Happy birthday, dear Guinness ...

Arthur Guinness
Pssst. See that guy over there on the right? He's responsible for the Irish government's major income stream, something more important than ever now that the economic chaos that has roiled around the world has hit Ireland a rollicking good thwack.

Today is the 252nd anniversary of the founding of the iconic Guinness Brewery at St. James's Gate in Dublin by that fella, a man by the name of Arthur Guinness. At one time, it was the largest brewery in the world.

Guinness Brewery (Travelpod photo)
Guinness leased the property for a term of up to 9,000 (no kidding) years at an annual rent of £45 per year. That means the lease will come up for renewal in the year 10759 A.D.

The adjacent Guinness Storehouse is Dublin's No. 1 tourist attraction. The converted brewing factory is a seven-story Guinness museum, the topmost of which is home to the Gravity Bar, where visitors can get a free pint of "the black stuff," as the dark Guinness stout is known.

The Official Guinness Site
Touring Dublin
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Sacramento board encouraging wine tourism

• From Eat, Drink, Explore

SACRAMENTO, CA -- The Sacramento County Board of Supervisors have voted to adopt new zoning code amendments designed to encourage local wine tourism.

The amendments set development standards for wineries that will grant smaller-scale grape producers the right to produce and bottle their own wine.

“We feel this is an important step to encourage economic growth, job creation and keep tourism dollars in our County,” said Don Nottoli, Supervisor for District 5. “By reducing regulatory obstacles, we can help Sacramento County become an important part of the wine tourism industry.”

In a press release, the supervisors said the streamlined codes can save business both money and time. They board also pointed to the "grow local, buy local" movement saying the amendments will "help keep agricultural entities viable in Sacramento County."

Details of the Draft Zoning Code Amendments:
  • Allows some agri-tourism uses by right in certain zones and allow others through the use permit process.
  • Creates specific parking and signage development standards for wineries, farm stands and farm stay operations.
  • Outlines additional permitting requirements from other County departments.
  • Provides four classifications for premises that sell produce that would be permitted by right in agricultural zones if the sales areas do not exceed 1,500 square feet.
  • Allows small wineries by right in agricultural zones provided they have tasting rooms under 1,500 square feet.
  • Allows small wineries to host special events without a conditional use permit, with the size of events dependent on the size of the property.
  • Allows Farm Stays (similar to Bed and Breakfast Inns with focus on farming activities) with five or fewer rooms in agricultural zones by right.

Sacramento: Discover Gold
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Harry's NY Bar celebrates its 100th in Paris

Inside Harry's New York Bar.

PARIS -- Harry's New York Bar turned 100 on Thanksgiving Day, one more milestone in the storied history of the iconic watering hole.

Harry's claims to be the home of the Bloody Mary, was a favorite stop for the author Ernest Hemingway, home to expatriate Americans and the glitterati.

As the establishment explains in its capsulized history, "In 1911, a former U.S. jockey convinced a friend who owned a bar in New York to dismantle it and to shift it Rue Daunou in Paris. Harry MacElhone is then approached to open the bar on Thanksgiving Day, 26 November 1911. The adventure starts!

"Since then, generations succeeded one another in this mythical place. Authors such as Hemingway, Sartre or Blondin came to taste a few of the most famous cocktails in the world which were created here, e.g the Bloody Mary or the White Lady."

Originally, the establishment was called simply the New York Bar. Harry MacElhone later added his own name.

"The MacElhone family is still at the helm of this legendary bar with the assistance of an excellent team fully dedicated to the bar and its customers. Harry transmitted the reins to Andrew who in turn passed them on to Duncan. Franz-Arthur, Harry's great-grandson, was born, like him, on June 16, 98 years down the line."

Harry's New York Bar home page
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'Road Trip Experience' in one NY county

Visitors gather lakeside at Long Point Winery.

Fresh local cuisine.
Merchants and facilities in the Cayuga County area of Upstate New York have come up with an interesting marketing push to promote tourism -- a fusion of wine tasting, dining and leisure experiences reminiscent of bygone times.

Visitors to this slice of the Finger Lakes region can be involved in a wide range of wine and culinary events and experiences being promoted as an "American Road Trip Experience."

Here is a checklist of of recommended sites:

Where to Wine Taste:

Heart & Hands Wine Company offers a hands-on winemaking opportunity during the harvest season. Participants discover winemaking activities including picking fruit, sorting grapes, daily punchdowns, lab analysis, pressing grapes and equipment cleaning. Their limited production, currently under 1,500 cases, allows for an intense focus on quality. Committed to producing cool climate wines which authentically express the character of the Finger Lakes, Heart & Hands Wine Company is located in a serene setting overlooking the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake.

Bet the Farm features a farm winery, regional wine shop and gourmet market. Their wines are sold alongside a premier selection of other Finger Lakes wines at their shop in the village of Aurora. In addition to wine, they offer gourmet foods produced throughout the state.

King Ferry Winery -focuses on Chardonnay and Riesling varieties. It offers "Taste the Artistry," a series of of Treleaven wines in the company of works by local artists in the Tasting Room gallery and gift shop.

Long Point Winery winemaker Gary Barletta focuses his attention on dry reds such as Merlot and Syrah.  Wife Rosemary serves up her specialty sandwiches in Amelia's Deli. Located just off scenic State Route 90 the winery overlooka Cayuga Lake.

