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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