the New Slackers

It’s said that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, and this is true not only in our culture, but in our countercultures and subcultures as well. Your Chop is 31 this year, which makes us just barely old enough to remember the best of the early Nineties. It also means we’re young enough to still be going out pretty often, and the more time we spend in bars and DIY spaces, the more we notice how much today’s Hipsters have in common with the Slackers of yore.

Today’s bright young things of 21-25 are definitely too young to remember most of the 90’s, especially the early part. Sure, they’re happy to ‘curate’ some of the indie touchstones of that period into their own lives; Nirvana bootlegs, Trainspotting, cassettes, eclectic fashion, The Basketball Diaries and organic coffee, but most fail to realize exactly how much they’ve got in common with the grunge rockers who were living in those same shitty apartments and loft spaces 20 years ago.

One of these photos is from a story on Lollapalooza 1991. The other is from a 2010 story on a Brooklyn loft space. You are free to guess which is which.

The ties that bind today’s Hipsters to their Slacker brethren run deeper than their pasty, tattooed skin. Beyond the PBR and the Chuck Taylors- and of course the blatant denials- it’s the things you can’t see with the eye that mark the Hipster as the new Slacker.

>>> An inflated sense of self-worth. Lots of people create art. A ton of people have read Chomsky and Nietzche the poems of Pablo Neruda. Building a bicycle or growing a vegetable garden or knitting a scarf are skills that many people have. They don’t make you special, Hipster. They put you on the level of basic human competence.

>>> A giant sense of entitlement. A job that you love and enjoy is not your due, Hipster. A job in your chosen field is not your due. A job is not your due. Doing something rewarding about which you’re passionate is what you get after you pay your dues. How do you pay your dues? You grind on in an ordinary job until you’ve learned all the things they didn’t teach you in college. If you’re lucky, it’ll take 20 years. Until that happens get off the fucking dole and go to work.

>>> A refusal of sacrifice. Is that iPhone’s unlimited data plan a want or a need? Is that out-of-town reunion show really a one-off must-see event? Is it actually so imperative that you treat Record Store Day as a national holiday? It seems like it’s been a long time since we’ve heard anyone say “I can’t. I don’t have the money.” but we’re still often hearing stories of bar tabs and boasts of new purchases, along with complaints about credit card debt.

>>> Political martyrdom. The rise of grunge and Slacker culture in the early 1990’s had a lot to do with the first President Bush and his recession. The prominence of Hipster culture was directly proportional to the G. W. Bush economy of the late 2000’s, the effects of which we’re still feeling today. Combining your part-time service gig with an Etsy shop might seem like an ideal solution, but it fits a sixty-something better than a twentysomething. Believe it or not, cheap rent doesn’t last forever.

>>> Send in the Salvation Army. We will give some credit where it’s due. Slack-sters have always been masters of thrift. An underemployed twentysomething can cut expenses just about anywhere. We’re a great admirer of thrift, but there’s more to it than scoring an advantageous rental agreement, cutting out transport costs with a bicycle and using sales and coupons for groceries. The idea is to do something more productive with the money you’re saving than buying a nice bag of weed. Making ends meet is important, but until you’ve figured out how to make cash flow positive at the end of every month, there will always be a question of whether you own a lifestyle, or a lifestyle owns you.

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The Chop’s Seawater Martini Cocktail Recipe

Some popular new ideas are nothing more than teeny tiny tweaks of very old, very good ideas. Roller skates were tweaked to make rollerblades. Facebook was just a better Myspace. They put sleeves on a blanket and called it a Snuggie.
It’s in that spirit that we offer you a small tweak to the grandaddy of all classic cocktails, the martini.

Notice we said “tweak.” Not improvement. Not “major breakthrough.” The poor martini has been ‘reinvented’ so many times that many casual drinkers don’t even know quite what a martini actually is. All we offer here is a slight variation: something you may want to try just once at least, or just once in a great while at most.

What's it taste like? It tastes like this.

