Monday, 23 March 2020

Kingston #BeerFam 2020 Brewery Tour 1.0

The Host With The Most: When Josh Hayter, genial co-owner of
Spearhead Brewing, hosts a Brewery Tour, well, he doesn't screw
around. Enlisting the help of Tourism Kingston to pick up our
lunch (which will be described in great detail here) and Kingston
Economic Development to foot the tab for dinner, we ate like
royalty... but drank like court jesters. One day, six breweries and
probably the best-run Brewery Invasion ever. Hats off to Josh...
Way back at the beginning of November, Greg, Kimmy and I organized and run the 905 Halton-Hamilton Craft Brewery Invasion. We all thought it went very well, as did the participants. Everyone had a blast. Granted, "Hey, let's go to a bunch of breweries and drink all day..." well, it turns out that's a remarkably easy sell. Go figure.

We were glad we did it. And to that, I would like to add one very important caveat. I personally am very frikkin' glad we did it before Kingston.

Because when Josh Hayter, co-owner of Spearhead Brewing, picked up the ball to organize February 22nd's Kingston #BeerFam 2020, geezuz, he ran the length of five football fields with it. For starters, I checked back in my DM with him and he started planning this early last October - four months ahead. Like I said, the dude doesn't screw around. He quickly enlisted Amanda, the brewery's social media liaison among other duties, to help out (there was an ongoing debate, albeit friendly and chirpy, about who did more) and man... whatta day!
At Stop #1, Daft Brewing, their head brewer Ryan found a high
perch to talk beers with our group of 20, which basically took
over the sizable horse-shoe shaped bar. Which what we pretty
much do at every Brewery Invasion. The brewery had only
been open for just three weeks and I gotta say, it has a pretty
eclectic starting line-up. Colourful as hell and chill atmosphere.

Using his status as the most powerful businessman in Kingston (he's never ever claimed that - I'm totally projecting that onto him), he quickly enlisted Tourism Kingston and Kingston Economic Development into helping with the meals - first lunch at Kingston Brewing Company (much more on that coming) and then dinner at Spearhead.

We also had this sharp-ass white bus shuttling us from brewery to brewery (including a very necessary washroom), courtesy of McCoy Bus Service (the owner is a shareholder in Spearhead) with a great driver named John. Josh wisely waited until Spearhead, our last of six brewery stops, before dropping a glass onto our large table and suggesting we all throw something into the tip pot for John. Oakville Brew Crew's Greg was there when John got the tip and reported he was thrilled. Not surprised. Because the day only cost us our purchases at the six breweries, I saw nothing but $10's and $20's being crammed into the glass from all of us. Hey man, John kept a bunch of drinking fools safe from 11 am to 9 pm. No easy feat. Gotta reward that shit.

So here's the thing. When the Ottawa thugs - Matty, Joel and Ben - organized last Summer's Ottawa Craft Brewery Invasion, we already knew about the great craft breweries there. Same when Kimmy, Greg and I organized the Halton-Hamilton Craft Brewery Invasion at the beginning of November. Everyone knew these breweries either through Beer Mails or Twitter posts. But none of us knew much about the craft scene in Kingston beyond Spearhead, to be honest. Josh was about to change that.
Actually, Stop #2, Stone City Ales was a place I was quite
familiar with but had never visited. A friend of mine used
to go visit friends in Kingston a few times a year and she
would always bring me back 1 litre howlers of Uncharted
IPA and Ships In The Night Oatmeal Stout. So I was very
pumped to finally visit here. They had some real beauties!
He wanted to show us that Kingston was a thriving craft brewery destination city. We had no real idea to what extent. But, my friends, we were about to learn.

We all gathered in the lobby of the Delta Waterfront Hotel until Josh showed up at 11 am to get our party started. Okay, Roll Call: Greg and I from Oakville; artist-cartoonist David from Hamilton, homebrewer Graeme from King City, Glenn, Jeff, Candice and a few others from Oshawa, Paul Peezy from Newmarket, our favourite engaged couple, Curtis and Nichole from Guelph and April and Chuck, the public faces of Waller St Brewing in Ottawa plus a healthy handful more that I didn't recognize. In fact, despite tons of tweets and correspondence between April and myself, I didn't even recognize her for certain. I went out for a smoke with five people in the lobby and came back in to 20 people. I was pretty certain it was April and Chuck but I didn't want to walk up, say, "Hey April!" only to discover I was talking to Sue Somebody. I'm sometimes a little over-cautious on account of being wrong so very often.

When he arrived, Josh was looking resplendent in his Sin City Brewing bowling shirt from Las Vegas (they had some kinda deal where if you bought a couple of pints, they throw the shirt in for, like, 10 bucks) as he herded us like the slow-moving cattle we are onto the bus and it was off to Stop #1 - Daft Brewing.
Curtis captured this selfie of him and fiancee
Nichole at Stone City Ales. Afterwards, when
I was asking Brew Crew members what their
favourite memories of the day were, Nichole
said simply, "Seeing everyone from the Brew
Crew again." And this is why we all love her.
When we arrived, I checked out their beer menu and saw... no IPAs? Once they resuscitated me, using a nearby defibrillator, I carried on best I could. (They very recently added Bingpot NEIPA so, you know, carry on. Too late for me but the rest of you will be fine.)

Now at this point, Daft, owned by Adam Rondeau, had only been open three weeks so yeah, here's a brewery just starting to spread its wings. And what a cool set-up. A former muffler shop (I believe) so it's got those big bay doors that can be opened in the Summer. And they had a lot of fun on the interior with the bright colourful cartoon paintings. Awesome place!

Okay, one of the things Josh set up with all the breweries we visited was that they would offer up tasters, displaying a variety of styles and Daft was in the game. Now, the Brew Crew can correct me if I'm wrong (and I will edit this accordingly - or not. It's a crap-shoot) but I'm pretty sure we got their Never Nude Tangerine Sour, the True Level Fiesta Gose and (boy, I remember this one) Coffee Is For Closers Coffee Milk Stout. I liked the first two - fairly typical but solid for their style - but geezuz, that Coffee Stout? Okay, you know how in a lot of Porters and even some Stouts, you get that coffee background?
Candice, second from bottom right, passed her phone to brewer Ryan to
get a pic of the whole Brew Crew from his high perch at Daft Brewing. 

That would be owner Adam Rondeau crouching down behind the bar in
the centre of the photo there. Just an excellent start to a fantastic day.
Usually mixed in with some licorice or chocolate? This tasted like a cold black cup of coffee. Not a little... a lot! It was actually quite jarring. I'm betting an espresso drinker like my brother would be all over this one. So kudos for taking that extra step to Daft. It could be a polarizing offering but hey, you're new to the game so you gotta stand out. This would do it.

But this was funny. I grabbed a pint of their Oat Dirty Bastard Oat Stout afterwards (which I very much enjoyed) and while talking to brewer Ryan, I found out it was a brewery collaboration with the winner of a Homebrewer Challenge that Daft had set up. I told Ryan I quite liked it and he told me that the Challenge was a lot of fun for them. But when it came to the actual beer, there was a slight hesitation on his end.
Jeff, left, wearing his stylin' Wavemaker Brewing shirt
(Cambridge brewery) talks beers with Josh Hayter, the
organizer of the Kingston #BeerFam 2020 brewery
tour. Josh and Amanda did a fantastic job with all this.
Here we all were at Stone City Ales, the second stop.
"When we were brewing this, there's probably a couple of things I might have done differently," he noted. Nothing huge, he added. A tweak here or there. When he saw me grinning, eyebrows raised at his pickiness, he shrugged and chuckled, "I know. I know."

But here's the thing. That just shows me Ryan is absolutely 100% a craft brewer. They are protective of both what's in their tanks and brewing the way they believe something should be brewed. Right down to the very smallest of details. And that's a good thing. A very good thing.

