Sundevich, one of Barred in DC’s Essential Sandwich Shops is expanding once again, this time to the area southwest of Union Station known by some (many?) as part of Capitol Hill. An alert tipster (oh wait, it was me) found that the global-inspired sandwich spot’s website now lists a location at 601 New Jersey Ave. NW (basically 1st and F/G NW). This location, which shares an address of coffee shop/wine bar The Ministry, sits directly across from Georgetown Law and around the corner from Irish bars The Dubliner and Kelly’s Irish Times. Elizabeth O’Gorek of the neighborhood paper Hill Rag reported in November that this building may also add a bar/beer garden, so stay tuned to see if there’s any partnership.
Per the website, the new location will open sometime in 2020. Sundevich originally opened in 2011 as one of Shaw’s first alley food and beverage spots; had a food truck for bit; had a short-lived location in Park View in 2017-2018; and opened a still-standing Georgetown location in 2016.
More to come on Barred in DC’s Essential Sandwich Shops.
Taking advantage of a ridiculous $485 roundtrip flight deal (normally $1200-1500) from DC we found last March, Mrs. Barred and I jetted off in mid-January for a trip to one of the more remote places on Earth, French Polynesia. Despite usually preferring big cities to relaxing vacations, what we found during the 10 day trip, on the islands of Tahiti and Moorea, was one of the best places we’ve ever visited and truly paradise.
French Polynesia, which consists of 100+ islands and stretches over 1200 miles, holds a unique status among France’s many overseas possessions-as an “overseas country” it is semi-autonomous with control of or veto power of many governmental functions. It shares the same time zone as Hawaii (5 hours behind DC).
Unlike many travelers from the U.S., we skipped Bora Bora since it would have literally cost another $400 to fly a couple more hours and lodging there was cost prohibitive. We don’t regret that choice at all.
Despite all the negative feedback we heard before the trip, we found Tahiti to be beautiful and appealing in its own way. 2/3 of French Polynesia’s 250,000 people live there and it’s where most of its important business is done. It was cool to get a window into what people who live there actually do as they live their lives. I’m glad we stayed there 4 nights out of our trip.
After flying 6 hours on Delta from DCA, we had another 8 hour overnight flight to Fa’aa International Airport in Tahiti on Air France (note: on the way back we had a 14 hour overnight layover in LA, got a $100 room at the Hilton LAX and went out in West Hollywood). We arrived at 6am and were greeted inside the airport by a band playing traditional Polynesian music, which was awesome.
We took a $25 taxi to the recommended Manava Suite Resort Tahiti($200/night via Hotwire). If you can’t snag a similar price/deal at the Intercontinental closer to town, stay here. The boutique hotel featured an incredible infinity pool with a lively swim-up bar; the sunsets from there were the best I’ve ever seen. It was great to have a convenience store a 5 minute walk away (stock up on cheap food and beer) as well as a Thai restaurant and a couple roulettes (more on that later) another 5 minutes further. Several shuttles scheduled throughout the day took us to central Papeete (French Polynesia’s capital and largest city) and were only $14 round-trip/person (otherwise a taxi was roughly $25-30 one way).
In Papeete, the main attraction is the large Marche (market). I’d recommend coming by right after getting your bags stowed away to peruse all the food (tons of mangoes like there were all over the islands, and if you can find a fresh passionfruit get one), wares, and other souvenirs. You can spend a good couple hours here and in the many shops (both souvenir shops and fancy surrounding it-Mrs. Barred picked out a beautiful pair of black pearl earrings at the Tahiti Pearl Market for a lot cheaper than you’d expect). Papeete gets a bad rap for not being all that pretty but we found it charming with a nice palm-tree lined boulevard along the water and an impressive ferry terminal.
Our stay coincided with an annual free music festival; the city shut down the main waterfront boulevard which featured 4 stages stretching over a mile with clearly popular local bands playing both covers and original pop hits that we heard elsewhere on our trip. It was really amazing to see all the locals of all ages enjoying the evening.
We rented a car one afternoon ($90 from EcoCar; free delivery of the car to our hotel and free drop-off before 5p) and drove to the very peaceful north side of the island. We checked out the beach at Pointe Venus (also with a cool lighthouse) which was full of locals enjoying the too-hot-for-our-feet black sand beach; watched the amazing kitesurfers at Hitimahana beach; scoped out the Faarumai Waterfall; and experienced the very real Arahoho Blowhole. Plan better than us and circle around the island by getting an earlier start.
Food-wise, you’ll definitely want to eat at one or more roulettes, which are all over the island. These are food vans which each serve a type of food (local, French, burgers, pizza, Thai, Chinese, etc.) with tables (usually with servers taking orders) that set up each night. They are usually very affordable ($15-20 or less dinners). The best place to go is the Vaiete Square in Papeete as many posted up each night.
Papeete has many bars and clubs (the only late night scene in all of French Polynesia); we enjoyed house-made brews at Les Tres Brasseurs (known as 3B’s, it’s a chain in France, Canada and overseas) on the waterfront and sampled the scene (and free pool) at the spacious indoor/outdoor Morrison Cafe (featured in an episode of Bravo’s Below Deck) (it was dead until around 11p when a heavily young-skewing crowd showed up to dance and not really drink as they chugged before they got in). Elsewhere on the island, we also went to the upscale Marina Taina, eating dinner while a live band played at Pink Coconut(also shown on Below Deck); there are a few other spots there to check out at the marina. Our hotel’s pool bar was buzzy during happy hour and right after ($20 cocktails are $11 during daily 5-7p HH) with both hotel guests and locals.