Insider Winery Tips:

• Most wineries have a small tasting fee which often is refunded with a purchase of wine.

• Cheeses can be found between wine tastings along the Cayuga Scenic Byway. Go to the Finger Lakes Cheese Trail website for details.

• Escorted wine tours are a safe way to indulge while letting someone else do the driving. You can get information on rates and hours from Big D's Limo Service in Auburn, Experience! The Finger Lakes in Ithaca, or Quality Wine Tours in Pittsford.

Where to Eat:

Aurora Inn -- Seasonal American cuisine made with fresh regional products and paired with a large list of  Finger Lakes wine. Indoor dining room as well as lakeside dining.
on their spacious veranda, perfect for taking in Finger Lakes sunsets.

Moro’s Table -- Finger Lakes ingredients are used to create American-style cuisine.

Pumpkin Hill Bistro -- Comfort food "with a twist" in a unpretentious atmosphere. Cayuga Lake wines can be paired with the dishes, and diners can take advantage of the antiques and gifts at the Country Store.

Where to Pick & Buy Local:

Long Point Orchard -- Fruit enthusiasts can pick their locally grown produce or purchase it from the farm stand located at 2007 State Rte 90 in Aurora. Closed on Mondays.

Grisamore Farms -- Featuring an array of fruit crops from strawberries to sweet cherries to blueberries. Want to bypass the picking process? The farm store is located in a 19th Century dairy barn and equipped with an array of delectable items for sale.

The Produce Place -- Specializing in fresh, local produce as it ripens -- sweet corn, tomatoes, etc. -- plus pies and custards.

King Ferry Farmer's Market -- This pop-up marketplace located just off of Route 90 sells farmstead cheese, organic flour, organic vegetables, plants and flowers, fiber art, pottery and jewelry among many other locally grown and produced items.

Where to Stay:

Aurora Inn, set on the shores of Cayuga Lake in a heritage village, has a pedigree dating to 1833. The original Finger Lakes inn, built in Federal style with red brick and wide columned balconies, has been restored as a bed and breakfast.

E.B. Morgan House, formerly the home of Colonel Edwin Barber Morgan, co-founder of The New York Times and American Express. The house offers seven guest rooms, living spaces, porches that overlook the lake and lawns and a collection of original modern art.

Dill’s Run Bed & Breakfast and Vineyard is located on the east side of Cayuga Lake on State  Route 90 in the Town of Ledyard. The Italianate Victorian house was built in the late 1830s and has recently been restored. It sits on a 15-acre plot four miles north of Aurora. It also has a vineyard that produces grapes for its own wines.

Cayuga Marina and Campground is located on the north end of Cayuga Lake, a short distance from Lock One, Seneca Canal, and the Montezuma Wildlife Preserve. Good for an overnight, weekend or week-long stay for outdoor sports enthusiasts and those who just appreciate the countryside and lakeside atmosphere. Seasonal guest accommodations and marina services for patrons.

Cayuga County Tourism
Finger Lakes Travel
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Whiskey anthology perfect for holiday gifts

Here's a thought for an easy holiday gift. Pick up copies of my new book, "Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y In Jiggers and Shots," just released by the New York publisher Sterling Epicure.

The suggested retail price for the hardcover book is $18.95. You can get a copy, often at a discounted price, via such online sites as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Walmart and others.

Bill Dowd
I selected, edited and co-wrote this collection of essays from numerous writers famous in the field, from F. Paul Pacult to David Wondrich, and such multi-field notables as Tom Wolfe to Pulitzer Prize winner Daniel Okrent of The New York Times.

Through them you will discover the spread of whiskey throughout the world and how it helped build countries. Read profiles of some of the most famous giants of the industry as Jack Daniel, George Smith and the Beam family.

Plus, go behind the scenes of Prohibition to check out the legendary gangsters, small-time rumrunners, and a famous NASCAR champion who made his mark as a moonshine runner. And, you'll get insiders' looks at legitimate whiskey-making in such diverse spots as Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., South Africa, India and Japan, as well as how the infamous Whiskey Ring scandal almost brought down a U.S. presidency.


Carnival ships revamping drinks venues

Last year I finally broke down and took my first "pleasure" cruise. I hated it.

From the time we set foot on the Norwegian Cruise Lines love boat it was one non-stop bazaar, with staffers of all sorts trying to sell you an array of goods and services. Before leaving the Port of New York, we decided to check out the cocktail lounges, since we were waiting to meet up with some friends and we had been promised at least six different bars by the NCL literature.

What we found, besides poorly stocked bars that couldn't come through on my first two drink orders taken directly from the menu, was that one bar had been divided into three parts and given three different names and decors. Six bars, my eye.

Now I read that a fleetwide overhaul plan for Carnival cruise ships unveiled this week includes plans for five new branded drinking venues to be installed on multiple Carnival ships over the next four years as part of more than $500 million in upgrades.

I hope for the sake of Carnival's customers, these bars -- three of the designs are shown below -- are indeed standalone venues.

Incidentally, among other Carnival changes are a deal for on-board burger joints created by TV personality Guy Fieri and hiring entertainer George Lopez as its creative director for comedy and the rebranding of its shipboard comedy clubs around the star.

Red Frog Rum Bar design.

A sports bar branded around video game manufacturer EA Sports. 

The Library Bar with automatic wine dispensers.