What we have here is mostly just a “dirty” martini, with a slight variation and possibly a twist on the garnish. It’s not something you’d order just anywhere, or drink just anytime, but if at some point this Summer you find yourself overlooking the harbor from the Rusty Scupper’s dining room, or out on the deck at Nick’s Fish House, this version of the martini might be just the thing before dinner.

The Seawater Martini

  • 6 parts Vodka
  • 1 part Dry Vermouth
  • Large splash of olive juice
  • Small splash of clam juice
  • Anchovy-stuffed olive to garnish
  • Chill and mix as you would a traditional martini, serve straight up.

Of course, drinking actual seawater is never recommended, but the saltiness of olive brine mixed with the piscine flavor of clam is a very close approximation for a cocktail glass. We mentioned that you might want to call for one of these at a seafood restaurant, and aside from mixing one at home, that might be the only place you can order one. Clam juice isn’t exactly a common ingredient, even behind the best-stocked bars.

You can certainly try this with good, crisp gin as well, although clams and olives and gin might be a little overwhelming. This is already a very savory drink with vodka, and like some other produce of the sea, it simply won’t be for everyone.

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Chop Style: No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

Well, it’s pretty hot outside. In the dead of Summer, most people want to get away with wearing as little as possible. Jorts sightings have been at at all time high in Baltimore recently, and tank tops and flip flops are out in force as well.

We would hope that it doesn’t still need to be said in 2011, but apparently it does. The old rule still stands: No shirt, No shoes, No service.

Even the diviest of dive bars require shoes and shirts.

These things may be optional in your backyard or rooftop deck, but out in the streets, shoes and shirts are still mandatory, no matter what the temperature. Sure, okay, if you absolutely must you can wear sandals the right way but you’ve got to have something on your feet.

This is Baltimore City… it’s filthy. Aside from the typical urban grit and grime, our streets and sidewalks are often full of broken glass, chicken bones, strip club postcards and all other manner of hazards. The Chop happened to sight a girl walking barefoot down Cathedral Street a few days ago, and we were nothing less than revolted. Walking or (God forbid) running barefoot in an urban street is not only dangerous, it’s disgusting. Not even Rex Ryan would tickle those toes.

As far as shirts go, you’re gonna have to keep that on too. Nothing says absolute white trash redneck like going shirtless publicly. Have you ever seen COPS? The shirts to skins ratio on there is always at least 2/5.

It doesn’t even matter if you’re a sitting congressman who hits the gym regularly… shirtless is simply not a good look on anyone. This summer, just keep it on. You might even think about a lightweight cotton or linen jacket as well.

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How to Stage a Boycott, Hon

Most of you probably well remember the Great Hontroversy of December 2010, in which Denise Whiting trademarked the term “Hon” in various forms, and crowed about it in the media in an attempt to drum up publicity for her newly opened tacky souvenir shop, just in time for stocking stuffer season.

Ink was spilled and the fat was chewed (and not just in the restaurant), Facebook groups were formed and street protests organized, but in the end all it really amounted to was a collective “Yeah, fuck that lady.” Fast forward to June 2011: Honfest is upon us again, and Whiting has managed to piss people off even further by banning the sale of cat’s eye sunglasses and cans of hairspray and telling people that their political opinions and religious beliefs are not welcome. Everyone shall worship at the altar of HON, and all hail the mayor of Hon Town.

A visual approximation of our sentiments toward Honfest.

So we’re Skipping Honfest this year. This isn’t really news, since we’ve never actually been to any of the previous Honfests. Shitty grandpa music and overpriced Heinekens aren’t really our cup of tea, and we’re put off by anything that’s so cartoonishly self-referential and clichéd, especially when it’s organized by one of Baltimore’s most hated people. Honfest is not so much a festival to be enjoyed, but a product to be bought, paid for and consumed.

