DUMBO soars in Brooklyn

The Brooklyn industrial district known as DUMBO has been named New York's 90th historic district.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission this week voted unanimously to award the designation. In a press release, commission head Robert Tierney said:

"DUMBO was essential to Brooklyn’s rise as a major manufacturing center, and was home to some of America’s most important industrial firms that produced everything from ale and paper boxes to soap and steel wool. DUMBO’s distinctively designed buildings and sublime vistas survive to this day, and still define its character, even as it has evolved into a largely residential neighborhood.

" ... Almost all of the industrial buildings in the historic district date from between 1880 and 1920, a period of explosive growth of Brooklyn’s manufacturing sector. "

The district is bounded by John Street to the north, Bridge Street to the east, York Street to the south and Main Street to the west. If you're wondering what the acronym DUMBO stands for, it's "Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass."

DUMBO street scenes.
Manhattan Bridge.
Brooklyn neighborhoods list.
All About Brooklyn.


Sleep with the fishes in 7-star digs

For years, William Shatner has been telling us the travel service he shills for can get us 3-star hotel accommodations for 1-star prices, sometimes 4-star rooms for 2-star dollars.

I wonder how much he can knock off the price of the world's latest -- and perhaps first -- 7-star hotel?

It's the Hydropolis Dubai, being promoted as one of the world's most extravagant tourist attractions and scheduled to open later this month inthe Arab emirate.

The sprawling, almost surreal facility is an underwater luxury hotel in the middle of desert land. Getting there is half the fun, and amazement factor.

The facility is divided into three section:

The land station: This large building has a rolling, wavy roof. Visitors enter it to head toward the tunnel.

The tunnel: 1,700 feet long, it and carries a train beneath both land and sea to the hotel. it is shaped like a collection of bubbles and curves designed to provide maximum resistance against sea water pressure as well as the typhoons known to occasionally hit the region. It features area two observation domes which allow views of the water and marine creatures.

The hotel: The facility looks like a circular atoll, wirh a low barrier between it and the water. The main structures are designed to mimick natural forms with curving shell-like surfaces mimicking natural forms.

Underwater video of the project
• Dubai city guide
All about Dubai
Dubai International Airport
Dowd's Guides


Many French hotels are shabby, and they stink

It's not just Americans who complain about the French. So do the French.

The Committee for Modernisation of the French Hotel Trade says 25% of French hotels are in a state of disrepair and 24% of customers complain of rude or incompetent service.

The most frequent customer complaint about hotel rooms is noise and lack of sound insulation, followed by unpleasant smells and poor hygiene, according to the report by the industry committee.

"One-quarter of classified French hotels are aging or dilapidated, and one-third is nearing the end of their span. Only one hotel in six is considered beyond reproach by customers,” the report stated.

The committee blamed falling profit margins, changing customer habits, badly-paid staff and conservative management for the poor state of the country's 18,000 officially-classified hotels, and called for their urgent overhaul.

It said 45% of hotel workers are paid only minimum wage. “As a result 24 per cent of hotel clients and 38 per cent of restaurant clients complain of the chronic incompetence of staff, or of a disagreeable or impersonal welcome,” the committee said.

As for management, “even if generalisations are unreasonable, the profession suffers from a nervous traditionalism and a deep-rooted conservatism. The trade has reproduced over generations the same patterns of behaviour, and the same mistakes,” the committee said.

According to the report, France has lost 1,500 hotels over the past decade. Because of new laws on fire safety and access for the handicapped, it is likely to lose a similar number in the next five years.

• Hotels on France.com
France Keys
Lodging in France
Dowd's Guides

Bright lights, big city

NEW YORK -- The lights came back to Broadway today.

A 19-day strike by unionized stagehands that took a chunk out of the local economy during what usually is the biggest tourist season ended with people lining up for theater tickets and others changing previously-wrecked travel plans.

New York City officials estimated the strike will have a negative $38 million impact on the city.

In addition to scuttling some show schedules, the strike caused postponement of scheduled openings. They have been rescheduled as follows:

• Aaron Sorkin's "The Farnsworth Invention" will open Dec. 3.
• Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company will debut "August: Osage County" Dec. 6. (Shown above)
• "The Seafarer" will open Dec, 6,
• The long-lost Mark Twain comedy "Is He dead?" will open Dec. 9.
• A revival of Harold Pinter's "The Homecoming," will premiere Dec. 16.
• Disney's "The Little Mermaid" will debut Jan. 10.

The stagehands and theater producers reached a tentative agreement on matters of wages and work rules.

• The stagehands union
• League of American Theatres
• Broadway news updates
Dowd's Guides


2, 4, 6, 8 who do we inebriate?

NEW YORK -- Leave it to a New York business to make money off labor unrest.

The Living Room Lounge at the glitzy W hotel in Times Square has created a new drink called a "Striketini" to mark the current labor strike that has shut down numerous Broadway shows.

"We are known for our martinis, so we wanted to make something special," concierge Marcelo Surerus told reporters. "We'll be serving this for the duration of the strike."

The takeoff on the classic Manhattan consists of 1 1/2 ounces of bourbon, an ounce of Grand Marnier, a half-ounce of white cranberry juice, and a splash each of sour mix and sugar syrup. The finished product, garnished with a maraschino cherry, is darker than the usual Manhattan.

Dark, as in theater lights out.

The drink is going for $15, about normal for high-end Big Apple bars.

• The stagehands union
• League of American Theatres
• Broadway news updates
Dowd's Guides


Seeing daylight in Vermont

April L. Dowd photos (Fire photo provided)



MANCHESTER, VT -- It took a mere seven months, from design to ribbon cutting, for Jerry and Liz Lavalley to achieve their dream: owning a luxurious inn and restaurant in the shadow of Mt. Equinox, part of the bucolic Green Mountains.

Well, there was that little matter of the fire. The one that burned the 1850 structure to the ground exactly 30 days after they moved up from Dallas and closed on the property.

"I've never had a problem talking,'' said the gregarious Jerry. "I've spoken in front of thousands of people many times. But Liz was out of town at her sister's home when I called to tell her what had happened and I literally could not say a word. I was in shock.''

The culprit was an electrical malfunction in a clothes dryer. The resulting blaze destroyed the Reluctant Panther Inn, a building that had become a local icon under a series of owners.

"We had to make some fast decisions, but I just kept thinking about the fire and the rubble that was left,'' Jerry said. "We had completely changed our lives to come here and all I could think about was what we'd lost. Liz was the one who said it was like mourning a death and that we had to look ahead, not back.''

When they did, what they saw was an opportunity.

The original purple-painted Reluctant Panther had been an organic structure, added to over the years as need and inspiration demanded. A new Reluctant Panther could be what the Lavalleys wanted rather than what they had bought and would have to slowly modify.

They commissioned local architect Ramsey Gourd to help them lay out a grand scheme for a larger complex with expansive suites, a large formal dining room, exterior elements that incorporated structural and design notes from the original inn, coffered ceilings in many public spaces, space for original artwork to be displayed, and an infrastructure that supported modern technology -- iPod docking stations in some rooms, high-tech coffee brewers, unobtrusive flat-screen TV sets, Jacuzzi tubs -- within what for all intents looks like a historic inn.

During the interview process with builders, the Lavalleys (at right) stressed the need to be able to adhere to an extremely tight schedule or not to bother bidding on the job.