After several days in Tahiti, we taxied to the Papeete ferry terminal and took the $15 Aremiti 6 (no need to buy in advance unless you are bringing a car over but check the schedule in advance), which quickly delivered us to the island of Moorea in 25 minutes. Eschewing a taxi, we grabbed a seat on the rickety bus that apparently greets every Aremiti ferry to take us to our hotel. (although it was just $2/person vs. $25 taxi, I wouldn’t recommend it if you have big luggage as there are not really luggage racks and our luggage fell off the moving bus before we were able to retrieve it).
We stayed at another Manava, this time the Manava Beach Resort Moorea. The place (still referred to by many by its former name, The Pearl) was awesome ($275/night, though we used some Chase Points to defray that), featuring a spectacular open lobby, a spacious infinity pool (mostly views of the underwater bungalows but they don’t detract), and free diving equipment/snorkeling equipment/kayaks/paddleboards. Though we did not stay in one of these bungalows, our room was still great – a two-story loft studio with kitchenette with a huge balcony. The biggest benefit of staying there wasn’t even the amenities, however; it was the location. Unlike much of Moorea, we were within 10 minutes walking distance to a small village (Maharepa) with shops, restaurants, bank, and a drop-off laundry spot. Meaning we could stock up on snacks and drinks, avoid being cocooned at our resort, pay $15/load for laundry vs. $5 per item, and generally encounter more of Moorea life than otherwise without having to rent a car.
Soon after arriving, we realized that the peaceful and green isle was the most beautiful place we’ve ever visited. Our time in Moorea was mostly spent in or near the water. At the hotel, this included either lazily sitting reading on a beach chair or while lounging in the pool (it was hot and because French Polynesia is so close to the equator, the sun was strong, so this was mostly in the shade), or more strenuously, paddle-boarding (first time), kayaking, or snorkeling.
The absolute highlight of the trip (and really a lifetime) was a 6-hour lagoon tour arranged through the hotel from Moorea SeaFari Cruises ($130; $50 more than larger cruises but way worth it). We joined 6 others on a small boat that took us all along one side of the island, exploring the famous Opunohu Bay and Cook’s Bay, the reef, and the lagoon. It was so informal and relaxed, as if were just hanging out on some dude’s boat. We literally swam with (and pet) stingrays, reef sharks, and other fish in the sparking blue water. The captain and his assistant taught us how to dehusk a coconut (showing us how to make this tasty banana/coconut/lime snack), poured us some great mai tai’s (yes, they were drinking them too; I told you it felt like we were just hanging out), and generally gave us information about what we were experiencing. For lunch, they cooked up a feast (fish prepared three different ways) which we ate on table set up in the friggin water while we sat with our legs submerged and our toes in the sand.
Also memorable was the inner island 4×4 tour ($50). A native Polynesian woman picked us (and two other couples) from our hotel up in the tour company’s (didn’t catch the name but there are many providers) truck. We sat facing each other on padded seats (yes, seatbelts were there) in the open-air truck bed. She took us up the extremely steep/bumpy road to see the awesome vista from Magic Mountain, spent some time in the pineapple plantation, enjoyed the spectacular views from the Belvedere Mountain lookout, learned about vanilla and tasted local marmalade and ice cream at the Moorea Tropical Garden, and ended the 3+ hour tour at the Manutea Tahiti – Rotui Juice Factory & Distillery, tasting a few of their ubiquitous liquors and juices (the pineapple wine may not be worth buying as we found out; still drank it all though).
Our hotel also hosted a great Polynesian show (with plenty of fire and great music) twice a week (Wed & Sat around 7:30p); we were lucky because our hotel was half empty so we were able to eat dinner without having to pony up $70 for the buffet (note you don’t have to pay for dinner; ok to sit near the bar and nurse some drinks).
For dinner in Moorea, fortunately several restaurants (ask your hotel for details) do free pick-ups (expectation is that you eat an entrée) from hotels around the island. We did this for one spot-the highly renowned Rudy’s-and it did not disappoint. Still very casual, the cooking was refined; get the crab-stuffed parrotfish and one of the many affordable wines they have. Rudy’s is also walkable from the hotel, as was the Moorea Beach Café (the “Veuve spot” as you may refer to it as the champagne brand is emblazoned on every inch of the space). We walked to the latter for their sunset happy hour and some bites. The completely outdoor space is directly off the water; some tables are even on the beach. Happy hour deals are pretty good and the drinks are great. Even a DJ plays here every night and the spot was open past 10 in low season; it may be the only real non-hotel affiliated bar open late on the island. Our hotel also had a solid bar (HH 5-7p meant cocktails were $8 instead of $16) and a rum bar open on weekends (unfortunately not open while we were there, but they do have affordable rum flights).