So Daft Brewing was just the beginning of the day. And as bright and colourful and fun as they are (they really are), things were just starting. Great start, though! As Graeme said to me afterwards, a early-day highlight was, "Seeing Daft so fresh and them talking about pushing the envelope (style-wise) to start." Tell you this for free - on this day, Graeme was truly in his brewer's wheelhouse but we'll get to that further along.

Okay, let's all hop back on the bus for Stop #2, Stone City Ales.
Someone had brought out a specialty Saison and our
King City homebrewer Graeme was all over it. It
seemed that everyone came away from Stone City
Ales with an unknown hidden treasure. In this case,
Graeme was trying the Counterpoint French Saison.
It seems Stone City turned out to be a highlight for various reasons for a couple of the Brew Crew. Everyone's favourite artist-cartoonist David was pumped about the locale. "It was cool going to Stone City Ales and seeing the downtown area." And he's right. Kingston's main downtown strip, perhaps because it's steeped in history, still has that small-town feel. And here was Stone City, as you can see above in the picture, just blending right in. Unless you were looking up at the banners (which I wasn't), you could easily walk right past it (which I did) until I glanced back and saw everyone going in. I wish I could say this wasn't typical.

But in my distant past (so, you know, five years ago), I had become familiar with some Stone City Ales beers. Back then in Burlington, there was a craft beer bar called Rib Eye Jacks (since shuttered) where a young and knowledgeable beer technician named Kylie worked. She had friends in Kingston and several times she returned with one-litre howlers of their flagship Uncharted IPA for me. So even before I entered for the first time, I knew this brewery had the goods, the right stuff.

While the brewery is owned by Ron Shore, I don't believe any of us caught the name of the soft-spoken gentleman who gave us our samplers and then guided a tour into the back.
Spotted while having a smoke at Daft Brewing
was the Kingston Water Tower (which I think
is more for show these days.) Ironically, there
was a Speedy Muffler Shop shown here in the
foreground. The irony is with an average age
of 45 or so (Glenn and I inflate that number)
none of us are particularly speedy these days.
Granted, his name notwithstanding, we had a lot of questions for him. The first few were near-identical. "Could you speak up a little?" We quieted down (nice trick, man - not many can pull that one off), he spoke up, all was good. But some great tasters there for us, as well. Now granted, I'd love to tell you what those tasters were but I neglected to take a picture and now a month later, yeah, right, like I'm going to remember. I wasn't even 100% sure April was April...

That said, I'm fairly certain Uncharted IPA was one. But another I can tell you without hesitation. That would be their Nocturnal Czech Dark Pilsener. Why? Oakville Greg and I, seated at the same table, enjoyed the shit out this one. Just an absolute beauty. Roasty malts, nice medium body (not the norm for a pilsner), light touch of licorice, 4.8% so lighter ABV but certainly not in the Crushable Zone, given the dark malts. Just a fantastic beer.

In the end, I went home with bottles of the Noctural, the Uncharted and the Distant Origin Dry-Hopped IPA. Distant Origin was pretty solid, as well. Containing my two favourite hops - Amarillo and Idaho 7 - the 6% west coaster had some solid citrus in it, a little floral on the nose and a creamy smooth feel. That said, as much as I enjoyed those two IPAs, Nocturnal was the clear winner on the day. Believe me, a pilsner beating out two IPAs is unusual in my corner of the world. But Greg said that beer was a highlight for him as well so, hey, that's gotta be a damn good beer.
Here's a sneak peek at the next blog where Curtis, left, asks me, right, if
I've ever seen a guest brewery list on tap as extensive as the Kingston
Brewing Company's list was. As you can see, I gave it careful thought
before my researched and thoughtful answer: "I dunno." And hey, on
the far left, is that Paul Peezy and King City Graeme? Shit, it sure is...

Okay, back next with my favourite stop of the day, Kingston Brewing Company, where it seems, oh, one or two of us enjoyed lunch. A quick Brew Crew side-story here if I may. (I write this. Damn straight, I may.) Graeme lost his paternal grandmother yesterday morning. His daughter is her namesake. We didn't learn that until last night. He had messaged me, asking about potential brewery visits but I didn't think twice about it. Graeme has forgotten more about beer than I'll ever know. When we all learned yesterday, it turned out Graeme had spent the day, visiting Ontario craft breweries, helping them stay afloat. Pretty cool gesture. And I also noticed we circled our emotional wagons around him quickly, offering support and hopefully comforting words. But that's the Brew Crew. As much as we sometimes chirp each other, it's a tight brother and sister outfit. You're always just there for each other. I saw that last night. More importantly, Graeme did. So, Scooby Doo Gang, it's it, that's all and I am outta here! More Kingston fun coming but until then, I remain...

Thursday, 19 March 2020

That was the day Las Vegas closed

Here's Britain's premier Vegas vlogger Matt Bridger, left,
with casino host Richard Wilk, who works for both The D
and the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino in Downtown Las
Vegas. They met late last week at The D but more to the
point, look at the crowd behind them. The very popular
Fremont St is now very much a tumbleweed ghost town.

I literally watched Las Vegas go from a thriving, bustling vacation spot last week to shuttered as of yesterday. And by shuttered, I mean shut down completely.

I have to be honest. Like many, I never thought I would see that day. It's like something out of a horror movie, that our beloved Las Vegas could become a ghost town. A movie like, say, "Outbreak" in 1995. Or "28 Days Later" in 2003. Or perhaps "Contagion" in 2011. Or even worse, "I Am Legend" in 2007, where that rat-bastard Will Smith killed his German Shepherd, Sam. After seeing that, I now think he was probably the one causing all that trouble in that West Philadelphia hood. Bastard.

You know, those crazy, far-fetched Hollywood yarns about a viral pandemic that wipes out half the world's population??

Turns out that's not so far-fetched, after all. I mean, I certainly don't expect we'll see half the world's population of 7.7 billion wiped out by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) a la Hollywood-style but with each passing day, we are all actually seeing how dangerous and even moreso, how very feared it has truly become by everyone world-wide.
On March 17, St Paddy's Day, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak shut down
all non-essential businesses, including hotels and casinos, to try and slow
the wave of Coronovirus, now gaining a foothold in the USA. Many of the
strip hotel-casinos had already suspended operations, especially after
seeing occupancy rates of less than 5% but Sisolak's order shut down all
the rest, including the hold-outs on Fremont Street. When business safely
gets started in Vegas again is anyone's guess but most of us hope it's soon.

Now both myself and my London, Ontario buddy Mark (along with his wife, Liz) had Vegas trips planned for March Break. Mark and Liz were leaving Sunday, March 15 while I was flight-bound the next day. And for a long while, we were both defiantly adamant that our trips would happen.

Then things started to change for us. First, early last week, a few markets in the NHL decided that no spectators would be allowed at games for fear of spreading the virus. San Jose is the one that comes to mind but I think a couple others were ready to followed suit.

Then the NBA "postponed" its season on March 11, due to fears of - same thing - Coronavirus. Then the next day, the NHL postponed its season. Okay, when hockey gets shut down, Canadians like Mark and myself finally start to pay very close attention.
Okay, a stopped escalator is nothing new to regular Las Vegas visitors
such as myself. Hell, a quarter of them are being repaired at any given
time on the Vegas strip. But it's the sign on the right that tells the tale.
Las Vegas is closed for business. It's something I never thought I'd see.
Next thing we know, March Madness, that yearly event where the top 64 US College basketball teams play off for the nation's crown, was canceled entirely. March Madness happens over March Break in America and believe me, Vegas is on fire during the tournament. If it was a TV show, it'd be called Betting Gone Wild. No single sporting event sees as many various and varied bets in Vegas as March Madness because it runs the entire week solid. It's a shit-ton of games - 63 in all - packed into one week.