ª Dowd's Guides home page


Final days for whiskey book discount

My new book, "Barrels & Drams: The History of Whisk(e)y In Jiggers and Shots," will officially be released on September 6.

The retail price then will be $18.95, but you can get a hefty 33% pre-release discount from Amazon.com by going here.

It is a collection I co-wrote and edited with essays from numerous writers famous in the field, from F. Paul Pacult to David Wondrich to Tom Wolfe.

You'll discover the spread of whiskey throughout the world and how it helped build countries. Read profiles of some of the most famous giants of the industry as Jack Daniel, George Smith and the Beam family.

Plus, go behind the scenes of Prohibition to check out the legendary gangsters, small-time rumrunners, a famous NASCAR champion who made his mark as a moonshine runner. And, you'll get insiders' looks at legitimate whiskey-making in such diverse spots as Scotland, Ireland, the U.S., South Africa, India and Japan.


The Return of the Copacabana

NEW YORK -- OK, first things first. It's not on East 60th where the original was. And, it's not on 34th Street and 11th Avenue where it once was. But, dammit, the Copacabana is back!

For those of us of a certain age, the Copa was the height of New York nightclub fashion back in “the day.” The headwaiter, Manny, lived across the street from me in a Long Island suburb, and his status was as great as that of any rock star in those days before the term “rock star” was the epitome of fame. His wife, Eleanor, ran the coat check concession and even she was at least a minor deity.

The Copa dancers, the fascinating orchestras, the pretty-good-for-a-nightclub food, the fantastic cocktails ... . It was all a whirl of colors, flavors and fashion. Barry Manilow's anthemic "At the Copa" hit some years afterward captured a bit of the excitement.

Last night, the Copacabana officially opened in its new Times Square location with Willie Colón as the headliner.

This spot at 268 West 47th Street, in the former China Club space, is the fourth Copa reincarnation. It's on the fourth floor with a dance  club, restaurant, rooftop cocktail/dining space. A VIP room is scheduled to open in September.

The Copa dates to 1940, when it opened at 10 East 60th Street, welcoming such performers as Frank Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole, Tito Puente and others over the years.

The  new Copa is offering live Latin music nights on Tuesdays, Fridays and  Saturdays and has revived its famed Copa Dancers, guys and gals specializing in everything from salsa to merengue to bachata and cha-cha-cha.

Dowd's Guides home page.

How to create a regional museum

Visionary John Adamski.
From The Corning (NY) Leader:

BLUFF POINT, NY -- A few years ago, freelance writer and photographer John Adamski spent a few vacation days exploring the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake and The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, which delve into the culture and history of the North Country.

"It got me thinking," Adamski said. “I said to myself, 'Why don’t we have a place like this that tells the story of the Finger Lakes?' "

Upon returning home, Adamski wrote an essay for Life in the Finger Lakes magazine, pitching his idea.

Before he knew it, he was the board president for the Finger Lakes Cultural and Natural History Museum, an ambitious $30 million project slated to open in 2014 in Keuka Lake State Park in Yates County. ...

ElevenFinger Lakes (Conesus, Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye, Canandaigua, Keuka, Seneca, Cayuga, Owasco, Skaneateles and Otisco) will be prominently featured.

The flora and fauna native to the region will also be highlighted, along with the people that have called the Finger Lakes home, including Native Americans, early white settlers, Amish and Mennonites.

Many of the displays will be interactive, Adamski promises.

“We’re going to redefine the word 'museum,' " he said. “It won’t be looking at old sticks and bones, but a place where people are educated about their environment."

[Go here for the full story.]

Keuka Lake State Park
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Fed grant to bring local foods to NY B&Bs

From the Albany Times Union:

A $73,824 federal matching grant from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program will help local food producers and tourism by encouraging bed and breakfast operators to feature locally produced food and agricultural products, State Agriculture Commissioner Darrel Aubertine said Monday.

The Department will receive the grant in cooperation with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Madison County, which will lead the two year project, NOFA-NY, the Empire State B&B Association, Central New York Bounty, the New York Small Scale Food Processors Association, and the University of Illinois Extension.

New York is one of 19 states to receive 25 grants. The grant money will be available for the entire state.

Producer organizations and B&B owners are encouraged to participate in the project, which will begin in the fall.

Times Union home page
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Culodden visitors center a site to behold

William M. Dowd photos
CULODDEN, Scotland -- Bonnie Prince Charlie was the icon of 18th-century Jacobites who wanted to put him on the throne of Scotland, freeing the nation from the shackles of the ruling English crown.

After all, they reasoned, he was a descendant of the Stuarts, a clan descended from the almost mythical Scottish hero Robert the Bruce. And the English were ... well, they were the hated English.

The movement had a few problems. For one, Charles Edward Stuart Louis John Casimir Silvester Maria Stuart, born in Rome in 1720, was not much of a hands-on guy as uprisings go. He spent only 12 months of his 68 years in Scotland, living a big chunk of the final 20 in Rome as the Duke of Albany. For another, any overt sign of allegiance to him could be punishable by death.

The high point of the Stuart uprising was 265 years ago. It was on April 16, 1746, that an English force led by the Duke of Cumberland crushed the massed Highlanders on a battlefield here less than 35 miles from Inverness, with 1,500 or so Scots killed in less than an hour compared to about 50 Redcoats.

