Category Archives: Barred in Travelogues

Barred in French Polynesia (Tahiti and Moorea)

View of Moorea from the lagoon

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.

Tahiti

Sunset from the pool at Manava Suite Resort Tahiti, with Moorea to the right

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.

Moorea

Mount Rotui, viewed from Belvedere Mountain Lookout on Moorea

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.

Mai Tai from the Manava Beach Resort Moorea

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).

Food/Drink

Hinano Beer

a Tahiti Drink carton, a must

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.

Practical Tips

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).

View of the Papeete Marche, a must visit while in Tahiti.

Arahoho Blowhole in Tahiti

View of the north shore of Moorea from Magic Mountain

View of Moorea inland from the steps outside our hotel room

Sunset at dock next to our Moorea hotel

Sunset happy hour drink at Moorea Beach Cafe

Memorable lunch in the water from Moorea SeaFari Cruises

Barred in Australia

Sydney Opera House & Harbour Bridge (photo by author)

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.

Drinking Scene

Not uncommon signs I spotted at bars (I like the graphical design)

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%.

Other observations

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.

Melbourne

Typical Melboune Laneway

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.

Royal Arcade

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.

Ponyfish Island, yes it’s a bar

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).

View of Yarra Valley from Domaine Chandon Winery

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

View near Port Douglas

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

Four Mile Beach

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).

Macrossan Street, the main strip in Port Douglas

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.

Quicksilver’s submarine views of coral

Quicksilver Wavepiercer, our vessel to the Great Barrier Reef

some of the aquamarine life

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.

Views of reef after flying out of Cairns to Sydney

Cairns

Esplanade Boardwalk and the Lagoon

Aussie pelicans relaxing next to Cairns Esplanade Boardwalk

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).

The scenic train to Kurunda

Yes, we played putt putt in the rainforest

Views from the Skyrail gondola

Views from the Skyrail gondola

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.

Sydney

Sydney Opera House from the Harbour Bridge

View of downtown from east of the CBD

View from the Circular Quay station

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. 

Queen Victoria Building

Birds chilling near some government buildings

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). 

Like a chia pet koala bear in the Royal Botanic Gardens

Art Gallery of NSW

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). 

Not the best photo of Manly Beach, but needed to show these pine trees

Bronte Beach

Bronte Beach Baths

Views on the Bronte to Bondi Beach Walk

Bondi Icebergs Pool

Bondi Beach

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

Koala chilling at Featherdale

Folks feeding some kangaroos at Featherdale

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).

Three Sisters and the Blue Mountains from Echo Point

Scenic Skyway gondola ride

Scenic Cableway – steepest cable-car ride in world

Views from the forest/valley floor

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.

Information on how to support the firefighters and relief efforts can be found here.

Barred in Cincinnati

View of Cincy from the Carew Tower to the North, including the OTR district

Inspired by its placement on the NYT’s 52 Places to Visit in 2018, as well as Mrs. Barred in DC’s last minute trip to Europe with her sisters, I decided to make my first-ever solo trip (including work trips), to Cincinnati, Ohio over the July 4th weekend. After nearly 48 hours of bars, bites, breweries, bridges, and (sort of) baseball (alliteration much) by myself, I had a tremendous time and expect to come back soon.

Expect to spend a lot of time in the Over-the-Rhine district just north of the business district downtown. OTR, as it’s known, has blown up last few years and contains a grid of wonderful historic buildings with narrow streets and tons of spots to eat and drink. If you stay downtown (where several hotels are), you can walk about 20-30 minutes or take the Cincinnati Streetcar (free with ticket stub or $1 with purchase at each station). Friendly people all over.

Spots I went which I all recommend (OTR unless otherwise mentioned)