Next up, the NFL Draft, which was slated to take place on the strip, mostly in front of The Bellagio, from April 23-25, more than a month from now, was changed to an audience-free TV event instead. It was meant to be this big glitzy live event that would have shut down a significant portion of the Vegas strip as the Oakland Raiders shift to Vegas and the presently-being-built Allegiant Stadium for the 2020-21 NFL season.

On the weekend, MGM Properties decided they were shutting down their properties as of Tuesday, including (take a deep breath) Bellagio, Aria, Vdara, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand, The Mirage, New York New York, Park MGM and even the T-Mobile Arena where the Vegas Golden Knights play.
Half of my 16 trips to Vegas have been spent at the
Excalibur so I can tell you this is the walkway from
the Excalibur to New York New York. Doesn't even
matter what time of day or night it was because I
have crawled on that strip morning, noon and night
while I'm there - any hour, really - and I can tell you
this 100%. This walkway has NEVER been empty.
Not even once. So, 4:17 am, say? Yup, people are on
there. Not a lot but it's never empty. This is unreal.
That's half the freakin' strip.

On St Patrick's Day - March 17th - who was open and who was closed quickly became a moot point. Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak stepped up to the podium and announced every single non-essential service, including hotels and casinos, were ordered to be closed 30 days for public safety. I applaud this bold but tough move. Well done, sir.

So - and you have never heard me say this before and likely never will again - the Canadian government absolutely did Mark, Liz and myself a huge solid by shutting down Canadian travel out of country on the weekend. We both pulled the plugs on our trips on - hey, how appropriate - Friday the 13th. I would have been forced home to Canada on Day 3 of my week-long March Break trip. I can only imagine what a total shitshow McCarran International Airport in Vegas was for the past few days.

But even though I have been stuck in Canada, I have slowly over the week been able to see what's going on live in Las Vegas over the past week. You see, I watch a lot of Vegas vlogs. It started with El Paso, Texas couple, Hog and 2 cent (@hogand2cent). From them, I started watching Mark (@pennys4vegas). And because YouTube has these "recommended for you" videos on the right hand side, that lead to a trio of British Vegas vloggers. First, it was the affable Ben Heath (@benjiheath) with his trips and his very fun "Cocktail of the Day."
For the life of me, I can't remember which casino this was last
night or even which of my Twitter friends took it. But frankly,
every casino in Vegas looked like this last night. Empty. Barren.
Deserted. Other words from the Thesaurus. But again, I don't
think any one of us have ever seen anything like this. If I wander
down to a casino at 4 am, there are asses in the chairs. Just wow.
From Ben, I started catching Nick Furmage (@nickyfurmage) and his lovely wife, Claire, who on one night in Downtown Vegas last October had a slot machine run, the likes of which I have never seen. He started by saying in that polite British manner how much he enjoyed it Downtown on Fremont Street. By the end, after countless Budweisers, an insane amount of slot free plays and a final winnings of over $800 (a complete reversal of their trip to that point), he was basically yelling, "I love Downtown Vegas!" towards the end. (For you hardcore slot players, I'll include the link at the end because it was as entertaining as shit and I don't even gamble. Well, all that much.)

Moving along from Nicky, I eventually found Matt Bridger (@Matt_Bridger68), the Godfather, the Headmaster, the Grand Poobah and Chief Bottle Washer of the British Vegas vloggers. Now Matt has posted some fantastic Vegas stuff. Disarmingly charming, the ultimate Vegas vlog host, you feel like you're actually sitting next to him as he speaks. The dude is pretty much David Niven. (Feel free to Google him, younger people.)

Now I have a Matt Bridger story here but I want to say something at large to these three British vloggers. No matter how many Budweisers or cocktails you consume at the slot machines, no matter how hammered you actually are, you all still sound so bloody distinguished! It's that damn British accent. Drunk as skunks and you all still sound like freakin' Cary Grant! Canadians and Americans all sound like bombed Homer Simpson!
Hold on. I'm Canadian but British Vegas vlogger Matt
Bridger got to the just-opened and I suppose now-closed
Bar Canada at The D in Downtown Vegas before I did?
So you know, Matt, I took this to my lawyer. He told me
I was an idiot and I should probably just shut up. But I
tell you, mate, if it couldn't be me, I'm glad it was you.
Where do I file an official Human Rights complaint? I hardly think this is equitable.

So, anyway, back to this Matt Bridger chap. Well, he was in an interesting position to see everything go down, having landed in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 11 just before the Coronavirus shit hit the fan. And I mean, just before. As he posted his daily vlogs, things began to slowly unravel. If you go to You-Tube, plug Matt Bridger into the search engine and watch his recent series "Las Vegas Vlog 11-03-20 to 17-03-20" Parts One Through Six (slightly more than two hours combined - so, you know, grab several beers and some snacks), you will see precisely what I mean.

At first on Part One, Vegas was still jammed, the crowds around him buoyant with buzzy enthusiasm and the casinos, well, packed. Then there is this slow shift downwards as the vlogs progress. Matt usually ends his vlogs with a synopsis of the day and things take a turn to the south as the week progresses. For starters, British Airlines cancels his flight home. Being left on hold (and eventually disconnected) by both BA's British and American help-lines for an hour at a time, it takes him two days to straighten it out with a new flight home. But you can sense below that steely British reserve, there is some anxiety over being stranded there.
Well, at least the escalator was working. So this
young couple had little problem with appropriate
social distancing in Vegas this week. As you can
see, there's no one near them. This is not a Vegas
that any of us recognize. It just looks spooky.
By the time you get to Part Six, it goes from "Well, this is a lovely win on the Buffalo slot" to "Holy crap, the entire city is shutting down around me." (And yes, I can happily report that after an unexpected diversion to LAX, Matt finally touched down in London this morning. I repeat, The Eagle has landed. Safely!)

On one of his vlogs - Part Five, I believe - I commented underneath that it was fascinating progression, watching them daily and seeing the events unfold as if in front of me. As I said earlier, for some reason, you feel like you're right there beside him.

A follower of Matt's on Twitter, Dave Coyne, expressed very much that same sentiment. "This last set of Matt Bridger vlogs have captured a moment in time that is unprecedented. When we talk to our grandchildren in years to come about this outbreak, his vlogs will be reference material."

Towards the end of his trip, Matt got to interact with some well-known American-based vloggers, all of whom were still able to travel to Vegas, including Hog and 2cent from El Paso, Texas and Sin City Nerds, Kaylene and Nick, from the Seattle area. (Kaylene and Nick are young, enthusiastic and she has really cool hair so subscribe to them.)
Poor Mark Anderson, my Vegas vlogging bro
from London, Ontario. In this instance, he was
damned if he did, damned if he didn't. He and I
both canceled our Vegas trips on March 13 to
avoid our chances of catching Coronavirus but
it looks like Mark caught it in his hometown,
regardless. I suspect in two weeks, he'll be as
right as rain and we can both go back to our
guessing as to when Vegas is open to us again.
Also along for the final ride was Ace of Vegas (also on YouTube so subscribe) as all of them were taping the eventual shutdown - deserted casinos, shuttered bars and... well, nobody home. On Ace of Vegas' filming of the final shutdown, I commented underneath that "This is unbelievable, Ace. It's like a place I know all too well... but don't recognize at all." He agreed. "Like your house (but) without all your stuff in it, right?" Exactly that!

Anyway, make the time to watch Matt's Six-Part Series on the trip that started fantastic and then went all to hell. If nothing else, like me, you'll walk away thinking, "Wow, what a shitty year this past week has been."

