Tuesday, March 12, 2019

St. Patricks Days: Past, Present and Future

My friend Joe Freda recently posted photographs on his Facebook page of Rafter’s Tavern, his favorite saloon in his Catskill village.  Rafter’s, named after the men who navigated long log rafts down the Delaware River, has a bartender who makes a great martini. Its lounge has an appealing fireplace and a well-stocked bookcase. 
Seeing Joe’s photographs got me thinking about my favorite watering holes, the ones that are open and those that have closed.    

Farnham’s Larkin, on Albany’s Lark Street, is the most noteworthy of shuttered watering holes.
For 10 years, the Larkin served Dorothy and me outstanding meals and cocktails.  Alfie Macri owned the restaurant.  His son Paul managed the dining room, with waitresses, Mary, Josie, Lee and others - - and Mitch the bartender.   Mitch made the world’s best Manhattan.  He took the recipe with him when he left, and it remains, if this is a word, unduplicable.
These Manhattans look nice, but taste nowhere near as good as Mitch's
Joe’s photos of Rafter’s reminded me of the wellbeing we experienced when walking through the Larkin’s door.

I also write about the Larkin because we hosted a 1988 St. Patrick’s Day dinner there and it was among the best ever. 

After visiting Ireland in 1987, I was crazed about all things Irish.  When St. Patrick’s Day, 1988 loomed, I started planning how to celebrate what I like to call The Day. 
I was taken by the “Tipperary Hill” neighborhood in Syracuse which has an upside-down traffic light.  My friend in Syracuse, John Sexton, led me to the origin of this light. 

The upside down traffic light on Tipperary Hill Syracuse with a sculpture of
the "Rock Throwers" in the background. Photo courtesy of John Sexton
According to Syracuse’s Parks Department, in 1925, the Stone Throwers, a group of young Irish patriots, “refused to allow the green to hang below the red . . . as a sign of their loyalty to Ireland. After repeatedly refitting the broken glass, the City finally gave up and permanently put the green on top, for the world’s only green-over-red signal light.”

Albany may not have that traffic light. 
However, its residents celebrate The Day in outstanding fashion, with family activities, Irish foods, music and beer.  Albanians can also participate in two parades, in 2019: one in North Albany and a city-wide parade after that one.  My friend Steve Jaffe has attended many of the city-wide parades.  Of all of them he most remembers a past parade where “a large group of marchers carried crosses and other memorial items in remembrance of Bobby Sands," the young Irishman who died after a hunger strike protesting the British presence in Northern Ireland.    

In 1988, St. Patrick’s Day was on a Thursday, the same night the Larkin served a corn beef and cabbage dinner special.  With the holiday and dinner special falling on the same day, I made a reservation.  Our favorite people were there.  We had the only St. Patrick’s Day party with two guests named “Peter Douglas.”  Two kids contributed by crawling under the table and tying shoe laces together. 

Yet no guests tripped.  Everyone loved the corn beef, cabbage, new potatoes and carrots.  There were armadas of beverage for every taste. 
Alfie and Paul hosted many of our family events.  At a birthday party for my father, the cake was larger than the dinner party and my father shared it with fellow diners.

Once, a fellow diner gestured to a woman at nearby booth and described how she would be caught up in the excitement of Reagan Republicans.  He was deflated when we told him that the woman in question was Eleanor Billmyer, the neighborhood’s Democratic County Legislator. 
Stephen Dobyns, the mystery writer, had a night cap at the Larkin with Dorothy and me after he spoke at a Friends of the Albany Public Library Annual Meeting. 

The Larkin has been closed for over two decades.  It’s a loss but we have since celebrated The Day by hosting St. Patrick’s Day parties, going out to dinner, attending sing-a-longs or having an early lunch before the bars fill up. 


Our friend MaryEllen Papin gave us a sample of Irish whiskey last year.  In the photo above, it is displayed in better weather earlier in the year and in the photo to the right, another sample is displayed in the present weather on the one of the coasts. 
Whatever you are and whatever the weather, hope you have a great 2019 St. Patrick's Day! 
To my readers: if any of you were at the Larkin Dinner in 1988 and remember anything, or remember anything different, please write and I will update the historical record!