  • Bars
    • Blind Pig/O’Malley’s in the Alley (Downtown) – Gets a lot of Reds fans post and pre-game. Big roof deck with view of bridges and Kentucky
    • Lackman Bar – chill corner bar with great cocktails
    • Homemaker’s Bar – new women-owned spot with a Spritz Hour every day
    • Panino – new spot with paninos but with very cheap HH that I checked out
    • Pin’s Mechanical – very fun spot with duckpin bowling, a roof deck, and other games
    • Hofbrauhaus Newport (Newport, Kentucky) – an outpost of the original Munich beer garden across the river in Kentucky. Airey bright inside and massive beer garden
    • Didn’t make it to, but recommended: Taft’s Ale House, Mecca OTR, Sundry and Vice, 16-Bit Bar+Arcade, Arnold’s Bar & Grill (Downtown), Blind Lemon (Mt. Adams), Incline Public House (not sure where), The Video Archive (not sure where0
  • Breweries
    • Rhinegeist – Massive warehouse spot with roof deck. Great beer.
    • Christian Moerlin – old school spot in a catacomby sort of spot at edge of RTR
    • Also try Madtree, Streetside, Urban Artifact (breweries are not close to downtown)
  • Restaurants
    • Sotto – (Downtown) amazing pasta
    • The Eagle – mini Midwest chain. Amazing fried chicken and tons of vibe.
    • Sleepy Bee Cafe – great spot for breakfast/brunch
    • Didn’t make it to but recommended: Pleasantry, Abigail Street, Salazar, Nada (Downtown), Skyline Chili. Also didn’t get Graeter’s Ice Cream and Holtman’s Donut
  • Things to Do/Sights
    • National Underground Railroad Freedom Center ($15)
    • Carew Tower ($5, free if staying in attached Hilton – 49th-floor observatory deck)
    • Hilton Netherland Plaza
    • Washington Park
    • Purple People Bridge – pedestrian bridge to Kentucky
    • Murals all over OTR and downtown
    • Smale Riverfront Park
    • Weston Art Gallery
    • 21c Museum Hotel
    • Great American Ball Park (they love the Reds in Cincy)
    • Stuff I didn’t see/do but recommended: Findlay Market, Queen City Underground Tour ($25), Contemporary Arts Center, American Sign Museum ($15, 10 min Uber away), Taft Historic Site (20 min bus)

Flights from DC are often less than $200 roudtrip-there’s about 14 non-stop flights daily on the big 3 airlines, with half of them from DCA. Once you arrive at CVG, 99% of travelers drive or take Uber/Lyft to/from airport, but there’s a $2 bus (the 2X) that takes 30 minutes downtown (runs mostly every 30 min on weekdays but much less frequent on Sat-Sun). Otherwise an Uber/Lyft is about $20-25. Hotel-wise, check out Hotwire or Priceline for their hidden hotel booking. I stayed at (which is its impressive sight on its own) the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, an Art Deco masterpiece from 1930 for about $110/night.

Bunch of photos below

Ballroom in Hilton Netherland

Outdoor space at Rosedale OTR

Great brewing-themed mural outside the Christian Moerlin brewery

Rhinegeist Brewery

Hofbrauhaus across Ohio River in Newport

View of Cincy from the Purple People Bridge

This Reds dude was all across town. The Hilton Netherland, where I stayed in the background

Great crowds on July 4th in Washington Park for fireworks

One of the amazing murals

Barred in Portugal – Trip Report

Ponta de Piedade near Lagos, Portugal

Portugal is awesome. After spending 8 nights traveling with Mrs. Barred in DC and our third-wheel buddy in mid August, I highly recommend making a visit to the small, beautiful, relaxing, affordable country on the Iberian Peninsula. We hadn’t been expecting to make it to Portugal any time soon, but couldn’t pass up a $430 flight deal courtesy of The Flight Deal (DCA via PHL on American Airlines). Eschewing a car, we instead relied on bus, train, Uber, and day tours to check out Lagos in the southern region of Algarve, Porto in the north and, of course, Lisbon. The Portuguese are incredibly friendly and proud of their country. English is spoken everywhere, though it’s nice to learn “obrigado” or “obridga” (thank you, depending on whether you are a man or woman). A quick dive into food and drinking culture and a detailed itinerary, with recommendations, follows.

Food and Drinking in Portugal

Credit cards not accepted at many bars. Amazing ubiquitous sign

The food is terrific and cheap in Portugal. We ate tons of fish and seafood (grilled whole sardines in Lagos, octopus everywhere, cod fritters, tinned fish), pork, and potatoes. We usually ate at nice restaurants and entrees were usually in the low teens and never more than 17 or 18 euros. For lunch, sandwiches could be had for 2-3 euros often.

We drank a ton of beer and wine in Portugal as they were also dirt cheap and hit the spot. Most bars only had one or two options on draft, almost always Super Bock (refreshing) or Sagres (trash). These beers (around ~5% ABV) were generally offered in 20 cl (6.8 oz) mini bottles/draft pours, 35 cl (11.8 oz)-most common, or 50 CL (16.9 oz) sizes. Craft beer connoisseurs may feel differently, but we took a shine to Super Bock (light-flavored, refreshing in the heat) beer and drank gallons of it (you can get 33 CL $5.25 bottles at Nando’s around DC, though it’s not quite the same). In a few spots in Porto, the 1927 selections from Super Bock were offered in great glassware on draft, which I highly recommend (IPA, Dunkel, Lager, and a Weiss beer). Beer was never more than 2 or 3 euros, so those went down smooth. Wine-wise–Tasty vinho verde (“green wine”; a bit fizzy), along with reds, whites, and ports, were ubiquitous. Even at nice restaurants, half bottles of wine were usually the standard way to order and were only 7-8 euros (at one restaurant we ordered a full bottle of wine that was 22 euros and we were legitimately upset at the price like the terrible Americans we are).