Anyway, I want to end this on happier Vegas memories, those halcyon days where it was, you know, open. As I said earlier, British Vegas Vlogger Nicky and his wife, Claire, absolutely tore up the machines on Fremont Street one night last October and, well, this is the Vegas I want to remember. And Matt? He's quite well-known for filming his casino-hotel walk-throughs. His vlogs usually get anywhere between 5,000 and 50,000 views. But one filmed last November - a walk-through of Circus Circus Casino Hotel and Theme Park - just, well, exploded with over 164,000 views, None of us, including Matt himself, can figure out why. Nostalgia for an old-school Vegas resort? We don't know. But anyway, for Nicky and Claire's crazy night on Fremont, click here on: The Couple Who Could Not Lose! And hey, let's add some more views to Matt's biggest hit by clicking here on: Circus Circus' Hidden Fan Club! That's it for today but on a final note: Please wash your hands and practice social distancing. The life you save could be someone else's. Just be safe! Peace out, homeys...

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Las Vegas? Coronavirus? I'm still going!!

This is where I scheduled to be the evening of Monday, March 16 and
this is where I'm gonna be. When one Toronto man returned from a
conference in Las Vegas with a now-confirmed case of the feared
Coronovirus, a number of my friends jumped on it, as if Las Vegas
was somehow an unsafe tourist designation. Bullshit, I say. We have
all these cases of it here in Ontario - 29 in total - while Las Vegas has
remained pretty clean thus far. One caught it in Vegas and came back
to Toronto. Another caught it in Washington and brought it to Vegas.
A few days back, news broke that a Toronto man returned from a conference in Las Vegas who was diagnosed with the Coronavirus.

Since that point, a great number of my friends have been sending me that story. Over and over... and over again. Why? Because I'm their "Vegas Friend," the one always going there.

But the thing is I've seen this happen also over and over and over in the course of my lifetime.

As you can see from the name of this craptastic blog, I've been here on this stinky little mudball of a planet a while. The Coronavirus is hardly my first pandemic. When I was a young kid, there was something called the Hong Kong Flu in 1968-69 that killed a million people worldwide. I was in elementary school and they gave us all shots with this massive eight-pronged needle that vaccinated us against pretty much everything. I still have friends with the needle scars on their shoulders.

Since then, I've seen the HIV/AIDS virus. I've seen the SARS virus. I've seen the Ebola virus. I've seen Swine Flu. Hell, in 2009 alone, there was a worldwide Flu pandemic that killed another 203,000-plus people around the globe.

And yet, somehow, I've survived at all.

But yes, absolutely, people have died. Especially in the case of HIV/AIDS where we're talking 32 million deaths since its initial outbreak. So by saying, "Well, hey, I survived," I'm not downplaying or underwriting that at all.
Here's a photo from @OnlyInLVNV on Twitter
showing a "Virus-protected" shopper at a Costco
in nearby Henderson, just 16 miles away from
Las Vegas. Why people have decided to buy out
all the toilet paper and bottled water baffles me.
It's a virus. Not a hurricane. Not a tsunami. None
of this will stop a virus. At all. This only helps one
single group. Those who own supermarkets. And
that's about it. So, folks, Costco thanks you all...
That's tragic on pretty much every single level. But just as history is doomed to continually repeat itself, you can count on a new virus every 10 years or so. Or at least that's been my experience.

So why the panic over the Coronavirus as opposed to, say, the flu? Well, lemme tell you. It's new and it's different. As a former journalist/editor, it's "sexy" for lack of a better word. It's the thing everyone's talking about so let's slap that on the front page or these days, I guess, have it continually trending on Twitter.

Now, looking at my friends' sudden panic over my Vegas travels with the Coronavirus out there, is this actually a big deal? On one level, I suppose yes, there is cause for concern and here's why. It goes from a virus to a pandemic when it is no longer localized in one country or a larger regional area, which is the case far more often than not, but rather spreads world-wide. Then it's a pandemic. Ergo, now that it's worldwide, Coronavirus can actually now be considered a pandemic. In 2013, there was a Measle outbreak in Vietnam. It killed 142 people and yet, no one paid attention because it remained contained in Vietnam.

So what about the Coronavirus and Vegas? Well, let's see. One Toronto man caught it down in Vegas at a convention and brought it back to Canada. A Vegas resident caught it in Washington state and brought it back to Vegas. Thus far, the Vegas Coronavirus stats are this: one-in, one-out. In Vegas, that's actually what's known as a "push."
Are you gambling on catching a nasty virus in Las
Vegas, simply because of an ongoing pandemic?
Vegas Vic says no. Here's why. You can catch the
Coronavirus anywhere. From the smallest of towns
to the largest of cities, your odds remain the same.
Neither the dealer nor the player win because they have the same hand. It's Even Steven. Move along.

This is as opposed to where I live - Ontario, Canada - where there have been 29 confirmed cases (with zero fatalities) thus far. As I have said to my London, Ontario buddy, Mark (aka @pennys4vegas), since we are both slated to land in Vegas next week, I believe we're safer in Vegas than we are at home.

In fact, because I work in retail and remain exposed to hundreds of people daily with actual face-to-face, money-exchanging-hands contact, well, that, my friends, is how you catch a virus. And yet, I still go to work, oddly without fear. And, to be frank, without that pay-cheque, I couldn't afford to travel.

So why wouldn't I go to Las Vegas? Despite my many friends' concerns, which I do appreciate, by the way, I am every bit as likely to catch it here as I am there. And to put it in Vegas terminology, the odds are still ridiculously low, regardless of geographic location.

I suppose the cause for concern for many is the mortality rate. With the Coronavirus, it's 3.4%, whereas with the flu, it's 0.1%. So for every 1,000 people who get the Coronavirus, 34 have died or will die.
When a group of us traveled to the Huntsville Brewhouse last
April to brew an IPA for Lake of Bays Brewing, brewery owner
Darren Smith, the good-looking one on the right, hung with us all
day, despite having a cold. However, wisely, he did not wish to
shake anyone's hand for fear of passing it along. Instead, what we
all did instead was this congenial elbow bump. No one got sick.
Only one in 1,000 will die from the flu. That said, the flu is - and always has been - the far greater threat. Why? Because it's that much more prevalent. There were an estimated 80,000 American deaths from Influenza in the Winter of 2017-18 alone, more than double what health officials consider to be a "bad year." The usual numbers in the USA during the 2010-2020 time period saw 16,000 deaths on the low end, 56,000 on the high end until that record 2017-18 Winter.

So, in essence, I am more likely to catch the basic flu on a Vegas vacation than the Coronavirus. And, if anything, catching a everyday common cold is the most likely of scenarios while traveling.

So how do you quell the fears of potential traveler when a pandemic like this breaks out? Well, if you're me (and to be clear, you are fortunate not to be), the recipe is a big mixing bowl of common sense with a completely inappropriate dash of humour thrown in as spice. For instance, whenever I read COVID-19, the virus' name, I do so to the tune of "Come On, Eileen" which gives it a much more musical and softer feel.
This is Tiffany at Banger Brewing, serving up their
antidote to viruses, known better as their El Heffe
Hefeweizen wheat ale. It's a well-known fact that
hops contain antimicrobial properties. So is young
Tiffany serving me a beer? No, she's potentially
saving my life!! Such a noble person, that Tiffany.

As a beer writer (of sorts) and a craft beer consumer (of, dare I say, legend - oh, I dare), I am also quick to remember that not only are hops natural preservatives, they also contain antimicrobial properties. Because I drink so many hopped-up beers, favouring IPAs, I am drinking the antidote to potential viruses. In fact, I am so health-conscious that I drink a remarkably high amount of this virus preventer. Some of my friends would go as far as to say I drink a ridiculous, possibly inhuman, amount of this particular medicine. Hey, man, you gotta take care of yourself. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Or get wrecked yourself. Not sure how that catchphrase actually goes.

