Thursday, January 14, 2016

Local Beer For Your Manitowoc "Making A Murderer" Adventure

If internet discussion is a gauge to how many people have watched the documentary Making a Murderer, than I assume everyone on earth has watched the 10 part Netflix series. That means, assuming someone is reading this, that you have watched or at least heard of the show. Don't worry, I won't spoil anything for you. What I am here to do is get you ready for your journey to the actual city of Manitowoc.

"What is there to do besides look at a salvage yard?" 

"Do all of the folks in town sound like they came straight from the Fargo movie set?"

"Can I get a good beer after all of these questions have been answered?"

No matter how you feel about the shows outcome, it's time to discover this now famous city - outside of the salvage yard.

So lets dive in. One of the major features of Manitowoc is its location on Lake Michigan. While most of the documentary revolved around rural Manitowoc County, the cities of Manitowoc and Two Rivers border one of the greatest of lakes. That fact alone makes Manitowoc a draw for outdoor enthusiasts looking for boating, sailing or even paddling adventures. When you're out on the water, salmon fishing is very popular in Manitowoc. Manitowoc holds a Salmon Derby every summer, so if you want to test your sport fishing skills, make sure you look out for the dates of the derby.

The SS Badger coming into Manitowoc Marina photo via Rich Evenhouse
Beyond the recreational water fun, Manitowoc has a very unique Lake Michigan feature, a car ferry. The SS Badger offers daily service in the spring, summer and fall from Manitowoc to Ludington, MI and back. For anyone wanting to get back and forth between the 2 states, the car ferry is the most direct route and adds a little fun to your trip (plus you get to avoid Chicago traffic).

Just because it isn't Florida, doesn't mean there isn't a beach!  photo via Aaron Carlson
Getting in the water isn't your thing? Manitowoc also has a fantastic marina to relax at. Watch the sun rise on the breakwater or watch the boats go out for a daily catch. Down the street from the marina is a docked WWII US sub that you can tour along with the Wisconsin Maritime Museum that it is attached to. There is no museum that tells the history of Great lakes shipping like this museum. If sand is your idea of a good day, Two Rivers has miles of beach to spend building castles or skipping rocks.

With your recreation covered, it's time to tackle a little food before we get to the beer. You have never had a burger and fried cheese curds, until you have had them from Late's. Honestly, I don't care where you are from, your burger is just a little worse than the one you would be eating from Late's. Not a burger fan, try the double brat on a kaiser roll.

After you're done with that, your dessert is waiting for you at Beernstens Confectionary (yes if you're a fan of the show it is that Beernsten family). The ice cream sundaes and candy are the food of your childhood dreams. The buidling, and benches and snack bar area are all from a happier more simple time. Situated in the old downtown of Manitowoc, Beernstens is perfected located to walk to from any shopping or the marina.

The now infamous Manitowoc County Courthouse photo via Jimmy Emerson
But as always, our focus is filled with local booze filled dreams. And Manitowoc doesn't disappoint when it comes to the local beer department. For people stopping here on a Netflix quest, the local microbrewery is right across the street from one of the major features of the documentary, the Manitowoc County Courthouse (double bonus).

The Courthouse Pub is housed in a fantastic turn of the 20th century building. Before prohibition the building was a local beer hall. During and after prohibition the building was expanded and became a restaurant. Now the history of the building thrives as not only a restaurant, but also as the only microbrewery in the city. Conveniently located, the Courthouse Pub is impossible to miss (the courthouse dominates the area) and is steeped in history.

"But what about the beer?"

The Courthouse Pub has a rotation of around a dozen regulars and seasonal brews available at the brewery and for take out in a growler. Most of the time there are about 5 brews available on tap. Most of the brews have a fun name associated with justice (I will not comment on Manitowoc justice), and many of them are an innovative fun take on traditional beer styles. That's one of the reasons I love microbreweries, without the constraints of large production a microbreweries beer can be a little more "fun".

Fantastic beer awaits your stop at the Courthouse Pub
The secret to success though at the Courthouse Pub is that the traditional beers produced there are top class. You can't be innovative if you don't nail the originals and my favorite beer there is the Munich Helles. Many breweries don't bother with a true original like this light marzen style beer, but those who do have a lot to live up to. The Courthouse Pub does a wonderful job keeping this beer free of "over-bitterness", while still giving it a nice malt bill.

Another top beer for me at the Courthouse Pub is the Black Peppered Lager. For me it's a cross between a saison and a lager. It has all the body of German lager, medium boldness and easy to drink with a spicy finish that adds to that body. It's a very fun lager that doesn't go overboard in multiple flavors.

The team at the brewery has done a nice job of using seasonal fruits and veg as well, wait veg? yes there is a butternut squash ale that I unfortunately have only heard about from folks who have had it. I have had the summer raspberry ale though and can confirm that it is one of the few raspberry flavored ales that doesn't either taste like sweat socks or wine cooler. It's subtle in fruit but there beyond the aroma. Ability to use fruit and veg is important, and the Courthouse Pub nails it.