"We knew we had to create and maintain a very strict schedule,'' Liz explained. "It was going to be a huge job, and if you didn't keep the pace it would never get done.''

Plus the need to quickly generate a cash flow where one didn't exist?

"Well, yes, that did enter into it,'' she conceded with a smile.

The Lavalleys are used to fast-tracking processes and negotiating to get what they want.

Jerry, a native of Plattsburgh, had been vice president in charge of non-U.S. operations for Fujitsu, the international communications and information technology company. Liz, a native of Washington, D.C., had been chief operating officer of Capgemeni Energy, a French-owned company formed by a collaboration with TXU Corp., where she had been a senior vice president.

"We were fortunate to find enough good craftsmen locally to be able to make this project work,'' Liz said.

However, two Texas transplants played gigantic roles in what became a fascinating and luxurious new incarnation of the Reluctant Panther -- Kyle J. Hugghins, a friend of their son Matt, and Liz herself.

Hugghins is a twentysomething who stayed on after the construction was completed and now, with Royal S. Smith, runs Cross Timbers Builders in Manchester Center. The Lavalleys credit him with the majority of the interior structural design which is marked by unique structural angles and traffic patterns for each of the new building's 11 suites as well as some of the nine suites in three adjacent cottages not affected by the fire.

"Kyle has an incredible sense of design and some really imaginative ways to make best use of the space, especially for someone so young,'' Liz said, as Jerry nodded vigorously in agreement.

She took on the interior decorating, and has created individual personalities for each guest suite while maintaining a harmonious feel to the whole inn. Her deft hand with colors, fabrics and themes is stunning, particularly in such a short space of time.

Money, lots of it, played a large role in the speed and quality of construction and outfitting of the inn. Jerry won't quote a full dollar amount, but does say even though they were decently insured "we put over a million dollars of our own money into this project'' once they made the decision to stay after the fire.

The actual reconstruction began in April 2006 and was completed on Nov. 11 when the three first-floor guest suites and dining areas were opened. Just seven months from start to finish. The eight upstairs suites opened in short order and the Reluctant Panther was back and making people take notice.

So much notice, in fact, that the inn recently won regional honors in the annual awards given by hospitality industry magazine Sante for best hotel/resort bar, then topped that by being named the No. 1 bed-and-breakfast in the state by the Vermont Hospitality Council, an arm of the state Chamber of Commerce.

However, the process wasn't without its rough patches.

In the standalone Porter House, for example, what is known as the Panther Suite has an odd configuration with a double-sized spa tub smack in the middle of the rear room. Kyle thought it would be great fun to emphasize it by putting a column on each of the four corners of the tub. Jerry thought the idea was ridiculous. After much energetic sparring, Jerry gave in.

While it takes a certain appreciation for the pillars, which don't at all go with the bedroom area, the suite has turned out to be one of the most requested in the complex.

"Honeymooners, people looking for a romantic getaway … that's the sort of thing people want the suite for,'' Jerry said.

When I noticed the glass-enclosed shower for two with rainfall shower heads and the spa tub for two and the fireplace in each room, the term "aquatic playroom'' came to mind.

The fireplaces are another frequent touch in the inn. Every room has one or two fireplaces, and several even have bathroom fireplaces. In the Adirondack Great Camp-style Akwanok Suite (above), for example, a see-through fireplace divides the sleeping area with its custom birch bark headboard from the sitting area with its plus chairs and village views.

The elegant Pierre Lamotte Suite is named for the French military man and eventual governor of Montreal credited with establishing the first European settlement in what became the state of Vermont. Coincidentally, an ancestor of Jerry Lavalley served under him. The colonial-style suite takes up a major piece of the rebuilt main house and offers a private entrance for those who might be seeking anonymity.

The Justin Morgan Suite (at right) is a paen to the late-18th century local composer and teacher who was the developer of the horse breed that bears his surname. As one might expect, the suite has an equine theme in a spacious sitting area that features a hand-built brick fireplace.

Adjacent suites -- The Lady Slipper, with an elegant four-poster bed, and the Taconic with its graceful sleigh bed -- can be joined to form a two-bedroom, two-bath suite.

The descriptions can go on, but the point is made. Liz's designs utilizing a mix of the couple's own family furniture and antiques, items purchased locally -- many from the eclectic Depot 62, an odd combination of furniture store and cafe -- and artisan-crafted decor (hand-flocked wallpaper in the public women's restroom; a handpainted street-scene mural on canvas by decorative painter Kimberley Ray of nearby Londonderry that covers every wall of the first-floor reception area) have resulted in a truly unique inn.

For those whose purpose is to eat and drink rather than stay over, there are several possibilities.

The downstairs Panther Pub (right) is a funky collection of rich woods, plaster walls, a sparkling bar, even a Wurlitzer jukebox Jerry used to have in his house, complete with mood-inducing recordings such as "To Know Him Is To Love Him'' (The Teddy Bears, 1958) and "Runaround Sue'' (Dion, 1961).

After drinks at the bar made by drinks manager Josh Cohen, we went into the plush main-floor dining room (below). Windows on three sides create a light, airy feel despite the heavy counterpoint of coffered ceilings and a grand piano on the premises. Dining is presided over by son Matt (the Lavelleys also have two daughters, one in high school locally, the other in law school in Texas).

In October, Justin Dain took over the kitchen from startup chef Daniel Jackson. He trained at both the Culinary Institute of America and the New England Culinary Institute and previously cooked in Boston. If the dinner I had is typical of Dain's cuisine, the Lavalleys are blessed.

His tuna tartare appetizer was of such quality "I took one taste and told Liz this is the guy we have to hire,'' Jerry said with a laugh.

Liz confesses she is so in awe of Dain's cloudlike ravioli she can't get past it to try something else. I agreed with the tuna tartare evaluation, and such perfectly-prepared entrees as handmade gnocchi, silky diver scallops and bold filet mignon show the chef's versatility. His pastry chef, Peter Adams, is an added bonus with his feather-light desserts such as poached pear with spice cake.

It has been a long road since Sept. 11, 2001, when the idea of a huge life change began forming in Jerry Lavalley's mind. He was on business in Japan when the terrorist-aimed planes hit the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

"I was stranded there with flights being shut down all over,'' he recalled. "All I wanted to do was be with my family but I couldn't beg, borrow or steal a ride and the ocean was too much of a swim. I knew then and there I wanted to change my life and never be separated from Liz and the kids like that again.''

Liz had the same epiphany, and it led to a lot of brainstorming. A dress shop at a mall? A consulting business of some sort?

"Liz said `How about running a B&B in Vermont?' just as a suggestion of one sort of thing we might want to consider. We eventually started to actually consider that path, and we looked at possibilities all over the country -- mostly anything south of the Mason & Dixon Line because of the weather. But then we broadened the search.''

The final decision was made when a visit to another Vermont property up for sale was scuttled over an odd bit of business.

"The owner had a rule that no children under 14 could stay there, and he wouldn't even bend it for a potential buyer with a very worldly and sophisticated 13-year-old daughter,'' Jerry said. "That really ticked me off, so I told the real estate agent I was out of there.

"He said he knew a place that probably would allow my daughter to stay over with us and it just happened to be for sale. That was the Reluctant Panther. Funny how things work out."






Manchester and The Mountains
Manchester Designer Outlets
Manchester Music Festival
• Hildene: Lincoln Family Home
Summer Festival Horse Shows
Orvis Fly Fishing
• Golfing
• Vermont ski centers
Dowd's Guides


Cheers to Walt Disney World Resorts

It was a Disney world when the editors of Cheers, the beverage industry magazine, released its 2008 Cheers Awards for Beverage Excellence.

