I am typing today from a desk in a building erected in 1864, Washington DC. Before its reputation as a hotel, the Morrison Clark Inn was two separate households near the fashionable Mount Vernon Square. Joined as a single establishment in 1923 the property became a well known “Military Club” housing as much as 45,000 enlisted men at the height of World War II. Sometimes 9 or 10 to a room, soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen slept, ate, and certainly drank, through these very halls.
To stay here is a literal walk through the history of D.C. Large elegant stairways lead up from both 11th and L, adorned with blossoming gardens filled with seasonal flowers and cherry trees. The veranda that surrounds the property is strewn with black wire lawn furniture and 1920’s style ash trays. I half expect Tom Buchannan to swing open the doors and greet me with a bear hug as I walk up to the main entrance. The lobby exudes the same atmosphere and class as the façade. It is amazing to me that the modern home has forgotten such essential elements of a house as the sitting room. An informally elegant room of couches, chairs, coffee tables, and long pronounced windows. A place indoors that feels more like a garden or terraced balcony.
I can picture, in 1943, a group of enlisted men enjoying their last Scotch and sodas before shipping out to the front lines. Fresh baked muffins and cherry scones with butter on oversized serving platters in the dining room. Nurses in fresh whites gathering at 7 am for a coffee before their rounds.
It is pleasurably romantic to sit and drink espresso in this new world of my historical creation.
You are looking at the best chili dog in the country. At Ben’s Chili Bowl on U street you can get a half smoke for 4$. It is life changing. A half pork half beef smoked sausage on a bun with onions, mustard, and a whole lot of secret recipe chili on top. But how did you get here on U street at 2 in the morning eating this food of the gods…
The Brixton English pub on 9th street, 8 pm. A three-tier classic DC gastropub with an open rooftop bar. My first meal at this pub, and in DC, is fish and chips with a 16oz German hefe-weizen. Julius Echter of Würzburger Hofbräu. Contrary to popular belief an English Bitter, although still good, is not the best pairing for Fish and Chips. Garret Oliver highlighted me to this fact in The Brewmasters Table, an excellent read for anyone looking to do a deep dive into beer styles. I haven’t thought twice on it since. Of course the citrus and clove of the Hef mingle well with Atlantic cod. Fruity esters and fresh fish were made for each other.
Down the street a few blocks is The Saloon. An underground stone walled tap room with plenty of Bavarian brews. A beefy auburn dopplebock with garlic toasted fava beans (insert Hannibal Lecter joke). But seriously this is a damn good bar snack. And the fact that it comes from a candy jar at the end of the bar makes it all the better.
Finally, The Gibson, a one room speakeasy with no windows and only a few dim red bulbs hanging naked from the ceiling. There is no sign or even a front for that matter. It’s just an oddly placed single black door in an alleyway off of U street.
Ben’s half smoke is the only true way to finish a night like this on the corridor.
I wake up before sunrise on Thursday morning in South Carolina. Slept through all of Georgia. The conifers are much taller and more dense here. Broad leafed black oak and river birch take root on the thick green forest bed. Instead of swamp, occasional bogs and rivers dot the subtropical deciduous forest. Where as the Florida rails seemed more like piled up jetties of dry land with swamp on each side, the Carolina rail seems as if it is a gash carved into the pristine forest, sitting low beneath the tree line. We haven’t stopped once in this state and it seems like there aren’t any. We have been traveling through unbroken forest all morning. An occasional dirt road comes to meet the rail, or a small clearing in the brush. Other than this you would think this entire landscape had never been touched by human hands. I’m sure that much of it hasn’t.
The Germans call hefeweizen a breakfast beer. It was a rather fitful sleep in coach however. I think I’ll stick with coffee today. Bacon and eggs in the dining car, watching the sunrise on the trees that pass me by.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
For dinner, the herb roasted chicken, a perfect companion to my Sierra Nevada pale ale. The cascade hop bitterness cuts nicely through the fat and crispy browned skin of the bird, cleansing the palate as if each bite thereafter were the very first. The piney aromas of the beer dance with rosemary, cracked pepper, and lemon citrus, emboldening each one separately and building them together into a perfect bite.
America is slowly changing. 10 years ago this pairing could not have happened as it did. It is still undoubtedly the big name, tasteless, industry lagers that flood the supermarkets and mobile bars of this country. Bars in circus tents, food trucks, trains, and at catered office christmas parties, will 99% of the time be serving these watery beverages they call beer. However, finding good craft beer is getting easier every year. Although Sierra Nevada is not a giant leap into craft brew culture (like a hop crazy american double IPA or an Imperial Chocolate Stout ) it is still a good craft beer. And seeing it on the shelves of poorly stocked bars is a step in the right direction. The beer revolution is upon us. It is only a matter of time before you will start seeing Dogfish 60 minute or Rogue Dead Guy Ale at stadiums and concert halls. Perhaps you have already noticed your local liquor store stocking up on Hop Wallop and Flying Dog Oyster Stout. If your local bar doesn’t already sport at least a few craft brews its time to find a new watering hole.
This is a good time to be a beer drinker. Good beer is coming and good beer is here, and indeed it will always be.
Florida pine cover the dry sides of the rails. Palm trees being dragged back down to earth by the gripping vines of strangler figs. Deep black pools dotted with Lilly pads pass by like clouds. Although we are still relatively close to the Atlantic, the swamp has taken over the landscape. Replacing the warehouses with bogs, the graffiti with the lush greens and browns of this tropical paradise.
The train heads west cutting over the top of Lake Okeechobee, the heart and life force of the Everglades. It is during these summer months that buckets of water pour from the skies, feeding the lake which spills into the River of Grass. We must have passed through 20 heavy downpours going across the state. Large bolts of lightening flash in the distance across deep black and purple skies. Give it another minute or so and you can’t see ten feet from the train window. The skies, like the fauna surrounding the tracks, are alive today.
And then, Tampa… Time to crack open a Cigar City Helles Lager. Just in time. Cool crisp lager is the only way to refresh your palate on a hot train ride in the south. Contrary to the deceiving name, this lager has no added spice. Here are some tasting notes:
Cigar City- Hotter than Helles Lager
pours a light gold color with minimal short lasting head
smells of leavened bread, fresh yeast, lemons and orange peel
tastes tangy, bready, malty, with a slightly sulfuric aftertaste that instantly stales the breath
heavily carbonated, lingering, soft silk coats the mouth
overall, a light and extremely refreshing lager. Perfect for the hot summer months in the south.
After my first hour on the Silver Star I am thoroughly convinced that this is the only way to travel. Large comfy seats, a pen and pad, and a six pack in the seat beside me. We are still in the sprawling metropolis that is Florida City through Palm Beach, however I have already seen parts of this landscape new to me. Canals bisect our path through the lush vegetation of South Florida. Warehouses with barbed wire roofs and graffitied walls. Past old men playing dominoes and broken concrete buildings painted with the words bar-b-que on the side. A man fishes in a dirty canal sitting on a white bucket.
There is no place on earth I would rather be. Exploring the American rails in a coach class seat.