As well, the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week that worldwide, they have seen 101,811 confirmed Coronavirus cases. Of that number, 3,460 have died, mostly the more-susceptible elderly in the Asian regions and oddly, Iran, which was hit hard. So there's your 3.4% mortality rate there. There have also been 55,882 who have completely recovered. The balance are still being treated. Those numbers remind me of that time I was pulled over and had to explain to the officer, "Yeah, sure, I hit a pedestrian but you're not even taking into account all the times I haven't hit a pedestrian." I mean, seriously, you have to look at both sides of the picture.
Okay, you wanna see something that could actually kill
me in Las Vegas? It'd be this little fun-loving activity just
off Fremont St that invites beer drinkers to throw many
sharp objects around. In fact, Axehole Vegas, doesn't
even stop at stop objects, offering up shovel throws as an
alternative. How drunk do you have to be to throw damn
shovels around? You'd have to be Tequila drunk, I'd say.

Also of note, a recent study showed that 38% of Americans will not purchase Corona beer because of the Coronavirus. To be clear, there is NO connection between the (inexplicably) popular libation and the virus. None, whatsoever. However, I can quite imagine that Constellation Brands, the conglomerate that owns the Corona line, approaching the WHO and offering multi-millions of dollars just to change the name to the BudLightvirus.

Okay, since the Coronavirus is no laughing matter, should I even be making jokes? No, probably not. But here's the thing. Gallows humour is where the brain naturally goes when we are inundated with a subject matter, such as the Coronavirus. So long as the humour is not racially-oriented because that's both mean and unfair. This is worldwide. It doesn't matter if it originated in the Wunan province or Cleveland. We're all susceptible now. We are being told by medical professionals to stay six feet away from other people so how do you connect or interact with others during a time like this? Well, right or wrong, this is how I do it. And Vegas? I'll see you on Monday, March 16. Make sure, as always, you have a sufficient supply of my hop-based medicine on hand. Peace out, homeys.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Back to Fremont Street for more craft beer!

Well, I'll tell you one thing for free. When I posted this on
Twitter and asked, "Guys, drink holders at urinals: Yay or
Nay?" it certainly brought out some spirited discussion.
About two-thirds said, "Good idea" but the third against
it were pretty vocal about the sanctity of their beers in an
unsanitary area. Personally, I'm all for it. But I'm weird.
(Yeah, this one's the beer blog that's been around forever - or at least since June 2013. Gets confusing, eh? Well, for you, maybe. I know which is which. But it's about beers around Fremont Street in Downtown Vegas so there's a duel component at work here. You get beer. You get Vegas. But you don't get showgirls. That'd be too much for one blog.)

Okay, a lot of my beer blogs start off strong... and then go down the crapper. So this time, I figured I'd just start in the crapper. Literally.

You see, almost every single washroom I've ever used in Vegas has those little metal flat stands where you can rest your beer while you, y'know, get rid of the beer before it. Beer goes in, beer goes out. It's a story as old as time.

So I took a picture and threw it out there on Twitter, asking: "Beer or drink holders right there at the urinal: Yay or Nay?" The thing is I'm not sure I've ever seen this in Canada. Actually, I'm pretty sure I haven't. We just find some precarious perch for it or leave it where it was before entering.

About two-thirds of the respondents enthusiastically said, "Great idea!" having the platform for your beer at the urinal but a few added a reason I hadn't even considered.
This is Pete, originally from New York, serving me
up a big 32-ouncer of Bell's Brewing (Kalamazoo,
Michigan) Two-Hearted Ale, long considered one
of America's best IPAs, at the Prohibition Bar in
the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino on Fremont
Street. I'll be staying there on the March Break. As
you can see, the bar has some Rat Pack history...
That was the possibility of someone dropping a roofie or a goofball into your drink if left unattended outside the washroom. True, true... that makes you somewhat susceptible to robbery or a good old-fashioned mugging within about 15 minutes.

A couple of the nay-sayers suggested that you down any drink before entering the lavatory. Well, take a look at that beer up top. That's a 32-ounce Stone IPA that I got at The Longbar in The D. If I had to go for a whiz at this point, does it really look like I could finish that first? Among the many activities I enjoy in Vegas, pissing my pants doesn't make the list. We've all heard the stories of folks wearing Depends at their slot-machines because they don't want to leave it for a natural bodily function and miss the big payoff.

But there were other nay-sayers that offered even stronger reasons - the issue of what's actually floating around in the air within the washroom. Noted Ron Gold, "Food or beverage should never enter a washroom - there's aerosolized fecal matter in the air." So, basically, Ron's saying every washroom we walk into is quite literally a flying shit-storm. Giraffeturd agreed: "Once you consider the plumes of spraying and splashing urine that is really going on in there, there's no way I'm taking a drink in there."

In the end, it was S. Andrews who perhaps offered up the smartest compromise.
This is JJ at Banger Brewing offering me up my beloved
El Heffe Hefeweizen wheat ale. The brewery and I have
long been debating how hot this beer actually is on my
Twitter posts. I maintain that, yes, this is a very spicy-hot
wheat. The brewery maintains I'm just a gigantic wuss.
Bring it in with you, he said, but "one hand over the beer to limit any presumed nasty germs from getting to your drink. When finished, wash hands and continue. (It's) not safe to leave on the table/bar so yeah, the beer shelf."

But I had to laugh. A simple post like this and it sparked such vigorous debate. Perhaps the motto the city should have gone with is: What happens in Vegas... becomes a focal point for intense scrutiny on Twitter. So, anyway, that's how I start my beer blogs. I wonder how the other beer writers start theirs? I'll have to read one someday, I guess.

Okay, let's move along from the exit strategy of everyone's beer and get into the actual matter of my beer intake on Fremont Street in Downtown Las Vegas during my Birthday Week trip earlier this month.

Let's start with Banger Brewing right on Fremont Street simply because the brewery and I have an ongoing Twitter debate. That is simply this: How hot is their El Heffe Hefeweizen? Now when my buddy, Mark, and I visited the brewery on February 9 to film one of his Pennys4Vegas travel vlogs (see You-Tube), we both drank it. That surprised me.
Not the first time I've mentioned this gang in my beer
blog when I visit Fremont Street and likely won't be the
last. I'm a pretty big fan. Though not a huge place, their
selection is pretty impressive and their styles diverse.
You see, Mark likes his macro beers, such as Bud or Corona in Vegas and Labatt Blue up in Canada. This was his first foray into craft beers. Quite probably his last, as well, but I was there first-hand to see him do it, all for the sake of a different and fun new angle for his vlog. Because of Mark's Groupon coupon, the brewery gave us a paddle consisting of four shooters, all four ounces, and four more full-size 16 ounce pints. It think it was $26 all-in. One helluva deal. But then Banger is one helluva solid brewery so...

But back to that El Heffe dispute. You see, it's brewed with jalapenos, serranos, habaneros and, I believe, both red and green bell peppers. I maintain it's a pretty hot and spicy beer.

Banger good-naturedly disagrees: "It's not even spicy. Not even a little bit. The peppers are fire-roasted, leaving little heat behind. You're one of those who think ketchup is spicy, aren't you?" Hey now, I'll have you know I ask for the hot salsa in my burritos! That said, skinny, white suburban folks from Canada like myself don't really know the hot stuff. My co-worker's family hails from Sri Lanka and he maintains that in food, his level of hot and my level of hot are pretty far separated.
This would be Daniel at the Whiskey Licker Up Bar, serving
me a Saint Archer Hazy IPA. I watched the Whiskey Licker
Up Bar at Binion's Casino being built when I first visited
Downtown Vegas last September and it was completed by the
time I returned in November. It has a killer craft beer menu.
But I didn't visit the place for the first time until I came
down to Fremont Street for Birthday Week 2020. Cool spot.
So here's my compromise, Banger, because Canadians are all about getting along. That is the hottest wheat ale I've ever had. Truce?