The awards are widely considered the adult beverage industry's highest honor for beverage program operators in chain and multi-concept restaurant companies.

They are divided into 12 categories, two of which were won by Walt Disney World Resorts. Each award is given based on the innovation and creativity of an establishment's beverage program and its impact on the sales and profitability of the establishment. Additional consideration is given to the level of operator support of the program, such as a high level of staff training or unique marketing efforts.

The winners:

Best Overall Chain Beverage Program: Walt Disney World Resorts
• Best Signature Drink: Walt Disney World Resorts
• Best Chain Hotel Beverage Program: Hilton Hotels
• Best Chain Wine Program: Carrabba's
• Best Chain Beer Program: Buffalo Wild Wings
• Best Chain Spirits Program: Bennigan's
• Best Beverage Merchandising Program: Hard Rock Cafe
• Best Beverage Menu: Outback Steakhouse
• Best Drink Program: Ruth's Chris Steakhouse
• Best Adult Non-Alcohol Drink Program: ESPN Zone
• Best Responsible Alcohol Service Training Program: Applebee's
• Best Multi-Concept Beverage Program: Back Bay Restaurant Group

Walt Disney World Resort
• Epcot
Orlando Travel & Visitors Bureau
Dowd's Guides


Citrus tequilas enlivening Canada

For Americans heading north, perhaps the fact that a rare happenstance -- the Canadian dollar now is worth 7% or so more than the Yankee dollar -- has taken place will lose its sting when they use their deflated money to purchase something new to the Canadian market: flavored tequila.

Kaban Tequila, a new offering from Mixology Canada, combines a 100% blue agave spirit base with citrus-infused flavors in lime, tangerine and tropical: i.e., pineapple.

The tequilas are distilled and bottled in Mexico and are Canada's first naturally flavored tequila.

A number of national restaurant chains, pubs and resorts already are offering Kaban.

For example, Nathan Cameron, master mixologist for Prime Restaurants, is featuring what he calls a "Kaban Caesar" throughout the Casey's restaurant chain in Ontario province. It features Kaban lime tequila, garnished with a new specialty Caesar salt and a spicy bean.

Kaban is offered in a tall, slim 750ml bottle and has a retail price of $34.95.

Canadian restaurant chains
Dowd's Guides


Small, smaller, smallest pub on the planet

I've written a few items about which bar is the world's smallest (here and here). I thought it was settled when a former railroad signal shack in Cleethorpes, England, took the title away from Sam's in Colorado Springs, CO, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

Now comes an e-mail from one Detleff Summer, who says:
"This is not correct. The smallest bar of the world is in Sta. Maria V.M. Graubünden Switzerland. See here: http://www.smallestwhiskybaronearth.com."

Sorry, Detleff, you've jumped the gun. The web site for this establishment says it is due to open on Nov. 24, a full 10 days from now. Thus, the original posting remains correct until then.

Incidentally, the Guinness Book, the accepted arbiter on such whimsical things, still recognizes the Cheethorpes pub as the world's smallest. So, even after 10 days the title will remain unchanged until the Guinness editors verify the claim.

Cleethorpes Online
• Cleethorpes: An Overview
Boxing at the Winter Garden
Dowd's Guides


Mexico flooding a disaster

If your travel plans include the Mexican state of Tabasco, call them off.

Devastating floods have affected virtually the entire state, with the International Red Cross saying 80% of the area is under water and more than a million people are affected. Military and emergency services personnel are sandbagging many main roads to try to divert water or at least ease some of the flood damage.

President Felipe Calderon said the situation was "extraordinarily grave" and called the flooding "one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the country."

Flood news updates
Dowd's Guides


Burger deluxe coming to the Big Apple

If you can make 'em there, you can make 'em anywhere. High-end burgers, that is. The newsgatherers at New York mag report that a "good-natured Swiss restaurateur" named Dr. Wolf Wagschal is working up a plan for a hamburger eatery.

Not just any burger joint, mind you. Quote he to the mag, "It won’t be like you have here, with your bacon cheeseburgers and so on. We will have a cordon bleu burger, a vitello tonnato burger, a mushroom-and-Brie burger, and so on. And it won’t be like the DB burger either; it will be totally dedicated.”

He plans to open such a white-linen place in Switzerland and then in the Big Apple.

After working as a waiter, barman and chef and getting his education at Harvard and Cornell here and the Ecole Hotelier de Lausanne in Switzerland, he now specializes in re-launches and launches of restaurants.

Wagschal, incidentally, calls himself a Swiss Canadian -- which, come to think of it, sounds like a good burger possibility.

NYC's Top 10 Burgers
Dowd's Guides


20,000 cans under the seam

What can you do with 20,000 empty beer and soda cans?

Never mind, your idea never will top this one.


Dowd's Guides


You want fries with that museum?

It has been 40 years since the first Big Mac was served at a McDonald's restaurant. To mark that, the Big Mac Museum Restaurant has been opened in North Huntingdon, PA, a half-hour drive from Pittsburgh.

The sandwich was created by Jim Delligatti (above), now 89, at his franchise store. A year later, the chain adopted it. McDonald's says it now sells 550 million B ig Macs annually in 100 different countries.

Among other things, the Big Mac Museum Restaurant has the world's largest Big Mac -- 14 feet tall, 12 feet wide, and a bronze bust of Delligatti. Delligatti's family owns 18 McDonald's franchises in western Pennsylvania and he says he still goes to work every day.

Delligatti's son Mike will run the museum restaurant, which was built on the site of a former McDonald's.


North Huntingdown Township
Larimar House
Dowd's Guides

Wine bar chain takes wings

Bars and beer pubs are commonplace in airports. Now, wine bars are vying for flyers' dollars.

Vino Volo, a true wine bar, opened this week at American Airlines' new terminal 8 at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. Selections are available by the glass or by themed flights, along with a menu of 14 small plates.

The establishment is the fifth in a chain of airport wine bars owned by a San Francisco company that is aiming for 50 establishments over the next several years. Its first opened in 2005 at Dulles International Airport in Washington, DC. That was followed by Seattle-Tacoma, Baltimore-Washington and Sacramento airports.


John F. Kennedy International Airport
Baltimore/Washington International Airport
• Seattle-Tacoma International Airport
Sacramento International Airport
Dulles International Airport
Dowd's Guides


A new museum of old gems

William M. Dowd photo

CANAJOHARIE, NY -- For more than 75 years, the attractive stone building on Erie Boulevard housed both the local library and a small portion of a stunning collection of American art.

The Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery was built in 1925 through funds contributed by Bartlet Arkell, the man who created the sprawling Beech-Nut food processing plant located right across the street as well as the art collection.

On Sunday, a new incarnation of the building was unveiled to the public -- the spacious new two-story Arkell Museum at Canajoharie that is connected to the original library and holds Arkell's huge collection of late-19th century and early-20th century embracing works by the likes of Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, Georgia O'Keeffe, Edward Gay, Childe Hassam, Thomas Hart Benton, Walter Lunt Palmer and the contemporary painter Walter Hartke.

This gritty little industrial village of 2,300 residents not far from Syracuse and Utica is an easy drive from east or west on the NYS Thruway.