It was the last battle on British soil, and ushered in a long period of English moves aimed at tearing apart the Scottish clan system that was the central nervous system of the country.

A definitely state-of-the-art visitors center was opened here in April 2008 on the anniversary of the battle. After touring it, I feel comfortable predicting it will be used as a prime example of what today's visitors centers should look like.

The multi-level structure is designed to take advantage of today's visually-oriented society to tell a centuries-old story. As visitors are led through the center, the English side of the story is told on one wall, the Scots' side on the other, with a variety of displays in the center of each corridor.

Included are opaque screens offering silhouettes of combatants and others who "come to life" when an interactive screen is touched. They tell the story of Culodden and the times from their points of view, often in words taken from actual diaries of the times.

In the "immersion room," visitors are led into a seatless space with projection screens on each wall. Each shows a different angle of the battle; you can watch on one screen an English cannon being fired, then turn and look at the opposite wall and see its impact on the Highland forces. The sound and fury are designed to give the visitor an idea of the noise and confusion inherent in a battle.

Among the numerous displays are several glass cases filled with weapons of the sort used in the mid-1700s. Rather than being lined up in precise lines as is the case in most museums, a guide explained, "these should be viewed as being brandished the same way they would be in battle, but then remove the people from the equation and leave the weapons as they would be then."

Other artifacts on display are several pieces from the glassware collection owned by the Drambuie Liqueur Co. Ltd. of Edinburgh. (Drambuie is a Scottish liqueur based on the recipe imparted by Bonnie Prince Charlie to one Makinnon of Skye for assisting him in the uprising of 1745. The Makinnon family to this day owns the exclusive Drambuie franchise.)

The complete collection includes some items with beautiful, swirling designs of leaves, grapevines, birds and other nature elements. Others have numerous designs peculiar to the Jacobite movement, usually etched into what were called "Amen'' toasting glasses that were stored in secret lest the English authorities see the pro-Prince Charlie designs on them.

For example, such words as redat (may he return) and revireseat (let it grow again) on the glasses were notes of support for the exiled Stuarts. The six-petaled white rose, another Jacobite symbol, is a common design as well, and a wide variety of intricate swirls, legends and designs make one long to hoist a Drambuie or two in honor of the craftsman if not of the Stuarts.

Once outside, visitors are given GPS-connected handsets to carry as they walk through the battlefield where red flags indicate the English lines, blue flags the Scots'.

As one reaches a point of interest, the GPS is triggered and the handset broadcasts information to the visitor who can take advantage of on-screen prompts to get additional information.

Only one building from the battle period remains on the land, and even that may have been rebuilt from the stones used in an earlier building. But, it gives visitors a feel of the type of structure common in the area at that time.

Culloden Battlefield Site
Battlefield video before the new center
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The grand dames of Southern hospitality

The Hermitage Hotel main lobby, complete with stained cut-glass ceiling.

In a nation replete with motel chains slugging it out for the public’s dollar, the thought of staying in a luxury hotel with pedigree probably doesn’t occur to most travelers.

This is neither about the overwrought décor of the sort commonplace in lavish Las Vegas hostelries, nor about having to re-mortgage your home to raise the money to underwrite a night for two in such a place.

At one time, a young and rambunctious America thought nothing of wild spending to replicate in some form the visual amenities and creature comforts commonplace in the grand hotels of Europe. Most, however, have fallen victim to the wrecker’s ball, the flight to the suburbs and the rush to architectural sameness.

The George V in Paris, Claridge’s in London, the Hotel Bristol in Vienna, the Medici in Rome … . They and their ilk have persevered through world wars and economic upheavals to remain in the upper echelon of grand hotels and their names are familiar to most travelers, by reputation if not from personal experience.

For the most part, the grand hotel concept does not apply in American towns and cities outside New York and Chicago, for example. That makes the exceptions all the more remarkable.

In a still-young country, the East Coast is our “old society,” so you’ll tend to find a few more of the surviving grand dames built during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Take Nashville, Tenn., and Louisville, Ky., for example. Each a center of Southern pace and style, each with a core activity that carries its own special cache and its own financial lifestyle that can help support grand hotels.

In Nashville, the global center of the country music industry, stands the Hermitage Hotel, located on Sixth Avenue North across from the Tennessee state capitol. It marked its 100th birthday in 2010, although it was closed from 1977 to 1981. Luckily for those who enjoy such places and traditions, Historic Hotels of Nashville purchased the property in 2000, ran it for several years, then closed it and put $18 million into a nearly year-long restoration effort.

The result is a breathtakingly elegant 123-room facility offering accommodations ranging from the 2,000-square-foot presidential suite to a trio of 1,000-square-foot executive suites and 120 other rooms, a grand ballroom, the mezzanine-level Governor’s Salon where the legendary pool player Rudolf Wanderone Jr., better known as Minnesota Fats, held forth on his own table against all comers when he lived in the hotel for several years in the 1980s.

Today’s sporting activities lean more toward the National Football League (the Tennessee Titans), National Hockey League (the Predators) and NASCAR.

Nashville has always been a major city in the pre- and post-Civil War South, home to two presidents – Andrew Jackson, after whose home, The Hermitage, the hotel was named, and James Knox Polk -- and a hotbed of politics.

Today it is the quintessential country music spot with, according to The Encyclopedia of Country Music, 90 record companies, 174 recording studios, 5,500 union musicians, 24 talent agencies, nearly 300 music publishers, 17 professional music organizations and 104 film and video production companies.