For a bit more casual scene, we also took a taxi to Fare La Canadienne. Opened up by a Montreal couple who visited Moorea and decided to move, the spot focuses on ridiculously affordable burgers ($7-8 for simple one) with creative toppings for bit more. Felt like a hunting lodge in the middle of paradise. The village of Maherepa had several good lunch spots: Moz Café (breakfast/lunch, cash only), Carameline (crepes and pastries for breakfast and lunch); Manuia Grill (get the fish/shrimp kebobs during evening); and Le Grand Voile (go away from the village, open all day, cash only. Tuna sandwich was so fresh).
Coming from DC, we actually didn’t find French Polynesia food/drink to be that expensive. Yes, burgers at hotels were $20+ and entrees were in $30s and up but that’s pretty standard for hotels everywhere. Beers at grocery/convenience stores were around $3/each, $5-7 at bars/restaurants; fancy cocktails were $15-20. Since service and tax is essentially included, this is pretty comparable to DC.
If you like seafood, you’ll definitely be happy in French Polynesia. Fresh fish and other seafood (prepared in so many ways) were a common part of our meals. The poisson cru (raw fish in coconut concoction) was seemingly the national dish. Crates of baguettes for each less than $1 were had at every convenience and grocery store. Tuna/ham/chicken sandwiches (often pressed as a panini) were ubiquitous for $4-6 at small restaurants and stands all over. We actually got sick of mangoes as they were every where (sadly, there appeared to be either a pineapple shortage or they weren’t in season as many restaurants said they were out). Fresh, cold coconut water directly drank from the coconut were sold everywhere for $3-4; we tried to drink that as much as possible. The Manutea juice company sold cartons of fresh juice in the stores; we highly recommend the painapo (Tahitian for pineapple), which was 100% juice, over the slightly cheaper ananas (French for pineapple) which only contained a small portion of fruit juice.
As for booze, Hinano, as a beer and an all-encompassing brand, was ubiquitous. The distinctive Polynesian logo (a woman sitting in traditional garb) was everywhere, on cans, bottles, posters, t-shirts, etc. Their main product comes in a blue can, along with gold, amber, and white varieties (the latter, a bier blanc, was our choice of the trip). Another popular brand was Tabu (“The Tiki ___ Beer”), which had tequila, mojito, and vodka flavored (just the essence/flavor) bottles that were an acquired taste. Even Manutea had a few beers. For liquor, you must buy at least one carton of Tahiti Drink; it is a mixed drink that was very popular (also came in strawberry daiquiri flavor) that we also used to mix. I drank many mai tai’s and pina coladas (made with fresh coconut), though liquor in general (though local rum was available and really good) was pricey. Sadly, owing to its location on the other side of the world from France, unlike when we visited Guadeloupe in the Caribbean (also part of France), we rarely drank wine because it was expensive as hell and do you really want to drink wine in paradise? If you want some wine or harder stuff, I would highly recommend buying a couple liters of vodka or wine at the duty-free in your last airport in the States.
Instead of the euro, the CFP franc is used (pegged to the euro); 90-100 CFP francs roughly equals $1 (frequently vendors even took US dollars though you’re always better off paying in local currency). Credit card machines were pretty ubiquitous (no contactless payment though); most of our cash was used to buy fruit from roadside vendors and for taxis. The latter were really the most expensive part (aside from lodging) of our trip; going 4 miles cost around $25-30; even a mile or two was minimum $15. We found it easiest for the hotels/restaurants to call a cab for us (there were taxi stands in Papeete), as there is no Uber/Lyft.
French is the official language though we heard a lot of Tahitian (hotel staff would say Hello/welcome in both languages when they greeted us).
A few weeks ago, Capitol Hill resident (and Barred in DC follower) named Lisa was at dinner with a couple of her friends when the topic turned to planning something fun they could do during the doldrums of winter that they could look forward to. A bar crawl could be fun, but maybe something a bit different. Saturday, on Valentine’s Day weekend, a new tradition was born: a mozzarella stick crawl.
Yes, Lisa led 30+ friends (yes, this is more than has attended any Barred in DC event in the past) on a journey to sample some of the area’s best melted, deep fried oblongs of melted mozzarella cheese. Deemed Mozzy Stick Crawl, this inaugural event captured the hearts and bellies this town, uniting a “polarized district” (sic) over fatty goodness , aside from multiple snarky tweeters joking about Lipitor. Lisa even labored for hours on Photoshop to design an iron-on sweatshirt (19 were distributed).
After first starting at some place I’ve literally never heard of in Rossyln (Quinn’s), the mozz/mozzy crawlers Uber XL’d (the conveyance of choice between the far-flung spots, though some folks walked off the calories between the spots) to Franklin Hall (off U Street), then to Ivy & Coney (Shaw; Lisa, who hails from the Midwest, was feted with the nectar of the gods, malort), an expected detour away from downtown’s Stan’s to Duffy’s on H street (who lured them via Twitter), and ending at the legendary Tune Inn on the Hill, sampling mozzarella sticks at each stop.
With input from other crawlers, Lisa even filled out scorecards (see note below) for each spot, rating them on venue, breading, crispiness, presentation, cheese viscosity, temperature, flavor, sauce options, and service. At the end, the last stop-Tune Inn-came up on top (though Duffy’s, which has a Wisconsin influence, was said to have massive mozzarella sticks if size matters). At the end of the day, some of the mozzy stick crawlers peeled off to Mission Navy Yard to dance off the calories, and have even more hot cheese, this time in the form of queso.