From the 1930 bronze sculpture "Humoresque" by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (1880-1980) that dominates the exterior courtyard (seen above) facing the iconic Beech-Nut factory to grouping after grouping of oils, watercolors, sketches, advertising art and engravings, New York State's newest museum is a joy.

But, like art itself, joy is where you find it. Sometimes it's in humor. The Arkell has that, perhaps unwittingly. As a text board next to a handpainted copy of Rembrandt van Rijn's "The Night Watch" explains, the huge work was renamed "Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch" after it was cleaned of accumulated dust and darkened varnish and restorers realized the depicted scene actually was a daytime event.

Individual art at the Arkell
Canajoharie-Palatine C of C
Dowd's Guides


A touch of Vegas in the Adirondacks

William M. Dowd photos


LAKE PLACID, NY -- Charlie Levitz has been working in this Olympian tourist spot for more than two decades. It's a mere 2½-hour drive from his hometown of Albany, but it's worlds away when it comes to the hospitality industry.

Levitz has cooked at or owned and cooked at a variety of spots here in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, but his latest incarnation -- a four-pronged one -- may be the one that brings him more than regional fame.

Count 'em. He's the owner/overseer of the kitchens at both Charlie's and Chair 6 restaurants, he runs the region's largest catering operation, and he's the man who imported one of America's top cocktail impressarios to train his staff at T-Bar, located in Charlie's, in the right way to create drinks and memories for both locals and the pass-through tourist crowd.

That trainer was Tony Abou-Ganim, whose passion for cocktails combining top-shelf spirits, fresh fruits and clever ideas has made him a guru among the members of the cocktail set nationwide. Abou-Ganim, who is based in Las Vegas, has a touch of the Vegas performer in his drink preparations and serving showmanship. Some of that has been transmitted to the T-Bar staff.

In fact, the word is beginning to get around about T-Bar. Santé, the hospitality industry magazine, has just released its annual restaurant awards and T-Bar was given a regional award in the restaurant bar category.

I visited Levitz (right) and his staff at T-Bar, the Main Street lounge he opened nine months ago in space once occupied by Goldberries. The decor combines Adirondack rusticity in its carved wooden beams with some hip modern touches, such as the tortoise shelled acrylic bar, lit from beneath to create a warm, inviting glow.

But the most inviting thing about T-Bar is the cocktail menu: Only fresh fruits, juices and purees, house-infused vodkas served in infusion jars, cocktails whose recipes take advantage of seasonal ingredients, complemented by a special grill menu served only at the bar. There's a separate upscale menu for Charlie's, the 200-seat restaurant that surrounds it and looks out on Mirror Lake.

Consider: In addition to being able to whip out classic drinks as well as currently in-vogue creations, the possibilities range from an homage to the last great cocktail era (the Hemingway Daiquiri of the '20s, the Tom Collins of the '30s, the Bellini of the '40s) to such specialties as the Cable Car, which Abou-Ganim created at the renowned Starlight Room in San Francisco a decade ago.

"I'm very happy with what we've put together here," Levitz said. "It's a combination I think offers something special, something that's very welcoming whether you live around here or are just visiting."

I was particularly taken by the seeming ease of preparation the bartenders exhibited despite the complexity of many of the cocktails. And the fact that they're not slaves to what Abou-Ganim set up for them. The Gondolettes' Blackberry Caiprosca, for example, has been selling even better since bartender Laura Keaney switched it to a raspberry recipe to take advantage of the availability of plump local berries. It's a simple drink -- mudled fresh lime and berries with citrus vodka -- but provides a complexity of flavors.

I also sampled a lineup of other cocktails to test Laura's abilities: the Cable Car (Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum, Marie Brizard orange curaçao, fresh-squeezed lemon sour, wirth a cinnamon sugar rim), the Negroni (Plymouth English gin, sweet vermouth, campari, served up with a flamed piece of citrus), and the mojito (fresh mint muddled with rum and topped with a splash of soda and a mint garnish).

She gets an A+ for her work, as does Levitz and the whole T-Bar concept. When I mentioned this to Abou-Ganim, his response was typically modest: "I am sure Charlie would be thrilled, and I am very proud."

Lake Placid and the Adirondacks
The Olympic Region
Dowd's Guides


Go tell it on the mountain

William M. Dowd photo

So there I was, blithely heading up the Adirondack Northway in Upstate New York en route to an overnight visit to Lake Placid, minding my own business and just enjoying the scenery.

Suddenly, right around Exit 30, it hit me square in the face.

Not the usual risk-taking deer crossing the road in that semi-wilderness area. Rather, the first real sign that summer is over despite my usual protestations that we tend to rush the seasons around here.

And what, you may ask, was that sign? Just look at the photo. It's not from an earlier autumn day. It was shot today -- Friday, Sept. 7, 2007.

We still have two full weeks of summer left on the calendar, maybe even a little bit of Indian summer after that if we're lucky. But there it is -- swatches of rust and gold and burgundy and lemon among the deep greens and frosted sage greens of the evergreens.

Just a few weeks ago I was driving through the Sierra Nevada mountains from California to Nevada and couldn't help but miss our Adirondacks. Whereas the individual trees in that western range stand out because they're on islands of browned-out grass and well spaced from one another, our eons-older mountains are lush with vegetation. Spaces between trees are difficult to discern, crowded as they are with grasses, bushes and boulders.

There is something about mountains at once new but eternal, inviting but humbling. As the poet Emiliy Dickinson wrote:

"The seasons prayed around his knees,
Like children round a sire:
Grandfather of the days is he,
Of dawn the ancestor."

The Adirondack region
Adirondack Planning Guide
Dowd's Guides


The Grape Escape

William M. Dowd and April L. Dowd photos

Grapevines stretch as far as the eye can see on Lodi's Borden Ranch Vineyards.

This is a tale of two appellations. Napa and Lodi, to be precise, side-by-side regions of California’s wine country and a study in social evolution.

On a recent tour of both regions, I was struck by how much Lodi is mirroring Napa’s past while Napa is shaping a different sort of future.

To much of the world, the Napa region is symbolic of American wine in general. It began emerging from the industry pack in the 1970s, with such names as Mondavi, Beringer and Stags Leap becoming standards of wine quality.

To insiders, however, Napa is in the midst of major upheaval. Families that built some of the strongest brands from what once were farms, particularly the Mondavi clan, are either waging internal tussles for control or are selling out to major concerns as the corporatization of Napa relentlessly grinds on.

But, a short drive to the east, in the Lodi appellation (an agricultural region recognized by the federal government) that sweeps up from the San Francisco Bay/San Joaquin Delta region midway between San Francisco and Sacramento, early Napa is being re-created.

Third- and fourth-generation farm families have been moving from being mostly grape growers supplying major winemakers to developing their own wines and brands. They’re working hard at making the Lodi brand known outside the Pacific Coast and trying to develop tourism and ancillary businesses along with it, just as Napa did in its early days.

A good example is Vino Con Brio Vineyards where Mike and Renae Matson combine winemaking with Amorosa Inn & Gardens, their posh bed-and-breakfast operation. Renae (seen here) gave up her practice as a psychiatrist to run the B&B fulltime, and their daughter, Anne, left her job as a financial underwriter to become general manager of the wine business while Mike oversees the viniculture portion.

To the outsider, the Napa Valley image is wall-to-wall grapes. To anyone traversing the valley on Route 29 or the parallel Silverado Trail, that is merely part of the inventory.