The famed Music Row anchored by the Ryman Auditorium, original home of the Grand Old Opry, isn’t glamorous until the sun goes down. Then the neon lights and the cruising traffic cover up the drabness of the strip. I found I quickly forgot about the outdoor ambiance once I caught some hard-charging country-rock bands at places like Tootsie’s, where I recommend the proximity to the cramped stage, or Robert’s, where a decent sized dance floor is a big lure.

But way back when, Nashville was more a gathering place for musicians and singers involved in big band music, when hotel orchestras were being broadcast nationally. The Francis Craig Orchestra reigned at the Hermitage Hotel’s famous Grille Room and Oak Bar from 1929 to 1945 and was broadcast over NBC Radio for 12 of those years when. It was Craig who introduced a shy local singer named Dinah Shore to America’s listening audience.

Those performers who could afford to flocked to the Hermitage Hotel to drink in the luxury as well as the cocktails at the Oak Bar.

Architect John E.R. Carpenter, a native Tennessean who had studied in Knoxville, Boston and Paris before setting up shop in New York City where he became known for his apartment building designs, designed the hotel. He utilized the lines of Beaux Arts classicism, which he had studied in depth at the Les Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris.

The interior, restored to its original style and color palette, is elegance personified. Grecian and Tennessee marble accentuate the soaring lobby, which is topped by stained cut glass. The Grand Ballroom is paneled in Circassian walnut from Russia and, like many of the building’s public spaces, has an ornate handcrafted ceiling.

Arched openings between coupled columns and extravagant decorative detailing in the French Renaissance style lead visitors from the lobby to the lush mezzanine as well as the eating and drinking areas. The Capitol Grille is a AAA Four Diamond-rated restaurant that serves nothing that has ever been frozen except ice cream. And even that is made on premises.

On the upper floors, the guest rooms are spacious and plush. Anxious as I was to see the sights and sample the nightlife of Nashville, the huge, cushy beds and spacious baths plus all the other room amenities tempted me to linger.

One might think all this history and luxury would be prohibitively expensive. Not so. While full suites range from $550 to $1,259 a night, you can book a perfectly nice deluxe room with a king or two queen beds, plenty of amenities including complimentary wi-fi for those who can’t live without Internet availability, for just $209 a night for a couple. And, there are numerous room and meals packages available, always worth considering when the establishment is known for good food as is the Hermitage. So, take that, Manhattan.

The Seelbach Rathskeller
Three hours’ drive north on I-65 is Louisville, in the heart of Kentucky’s bluegrass country. Home to the Kentucky Derby, the Muhammad Ali Center, University of Louisville basketball and Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom.

And, of course, the Seelbach Hilton.

This grand hotel has attracted the rich and famous for more than a century. F. Scott Fitzgerald was so taken by its posh look that he had his “The Great Gatsby” characters Tom and Daisy Buchanan marry there. Gatsby himself, it is said, was based to some degree on George Remus, a personable Cincinnati mobster who liked to make the easy 90-mile drive from his home turf to Louisville for bourbon and cigars at the Seelbach, pastimes Fitzgerald also enjoyed.

While Nashville’s Hermitage has had plenty of famous visitors, the Seelbach tops it. Its location in bourbon and horse country and its proximity to Cincinnati, Baltimore, Richmond and other sizable cities made it a mecca for the literary, gambling and bootlegging sets before Prohibition and a cast of equally colorful characters afterward.

The Seelbach is a descendant of Seelbach’s Restaurant and Café, an exclusive gentlemen’s club that was opened in 1874, the year before the first Kentucky Derby, by Louis Seelbach, who had emigrated from Bavaria.

Five years later, he brought his younger brother, Otto, to Louisville and they opened a larger establishment, with 30 guest rooms over the bar. Over the years, the business kept expanding until a brand new Seelbach Hotel opened in 1905. It was such a smash hit an additional 154 rooms were immediately added.

But, as with most undertakings, the Seelbach ran its course and was repeatedly sold or leased out. It finally closed in 1975 as business began moving to the newly emerging suburbs. It reopened in 1982, run by a subsidiary of Radisson Hotels, and became a successful convention venue as well as a hotel.

The Seelbach you see today, owned and operated by the Hilton company, has been restored to its original grandeur. In 1996, its Oakroom Restaurant reopened and earned the AAA 5 Diamond Award. In 2001 it was named to the Fine Dining Hall of Fame by Nation’s Restaurant News. It also has been named to Conde Nast Traveler magazine’s gold list of “The World’s Best Places to Stay.”

Curious yet about price? Details on that in a moment. There are a few other things to know about the Seelbach.

For one, it is located at 500 Fourth Street, a prestigious spot in Louisville because of something called ''Fourth Street Live,'' the city’s premier entertainment and retail district located right across the street between Liberty and Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

Restaurants and nightclubs such as the Hard Rock Cafe, Red Cheetah dance club, Parrot Beach, Howl At the Moon and the Maker's Mark Bourbon House & Lounge that is run by the bourbon maker of the same name make finding something to do impossible not to.

Actually, you don’t even have to leave the premises. The Old Seelbach Bar, named to several “Best Bars in the World” list, is a study in old-fashioned comfort and ambiance. Low lights, soft leathers, dark woods and an excellent line of drinks make it a great place to while away some leisure time. I recommend the house special, the Seelbach Cocktail, a delicious combination of bourbon, champagne, triple sec and Peychaud and angostura bitters in a champagne flute.

