After snapping two final pictures of the San Francisco Belle, Raz, Fergus, and I turned our sights to the next most important part of the night: dinner. As it was creeping up on 10pm, we opted to walk to the nearest place we could find. A call to thejamez enlightened us as to the direction we should meander, though he wouldn’t be joining us due to other plans and some back pain that was setting in.
As we moseyed, we laughed and caroused and generally had a good time until finally making our way to the corner of Mission and Embarcadero where we encountered the first restaurant named “Boulevard”. It looked a bit swank for this group of misfit toys, but we opted to park it here rather than continue looking. After all, we were dressed well and on vacation, we deserved to live it up a bit! The place may as well have been named Serendipity for that’s what it felt like to us after a while.
We were seated immediately, and a nice round of waters and iced teas ordered before we knew what hit us. Still flying high from the tasting, we were a bit rowdier than usual, but still in a playful sort of way. Luckily, our waiter caught on to our game rather quickly and began throwing our medicine right back at us. I love waiters like that; somehow it makes dinner just that much more enjoyable.
At one point before the food was served, I was perusing the wine list, as I do, to generally pass judgment on the place. And I was duly impressed with their selection. Though not extensive, what they did offer was of a high class and at relatively decent price points. Then, on the back page, I notice they listed their sommeliers by name and had dated the page as well, which impressed me at first. It occurs to me a few seconds later, however, that the date on the page was not for that Saturday (3-25-06), but rather that Sunday (3-26-06). I hurriedly point this out in amusement to Fergus and Raz, wondering out loud if this is a wine list from the future… when the head sommelier walks up to me to ask if there is a problem or if we had any questions. I explain that all is fine and that I was just pointing out to my friend that the date is slightly incorrect, in that it is for tomorrow, rather than this evening. The sommelier takes the list, looks at it and agrees that it must indeed be a list from the future! By this point, our waiter has returned to the table, and we are all laughing at the faux pas, when the sommelier decides to rectify the issue by forcibly removing the last page with a wild gesture more apropos on a Broadway stage. Which put us in to more fits of laughter. Apparently he had just returned that day from a trip to South Africa and was a bit loopier than normal. But that single act endeared him to me and I will be returning to sample some of his list as soon as I am able.
After a few more quibbles about the menu its self (apparently they were out of some items, but when the waiter only listed one, I pointedly asked if that was all after a long pause of us waiting for him to continue) we ordered and were served the best meal I was to have in the city this trip. I had the Lamb with Oso Buco, Fegus had the halibut, and Raz had the wild boar ravioli. Somehow, over the course of our dinner, we must have made quite the impression on our waiter, as he delivered a banana cream pie to our table on the house. Either he was still hitting on me, or he was apologizing for some error which none of us noted, I can’t recall. What I do know is the desert was heavenly and was gone within seconds of it hitting the table.
We paid our bill, and said our thanks and goodbyes as we headed out into the night to find a cab. By this point we were starting to crash, but still had one more stop we needed to get in before heading back to the hotel. We NEEDED to get to the Irish Bank bar. So we started looking for a cab. Easier said than done at 11pm on a Saturday night. It would seem that all cabs in this part of town are either on their way to grab a fare, or already taking one to their destination. I think we walked 10 blocks at least trying to track down an elusive open cab. All we wanted to do was get to the Irish Bank, which we finally did.
What a bar this is! It is situated down an alley in the side of a building, like a good hole in the wall should be. A locals’ bar to be sure. We walk in and sit down. I for one am really beginning to crash and just needed a bit of a rest. Raz and Fergus head up to the bar and return with 3 glasses of the Aberlour 10, a scotch which surprisingly was not represented at the tasting, and one of our favourites. With the music blaring through the speakers, we sat and relaxed and began sorting through the day’s events in our minds. Enjoying the time together, and attempting to retain all the memories we had made thus far. At one point we had all finished our drinks and both Raz and Fergus returned to the bar, presumably to drop our empties and perhaps buy one last round before heading home.