The moderate climate, affected by low mountains on either side and by the narrow Napa River that meanders through the cleft, nurtures brilliant clumps of lilies, oleander and roses, as well as stands of camphor, valley oak, cedar, magnolia and olive trees.

Despite its relatively diminutive size -- 30 miles long and one to five miles wide -- the Napa Valley's undulating topography creates a series of microclimates. Temperatures can differ by 10 or more degrees from one end to the other.

Swaths of browned-out vegetation form the floor of the woods and fields, in marked contrast to the deep blue-greens and brilliant emeralds of the numerous copses of trees dotting the landscape from the little main city of Napa at the valley's southern edge to the village of Calistoga and its mineral and mud baths up north.

In February and March, the valley usually gets its share of precipitation. In summer and early autumn, rain is so rare the natives can tell you on what day in what year they last recall seeing a downpour. This year it’s even easier. It hasn’t rained. Period.

Clever viniculture methods and irrigation systems have nevertheless made this spot an hour's drive northeast of San Francisco arguably America's premier wine producing area.

Visitors touring the ubiquitous wineries and their tasting rooms have about 200 to choose from, places marked by their distinctive main-building architecture that ranges from Victorian farmhouse to French chateau to Tuscan villa to the "Star Wars" look of Mondavi's Opus One operation across the road from its main fields.

A shopper's paradise in downtown Napa.

The valley's growing tourist popularity has fueled the rebirth of Napa, the anchor city of 53,000, and made the region home to such hospitality industry facilities as the Culinary Institute of America's West Coast branch, opened in 1995 in the former Greystone Cellars complex near the village of St. Helena.

Perhaps the most unusual facility in the valley, however, is something called Copia, named for the Roman goddess of abundance who carried a cornucopia, the horn of plenty.

Copia's subtitle is "The American Center for Wine, Food & The Arts." It's a not-for-profit cultural center and museum that has been open to the public since 2001.

The complex includes sprawling herb, flower and tree gardens, as well as several restaurants in the 80,000-square-foot building on the banks of an oxbow bend in the Napa River.

In addition to exhibition and event space, the center, open year-round, has many clever ways of appealing to visitors of all ages. The programs, guests and styles of entertainment are geared toward virtually any demographic group.

Formal or self-guided walking tours in the extensive herb and vegetable gardens -- home to an amazing 100 kinds of tomatoes and 40 kinds of lavender, for example -- show how the institution helps keep heirloom plant species alive.

Copia may be in the heart of California wine country, but its venue is the world. Many visitors take full advantage of being plopped down in the middle of this temple dedicated to the senses.

Conversely, Lodi has a more rustic feel, a sport coat to Napa’s tuxedo.

The land is flatter, dotted with more general farms than Napa Valley as the transition to grape growing almost to the extinction of all else slowly picks up momentum. Here you can still see lots of fruit tree groves, tomato gardens, cornfields, strawberry rows and roadside stands offering produce from those very growing spots.

But lest you think this is solid agricultural country with nothing for tourists to see, think again.

Besides the obvious – wine tasting at the Lodi Wine & Visitor Center, at the Vino Piazza in nearby Lockeford where 11 wineries’ wares are featured, or any of the individual wineries such as Bear Creek, Crystal Valley, Benson Ferry, Baywood Cellars and Jessie’s Grove -- there is an entire sector of activities not so obvious in a land without rain: water tours and sports.

What would any tourist area be without golf courses? The Lodi-Stockton area has more than a dozen with weekday greens fees at some venues as low as $8.

Bicycling is popular as well, thanks to the expanse of flat lands and number of quiet back roads.

The presence of wood ducks, double-crested cormorants, Cooper’s hawks, egrets, great horned owls, acorn woodpeckers and numerous other species make birding a popular pastime here as well, particularly at Oak Grove Regional Park and Lodi Lake. The highlight is the annual Sandhill Crane Festival in Lodi which features the endangered bird and provides a good excuse for family activities, musical acts, habitat tours and the like. This year’s festival is scheduled for Nov. 2-3.

Off dry land, there also is much to see and do. From activities at Lodi Lake Park, host of the Lodi ZinFest every May and the Lodi Fishing Derby every June, to its larger cousin the 160-mile long Mokelumne River, every manner of boating, fishing, water skiing, partying or just gazing is available.

The Mokelumne – a Miwok Indian name meaning people of the fish net – is laden with salmon and trout that draw anglers from all over. Following the course of the river from its origin in the Sierra Nevada Mountains to where it opens up into the San Joaquin River and then spills into San Francisco Bay can be a fascinating adventure in both western American history and a wide range of physical activities.

Nearly 25 miles of the river near the Eldorado National Forest is a Class V whitewater area – the most rugged classification for whitewater activities. The area running past Lodi city is calmer, more suited for leisurely boating or fishing. Seven dams and several manmade lakes – such as the aforementioned Lodi Park Lake -- along the river length create recreational areas. Jet skiers in particular like the flatwater area at the start of the San Joaquin Delta just south of Lodi city.

There also is the Delta Loop, a 10-mile long drive along high-levee roads and well off the beaten track of Highways 12 and 160 which carry most of the local traffic. It begins about 25 minutes from downtown Lodi and reveals a steady stream of marinas, shops, restaurants and waterside resorts.

The whole Lodi area is entwined with development of the west. The California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s was headquartered at Mokelumne Hill in Calaveras County. The wild times of those days gave rise to numerous classics of Americana poetry and literature by the likes of Bret Harte (“The Luck of Roaring Camp,” "The Outcasts of Poker Flat") and Mark Twain (“The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County").

And, just to show that Lodi country reveres more than grapes, each spring it holds an Asparagus Festival, Cherry Festival and Strawberry Festival; in summer an Apricot Festival, and in autumn a Dry Bean Festival and an Eggplant Festival. Tucked in among them are testimonials to other culinary delights, such as the ZinFest, the Art & Wine Festival, Wine & Sausage Festival, Crawdad Festival, Seafood Festival and Candy Festival.

If you can’t find something to do in Lodi, you’re really hard to please. If you can’t find enough to eat and drink, it’s your own fault.

Huge storage tanks soar at Woodbridge Vineyards.


Valley Wine Tours
Lodi Chamber of Commerce
Napa Valley Country
• San Joaquin Audubon Society
• California State Parks
Lodi Wine & Visitor's Center
• Wine Country This Week Magazine
Dowd's Guides


Interactive Hurricane Dean update

Sky News, Europe's major multimedia news and information operation, has created an interactive map of the Caribbean to help travelers trace the path of Hurricane Dean, now making its way through the region.

For the latest information, click here.


Dowd's Guides


Grape expectations

Sometimes it's difficult wrapping your mind around a large business operation.

In this instance, try to imagine what a grape-growing operation like Borden Ranch Vineyards in Lodi, CA, is like since it is able to grow enough grapes to supply winemaking giants such as Mondavi and Gallo as well as numerous smaller wineries in the region. These days, vineyard manager Gary Patterson oversees 1,400 acres of vineyards for owner Francisco Ayala after years with Gallo Sonoma.