So there's a little taste of the Manitowoc I know. How does he know so much you may ask? Well, I've been traveling to Manitowoc my whole life. I was born there and it has been a place that I've gone back to with joy ever since I can remember. I haven't lived there since I was a baby, but I can confirm that I do say "yah" a lot and may even slip in a "dontchya know". If you told me 2 months ago that any of these things would have actually been pop-culture references (beaches in Manitowoc county, the county courthouse, Manitowoc) I would have called you nuts.  It really is a good town to make a stop in, especially on a Great Lakes tour, but more than anywhere, don't drink and drive after your solid local beer, I've heard the sheriffs department is tough to deal with.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Budapest’s Ruin Bars: If You Build It, They Will Drink

Szimpla Ruin Bar Passageway Budapest Hungary

We recently had the chance to visit Budapest, Hungary during a European river cruise with Viking River Cruises.  We would only be in Budapest for 24 hours, which isn’t much time, but we knew we had to squeeze in a couple visits to Budapest’s ruin bars (also known as ruin pubs, or romkocsma in Hungarian).  If you haven’t heard of the ruin bars of Budapest, you’re not alone, but if you’re interested in local bar and drinking culture, a visit to one or more ruin bars should be on your bar bucket list.

What is a Ruin Bar?

Shoes of the Danube Bank Budapest Hungary

A ruin bar is a bar built in an abandoned building or space.  But there is more to the story.  Budapest had a bustling Jewish community before World War II.  During the German occupation, Jews were moved into ghettos and the Arrow Cross Party abused, attacked, and murdered many of the Jews of Budapest.  There is now a memorial, Shoes of the Danube Bank, to the Jews who were lined up along the Danube River, ordered to remove their shoes, shot, and carried away by the river current.  Other Jews died in death marches and labor camps.  A large portion of Budapest’s Jewish community died during the Holocaust.

Jewish Quarter Mural Budapest Hungary

A number of buildings in the Jewish Quarter remained abandoned for decades.  After they were saved from being demolished, somebody had the idea to utilize these neglected spaces and make them something fun and trendy.  In came ruin bars, which helped revitalize Budapest’s seventh district.  Ruin bars are found in what were once abandoned buildings or spaces, and some have outdoor areas with picnic tables and beer taps.  During a Budapest ruin pub crawl, travelers can enjoy the colorful, alternative, and slightly gritty neighborhood with its street art and murals.

Budapest’s Original Ruin Bar

Szimpla Trabant Ruin Bar Budapest Hungary

Szimpla Kertmozi is Budapest’s original ruin bar.  An old abandoned factory was converted into an open-air pub and reception space when Szimpla opened in 2002.  The opening of Szimpla started an alternative movement and 2003 to 2004 saw the boom of ruin pubs.

Szimpla is the funkiest ruin bar we visited.  It isn’t a one-room bar.  When you walk into Szimpla, natural light streams into the passageway.  To the left and right are separate rooms and cozy alcoves selling wine, beer, and spirits and offering a place to socialize with friends.  Near the back is an open space where concerts, shows, and events can be held.  Beyond that is a garden area with an old communist-era Trabant car that is now used as a seating area.  There are oddities hanging on the walls and from the ceilings, with something new to discover at every turn.

Other Budapest Ruin Bars

Kuplung Outdoor Area Ruin Bar Budapest Hungary

Kuplung is another ruin bar in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter.  This one used to be an old car repair garage, but now it has a nautical theme with a giant whale in the bar and a whale mural outside.  The main bar is one large open space, but outside there are picnic tables with a view of the whale mural, all reached after passing through a long graffitied alleyway. 

Kőleves Kert Ruin Bar Budapest Hungary

While some ruin bars are hidden and not readily apparent, requiring a stroll down an easily ignored alley, you’ll stumble upon others just by wandering through the Jewish Quarter.  During our stroll through the seventh district we happened upon Kőleves kert, which means Stone Soup Garden, an open-air bar.  This is a family-friendly ruin bar where both adults and children are welcome.

Kuplung Alley Entry Ruin Bar Budapest Hungary

Corvintető, located on the rooftop of an old department store, has a view of the city and is also an underground dance club.  Grandio Bar is a ruin bar in a plant filled garden connected to the Grandio Party Hostel.  Instant is huge, with 26 rooms, seven bars, two gardens, and seven stages.  Other ruin bars in the Jewish Quarter of Budapest include Dürer Kert, Fogasház, Super8, and Rackskert

What to Drink at a Ruin Bar

Pálinka Ruin Bars Budapest Hungary

When in Hungary, especially at one of Budapest’s ruin bars, be sure to order pálinka.  Pálinka is a traditional fruit brandy served in a shot glass.  If you order pálinka made with grapes, it is customary to drink it straight.  This kind of pálinka is called törköly and is one of the oldest types of pálinka.  It tastes like Italian grappa and can be pretty harsh.  If you order pálinka made with a fruit like apricot, plum, or cherry, you can order it with honey, which makes it a much smoother and more delicious drink.  Other drinks of choice include local Hungarian beer or wine, or a fun cocktail.

Kuplung Strawberry Daiquiri Ruin Bars Budapest Hungary

If traveling to Hungary’s capital city, be sure to visit the Jewish Quarter and one or more of its many ruin bars.  Even if you’re only in the city for one day, set aside time to visit Budapest’s ruin bars as they are unique to this European city.

Thank you to Viking River Cruises for hosting our trip to Budapest and making this post possible.  As always, all opinions are my own.

A guide to the ruin bars of Budapest, Hungary.