It is at this point that I see the bartender walk from Raz and Fergus’ spot to the locked case where they keep the Midleton 26 year old. (At $90/shot I can understand why it is kept under lock and key!) He opens the case, grabs the bottle and walks back to the boys. I am now VERY interested in what is happening. Surely he is only showing the boys the label, since they were both just balking at the ludicrous cost of a single shot…
Then the bartender makes eye contact with me and motions me over. Fair enough, I wouldn’t mind seeing the bottle. As I slowly make my way to the bar, with all eyes on me, I see the tender pull out two shot glasses, then a third. Dear god man, the boys must have bought a shot! As I step up, he pours out 3 shots and hands them over. We toast and savour the water of life as it ours down our gullets. A mighty fine drink indeed. Only then do I come to realize that Raz and Fergus are much more surprised than they should be by this shot. And so I asked, and I am then told; No, they had not purchased a shot, but rather it was on the house! I am agog at the notion, and immediately fumble for a $20 to tip the bartender for such a gracious gift. Two more twenties come out of hiding from Raz and Fergus’ pockets, as does one of the Glenfiddich flasks which Fergus had received from the tasting that night. First the cash was handed over as a thank you to the barkeep, and he was astounded at the generosity, just as we were astounded at his. But the kicker was the flask. That single bit of metal made the boy light up as if we had tipped him in thousand dollar bills. And he thanked us. With that, we made our way for the door to call it a night. Of course we ended up calling a few others as well to rub in the fact that we had just partook of 3 shots on the house of the Midleton 26yr!
As we stepped outside into the cool night air, it hit me, that this was the perfect cap to a perfect day. A shot of the Midleton 26 to end the night! What better way was there to end the trip? I couldn’t think of one. I pulled out the camera to document the moment for posterity. Truly, you will be hard pressed to find the three of us in such a state of pure happiness at the same time than can be seen in this picture.
We walked down to the street to hail a cab back to the hotel. Joking along the way that we may need to walk back if we have as much trouble as before! When we finally did find a cab, well, let’s just say it didn’t feel right. A nice white sedan stopped for us, but it didn’t have the normal markings or trappings of a cab, aside from the CB radio in the front. We opted out and found out from one of the cabbies that had been honking at the guy that it was a Limo service which isn’t licensed to pick up fare like that. Apparently there is a problem with limo drivers undercutting cabbie’s fares and stealing business illegally. Who knew? Either way we got a legit cab ride with a great driver who was very interested in our tasting experiences, and even noted she was a bit leery at first after hearing about the whiskey tasting going on, but later came to find that “us whiskey types are a high class of people!” straight from the cabbies mouth. It seems of the 2500 people at the tasting that night, a good few of them caught cabs to their next destinations and really made a great impression on the cab world at large! Huzzah to the whisky drinkers!
Back to the hotel it was, and a fairly early night as well since our flight was to leave around 11:50am the next day, leaving little time for dawdling in the morning. So it was that we ended the night, and fell right to sleep dreaming of whiskies and all the fine people we met.
The next morning came way to early again, but this time I had no choice in the matter as we needed to catch our flight. A shower and breakfast later, we walked down to the Bart station to catch our train into Oakland. Barely half awake, Raz and I bid adieu to Fergus at the Coliseum stop where we had to exit to catch the shuttle to the airport, while Fergus would remain on board through to Dublin.
Raz and I managed to make our way through checkin and past security in good time, so we killed a bit of the morning in the bar putting back one last drink of Bushmill’s before the flight. All the while chuckling to ourselves about the grandeur of the trip and all that we had experienced.
The flight home was uneventful, save for a Crown Royal on the plane, which turned into a double after Raz tipped the stewardess. Jean picked us up at baggage claim and drove Raz home to Maggie, who was waiting outside for his return. Then it was straight home and onto the couch for me as my cold somehow knew my vacation was over and could finally be allowed to take hold and pummel me into the ground.
Sitting on the couch Sunday night, in and out of consciousness due to sheer exhaustion, I realized that I truly have some of the best friends a guy could have and lead a very charmed life to be able to do what I have done thus far. That night I slept like a baby with a broad grin across my face….