The Borden Ranch appellation, located in east central Lodi, has 12,000 acres under vine. This AVA is the most topographically diverse of any Lodi appellation with a low of 73 feet in the west and a high of 520 feet near the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Merely hearing someone try to describe the rolling hills covered with grape vines of all sorts as far as the eye can see isn't good enough. Instead, you can just take a look at this video showing a piece of Patterson's domain:

William M. Dowd video


City of Lodi
Lodi Conference & Visitors Center
San Joaquin County Parks & Recreation
Dowd's Guides


Virginia City: Historic High Point

VIRGINIA CITY, NV -- Unlike the Adirondacks or other eastern American mountain ranges that reach gradually to their highest points, the Sierra Nevadas are geological teenagers. At their impulsive age of just 150 million years they abruptly jut out of the valley floors and quickly hit rare-air levels.

This old mining town is just 18 miles south-southeast of Reno, but it's about 750 feet higher at 6,220 feet. That's 1,000 feet higher than Denver's much-publicized "mile high" location.

Visiting the Reno/Lake Tahoe area without driving up into the Sierra Nevadas that jut briefly into Nevada from California would be a waste of an opportunity. Not going there to visit historic Virginia City would be sacrilege. And, it’s convenient to other major communities in the northern part of the state up against the California border – just 15 miles from the state capital of Carson City, 23 miles from Reno and 40 miles from Lake Tahoe.

One thing that is so endearing about Virginia City is that its charm is not recreated for modern tourists.

I found a living Wild West town that still has wood-plank sidewalks, an active Boot Hill cemetery and plenty of links to the days when gold and silver from the Comstock Lode helped create a pool of multimillionaires as well as lines of finance to support both sides in the Civil War and fuel the San Francisco building boom.

Never heard of the Comstock Lode? A quick history lesson:

In 1859, a couple of Irishmen named Peter O'Reilly and Patrick McLaughlin discovered gold in Six-Mile Canyon. H.T.P. Comstock cut himself in on the deal, claiming the discovery was made on his property. An itinerant miner named Jim Finney is credited with naming the instant city after his home state. The ensuing rush yielded more than $400 million in gold and silver before the ore lines played out in the mid-1880s.

During that time, greed and force were two of the strongest elements in keeping whatever social order there was. As described in “The History of Nevada: Storey County,” the Comstock Lode discovery ushered in certain standards:

“Numerous disputes about claims occurred in consequence of the uncertain terms of occupation. Those who have had any experience in making possessory claims well know on what slight circumstances the right to a claim depends.

“In most cases, however, possession was the only title and even that was not always good unless a show of force was made to give it respectability. In some instances men fortified their ground and held it by military possession.”

At its peak, Virginia City was the most important town between Denver and San Francisco. Because of its supply of gold and silver needed by the federal government to remain solvent during the Civil War, Nevada was given statehood in 1861 despite not having a sufficient population.

Virginia City itself was home to 30,000 residents. One was Mark Twain, who wrote for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper in the 1860s under his real name, Samuel L. Clemens, although it was while employed there he first signed a piece of his work with the Twain pen name.

The droll writings he had published in the newspaper carried the tone of the Mark Twain we know from his many later speeches and anecdotal writings. His column on New Year’s Day 1863 is a good example.

“Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.

“Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community. Thirty days from now, we shall have cast our reformation to the winds and gone to cutting our ancient shortcomings considerably shorter than ever. We shall also reflect pleasantly upon how we did the same old thing last year about this time.

“However, go in, community. New Year's is a harmless annual institution, of no particular use to anybody save as a scapegoat for promiscuous drunks, and friendly calls, and humbug resolutions, and we wish you to enjoy it with a looseness suited to the greatness of the occasion.”

Besides its newspaper and its mines, the city had many other important claims to fame. For example, it was home to the first miner's union in the nation, and its six-story International Hotel had the first elevator in the American west.

The nightlife was as varied as the characters who flocked to the area with dreams of grubbing wealth from the mines. Everything from Shakespearian acting troupes to opium dens were available. And, of course, what Wild West historic town would be complete with its line of saloons?

My particular favorites: the gaudy Bucket of Blood, rebuilt after the devastating 1875 fire that destroyed much of the city, and dotted with original Tiffany chandeliers plus other artwork and punctuated with live entertainment, and the Delta, perhaps the most famous of the town's 100 original saloons and home to "The Suicide Table," where devastating losses at cards led to at least three suicides. The gamblers’ favorite in those days was faro, a card game that has virtually died out. The Ramada Reno was the last to offer the game, ending it in 1985.

Today, the city of about 1,500 population is a great place for kids, history buffs or the just plain curious. Both formalized walking and driving tours – with some stops appearing on both agendas – bring to life the varied history of the town from its rough-and-tumble mining days right through calmer periods.

Tours of mines, a gambling museum, historic buildings and such mansions as The Castle, built in 1868 by copying the design of a castle in Normandy, France, are available.

As I walked the streets of Virginia City, it was easier to soak in its history than it is in other tourist draws that have rebuilt their past with modern eyes and sensibilities. Little wonder it is the largest federally designated Historical District in America.

The Comstock Archaeology Center is an important aspect of the continued recording of the town's raucous and storied history. It is a private non-profit corporation mandated to encourage the professional excavation and management of the district’s archaeological resources.

Among the unusual aspects of Virginia City that has been unearthed in the past decade is the existence of the Boston Saloon, an African-American enterprise – something that was unusual in the West in the period during which Virginia City flourished.

When you’re not taking a horse-drawn carriage ride or watching gunfight reenactments on the streets, here are a few “don’t miss” spots to see on your Virginia City visit:

Chollar Mine Tour: See original square set timbering, tools and equipment form the fifth largest producer on the Comstock. May-September.

Comstock Firemen's Museum: 1876 building houses a collection of antique fire fighting equipment. May 31-Nov. 1.

The Castle: Built by Robert N. Graves, superintendent of the Empire Mine. The home, copied after a castle in France, took five years to complete. It was widely regarded as one of the finest mansions in the West during its heyday.

Julia Bulette Red Light Museum: The name commemorates Virginia City's most famous prostitute. Paraphernalia including contraceptives, medical instruments and quack medical cure-alls. Opium equipage is also displayed. Open daily.

Territorial Enterprise Mark Twain Museum: Housed in the 1876 Territorial Enterprise Building, it features the desk occupied by Sam Clemens at the newspaper. Open daily.

Nevada Gambling Museum: Display of historic western gaming tables, such as faro and roulette. One-armed bandits and other gaming artifacts are featured. Open daily.

Radio Museum of Virginia City: More than 100 wireless and radio sets from 1915 through 1950. Open daily April-November and most weekends December-March.

Silver Terrace Cemeteries: 16 of the Comstock's 31 cemeteries are located at this site. The first burial occurred here in 1860. A brochure describing the cemeteries is located at the entrance or at the Chamber of Commerce. Open daily.

Tram Tour: A narrated, 20-minute tour of Virginia City departs every half hour.

Virginia & Truckee RR Train Ride: A narrated, 35-minute round trip train ride between Virginia City and Gold Hill. View the historic mining district from the original 128-year-old right of way. Nine steam trains. Daily May-October, and weekends October-November.

Way it Was Museum: Collection of mining artifacts, photos, maps, lithographs, working models, costume displays and cutaways of mines and mills. Open daily.


Convention & Tourism Authority
History of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode
Nearby Reno, not just Vegas' little sister
Dowd's Guides


NY's Capital/Saratoga Region: Land of Plenty

William M. Dowd and April L. Dowd photos


New York's Capital Region is an unusual place. It is at once slightly cosmopolitan, with its four core cities -- Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Saratoga Springs -- as well as typically sprawling suburban, and then very quickly rural and mountainous.