In part because she has leftover iron-on paper, a chicken tendies crawl will be coming to DC in the next month or two. Stay tuned.
[Note, a mini-controversy erupted Sunday afternoon as fans of local amazing water-color artist Riley Sheeheyrecognized the scorecard as either using images of mozz sticks created by her or actually the scorecard was created by her for an a previous crawl. Per Lisa, one of her friends on the group text found the scorecard and texted her it. Of course, people have done mozz crawls before but none of them tagged Barred in DC, so they effectively don’t exist. Lisa reached out to Riley and all is well]
Trivia nights in DC are huge. Basically every night except Friday and Saturday (with emphasis on Mon-Wed), each neighborhood has multiple trivia nights at bars. Most are hosted/created by a larger trivia company (the biggest perhaps in DC- District Trivia – features nearly 50 bars in the District itself). However, some spots have hosts who create the questions/format themselves, and have a strong following.
DCist’s Rachel Kurzius, curious possibly for her own edification, posed a great question on Twitter today: “What’s the best regular trivia night in D.C.?” She received around 40 responses. Incredibly (and supposedly based on no coordinated effort) nearly one-third of those responses were for trivia events hosted by comedian Christian Hunt of Capital City Showcase. Here are details of his trivia events and others mentioned multiple times:
Christian Hunt/Capital City Showcase:
Breadsoda (Glover Park)
Winners: $50 off tab; 2nd place: schwag prize
chili dogs and $4 DC Brau (who sponsors) drafts all night long
Atlas Brew Works (Ivy City)
Winners: $50 off tab; 2nd place: free 6-pack of Atlas Beer
other great prizes (sometimes tickets to 9:30 club)
Reliable Tavern (Petworth)
Winners: $15 gift certificate/person (up to $60); 2nd place gets $15 gift certificate
Whiskey Wednesday includes $8 Bourbon Old Fashioneds, $5 whiskey shots, and other deals
Winner: $50 gift card; 2nd place: $25 gift card; 3rd/4th place: free bottle of wine or pick next week
usually drink specials
Only regular trivia night Barred in DC ever part of, thumbs us
Others mentioned: Trusty’s (Tues), Jackie Lee’s (Thurs), Stoney’s on L (Wed), Franklin Hall (Monday), Nellie’s (Wednesday), Capitol Lounge (Wednesday), Cafe St. Ex (Tuesday), The Tombs (Tuesday at 10p!!)
We’ve devised a series of Twitter polls querying DC on their preferred beer characteristics (including appearance, body, hops, other ingredients, ABV, and others). The beer will be crafted based on whatever characteristics are the top result of each poll, which will be tweeted out over the next few weeks. This may be either brilliance or madness (why not both?), but the beer will be available for all at a release party at Right Proper’s Shaw Brewpub in the coming months (TBD date).
This idea was hatched when Mr. and Mrs. Barred attended the wildly successful collaboration with Black Brew Movement for a Cuffing Saison earlier this month. Bobby and Michael have always been great supporters of Barred in DC, so this is a great fit.
Let the polling and brewing begin.
Appearance/Color(1528 votes): Copper/Ruby (33.2%), Pale/Hazy (30.4%), Pale/Clear (18.8%), Dark as Night (17.6%)
Body (733 votes): Not too heavy/too Light (39.6%), Light/Crisp (37%), Creamy/Thick/Robust (23.5%)
Type of Hops (489 votes): Old World (41.5%), New School (25.2%), Old School (22.7%), No Hops on Brew Day (10.6%)
Specific Type of Hops (328 votes): Saaz/Hallertau/Tettnang (38%), Northern Brewer/Fuggle/East Kent Golding (27%), Perle/Lublin/Fuggle (21%), Northern Brewer/East Kent Golding/Tettnang (14%)
City-State Brewing, [Twitter, website, Instagram] which originally was slated to come to Ivy City as of summer 2018, has now confirmed that it instead will coming a bit further northwest in Edgewood at its border with Brookland. The 13,000-square foot craft microbrewer, taproom, and event space will be constructed in an existing two-story building at 705 Edgewood St. NE, directly adjacent to the popular Metropolitan Branch Trail. It hopes to open sometime in June-December 2020 timeframe.
The brewery comes from Brookland resident James Warner, a former Senate staffer. The taproom will feature a “DC Wall of Fame” to celebrate local legends, serving the 8 Wards Independent Pale, Self-Determinator maibock, and a saison called The Brookland. The brewery will include both a 20-barrel system for larger batches and a smaller 5-barrel brewhouse for more experimental brews. Cans will be available onsite and self-distributed in DC, Montgomery County, and limited in Virginia.
The location is roughly 5 minute walk to Rhode Island Ave. Metro, and 15 minute to Brookland Metro. More importantly, the cult-favorite divey bar Dew Drop Inn will be 4 minutes away, Right Proper Brewing 10 minutes away, and beer bar Brookland Pint 12 minutes away. Add Red Bear Brewing (short bike ride away), this is going to be a great addition to DC. Full press below:
CITY-STATE BREWING COMPANY BREAKS GROUND IN BROOKLAND
Brookland resident and City-State owner James Warner plans brewery and taproom that celebrates D.C.—the city behind the monuments
WASHINGTON, D.C. – A Senate-climate-change-staffer-turned-brewer is breaking ground on City-State Brewing Company, a 13,000-square foot craft microbrewery, taproom, and event space on the border of Brookland. Owner James Warner signed the lease and will soon start construction in the building, which sits over the Metropolitan Branch Trail, within walking distance of both the Rhode Island and Brookland metro stops.