We wouldn’t call it a boycott though, and we bristle when we hear other people use the term. Most people in the modern age have a poor understanding of what a boycott actually is, let alone the skills or wherewithal to organize one successfully. Before you go calling for a boycott this weekend, or anytime, it’s a good idea to know what the keys to a successful boycott are:

  • Fight a grievous wrong. It’s difficult for any boycott to be successful without broad public support. It helps if what you’re fighting against is universally seen as an injustice. Child labor or unsafe working conditions are good grounds for a boycott. While Hon, Inc. has shown an incredible amount of hubris and alienated the community many times over, it’s hard to argue that there’s much actual injustice being done here. Some, but not much.
  • A pre-existing organizational structure. Some of the most successful boycotts in history haven’t been carried off by people coming together, they were won by people who were already together. The Montgomery bus boycott was only possible because churches and civil rights groups were already well organized, and were able to mobilize their members. Ditto with the California grape boycott, the core of which was the United Farm Workers’ Union. A Facebook group by itself is not an organization. It’s merely a tool for disseminating information among an organization.
  • Strong Leadership. At the head of every successful boycotting organization, there’s strong leadership. MLK. Cesar Chavez. Gandhi. Leading an actual boycott is a full time job. It’s not something to which you dedicate half an hour of internet time a few nights a week.
  • Dedicated foot soldiers. A true boycott of Cafe Hon, if it were to have any economic impact at all, would require people standing out on the Avenue morning, noon, and night wearing tee shirts, carrying signs, handing out literature, and making a case to the general public of the grievous wrongdoing we mentioned before. Any volunteers?
  • A manifold boycott strategy. You don’t just send an email blast, show up on a streetcorner and yell boycott. Who are you anyway, Jesse Jackson? A successful boycott requires a lot of advance planning. Even with something as small scale as a restaurant or a festival, if success is expected, there are enormous organizational, logistical, fundraising, and public relations challenges to consider. Do you just want to skip the festival, or do you want to boycott its sponsors as well?
  • An attainable set of goals. Part of that strategy should be a set of goals or reasonable demands. The idea of bringing the big bad evil corporation to its knees by crippling it economically is as cartoonish as the beads and beehives that are about to take over the Avenue. The goal of a boycott isn’t bankrupting anyone, it’s getting your target to change its behavior, e.g. integrating buses or paying farm workers minimum wage.
  • A viable alternative. Key to any boycott is not just saying “Don’t buy that” but saying “Buy this instead.” Fortunately, in the case of Cafe Hon, we’ve already got that covered.

Organizing a legitimate boycott is a lot of work, and can be a very long-term undertaking. When the faux-Hons invade the Avenue this weekend, we won’t be boycotting. We’ll be protesting in a truly homegrown Baltimore way- talking shit, holding grudges, and counting down the days to Hampdenfest.

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The Chop Approves of Selling Water on the Corner

Now that Memorial Day weekend has come and gone we’re officially in the midst of another Baltimore Summer, and all that that entails. As of now, and for the next three months or so we’re going to see all the hallmarks of Summer in the streets; packs of dirtbikes, open fire hydrants, Arabbers, and of course, kids selling water at intersections.

A little side-hustle for a kid selling cold drinks at traffic lights is a time-honored Charm City tradition, as much ingrained in the fabric of the city as formstone and painted screens. We here at the Baltimore Chop appreciate the work they do all Summer long, and we hope that this year they’ll multiply as fast as some other fads in street vending.

We're always happy to see some real small businessmen make an honest buck.

Summers in Baltimore are hot. You’ve gotta stay cool, gotta stay hydrated. You can try to run into the corner store for that nice cold beverage, but you know how it is… there’s never any parking, and if you try to double park or sneak in on the corner, then you’ve got some jerk behind you blaring his horn, and then a bunch of stoop-sitters will start yelling about that because it’s July, and it’s fucking hot and everybody’s all sunburned and irritable and ready to pick a fight over nonsense. Besides, even if you make it to the 7-11 and back, you’re going to stand in line and pay like $2.50 for that crappy little bottle of water which may or may not be cold.