So anyway, on our Banger Paddle with the four separate four ounce shooters was the El Heffe, their Morning Joe Kolsch, their Coppertail Marzen and their DTB Brown Ale. I gave Mark the Morning Joe, figuring a lagered-ale might be his kettle of fish. He made a funny face after that first sip so I suggested he take the El Heffe and I'd drink the Morning Joe. I knew why as soon as I tried it. Strong coffee back-flavour. Turns out Mark doesn't drink coffee. No problem. I drink exactly two liquids and coffee's the other. I loved this one and I'm that beer lover who finds most Kolschs as boring as hell. When a brewery tells me they're releasing a Kolsch, I'm like, "Hey, good for you. (*Polite pause*) So what else you got?" Mark saw the two darker ones - the Coppertail and DTB - and backed away (no surprise) so I had both. They were damn solid brews and both completely on point, style-wise.

However, I just noticed on their on-line menu that they also have a Morning Joseph Imperial Kolsch now. It's 9%. Yeah, count me in when I return for March Break. Screw morning coffee. Gimme that Morning Joseph, instead! Now, that's a Kolsch!
Here's the outside view of the Whiskey Licker Up Bar at Binion's
on Fremont Street. Okay, so the 360-degree bar may not be quite
a unique design in Vegas (you will notice many bars in the middle
of a casino are circular - I have a whole theory about this) but this
one moves! It takes about 20 minutes to do a full revolution. So I
don't think motion sickness is ever going to really come into play.
That said, it's possible this beer will remind me of two of my four greatest fears. Now I don't share this with everyone because it's very personal you have to understand. But they are: 1) Running out of beer. 2) Running out of coffee. 3) Running out of toilet paper. And 4) Running. This beer could actually unearth some scary stuff on a deep internal level. If, y'know, I had any of that in me. So, yeah... I'm good.

Okay, let's shift off Fremont Street and take a five minute walk down a side-street over to my home for Birthday Week, the Downtown Grand Hotel and Casino so we can check out the beer action there.

Not only would I highly recommend the Downtown Grand (truly a fantastic place and experience there) but if you like your craft beer, oh yeah, they have a couple of treats on tap for traveling strangers. I was barely through the door when I was checking out the taps at the casino. I was pretty pumped to see the distinctive tap handle for Doghead Fish 60 Minute IPA. While nearly all I know prefer their 90 Minute IPA, I am a hold-out for the 60 Minute.
Toby was working the bar at Freedom Beat restaurant
and by the first night, knew my name. I felt like Norm
on Cheers. "Don!!!" This was during one of their 2 to 5
in the morning Happy Hours where pints dropped from
$8 to $4. (Appetizers also half off.) Their OTHER Happy
Hour was from 2 to 5 in the afternoon. I think they may
have been a bit surprised to see me at nearly ALL the
Happy Hours during my one week stay. What can I say?

In fact, it was in Vegas that I finally got to try them side-by-side. There was a Walgreen's on the strip with a walk-in beer fridge. It had both so I picked up a sixer of each, wandered back to the nearby New York New York Casino, sat down at a slot and tried them both at the same time. With its pine richness and solid malt backbone, I can certainly see why most prefer the 90 Minute but there's something about the fruit punchiness of the 60 Minute that made me give it the edge. Doesn't matter - they're both fantastic.

But as I spotted that 60 Minute tap handle at the Downtown Grand casino bar, the bartender, noticing my excitement, pointed to their restaurant, Freedom Beat, and said, "An even better selection in there for a guy like you." No kidding. As well as the 60 Minute IPA, they also had the Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA. So in one bar, I had premium east coast style and west coast traditional IPAs.

But wait! There's more! Freedom Beat also had a Peanut Butter Stout on tap from Mother Earth Brewing (Vista, California) called Sin Tax Imperial Peanut Butter Stout. Holy Godiva, this was some tasty. While I was sitting there, I found out on Google that not only does this 8.1% bad boy use peanut butter but also chocolate malts, chocolate wheat (that's a thing?) and brown sugar. Small wonder it tasted so great with all that!
When the amenable young man suggested a fridge for my room, I really
figured I didn't want to let him down, given his kindness, so I started
stocking it. On my first trip to Downtown Vegas-Fremont Street back in
September, I quickly found a souvenir shop with an amazing selection of
craft beer in its fridges because, well... of course, I did. I had already had
the New Belgium Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze IPA in November for the
first time but the 9% Sierra Nevada Fantastic Haze Imperial IPA was a
new one for me! Geezuz, lemme tell ya, that was one juicy AF fridge!!!

Fun side-story from my first night there. I landed at about noon on February 9th and then went to Banger Brewing that night with Mark for his vlog. Went back to Downtown Grand after that and straight to my room because I'd been up since 5 am Toronto time. But after a power nap, I woke up at 3 am, dragged a brush through the mop I call hair and scooted straight back downstairs for Happy Hour at Freedom Beat.

I was just relaxing in the casino, chilling, listening to the sounds of slot play and cheering at the crap table (which I love) when at about 4:15 am, the supremely-familiar opening instrumental of Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" started to play. You could hear a pin drop because that song is a timeless rock anthem to many.
When our Vegas friends, Kaylene and Nick, of Sin City
Nerds fame (both on Twitter and YouTube) posted a
picture of Nick laying all model-like in front of a Vegas
fountain (forget which), Kaylene decided perhaps we
needed a calendar of Vegas men in front of statues. Hog
of Hogand2cent instantly decided mine had to be this
one, the replica of Manneken Pis from Brussels, Belgium.
Now in actual fact, Manneken Pils literally translates to
"little pissing man." The one in front of The D is actually
bigger than the original which is 24 inches high. And if
that doesn't bring this blog full circle, what else could??
Starts with beer stands at urinals, ends with this. Noice.
As the singing began, right along with Steve Perry, two ladies at the craps tables started singing loudly (and very well, I might hasten to add), "Just a small town girl..." and simply kept going along with it. By the time, it got to "Just a city boy..." about a half dozen more, myself included, jumped in to join the Sing-Along-With-Steve Show. Within seconds, more than half the place was singing the song. Granted, as I said, it's a smaller casino and it was 4:15 in the morning but that meant about 25 of us, all joined in harmony. Locked into the moment. At the end, we all clapped, laughed and hooted a little.

Yeah, I suppose this could have happened anywhere. But for that night, it didn't. It happened in Vegas. When people ask me, "Why always Vegas?" it's because of this! That's why Vegas! If you think about it, our inner child is actually the oldest part of us all and in Vegas, we all remember how to play again. And for that one Journey song, strangers from across the world shared the sandbox beautifully. That's why Vegas!

Okay, done with beer but not quite done with Vegas. Months ago, Hog and 2 cent were on a podcast with Chris from Faces And Aces LV. This week, Vegas Podtoons recreated that interview in cartoon form and I... was... dying! As well, my man, Mark had a one-on-one with Jonathan Jossel, CEO of the Plaza and it was a beauty! So click here for: Back Alley Chicken With Hog and 2cent and click here for: Plaza Walk-Thru With JJ Both are well-worth a watch. Okay, Scooby Doo Gang, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. And remember: That's why Vegas! Peace out.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Vlogs with Pennys4Vegas and Downtown Grand

Long before it became Oscar's Steakhouse (named after three-term Las
Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman), this second floor pool (circa 1970-ish) at
the Plaza was your best view of Fremont Street towards the east. This
was well before the Fremont Street Experience where three-to-four city
blocks are now enclosed under a spectacular canopy that runs the length
which is traffic-closed (except at north-south road crossings) and now all
pedestrian and performer-friendly. I so love these vintage Vegas photos.  
This is the blog that's NOT my beer blog, the award-winning Brew Ha Ha. I only call it award-winning because did you know you can walk into a trophy store and they'll put whatever you want on a trophy? Seriously, whatever you tell them. You should see all the shit where I'm, like, the absolute best - sports, writing, drinking! Anyway, this is my people, places and things blog. Today, it's a place. My favourite place. The City of Las Vegas.