“The whole idea behind the brewery is to celebrate the history and culture of the District—the city behind the monuments” Warner said. “We want to create a space where everyone is welcome, and can connect with what it means, and has meant, to live in the nation’s capital.”
Warner’s venue will be devoted to the District’s heritage of art, performance, and intellectual ferment. The tap room will have a funky, modern aesthetic, featuring a D.C. Wall of Fame to celebrate a rotating cast of local legends. City-State will serve a broad assortment of craft brews, from 8 Wards Independent Pale Ale to Self-Determinator maibock to a saison named The Brookland.
“We’re opening in a historically diverse area,” Warner said, “and we want to help it stay that way. I’m a Brookland resident and City-State will be a part of the hardworking, creative, and welcoming character of our neighborhood.”
After spending 17 years working in public service, which included a stint in the Peace Corps, Warner decided to take a different path and devote himself full-time to building City-State. To gain a better understanding of the industry, Warner worked as a brewing apprentice, server, and craft beer salesman. The tap list will align with his mission to be welcoming and inviting for all people.
“Our beer is going to be approachable and sophisticated,” Warner said. “I love taking relatively simple ingredients, and making something complex. We’ll be experimental, sure, but there will always be something to like that tells a story of this unique place.”
Breaking from the conventional design of a startup brewery, City-State will feature two interconnected brewhouses—a 20-barrel system for larger batches and a smaller five-barrel brewhouse for variety and innovation. Warner hopes this design will provide both flexibility and a creative outlet for his brewers. City-State cans will be available onsite for purchase, and self-distributed across the District and Montgomery County, with limited initial distribution planned in Virginia.
In addition to hosting live music and performances, City-State will be open as an affordable event space and wedding venue. The brewery will be outfitted with a catering kitchen. Warner plans to work with local food and beverage industry partners to provide food at the brewery.
“We want this brand to help tell the story of the District. City-State will give people a place to find love and belonging in D.C.,” Warner said.
Warner first fell in love with craft beer while attending the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. The tradition and practice of beer there left a mark on Warner, and he began developing homebrew batches not long after moving to the District. City-State is the fulfillment of a long-pursued vision to build a brand and cultural institution around well-made beer at friendly prices.
The area around City-State Brewing Company is fast developing, with an apartment building and shopping center being planned for construction soon. City-State expects to officially open in Summer or Fall 2020. Warner is working with Nick Freshman, a hospitality vet and Founder of consulting firm Mothersauce Partners, to find investors for the ambitious project. Interested parties can contact City-State through this online form.
You should definitely visit Australia in your lifetime, particularly if you snag a sub-$750 flight and/or have friends/family living down there. Why? Australia is full of amazing natural beauty and people are universally friendly. Melbourne is one of my favorite cities I’ve ever visited. Port Douglas is a sublime beach town near the Great Barrier Reef. Even with the horrible and tragic bushfires throughout much of the country, there’s currently no advisory not to visit.
Here’s my 3000+ word recap of the two plus weeks we spent Down Under in late August/early September in Melbourne, Far North Queensland (Port Douglas, the Great Barrier Reef, and Cairns), and Sydney.
Bars (often called “hotels” but without places to stay, there’s a historic reason that I forgot) are plentiful around the country but the laws differ dramatically so the scene can be different. In Melbourne, like New Orleans, there is no last call so bars can be open 24/7. Most, of course, don’t, but there are plenty of spots open until 4a or later. In the other areas we visited, it was a different story. In Queensland, bars must close at 2a (or in certain downtown areas, 3a); the 3a closing is enforced in downtown areas in Sydney (except for small bars). Both areas prohibit shots, shooters, and other “rapid intoxication drinks” after midnight. Sydney’s downtown has a further restriction-something called a “lockout law” where last entry to a bar is 1:30a though people inside can stay until closing time. These laws have reportedly decimated the Adams Morgan-like areas of town and turned Sydney into a less debaucherous place but were prompted in 2014 from several one-punch knockouts that killed multiple young adults. The damage has been bad that the provincial government recently repealed these laws and things are returning back to normal starting January 14th, 2020 (3:30a closing, no lockout times and no ban on shots).
Like U.S. and Canada (but unlike most places elsewhere in the world I’ve visited), bars routinely check IDs to make sure folks are of legal drinking age (18+ in Australia), and there generally seemed to be more of the puritanical influence on liquor laws like they have in U.S.. Bars also often had gambling facilities inside, even nicer non-divey spots, coupled with large signs warning people of the ills of gambling.