Like the Hermitage in Nashville, the Seelbach is on the National Register of Historic Places. Unlike the Hermitage, its rooms are a bit on the small side. However, they’re fully appointed, immaculate and up to date without losing the period feel.

Price? You can stay there for as little as $219 a night for two people.

Old-fashioned Southern charm, modern conveniences, easy access by air or by car, all in affordable packages. Who says the era of the grand hotel in America is over?

The main entrance to the Seelbach Hilton at night.

The ornate lobby of the Seelbach as seen descending the staircase from the guests' rooms.

The famous Oak Bar at the Hermitage.

The Hermitage Hotel
Give Me Nashville
Seelbach Hilton
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On the trail of musical heritage

On this website, we deal mostly with matters of taste concerning food and drink, as well as some cool destinations.

On this post, we digress to deal with a matter of musical taste -- Appalachian music, to be more specific.

We're all used to hearing about wine trails, sometimes even beer, cheese, fruit, farm and other sorts of trails that link like-minded businesses in an effort to attract and guide tourists.

In the southwestern part of Virginia, we see something called "The Crooked Trail," subtitled "Virginia's Heritage Music Trail."

Its website deals with workshops, conventions, concerts and other activities involving bluegrass, old time and traditional country music. We highly recommend you visit it by going here.

Ralph Stanley Museum & Traditional Mountain Music Center
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Airlines hoping to lure passengers with wine

Andrea Robinson working.
From The Associated Press

ATLANTA, GA -- Delta Air Line's master sommelier Andrea Robinson opened up bottle after bottle of white and red wine from France, Italy, Australia, the U.S. and other parts of the world.

As she tasted them, a blue bucket sat on the table next to her. It was there so she could spit out each sip, ensuring she didn't get tipsy and could distinguish between the different wines. By the time she's done in the next few days, Robinson will have tasted and smelled roughly 2,000 bottles.

The delicate work of a sommelier has become more important as U.S. airlines fight for premium passengers willing to shell out up to thousands of dollars to fly business class on international and transcontinental flights. The idea isn't to make money on the wine — the passengers in those seats drink for free -- but rather to keep those customers coming back and encourage their well-heeled friends and co-workers to join them.

Other airlines including United Airlines and American Airlines also work with wine experts to help them choose what to serve on their flights.

And there's a market for it: According to the International Air Transport Association, through the first four months of this year, there was an 8.5% increase year-over-year in premium passenger traffic, which includes business class and first class seats. Those seats are among the most pricey and profitable for airlines. The trade group expects fuel costs to weigh on premium traffic, and stronger growth in the second half of the year will depend on how well the economy holds up.

[Go here for the full story.]


Queen Mary 2 is a dirty, filthy girl

Queen Mary 2 sails past the Statue of Liberty.
From The Mirror of London

NEW YORK -- Cunard flagship Queen Mary 2 has failed a hygiene inspection by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scoring a shocking 84 out of 100.

Fruit flies and cockroaches in a storage locker, sediment in ice-making machines, and a "filthy" swimming pool were among more than 60 violations cited in the report on the inspection, carried out when the ship was berthed here on June 10.

The 3,000-passenger ship has passed every previous CDC inspection, scoring a perfect 100 on three occasions. It has only once before scored less than 92 in 15 checks carried out during the last seven years. Anything below 85 is counted as a fail.

The unwelcome visitors were found in a locker in the Kings Court buffet restaurant. Ice machines in Kings Court and in the Commodore Club bar needed cleaning, and a human hair was found under the lid of an ice maker in a crew galley.

Draught beer lines in the casino bar and Golden Lion pub were found to be "heavily soiled," and the inspectors criticised the storage of food on wine directly on open decks. and various chemicals stored near napkins, paper cups and utensils.

Tiles and water in the Minnows splash pool were said to be "filthy with dark materials and hairs."

Cunard say some staff have been disciplined and re-trained as a result of the inspection. A spokesman said: "The poor assessment resulted largely from one small area of the ship's overall operation. All the issues raised in the report were immediately addressed and have now been corrected.

"Ship and shore management have now redefined certain roles and responsibilities to clarify accountability and the company's already rigorous training schedule has been stepped up."

The CDC carries out surprise Vessel Sanitation Program checks twice a year on all ships using American ports. No other cruise ship operated by a major line has failed a CDC inspection during the past three years .

A Dowd's Guides note:

The Queen Mary 2 also made news in May when a Malaysian man was arrested for  smuggling nine Chinese illegal Chinese immigrants into Brooklyn. They were not stowaways and their names appeared on the ship's manifest, but they were found to be trying to get onto U.S. soil without proper documentation.

Seen on our travels


Chinese top 'world's highest bar' list

Ozone, 118 floors up in Kowloon.

A few years back, I reported on the world's smallest bar, a former railroad structure in Cleethorpes, England. Now comes word of the world's highest bar, a title that has come to be dominated by the Chinese.

Ozone, at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong hotel, presently reigns as the highest -- on the 118th floor of the International Commerce Centre in Kowloon.

The new spot moved ahead of 100 Century Avenue on the 92nd floor of the Shanghai Park Hyatt which itself had edged out Cloud 9, located on the 87th floor of the Shanghai Grand Hyatt.