Okay, when I landed in Las Vegas' McCarran Airport on February 9 at roughly noon (their time), it marked my 16th trip to Vegas.

Trip #17 is coming next month, Trip #18 is booked for May. I promised myself that Trip #20 would be done in 2020. I don't gamble much but I have many friends who do - both low-rollers and high-rollers - and I am willing to bet (okay, a wager here and there) that they will find some sort of gambling significance in that whole "20 in 2020" sequence. Just sayin'...

With seven months left to play with after May, well, let's just say that's pretty do-able. In fact, I mean, we're talking Vegas so wouldn't Trip #21 make even more sense? (Shut up. Just agree. I know 2021 actually makes more sense for Trip 21. But six trips in one year? Epic!)
Just a couple of Canadians dudes drinking craft beer at Banger Brewing
on my first night there. Now Mark's a macro drinker so normally, this
would not be in his wheelhouse but he had a Group-On for Banger and
that made it more up his alley. To truth to tell, we did find him a few that
he quite enjoyed. But Mark's strength is he will always find Bud for $1.

But let's get back to Trip 16 - that February 9 to 16 trip - for a couple of reasons. One, it's now my third-annual Birthday Week in Vegas. 2018 was at the Excalibur. 2019 was at The LINQ. Both of those are located on the main Las Vegas Strip. And this year, it was at the Downtown Grand, just steps off Fremont Street in grand old Downtown Vegas. That choice was made, based on a video by British Vegas vlogger named Matt Bridger. Much more on the Downtown Grand and Grandmaster Bridger in a moment or two. (You see that clever wordplay there? No? Good for you because it wasn't even remotely clever.)

But Night One would prove to be an interesting one, involving the consumption of beer.
Banger Brewing was the place that took Mark's
craft beer virginity. But he was game to try some
new beers and, man, we found some stuff he did
enjoy. That said, Mark will always be a macro dude
at heart. I always say, "Drink the ones you like."
And while that would seem to be a "Well, duh!" statement whereas Vegas is concerned, there was a twist. A fairly significant one, I would say. My Canadian buddy, Mark, better known on social media as @pennys4vegas, was meeting me at well-known Fremont Street craft beer brewery/bar Banger Brewing.

So what? Well, here's the thing. One, we had never met in person. And two, Mark is a macro drinker. In Canada, he loves his Labatt Blue, which was my mainstay beverage for decades before I got into craft beer. In Vegas, this man has a nose for finding Bud at a buck a bottle in countless places. He's like a Buck Bud Bloodhound. (Seriously, try saying that three times fast.)

But Mark's whole gig is "Doing Vegas As Cheaply As Possible" and given the rise in his YouTube subscribers, there are a lot of people who would like to do exactly that - the Vegas thing for less dough. So I would say he's onto something good here. The whole point of being on YouTube is creating something people want to watch. He has. Mark can correct me if I'm wrong but when I started following last Summer, I think he had maybe 300 subscribers. He just hit 1,600. That's a helluva jump in a very short time. (I'll do the Math for you - that's over 500 per cent.)
I'm not trying to speak on Mark's behalf but I know THIS is his idea
of a night of drinking in Vegas!! From the back moving forward, that
would be Mark, notorious Vegas bad boy Anastas617, who also has a
YouTube vlog (search anastas617) and finally, a very funny couple,
Tamara (rhymes with camera) and Gord, who you can also find on
YouTube on vegasbestideas. On Twitter, just add @. Okay, so I think
ALL of them posted this night on YouTube. They were all at Stage
Door Casino in Vegas drinking $1 Bud's and man, that night looked
crazy. When ol' Anastas gets all, umm "unfiltered", it gets very funny.

Now since this is NOT the beer blog, I'll tell you what Mark and I drank both at Banger Brewing and Chicago Brewing in 4 Queen's Hotel and Casino in my next beer one, as well as what I drank flying solo.

But I appreciate what Mark did for me that night and lemme tell you why. If your whole gig is "doing Vegas as thriftily as possible," then craft beer does not come into play. It simply costs too much. Because we were meeting for the first time, he stepped way out of his comfort zone, just to be a good buddy. Yeah, there was a Group-On coupon involved but still, that's just a good deal for craft beer. Not a good deal for regular beer drinkers at all.

This dude tried all sorts of new and crazy tasting beers when, dammit, you knew all he wanted was a Bud. And Mark, I'll tell you this for free. The first time I tried an India Pale Ale, many years before I dove into craft beer and was a Blue drinker, would you like to know what my reaction was? Unfiltered, like Anastas does? "This doesn't even taste like fahkin beer."

So I get it. So thanks, brother, for hanging in there. I think you got a pretty decent (and certainly very different) vlog out of it so, hey, that's okay. Given the reaction to that vlog, well, a healthy handful of viewers seemed to quite like it. You can never tell, eh?

Being part of a vlog was a chance to get some interaction from viewers and while you always hope people aren't dicks, we all know the reality of the Internet anonymity.
I absolutely cannot say enough positive things about the Downtown
Grand. I enjoyed my experience there so much. Because it's a little
smaller than some places in Downtown Vegas, there is an air of, well,
familiarity to it. The bartenders knew what I wanted to drink, all the
front desk knew my name and even though I make zero demands as
a traveler, they busted their butts to make sure I was as happy as I
could possibly be. They have the "hospitality" thing nailed down.
People can be assholes... just because they can be. None of us knows who Bob6969 really is. But (unless Mark removed their comments), none were. In fact, they were kinda cheerleaders for the whole thing and man, that's cool.

In fact, some British dude named james82 kind of nailed it. He said, "Felt like I was listening in to two blokes enjoying a chat and a few beers. Nice change to see a relaxed vlog." And the thing is, having been there first-person, that's exactly how it felt. We just met, Mark was way outside his comfort zone beer-wise and yet, even when I watched it, it felt like we had known each other for 25 years or something. Taping that vlog with Mark felt like the most natural thing in the world to me. And that, my friends, is the power of these YouTube Vegas vlogs. I hide in the shadows of words though I do clearly identify myself. They, on the other hand, are front and centre, talking to you personally. I think that takes guts.

And you know what? Next time we meet in Vegas, I'll spend some time drinking Bud with him. I'm no beer snob. If it has water, hops, barley malts and yeast involved in the brewing process, dammit, I'll do it. Might not enjoy it as much as my favourite craft brews but I owe him. He did it for me. And, of course, I'll link to his vlog at the end of this. I think his one with me was just north of 800 views. Sounds good but Mark can easily get 1,500 views just on a simple room walk-through so that's his real audience.
Okay, so right now, the Downtown Grand Hotel and Casino has these
two towers. I stayed on the 19th floor in the one on the left. As well, they
have a third tower under construction and slated to be up and open by, I
believe, this November. That's the casino on the bottom right, but up on
its roof is their pool. Great set-up. Not the biggest casino in Downtown
Vegas but I loved it in there. Granted, two separate Happy Hours had a
lot to do with that. Half priced draft and appetizers at Freedom Beat 2 to
5 pm and again at 2 to 5 am. They got to know me pretty damn well... 

Okay, time to talk about the Downtown Grand Hotel and Casino, which is basically about three minutes off Fremont Street. Now I can't remember if I booked my Birthday Week there before or after I saw a video from famed British Vegas Vlogger Matt Bridger. Because he had some pretty high praise for the hotel, I suspect probably the latter. It doesn't really matter either way because it was everything he said and more. As well, he has since filmed a separate walk-through of the Downtown Grand, which I'll attach at the end.