And this time of year, when the thoroughbreds are running at the historic Saratoga Race Course and the Adirondack mountains are in full foliage to shade campers, hikers and boaters, the area is alive with tourists.

Gateway to the vast Adirondack Park "forever wild" area to the north, it also is the center of New York State government which has sent governors Martin Van Buren, Theodor Roosevelt and distant cousin Franklin Roosevelt on to the White House. It also is a center of education with two engineering schools and colleges of medicine, pharmacy and law, creating a college student population of about 60,000.

Albany itself began in 1652 as Beverwyck, a Dutch trading post established shortly after Dutch-financed English explorer Henry Hudson sailed up the river that now bears his name, as does the valley encasing the waterway. Beverwyck eventually was taken over by the British, who renamed it Fort Orange, and then Albany. It ranks as the oldest chartered city in the nation.

The center of the city is the Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, which includes the State Capitol, a line of towers housing state agencies, the 42-story Corning Tower (tallest structure in the state outside Manhattan), the Cultural Education Center that houses -- among other things -- the New York State Museum, The Egg performing arts center, and a host of other state buildings.

In other neighborhoods, such historic structures as the Ten Broeck Mansion, built by Revolutionary War general Abraham Ten Broeck, and Cherry Hill tend to the historic opreservation of the community. And the Albany Institute of History & Science, which is older than The Louvre, is a treasure house of local art and artifacts.

The Hudson River runs north-south through the Capital Region, bisected by the east-west Mohawk River and the historic Eric Canal.

Across the river from Albany is Rensselaer County, with its major city of Troy. It's the home of such American icons as the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas," the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and the image of Uncle Sam, taken from local meatpacker "Uncle Sam" Wilson who supplied federal troops during the Civil War and is buried in Oakwood Rural Cemetery.

Northwest of Albany is Scenectady, once the world headquarters of General Electric but just now emerging from hard times created when the international conglomerate dispersed its manufacturing facilities. The beautifully restored Proctor's Theatre is the center of an arts complex in the rebuilding downtown, and boating activities are popular on the Mohawk River which skirts the city.

To the north of Albany is Saratoga Springs, a generations-old destination for moneyed vacationers interested in its mineral springs and scenic vistas. Today, it is best known for the annual thoroughbred racing season at the Saratoga Race Course from late July through Labor Day (plus year-round harness racing and video gambling at nearby Saratoga Gaming & Raceway), as well as the attendant social and entertainment events attached to it. An active polo season, and SPAC -- the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (summer home to rock 'n' rollers as well as the New York City Ballet and the Philadelphia Orchestra) -- add sparkle to the region.


And, of course, the sprawling Adirondacks themselves are home to such renowned spots as Lake Placid -- home to the 1928 and 1980 Winter Olympics; Lake George, Lake Champlain, and expanses of mountains, trails, streams, and flats where people camp, hike, fish, hunt, raft, canoe, backpack and so on.

Other sports are well represented. The New York Giants' pre-season National Football League camp is at UAlbany. The Albany River Rats of the American Hockey League and the Albany Conquest arena football team of afl2 play at the downtown Times Union Center. UAlbany and Siena play NCAA Division I sports, RPI does likewise in hockey, and the College of Saint Rose is a Division II basketball and baseball powerhouse.

The region is heavy in colleges and universities -- Albany College of Pharmacy, Albany Law School. Albany Medical College, Bryant & Stratton, Maria College, Excelsior College, College of Saint Rose, the Sage Colleges, Siena College, University at Albany, Hudson Valley Community College, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Schenectady County Community College, Union College, Empire State College, Skidmore College, Adirondack Community College, Columbia-Greene Community College, North Country Community College, SUNY Cobleskill.






• Skiing in Upstate NY and New England
• Adirondacks/Lake George recreation
• Saratoga Performing Arts Center
• Albany Institute of History and Art
• New York State Museum
• National Museum of Dance
• Saratoga Auto Museum
Dowd's Guides

West Virginia: A State of Change

The Mountaineer State is one of America's most misunderstood places. Mention West Virginia and most people flash to visions of coal mines and poverty. However, modern West Virginia is a mecca for outdoors tourists, history buffs, artists and photographers.

From the Panhandle area in the northeast part of the state where Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia come together, to the mountainous center, to the northwestern finger that points up between Pennsylvania and Ohio, the state offers a huge topographic and cultural variety.

Although the state's major cities are Wheeling, Huntington, Charleston and Martinsburg, one of its best-known communities is Harper's Ferry (shown above), on the Potomac River, site of the infamous John Brown incident in 1859.

At the time, West Virginia still was part of Virginia. It broke away and became a separate state rather than side with the Confederacy during the Civil War.

It was at Harper's Ferry that Brown, a participant in the Underground Railroad that helped escaped slaves flee to the North and a fiery abolitionist who believed in armed action against slavery, and a band of his followers occupied a military aresenal on Oct. 16 and took control of the small town.

Brown hoped to initiate the spread of armed insurrection against slavery throughout the South. However, Col. Robert E. Lee and a group of U.S. Marines arrived that night, retook the town, killed 10 of Brown's 21 men, and took him prisoner. He was tried and found guilty of treason and hanged in nearby Charles Town on Dec. 2.

Today's West Virginia has evolved from a mining-dependent state to a more diversified one. It has used its low cost-of-living, inexpensive energy rates, improving public educational system and low violent-crime rate to attract more industry and commercial transportation. Its long-time senior U.S. senator, Robert Byrd, has been instrumental in moving numerous federal offices and thousands of jobs to the state. And, its varied geography is being used to promote tourism and retirement communities throughout the state.


• Whitewater activity
• Whitewater rafting
• Hiking, biking, skiing, horseback riding trails
• Golfing around the state
• Mountain Bike Association
• Bicycling the state
• West Virginia Bass Federation
• Trout fishing


Oh Captain, my captain

If you're traveling in the United Kingdom and have a thirst for a little Captain Morgan spiced rum, don't think they're trying to put one over on you by pouring from a bottle without the iconic 17th-century Caribbean privateer from Wales on the label.

Diageo has updated the look of Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum with a shapely bottle and a label emphasizing the words "Morgan Spiced" for products it distributes in the UK.

Stateside, Diageo has relabeled the Puerto Rican rum -- infused with vanilla and cassia -- by embossing the glass front and back, and changed the label to portray the captain against a watermarked ocean scene.


All About Pubs
History of the English Pub
1,000 Years of Beer & Pubs


From Prohibition port to modern metropolis

William M. Dowd photos

Detroit skyscrapers seen from Windsor, Ontario's Dieppe Gardens.

WINDSOR, Ontario -- At one time Detroiters walked across the frozen Detroit River to get to work at the Hiram Walker distillery in Walkerville. That, however, wasn't the only unusual way people arrived in a town that grew to become part of the sprawling modern metropolis of Windsor.

Walker, born in 1814 in Massachusetts but a Detroiter from the 1830s until his death in 1899, purchased farmland on the Ontario side of the river that lies southeast of Detroit. He eventually created such a viable business he was frequently under scrutiny by governments on both sides of the international border. Liquor distilling leads to such attention.

The Hiram Walker office, modeled after an Italian palace.

After moving his fledgling whisky business from Detroit, where he produced his first barrels in 1854, he had an office complex, modeled on the Pandolfini Palace in Florence, Italy, built on the river bank. He also secretly had a tunnel dug under the river to allow him -- or anyone he wanted to include -- unfettered access to both countries. Decades later when the river was dredged to allow larger shipping, the tunnel was filled in although one entrance remains visible in the Canadian Club Heritage Center open to visitors adjacent to the company's distillery which produces the world's top-selling Canadian whisky.