Dowd's Guides
Shanghai Travel Guide
Touring Kowloon


Wild Turkey latest to spread its wings

Visitors flock to new Wild Turkey distillery.
If you've heard about the periodic, albeit brief, shortages of bourbon in some markets, you know the demand for the iconic American spirit continues to grow.

The latest expansion in the production process went on line this week with the dedication of the expanded distillery that produces Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg, KY. The new $50 million distillery will be able to produce twice as much bourbon as the old one.
Eddie Russell
Kentucky produces 95% of the world's bourbon and the spirit has become globally in demand.

"The export market is so great for us," said Associate Distiller Eddie Russell, "and bourbon has had a resurgence in the U.S., so it lets us be prepared for the next 20 to 30 years."

Maker's Mark is working on a $50 million expansion that will boost production by about 50% and expand bottling capacity at its operations near Loretto, KY. It plans to build 20-25 new warehouses needed for storing barrels of whiskey that will age at least six years.

Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc., whose brands include Evan Williams bourbon, added two storage warehouses earlier this year, boosting its capacity by about 40,000 barrels at a cost of about $5 million.

Also, several bourbon makers have expanded, or are expanding, visitors facilities as whiskey tourism continues to grow.

There now are more than 4.7 million barrels of bourbon aging in warehouses across the state, the highest inventory since the early 1980s.


• Kentucky Bourbon Trail
• Dowd's Guides


Tullamore building new visitor center

Manager D.E. Williams' name was the basis for the "dew" in the brand.

TULLAMORE, Ireland -- Since new owner William Grant and Sons took over Tullamore Dew, not all the changes are behind the scenes.

The decade-old Tullamore Dew Heritage Centre is to be upgraded as part of the company's aim of making it a major tourist attraction in the Midlands.

The original center was opened in the old bonded distillery warehouse in 2000 as a joint venture between C&C -- which then owned the brand, and the tourism support service Fáilte Ireland.

The new center will include an interactive Tullamore Dew history, a whiskey tour and expert tasting sessions. The company hopes it will be completed in time for peak tourist season in 2012 and attract 40,000 visitors annually.

Tullamore Dew is the second largest selling Irish whiskey in the world, behind Jameson's. It was purchased by William Grant and Sons last year. The distillery was founded in 1829 by Michael Molloy in County Offaly.

Contrary to popular belief, the "dew" in Tullamore Dew isn't totally an homage to Irish moisture. The initials of Daniel E. Williams, the distillery's general manager in the late 1800s, were used as the brand of whiskey he created.


Dowd's Guides
• Fáilte Ireland


A tour through English wine country

Visitors tour the Biddenden fields.
From The Independent UK:

By Sally Hawkins

"English wine," emphasized Nigel, my guide at Biddenden Vineyards [in Kent], correcting my mistake. "British" wine, he was keen to point out, can be made using grapes flown in from anywhere in the world. 

As we wound our way through Biddenden's vineyard, I began to understand his eagerness to clarify my misapprehension.

While the Romans had vineyards spread widely across Kent by A.D. 250, they left no legacy of winemaking. So, when the Barnes family planted their first acre of vines in 1969 they were true pioneers, going about it through a process of trial and error. The biggest question hanging over them was whether it was really possible to grow vines in the English climate: a late or early frost can ruin a crop. 

Four decades on, and Biddenden now is the oldest commercial vineyard in the county, with 22 acres of vines. Kent now has more than 350 acres of vineyards, and English wines are raking in international awards (including two gold, 14 silver and 20 bronze medals at the 2011 International Wine Challenge, the Oscars of the wine world). 

It's all very exciting for oenophiles. As Julian Barnes, second-generation winemaker at Biddenden, explained: "While the varieties of grapes are German [such as ortega and dornfelder] or French [such as pinot noir] they are grown in England -- and the local conditions and soil influence the flavours of the wine." 

In Biddenden's farm shop, shelves heave with local produce including the farm's own wines and ciders,  all free to taste. 

"What produce is Kent famous for?" asked Nigel. "The same nutrients they take from the soil are going into the grapes that make the wine." With one slurp of the Gribble Bridge Ortega 2009, I understand: apples, pears, elderflower. The 2007 Pink Sparkling has hints of strawberry. You can't get more English than that.

[Go here for the complete story.] 


Official Kent Tourism Site
Dowd's Guides


Pittsburgh getting new micro-distillery

PITTSBURGH, PA --  The city's first distillery in nearly a century will open in the Strip District this summer.

Wigle Whiskey, a micro-distiller, will operate on the ground floor of the Pittsburgh Wool Co. building. Its owners, Eric Meyer and his father, Mark, and other family members named the whiskey after Philip Wigle, one of two men convicted of treason and sentenced to hang for his role in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.

The last legal distillery in this part of the state was the Schenley Distillery in Armstrong County which closed in the 1970s. The last distillery in the city is believed to have been Joseph S. Finch, which closed by 1920 and moved its operations to the Schenley plant after Prohibition ended.

The Wigle hanging is commemorated in the new company's label, with the rope incorporated into the name. Incidentally, the aforementioned Strip District is a popular mile-long dining and nightlife neighborhood that runs along the Allegheny River just northeast of downtown. Many of the businesses are in former warehouse and industrial buildings.