As we’ve said before, the best cars to drive in Baltimore City are economy cars, and specifically the kind of economy cars that you get used and pay cash for and don’t make payments on. Our own Chopmobile is so, ummm, economical that it doesn’t even have air conditioning, so you can believe that if we can score a bottle of water for a buck we’re going to chug it hard, and maybe buy another one at the next light.

Admittedly, buying several bottles of water in one trip is not the best choice environmentally, but it’s certainly a great choice for everyone economically. 24-Pack cases of Deer Park bottles were priced at 3 for $10 at the Waverly Giant recently, putting the cost per bottle at around 14 cents. Any store can make money selling water in quantity, because it’s so cheap to produce. Selling it at a stoplight for a buck will yield a profit of around 600% after you spend a couple of dollars for ice, and the drivers save 50-150% over mini-mart retail.

As valuable as this tasty, thirst-quenching community service is though, there’s one more benefit- a hidden benefit, that kids selling water bring to the city- namely that no intersection is big enough for two hustles. The more kids we’ve got selling water and sodas in the city, the fewer we have wielding dirty squeegees and demanding money for a worthless “service,” and better still, it means fewer dirty, pockmarked junkies panhandling our corners with cardboard signs.

The next time you buy a bottle of water from a kid on the corner, thank him not just for the sale, but for his hard work and community service as well.

____________________________________________________________________

Update: We wrote this story a few days ago, and pushed it back to Thursday so that we could write about Anthony Weiner’s cock. We now find ourselves a day late and a dollar short, getting scooped by the City Paper. For further reading, check out Lee Gardner’s feature story this week on bottle rockers.

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Bi-Weekly Political Roundup: Weiner’s COCK Edition

Today is the second Wednesday of the month, and as usual Progressives of all stripes will be gathering on the patio of Joe Squared to swap stories, talk politics, and drink beers at the regular meeting of the Baltimore Chapter of Drinking Liberally.

Meetings start at 7 pm and are open to anyone who wishes to attend. Just look for the table with the red, white, and blue bottle and introduce yourself.

Baltimore's Drinking Liberally meets at Joe Squared tonight. 7 pm.

Of course, the topic of Weiner’s wiener is bound to come up, but we’ve been tired of that pun for at least two weeks. We’re going to insist on calling it Weiner’s COCK if we have to talk about it at all. Come on… that’s how people talk anyway. When’s the last time anybody sent a wiener pic? No one ever has. People send cock pics. Weiner sent a picture of his cock.

As far as where that leaves us now… well, we still think Andrew Breitbart is a sleazy, sensationalist, predatory asshole. He just happened to be right, the same way a broken clock will be twice a day. It’s safe to say that we won’t be seeing much more of Weiner on programs like Maddow and sites like Twitter. He’ll be going about his job much more quietly from now on. As to whether or not he gets to keep his seat, that’s up to the voters to decide, but we’re thinking he does. As we pointed out two weeks ago, sex scandals happen all the time now, and you’ve got to be pretty sleazy these days to seriously raise eyebrows. We don’t think that being a horny 16 year old who just got his first Myspace page will ultimately prove that destructive to the distinguished gentleman from New York.

In non-Weiner’s cock related news, this is also a good day to talk about who will be the next mayor of Baltimore. SRB, Otis Rolley, Jody Landers, and Catherine Pugh are all officially in, and with 98 days left until the election, it’s not out of the question that Kweisi Mfume, Carl Stokes, Andre Bundley or some other dark horse candidate could throw his or her hat in the ring. Like 99% of the city, we haven’t even pretended to pay much attention at this point, but any one of those names is a huge step up from one of the most hated people in Baltimore, Sheila Dixon.

Being mayor of Baltimore is a really hard fucking job and honestly, we’re surprised that even that many people would want to do it. With more than one candidate that we’d actually consider voting for already in the race, we feel like we’ve already won.

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