Drinks-wise, there was plentiful Australian beer on draft everywhere (lots of pale ales and IPAs though ABV was often in 5-6% range); no, I did not see a single Foster’s (Australian for beer my ass). Beer typically came in 3 sizes: 10 oz (pot in Melbourne, middy elsewhere), 15 oz (schooner, mostly only found in Sydney), and 20 oz (pint). In Melbourne I tried to usually order a pot but apparently I pronounced it like they say “pint” so I got a bigger beer than expected frequently. Wine was quite good (more on that later) and unlike the trend in the U.S., usually around the same price as beer ($5-6 USD). Because liquor in cocktails is carefully measured, the cocktails were generally pretty weak and the ones comparable to U.S. in strength were very expensive relative to rest of menu ($15 or so). The one exception- Australians LOVE Espresso Martinis; every bar seemingly featured them (sometimes on draft) and advertised their distinctive nature.
Service was always friendly even if a lot of spots didn’t have seats at the bar (I noticed this in the U.K. as well) which I’m okay with. Like most of the rest of the world, you can’t really start a tab with a credit card-if you pay with card, you pay each drink. I didn’t see much tipping in bars (aside leaving some smaller coins if paying in cash), though nicer sit-down restaurants seemed to expect you to tip 10%.
If you go, make sure your credit card allows you to tap to pay (most of the Chase cards with no foreign fees have this feature) as it made paying for stuff so much easier and quicker. Many spots charged 1% or so using your credit card, sometimes for any amount but usually if you didn’t meet the minimum.
In Sydney, slick fast casual spots exceeding what you might see in DC or LA proliferated; lots of Asian food in particular. Mexican food seemed very popular despite being very few Mexicans (or other Latin Americans) around, though it is reportedly very terrible. In all, “Australian” food wasn’t that great with a few exceptions (there is great fish, like the ubiquitous barrumundi in many places)-not incredibly well-seasoned. The Asian cuisine (Vietnamese-they love banh mi’s; Japanese, Chinese, Thai) was uniformly excellent. Mrs. Barred ate Asian food essentially dinner every night for last 10 days.
After about a full day in transit (losing Wednesday in the process), we arrived at Melbourne’s international airport on a bright but crisp late August morning. From there, we took a $40 Uber (there is a rapid bus available but for two people it’s about the same price to Uber directly) to the Hotel Windsor, one of Australia’s grand old hotels (just $100/night on Priceline). We spent 4 great days in Melbourne, one of our favorite cities ever, enjoying the combination of Victorian elegance, modern architecture, walkable center, and a chill vibe.
Sights included walking (or taking the tram-which is free downtown-and has very short headways and many routes) to the Queen Victoria Market (lots of food stands, and trinkets for sale), graffiti/mural-lined alleys (a.k.a. laneways), the cute little Chinatown, arcades/shopping malls like the Block & Royal Arcades (we were in town during Vogue Magazine’s Fashion Night Out which was a lot of fun), Ian Potter Centre (Australian art), Federation Square (wild looking gathering place), and the National Gallery of Victoria (nice free art museum). A very short Uber ride away as the Royal Botanic Gardens (long walk) which was quite peaceful and beautiful despite the crisp early spring day. Further away ($15 Uber/ 30 min each way) was the posh seaside neighborhood of St. Kilda (in Australia they seem to call every neighborhood outside the “CBD” a suburb, which kinda makes sense if you think of it). We went there solely to see the famous penguins of the pier there. Get there around dusk and you’ll see a ton of little 2-foot high penguins squawking around.
Food and drinks-wise, check out Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar (one of the first coffee shops in all of Australia; classic old-school service); Mo Vida (great tapas on a cool laneway; sit at the bar to get in quicker); Isan Soul (Thai street food; a bit trendy-there’s a tuk tuk inside the dining room, but great); Ichi Ni (izakaya in St Kilda); Lune (pricey, yet awesome croissants; long lines but worth it; the almond version is most popular but chocolate and regular is great); The Cricketer’s Bar (good HH in our hotel; mix of office workers and hotel guests); Imperial Hotel (fun rooftop bar which was decked out in Harry Potter-themed decor); Whisky Den (good booze, low-key); the scene on Flinders Lane in general; Ponyfish Island (spot on tiny island created by bridge support in the middle of the river recommended by follower), and The Rainbow Hotel (great neighborhood pub with large beer garden in the hipster neighborhood of Fitzroy just north of downtown).
While in Melbourne we also took a day trip to the beautiful wine region of the Yarra Valley. I’d recommend taking a van tour instead of lamely renting a car unless you’re staying overnight; we booked a trip with Yarra Valley Wine Tasting Tours (around $90-100). The itinerary was solid, picking us up from our hotel around 9a in a 13-person van, then hitting up four wineries (including the slick but beautiful Domaine Chandon with their world famous sparkling wine) which included a great lunch and a stop at a chocolate/ice cream spot. We got back around 5p, so it was long day but still worth it.
Far North Queensland
After spending 4 days in the relative cold of Melbourne, we headed back to the airport to travel on the budget carrier Jetstar (owned by Qantas)-definitely a typical budget airline (pay for carry-on bags over a very small weight limit-though they didn’t weigh our bags like apparently they could-with a dreadful anxiety-inducing queuing system. Still, our 3.5 hour flight to Cairns in the upper northeastern state of Queensland was cheap (around $100 even with the fees we shelled out). Cairns is considered the “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef” and is the main city in the region known as “Far North Queensland” (also Tropical North Queensland).