This has a much smaller casino than the other hotels on Fremont Street but not being much of a gambler, I was fine with that. It was the little extras that I loved here. A super-friendly young man at the check-in front desk instantly offered me a room fridge, to which I happily said, "Ummm, okay..."
Though I am keenly aware there is an ongoing legal
dispute between the Downtown Grand and its bar
tenants, Hogs & Heifers Saloon (long story short,
the hotel would prefer them to vacate because of
excessive rowdiness and fighting), I saw my one
opportunity to go into the infamous biker bar, so
I took it and had a blast in there one day. Fun!!
Let me tell you why this is relevant. My buddy, Mark, from up top there, needs a room fridge to store his diabetes meds. So, too, does 2cent, the female half of Vegas vloggers, Hogand2cent. (We all love 2cent. Hog is on more of a day-to-day assessment basis. Kidding, of course, we love him, too, and their vlogs are a riot.) If a room does not have a fridge, the hotels will send one up to you on request. Seriously, it's a given. People need fridges for any number of reasons, the most important being medical. One of the four hotels Mark stayed at this time, the MGM Grand, told him that's no longer their policy. If he wanted a fridge, it had to be rented at $35/night. Mark posted that on Twitter and a huge number of us went ballistic. Eventually, they relented for his second night (he was only there for two) but I mean, come on, customer service, people. Places that ignore how they appear on social media do so at their own risk these days.

Did I use my fridge? Hell yeah, I got some of my medicine in there immediately - a six-pack of New Belgium Juicy Haze IPA and another sixer of Sierra Nevada Fantastic Haze Imperial IPA. And it is medicinal. Those meds cure the shit out of sobriety.

Now I'll get back to the Downtown Grand in a second because it's such a great spot but part of their complex is a Hogs & Heifers Saloon. Now, of course, because their clientele leans towards the motorcycle crowd, I guess their reputation isn't what you'd call sterling.
This is Emily, my server at Hogs & Heifers. Now
I almost always get a picture of anyone - male or
female - serving me to post on Twitter. There are
exactly two poses - big smiles or goofiness. Until
I asked Emily to pose, I didn't realize there was a
third option. This might be my new favourite...
So, anyway, there's a ongoing legal dispute between the Downtown Grand and Hogs & Heifers Saloon for reasons you probably guess - rowdiness, fighting, the usual stuff. But I do know this. When the evening hours roll around, this saloon brings in bouncers that look like NFL linemen. I'll also say this from my many years on this mudball, I've known a lot of bikers over the years and frankly, I prefer them by far (very, very far) to many of the judgmental "Christians" I've known during the same time period. Truth.

And while I will sidestep this legal dispute altogether, I knew I had to go into Hogs & Heifers at least once in case they, well, vacated in the future. I know of them all too well but have never seen one. So I did. During the daylight hours, of course. Their craft beer selection was limited, of course, but they had Lagunitas IPA, which now being owned by Heineken, is half craft-half not. Good enough for me in a gin-joint like this.

And man, what a blast! I was there for a few hours, just soaking in the environment. Think the Coyote Ugly bar at New York New York Hotel and Casino but with a much rougher edge. The waitresses will happily and freely insult you and to quote that great philosopher Mr T, I pity dah fool brazenly stupid enough to come onto one. She'd probably kick the shit out of you herself and then toss the bloody, pulpy remains to a bouncer to finish off the job. Of course, I loved it there. Every Vegas trip seems some degree of rowdy fun. Just a bit of crazy.
Okay, the Freedom Beat bar-restaurant at the
Downtown Grand has TWO Happy Hours. It's
from 2 to 5 in the afternoon and again at 2 to 5
in the morning. I was there for a week. I think I
made 12 of a potential 14 Happy Hours. What?
I mean, $4 pints of great craft beer? Of course!
So I had to go there! Simply because they may not be in that location some day soon. The one thing I have noticed about Las Vegas is it's a constantly evolving place. Nothing lasts forever. My first trip was July 2007. It already looks like a completely different place now. I suspect other Vegas lovers will agree.

Okay, back to the Downtown Grand. This is certainly a smaller casino than most I've seen in Vegas. Again, I'm not much of a gambler but when I watched a Matt Bridger video (two, actually) on the place, it seems to have many of the slots he prefers and what I have learned from all these Vegas vlogs is the right slots are key.

I mean, I'll throw in $20 here and there to kill time but I have no idea if what I'm seeing is good or bad. Slot machine screens that look like a dog's breakfast to me all of sudden have all these connecting lines that add up to some coin. And I have no idea how. It's a little like watching Figure Skating at the Olympics. You see someone do all the spins and you think, "Wow, that's pretty impressive." Suddenly, the announcer comes on and says, "Oh, I doubt she'll recover from that critical faux pas." And you're like, "I don't get this at all." That's me and slot machines. I'm just there to drink good beers, enjoy the environment and escape reality, if even for a week. But yeah, I'll throw $20 in a machine.
This is Samantha. I forget where she was from (Rhode Island?) but I was
sitting at an adjacent machine. Okay, this is the second time this has
happened to me in Vegas. She wasn't having much luck with her slot. It
had a spinning bonus half-circle at the top if that helps the slot players I
know. But the second I plunked my scrawny ass at my slot just to have a
smoke and check Twitter near her, she hit a bonus round. And it kept
going. As I was saying, well, good luck to you, she answered, "Can you
stay? Drink service will bring you a beer very soon." Turns out that she
just kept hitting bonuses with me nearby, chatting. Her (roughly) $150
went up to - not kidding - $2,160.10. This was at the Downtown Grand
and I guess she thought I was good luck? It was less than five minutes.
That said, if it gets up to $50, I'm cashing the hell out. I measure my wins in potential vacation beers, fast food and little else.

But that brings us to the drink service at the Downtown Grand. I would just be at a machine, having a smoke, checking out Twitter and drinking a beer and - no joke - every five minutes, some nice young lady was by, asking how my drink was doing. At first, I said, no, all good here. Because really, unless you're gambling, you shouldn't accept drink service. About halfway through the week, it dawned on me that I could make this a win-win. So one day, I said, sure, I'll have a Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA and minutes later, she showed up with one. She got $5 tip every single time and I got a beer. Then my drink service got even better! Because it's a smaller casino, the ladies serving were there that much faster. I forgot to ask their names - there was just a few different ones through the week - but one made me laugh when she asked if I was a big Canadian musician.
Rubie at the Freedom Beat bar-restaurant in the
Downtown Grand Hotel and Casino was the one
who had to break the news to me. I had drank all
the Sierra Nevada Hazy Little Thing IPA. No big
deal. They still had their Dogfish Head 60 Minute
IPA so I was good. Then I tapped that out, just as
more Hazy Little Thing showed up. It was all cool.
No musical talent whatsoever but maybe the bigger "tips" and the long hair, I guess. But they were all super sweet, friendly and very efficient. That's one of the bigger complaints I see from the gambling community - drink service. Go to the Downtown Grand. It'll have a slot or craps table you're happy with and seriously, a drink service second-to-none in probably all of Vegas. Sometimes, smaller is better.

Which brings me to Freedom Beat, their restaurant-bar. You'll read more about this place in my next beer one because besides both an east and west coast IPA, they also had a Peanut Butter Stout that was pretty much craft beer porn.

Okay, from 2 to 5 in the afternoon and again, 2 to 5 in the wee hours, ALL beers and appetizers were half-price. So $8 pints suddenly became $4 pints. They got to know me VERY well. I ate there, I drank there. I can live off appetizers. Yeah, sure, I went onto Fremont during the day and night. But I always came back. The staff was outstanding, most of them remembered me instantly. (Again, probably the hair.) But Matt Bridger was right. The Downtown Grand is fantastic. I will absolutely be back in the late Summer or early Autumn. But what a great guest experience. Back with the beer blog! Oh, here's Pennys4Vegas vlog about our Banger Brewing fun right here: Pennys Does Craft Beer! And here's Matt Bridger's Walk-Through so you can see where I stayed: Matt Goes Downtown Grand. His history at the beginning is awesome!