Pittsburgh neighborhood tours
Historic Attractions Near Pittsburgh
• Dowd's Guides


KY distillery opens new visitor center

Cutting the ribbon to open the Barton 1792 Distillery Visitor Center in Bardstown, KY. L-R, Chuck Braugh, former plant manager; Mark Brown, president and CEO, Sazerac Co.; Gov. Steve Beshear; Johnnie Colwell, VP/Operations, and Ken Pierce, master distiller.
BARDSTOWN, KY -- Tourists will find the Barton Brands of Kentucky operation here a lot more accessible after the official opening of a visitor Center at the Barton 1792 Distillery.

The 1,000 square foot facility containing branded "1792 Distillery" merchandise and a tasting bar. It also serves as the base of operations for the distillery's tours, which have been enhanced with new areas to view.

Visitors now taking the tour can learn about the history of the 130-plus year-old-distillery, see the area where the grain is received, plus the hammermill and the still used in making its bourbons. The complete tour will wend its way through the aging-barrel warehouse, the bottling hall and the finished-products storage warehouse.

"We're proud to say that we have, despite the challenging economic environment, significantly increased our investment in the distillery, hired additional staffing and committed to keeping this vital industry alive in this part of the state," said Mark Brown, president and chief executive officer for Sazerac, which owns the Barton 1792 Distillery.

Sazerac purchased the former Tom Moore Distillery from Constellation Spirits in 2009 and has since heavily invested in renovating the site to making it visitor and tour-friendly. The facility employs nearly 200 people.

The new visitor center is projected to bring in 10,000 tourists to the region its first year. It will be open Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours start every hour on the hour. The last tour is at 3 Monday through Friday and 2:00 on Saturday. Entrance to the Visitor Center is at 501 Cathedral Manor (31 E-New Haven Road). Phone: (866) 239-4690.


Kentucky Bourbon Trail
Dowd's Guides


2 states ease alcohol restrictions

LIFE magazine archives
Consumers will be getting more choices under new pieces of legislation in two states.

• Georgia communities now have the option of voting to approve Sunday alcohol sales under a bill signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal that repeals the state ban on such sales.

• In the state of Washington, consumers will be able to sample distilled spirits at state liquor stores under a bill signed into law by Governor Christine Gregoire.

The Georgia action takes effect July, and will allow for special alcohol sales voting as early as November. Georgia is the 37th state to allow Sunday sales in some form. Connecticut and Indiana are the only states that still ban Sunday sales of liquor, wine and beer at off-premise establishments such as package stores, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.

The Washington action designates 30 state liquor stores to undertake a year-long pilot project beginning September 1. Samples are limited to one-quarter ounce, with more more than one ounce of samples served to any person in a single day.


Caribbean photo vignettes


Feeding a Doctor Bird, the hummingbird that is Jamaica's national bird.
A sunset sail off St. Maarten
English Harbour seen from the hills of Antigua.

Rose Hall, the best preserved of the old plantation great houses in Jamaica.


The most beautiful bar in the world


EDINBURGH, Scotland -- OK, I haven't been in every bar in the world, but I have visited a lot of them in a lot of countries and shot a lot of pictures. No special occasion for posting this. I was just going through some of my personal photo files and came across it.

It is The Dome, is a gorgeous bar and restaurant located in Edinburgh in what once was the headquarters of the Commercial Bank of Scotland. The 1930s-style cocktail lounge leads to a parasol-covered garden café and an elegant grill room with mosaic floors and stained glass windows.


WWII golfing had special rules in London

RICHMOND-UPON-THAMES, England -- By now, the common wisdom is that the generation that endured World War II was one of the toughest ever. In what might otherwise seem like a light-hearted bit of proof -- but one that shows how many people tried to keep some semblance of normal life during the German blitz, this set of golf club rules issued in 1940 shows what the mindset was in England.

The Richmond Golf Club, which was opened in 1891, is a private club in this suburb of London. Unless you're the guest of a member, you can't play there, but if you're planning to be in the area, you can visit the adjacent Royal Richmond Park, the largest open space in London covering almost 2,500 acres and home to a wide array of wildlife.

Did your favorite airport restaurant make the Frommer's Top 10 list?

Do you have a favorite airport restaurant? Frommer’s Travel Guides does, and today released its list of the 10 best.

Here they are, complete with locations:

Atlanta: One Flew South, Terminal E.
Baltimore: Obrycki's, at Gate B-11,
Boston: Legal Sea Foods, Terminal A; Legal Test Kitchen, Terminal B before security; Legal C Bar, Terminal C before security.
Chicago O'Hare: Tortas Frontera, Terminal 1.
New York JFK: Deep Blue Sushi, Terminal 5.
New York LaGuardia: Custom Burgers, Delta Terminal.
Los Angeles: Encounter at LAX, before airport security.
Minneapolis: Ike's Food and Cocktails, Concourse E.
Raleigh, NC: 42nd Street Oyster Bar, Terminal 2.
Seattle: Ivar's, Central Terminal.

Back to Dowd's Guides home page.


Spain to smokers: Butt out

MADRID -- Spain will join several other European countries on Sunday, January 2, when an official ban on smoking in indoor bars and restaurants goes into effect.

Britain, France and Italy already have such a ban.

A ban on smoking in the workplace was instituted in 2007, but the nation's estimated 300,000 bars and restaurants were given the chance to opt out of the ban. Most did so.

Back to Dowd's Guides home page.

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