Friday, March 1, 2019

Los Angeles: Rails, Art and Lunch

Despite its car culture, Los Angeles offers escapes from stop and go traffic.

Our family recently took an enjoyable trip on Metrolink, from the suburbs to downtown LA - - and back.  Metrolink is the regional commuter railroad serving the Los Angeles area.  In addition to LA County service, it’s seven lines and 534 miles of track extend into Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura Counties.

Photograph courtesy of Metrolink
A Metrolink consist, “consist” is the term for the locomotive and railroad cars in a train, includes a front and rear locomotive with up to six double-decker passenger coaches in between.  Passenger seating is basic but comfortable.  Coaches are accessible to people with disabilities.  Each train has a quiet car and a car whose lower level is configured to carry bicycles.  Some coaches even have space for surfboards - - but not on the roof.

A Metrolink train ride is usually smooth and quick.  The ride feels even quicker if the train is traveling next to a freeway at rush hour. 

Photograph courtesy of Metrolink
When you purchase a Metrolink ticket, that ticket allows you to transfer from Metrolink to buses in other transit system or Los Angeles’ subway or light rail lines.  Before you go, check if the transfer is free or requires added payment.  For example, a Metrolink/subway transfer is free; a Metrolink/express Metro Bus transfer requires an added fare.

We took Metrolink on the way to the Broad, a contemporary art museum in downtown LA.  According to the museum’s website, it has over 2,000 works of art, comprising “one of the world’s most prominent collections of postwar and contemporary art.”

Admission to the Broad is free.  However, it’s best to make reservations in advance.   The Broad also has a standby line for walk-up museum admission on a first-come, first-served basis. However, I do not know how soon a standby visitor can enter the museum. 

We went to the Broad to see a vivid and different work of art, Infinity Mirrored Room, The Souls of Millions of Light Years, by Yayoi Kusama.  This Room is one of two at the Broad. 
This “work of art” is a small room that holds up to three adults.  Its walls are lined with mirrors; small colored lights, the size of those on Christmas trees, are suspended in the room. 

Once inside the room, the lights come on and, for several seconds, flash and then stop.  Time in the room is limited to 45 seconds per group. 

The combination of lights and mirrors is amazing.  It appears that a person is landing at an airport near a big city at night with the lights beneath or it appears that a person is standing on a summit and seeing an infinite number of galaxies and stars. 

The museum website cautions, “If you are uncomfortable with flashing lights and/or enclosed, dark spaces, please bypass this experience.” 
After seeing this installation and other works of art, we went down the street to lunch.  We chose Lemonade, a chain of 28 restaurants throughout California, which sells an appealing variety of foods, lemonades and other beverages.  Lemonade's menu has something for everyone, for omnivores, vegetarians and vegans.
Photo courtesy of Lemonade Restaurants
Lemonade has a cafeteria-like serving layout.  Diners take a tray and walk down the line choosing from a great variety of salads, “bowls,” hot entrees, sandwiches, desserts and many lemonade flavors.  

Lemonade Restaurant on Flower Street, Los Angeles.  Photograph courtesy of Lemonade
Food at Lemonade is fresh, appealing and served quickly.  The menu includes traditional food, such as macaroni and cheese or barbeque brisket, and newer recipes such as red quinoa and Fuji apples or kale and faro. 
A Lemonade bowl and, a lemonade.  Photograph courtesy of Lemonade
At the Lemonade on South Flower in downtown LA, manager Rockey Dominguez and his staff were efficient, welcoming and happily answered questions about the food on offer.

A person dining at Lemonade can order as large or small of a meal as they want.  One is not compelled to order one of those super-sized meals that will leave you stuffed until bed-time. 

The ride home on Metrolink was smooth, fast and on time.  As an added bonus, our seats on the upper level of a coach offered a great view of the San Gabriel Mountains and the big weather that they generate.
Thanks to Paul Gonzales, Scott Johnson, Rockey Dominguez and Kelly Hansen for their help in preparing this post!