Walker also founded a flour mill, a railroad, cattle and hog farms, and a wagon factory that became a Ford automotive plant. At one time he employed almost the entire Walkerville population of 600, and housed them in comfortable yet inexpensive Walker-owned cottages and paid them with company money.

This epitome of a company town was the catalyst for the growth of the Windsor metropolitan area from an agricultural area to a multi-faceted one that today is Canada's automotive manufacturing leader, and includes legal gambling, several performing arts centers, miles of pristine riverfront parks, and numerous historic sites.

Casino Windsor was an instant hit when it opened in 1998, with Americans streaming across the Ambassador Bridge or through the Detroit-Windsor tunnel to visit the full-service gambling complex. The 21-story AAA Four-Diamond Award resort was so popular, in fact, that Detroit authorized the building of three casinos to try keeping dollars at home.

Despite that counter measure, Casino Windsor continues to thrive, helped no little by the fact that Canada does not tax casino winnings. The province-owned facility, operated by the Harrah's company, will be renamed Caesars Windsor next year. In addition, Windsor has a string of legal bingo halls offering healthy cash prizes.

Windsor, which in the 20th century grew markedly by a series of annexations, is Canada's southernmost city, lying further down on the globe than such U.S. cities as Albany, New York, Buffalo, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland and Boston. It has a metro population of about 335,000. Its growth reached beyond the riverside to the shores of adjacent Lake St. Clair, making today's metro Windsor wider than it is deep.

It began in 1748 as a French agricultural settlement. Thus, it is the oldest continually inhabited settlement in Canada west of Montreal. That also explains the many French place names that permeate the community. In 1749, under British rule, it became known as Sandwich and a short time later was renamed Windsor, after the town in Berkshire, England.

The metro area has been used to a thriving local economy for generations. Today, despite a steady influx of tourists -- including young weekenders from the U.S. attracted by the minimum drinking age of 19 -- Windsorites are antsy about the future. The looming office towers of automotive giants on both sides of the river are reminders that the financial woes of the U.S. and Canadian auto industry are having a trickle down effect on the region, not only in layoffs but in the money that flows to other businesses.

Dan Tullio, an executive with Canadian Club, notes: "It's a bit of a troubling time. The problems with the auto industry certainly are having an effect on the economy and on predictions for the future. Luckily, some other areas, like tourism and distilling, are continuing to be strong components."

Nevertheless, even in the presence of those towers it is easy to forget finances as one strolls along the Dieppe Gardens and other greenbelt areas of the riverside.

A fleet of racing sailboats comes out of Lake St. Clair on the final leg.

Runners, bicyclists, dog walkers and other dot the pathways as a pleasant summer breeze wafts in from the river. Most nights the water is alive with power and sail boats, and on some nights sailing regattas race from the river northeast into Lake St. Clair and back, creating a living seascape painting as the sun glances off the brilliant white of the sails and seabirds dodge the sailboats as they dive for fish.

As if to emphasize its southern location and accompanying hot summers (temperatures in the low 90s are not uncommon), metro Windsor makes much of its boating, beaches and gardens for tourists and residents alike. Colasanti's Tropical Gardens in nearby Kingsville is a year-round operation offering exotic plant gardens, as well as tropical birds and animals, a petting zoo, miniature golf, and lush greenhouses.

And, as benefit its attraction to the nightlife set, a wide variety of venues abound. A few examples: Boom Boom Room and Dante's Dance Bar (open till 5 in the morning Fridays and Saturdays) on Ouellette Avenue, and the upscale Dean Martini's on Pitt Street East; strolling Gypsy musicians at the Blue Danube Hungarian restaurant on Ottawa Street; live Italian and Latin music every night at Brigantino's Italian restaurant on Erie Street East.

Just as it is today, the Windsor area has long been inextricably connected to events in the U.S. It was a prominent part of the Underground Railroad, that celebrated clandestine pathway for escaped slaves from the American South to go north to freedom. Several sites in Windsor and environs are museums to the movement and Windsorites' role in it, particularly the Sandwich First Baptist Church National Historic Site -- built in 1851 to accommodate the growing number of refugee slaves -- and the John Freeman Walls Historic Site and Underground Railroad Museum built and operated by the descendants of escaped slaves from North Carolina.

For a mix of history and current commerce, two local beverage institutions are must-see stops: The Walkerville Brewing Co., a revival of a onetime iconic local brewery that was at its height in the 19th century, and the Canadian Club/Hiram Walker complex. Both offer public tours, the brewery for free, the CC facility for $5.

Prohibition-era Canadian Club whisky knockoffs.

As noted, Hiram Walker had begun making and selling whisky in Detroit, but when temperance groups begain gaining popularity he made his Ontario land purchase and then moved his operations there when Michigan began to go dry in the 1850s. Walker was dead 20 years by the time national Prohibition became the law of the U.S. in 1919, but his descendants had continued the success of the whisky that became known as Canadian Club and weren't interested in letting anti-alcohol law slow them down. Continued success came despite numerous imitators who produced inferior whiskies with knockoff labels bearing such names as Canadian Pub, Canadian Love and Canadian Cove.

Many examples of these wannabes' work are on display at the Canadian Club Brand Heritage Centre on Riverside Drive East, Walker's plush headquarters of intricate carved woods, one-of-a-kind marble fireplaces in each office, period furnishings, artwork and artifacts. It is here that original handwritten records document some of the Walker family's most interesting business activities.

While the company liked to brag that it had provided whisky by appointment to British royalty, it became better known during Prohibition for supplying the likes of Al Capone, the infamous Chicago gangster who was a frequent visitor to the Walker distillery. His name appears regularly in records. His influence, however, extends even further. In addition to legal customers -- still allowed because Canada did not have Prohibition, Canadian Club flowed to American and Canadian whisky runners of all stripes, Capone being the most high-profile of them all.

It is part of local conventional wisdom that one church with a high tower overlooking the river has two different colored stained glass windows which, when lit, acted as "go" or "no go" signals for Capone's men when they showed up to load Canadian Club onto their boats or trucks. Seems only fair since Capone paid for the creation and installation of the windows. It is not known who was responsible for the bullet holes still visible in the brick wall of a downstairs room in the mansion, but daily gunfire was not uncommon in Prohibition-era Windsor.

Eluding the long arm of the law required cunning as well as stealth. An elaborate system of coded writing did the trick, allowing telegrams (as seen here) containing what looked like random letters to be sent between supplier and buyer.

"The public can see a whole series of those coded messages, and the decoding guides, as well as bills of sale with some pretty interesting names and messages," said Leah Peck, a Heritage Center staff member. "It can really give you some insight into the period."

It certainly can. As I took a behind-the-scenes tour of the complex, center manager Tish Harcus couldn't restrain herself from sharing one particular ledger entry:

"Look at this," she said, still as pleased with it as the first time she showed it off. "It says we no longer were pursuing the money owed to the company by Mr. (deleted) because we think he was put in the incinerator. As best we could tell, he owed money to everyone and when the debt collectors couldn't find him, they assumed the worst since that's what often happened."


Windsor Social Magazine (monthly)
Canadian Club tasting notes
City of Windsor official site
John Freeman Walls Underground Railroad Site
Colisanti's Tropical Gardens

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