Port Douglas & the Great Barrier Reef
But first, instead of heading to the city, we grabbed a 90 minute van shuttle straight from the airport (Excellence Coaches-booked online-roundtrip was about $70 each) to the wonderful, beautiful, chill beach town of Port Douglas (full-time population, around 3500 people). One of my favorite beach towns ever, Port Douglas sits a couple blocks from the famous Four Mile Beach, a deep strip of beautiful sand and calm waters fringed with palm trees (take a short hike up the hill at the northern end for some gorgeous views and a workout).
Most people who visit stay in the resorts a couple miles down the beach, but that’s not our scene. Instead we stayed at the Hibiscus Resort and Spa (hotel with 2 pools though we booked a condo in the resort using Airbnb for $135/night) just a block off the main drag, Macrossan Street. The latter is about a half mile long, lined with shops, nice restaurants, and chill bars. One of our favorite bars in Australia, Jimmy Rum’s Mixing Lounge (dark and classy, very different vibe than spots in rest of town), is located there. Cocktails run about $14/each but were well made and strong. Hemingway’s Brewery on the water in the marina was great as well. Other spots we had a drink included Hi Tide Cafe (overlooks beach and palm trees), b (perhaps most lively spot in town, they had cane toad races-google it), Rattle & Hum (standard pub), and The Court House Hotel (large two floor spot at end of strip). The Little Larder serves a popular breakfast/brunch/lunch, and I had my best avocado toast at Cafe Fresq. BYO Thai food at Star of Siam is solid.
The main reason we were in Queensland, however, was the Great Barrier Reef off the coast. To get there we took the most popular (and biggest boat) from Quicksilver Cruises Wavepiercer cruise ($180/each). This boat takes about 90 minutes to get to the reef, where we docked at a pontoon the company controls. A solid buffet lunch was served on the boat, and we proceeded to head out to the pontoon which included a cool underwater viewing platform, a literal submarine ride, and the highlight-a snorkel tour hosted by a marine biologist (which followed a presentation onboard on the cruise over). We stayed for a couple hours and enjoyed seeing the fish, coral (some dead, but mostly alive-everyone was very defensive about it), and the rest of the marine life. Definitely a memorable experience we’ll never forget.
After 3 nights in Port Douglas, we bid adieu and took the return leg of the shuttle to the Cairns Plaza Hotel ($72/night on Priceline) in the city of 150,000. Cairns was a bit more shabby-feeling that Port Douglas, but I at least enjoyed our two nights there (Mrs. Barred could have skipped it). Sights including the strolling along the Esplanade Boardwalk (not really a beach, and the shore itself isn’t that pleasant, but during low tide it’s really cool to be up close to unique Australian birds, like Aussie pelicans everywhere), swinging by the Esplanade Lagoon pool (massive public pool that has a little beach, seamlessly into the surroundings fed with saltwater from the harbor), and checking out the Cairns Night Markets (stalls selling random stuff and food-mostly Asian).
Many people disembark for the Reef here; we instead took a day trip to the Kurunda Rainforest nearby. We opted for a joint ticket, taking the scenic historic train in the morning (about 2 hours) and taking the gondola Skyrail Rainforest Cableway on the way back (15-30 minutes) ($70 +$15 for roundtrip transfer from hotel + recommended $35 Gold class which includes reserved seating, lots of beer/wine, great snacks). The village of Kurunda itself is worth a quick visit of an hour or two for some souvenir shopping. If you have limited time, I’d recommend taking the Skyrail both ways; the views hundreds of feet above the rainforest floor are spectacular, and the quick stops to walk around amongst the exhibits, trees and/or for waterfall views are a nice break.
Back in Cairns, we had drinks in many spots; there was quite a lively scene in town as we were there on the weekend.. On the north end of the strip, I’d recommend checking out bars at the upscale new Riley, a Crystalbrook Collection Resort including the rooftop Rocco cocktail bar and the Paper Crane ground floor spot (great HH with tons of outdoor space. We also stopped by Flamingos Tiki Bar (lots of great tiki drinks in a cozy space), The Pier Bar (very lively spot on the pier), The Cotton Club, Three Wolves Cocktail Bar, and The Chambers (great espresso martini, where we met a Barred in DC follower and her friend), many of which have solid happy hours specials. I’d also recommend Bang & Grind for great espresso and breakfast.
From Cairns, we headed back south on Qantas, which was comparatively luxurious (both to US domestic airlines and to Jetstar) with a hot lunch, spacious seating, and plentiful entertainment options on a 3 hour flight. Be on the lookout for the views of the coral/reef as you fly over the Pacific Ocean. We landed, after a spectacular approach with a view of Sydney and the surroundings, at the Sydney Airport and grabbed an Uber (after walking about 15 minutes to the Uber pick-up lot). There is a $15 train (note with trains in Sydney you can pay with your phone which was great) that goes downtown directly from the airport but for two people it was best for us to take rideshare. We stayed in Chinatown at The Ultimo, a recently restored boutique hotel (less than $100/night on Hotwire). The spot was clean and had character but I’d recommend staying closer to the CBD. This may have contributed to our opinion that Sydney was overrated as a tourist, sprawling with not a spectacular nightlife. Of course still put it on your itinerary if you make it down under.
Sights-wise: I’d recommend starting out near the Queen Victoria Building (jam ful of shops and beautiful interior and exterior design-take a look at the hanging clocks), walking through the nearby outdoor pedestrianized Pitt Street Mall, and taking detour through Hyde Park on the way to Circular Quay harbor area. There, you’ll be next to the obligatory Sydney Opera House (recommend seeing a show, we saw a great performance of West Side Story), the Sydney Harbor Bridge (we did not do the pricey Bridge Climb but taking train to Misons Point and then walking back across the bridge was memorable), and the nearby The Rocks historic area (oldest part of Sydney).
Another walking self-guided tour would be starting at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (free admission) and perusing the gallery (nothing memorable but still solid). From there, take a leisurely stroll through the beautiful Royal Botanic Gardens (make sure you see the massive chia pet-like koala and the eel pond), on your way to Mrs Macquarie’s Point (and the rocks called the “Chair) with the best view to get your great photo of the Opera House and the bridge in the background (first photo in this article).
The other major attractions in Sydney are, of course, the beaches. Because we were there in mid September (late winter/early spring), the temperatures were in the 60s-low 70s and the wind was high, so we weren’t planning on laying in the sand, but they’re still worth checking out any time of year. I took the ferry from Circular Quay (about 20 minutes with great views of the harbour) to the Manly ferry stop, and then walked the 10 minutes down the pedestrianized The Corso to Manly Beach. The whole area is very relaxed and the beach is spectacular with the pine trees hugging the beach. After heading back to main part of Sydney, I took the train from Martin Place Station to Bondi Junction, then took an Uber to Bronte Beach, which feels very remote. Make sure you take a look at the Bronte Baths saltwater rock pool before taking the amazing 30-45 minute walk along the coast to the world-famous Bondi Beach. You’ll get obligatory shots of the Bondi Icebergs Pool (fed by the ocean water that crashes into the pool) before surveying the massive scene of sand and fun. A good spot to have a drink and a bite is The Bucket List which is right on the beach.
For food, I’d recommend Japanese at Daruma or Kura Kura in Chinatown, the mainstay Chat Thai nearby, and love.fish for upscale but too pricey seafood in Darling Harbour development (sort of The Wharf of Sydney). My favorite bars were the massive The Bank in the charming suburb of Newtown (right off the train station 20 minutes from Circular Quay), the popular The Clock (another sprawling bar) in the yupster neighborhood of Surrey Hills (I’d recommend spending a lot of time here, easily walkable), Bitter Phew on Oxford Street (great sort of ramshackle beer bar), and the Lord Nelson Brewery Hotel (one of the oldest pubs in Australia near The Rocks). Other spots we visited included Shady Pines Saloon (a kitschy-hipster U.S. Western-themed bar in Oxford area that gets good reviews), Big Poppa’s (a restaurant that turned its basement in to a dance club late night), The Argyle (if you want a dancey, mostly foreign student crowd on Sunday nights), the Surry HIlls/Central Station-area cocktail bar Button Bar, and after-work happy hour spots The Palace Hotel and The Great Southern Hotel (near/in Chinatown).
Featherdale and Blue Mountains
I also took a day trip from Sydney. Since I wanted to see some ‘roos and koalas, I took a 40 minute train to Blacktown then the 729 bus to the Featherdale Wildlife Park ($25). The sizeable spot is basically a massive petting zoo (I mean that in a good way) and is a good place to go if you haven’t seen anything in wild).
After a quick trip there, I then Ubered back to Blacktown and continued the train voyage to the famous Blue Mountains. I stopped at Leura Station to stroll around the charming but sleepy village of Leura. If you’re pressed for time, I would go straight to Katoomba (otherwise you can stop by for an hour and grab the next train). When getting off at Katoomba, you can take a bus but I sprung for a cheap Uber (same driver picked me up later) to Scenic World. This private attraction ($30 entry) is best enjoyed by going to Echo Point first (free) to get a great view of the famous Three Sisters rock formation, then taking the cliff walk to the Scenic Skyway gondola station. The gondola has a glass bottom (if you stand in the middle) and huge windows to view the mountains and valleys between suspended 300 yard above the ground. At the other side, take the Scenic Railway (at 52 degrees, it’s the steepest cable car incline in the world) down to the valley floor. There, walk around the Scenic Walkway to explore the fauna of the rainforest before taking another gondola, the Scenic Cableway (more like an oversized ski lift) back to the main Scenic World HQ. After Ubering back to Katoomba Train station, I took a train back to Sydney (around 2 hours, $10 roundtrip)
Is Australia my favorite country I’ve ever visited? No-it’s probably not even in the top 5 to be honest (but I’ve visited 25 of them outside US so maybe that’s not saying much) for both acceptable and dumb reasons. It’s a long way away. From the East Coast, it takes about 20-25 hours to get there and you essentially take red eye flights on both ends. Second, culturally it’s not all that different than what I’m used to here in the U.S. Usually when I travel the point is to experience something different. I was reminded of a warm-weather more outgoing Canada (with lots of Asian tourists). Every Uber we took would be basically a UberXL in the U.S. As I mentioned, the Australian food we had wasn’t amazing. Also, we definitely encountered some stares in Queensland area and awkward/offensive comments directed towards black people in a few places (“I love your complexion”), which obviously is not uncommon around the world (or even inside the U.S.) but still less than comfortable.. Like I said, earlier, it’s still definitely worth putting on your bucket list but just make sure you have open expectations.
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