Cocktail-wise, we found nice cocktail bars (craft cocktails for 9-10 euros usually). Even if kind of trashy, almost all bars had the following on the menu: mojitos, caipirinhas, caipiroskas, sangria, and something called the morangoska (basically a strawberry daiquiri). These cocktails were usually fairly sweet and  cheap (5-6 euros). Simple highballs like gin & tonics, bourbon & cokes, etc. were often the priciest things on the menu so they were rarely ordered. I do recommend getting a “Portotonico” cocktail which is great and refreshing even if you don’t like port (made with white port).

Because open container laws are not really a thing in Europe, particularly Portugal, it was common at many bars for the bartender ask if we wanted a drink for “take away”; if we said yes, they would pour in a plastic cup so we could drink on the street (even when there’s no sidewalk patio) or walk to the next spot. This was helpful as unfortunately smoking in bars isn’t prohibited (note this is not true for restaurants) by law so in some spots it was better to be outside. Of note, although credit cards were accepted at most restaurants and businesses, it was hit or miss whether they could be used at bars (you’ll see a “No Multibanco” sign or, more amusingly, a graphic with a picture of Visa and Mastercard with a big X on them). Many restaurants didn’t actually have bars with seats; just service bars to serve drinks for seated diners. Bars close at 2a generally, but many seem to be allowed to be open until 4a (unclear why).

Super Bock. We drank a ton of these (slightly larger size usually).

Baked octopus at A Grade in Porto

Itinerary

Lagos/Algarve

View of beach from water near Lagos, Portugal

After arriving on the red-eye in Lisbon, we took the subway (just a few escalators down at the airport exit) 3 stops to the Oriente stop (you can also take an Uber, which are plentiful in Portugal, to there or the Sete Rios bus station). From there, we grabbed a 19 euro Rede Expressos bus (allow about 2 hours from arrival and the bus time) down to Lagos in the Algarve region off the Atlantic Ocean. A little over 4 hours later, we arrived in the beautiful, relaxing, mostly pedestrianized town of Lagos. If you make it there, I highly recommend booking a flat with Cosy Flats (via booking.com), which offers spacious apartments with A/C in a building just steps from main square.

Food: Lagos itself is just a relaxing spot to stroll around town, eat/drink at cafes, etc. Highly recommend grabbing dinner at Casa do Prego; the place does not take reservations, but sends you upstairs to their peaceful roof deck patio which is exclusively for those waiting for tables for dinner. Servers come around to take cocktail orders, which are then added to your dinner tab. Al-Bravo is a solid spot for a healthy lunch (with a couple craft beers offered as well from the Cerveja Bolina).

Drinks wise-Lagos is full of outdoor patios and bars full of young Brits and other Europeans. Peppers, with a cool roof deck a block or two off the main strip, was a highlight, and we enjoyed the live music at Myst. Spots with a slightly older crowd are focused on Rua 25 de Abril, with a few more local spots a block behind on Rua da Sra. Da Graca, and the younger crowd up the hill (The Tavern had a crazy crowd outside). We bar hopped over the course of two nights at least 7 more bars.

The real reason to goto Lagos is check out the beautiful cliff-laden beaches within a mile or two south of town. It’s walkable, but we took a 7 euro taxi to Ponta da Piedade. From there, we walked down a couple hundred steps to a gorgeous area on the water with crazy rocks and waves. From there, we walked 10 minutes back towards town to a ridiculous scenic beach-Praia do Camilo (there are a couple more around that we didn’t make it to) A couple beautiful beaches are right next to the city center and also recommended (though crowded)-Praia da Batata and Praia dos Estudiantes. All the beaches have walkways through rock formations-really cool. We also took a 20 euro 75 minute boat ride along and through some of the grottos/caves that are off the coast; it was pretty hairy due to the waves but unforgettable (just walk along the promenade and book something near the marina (we used Bom Dia, which was great)

Porto

View of Porto from Duoro River

After Lagos, we took a 44 euro 7 hour train (well two, a change in Tunes from a slow to a high-speed train; book when tickets go on sale-6-7 weeks out-to get a good rate) from one end of the country to the other to Porto (pronounced “por-too”) in the north. In Porto, we stayed in a great Airbnb in a highly recommended area 10 minute walk west of the Sao Bento train station. We loved Porto, despite it being hilly as hell.

To explore the town, we walked downhill from where we were staying, took a peek inside the stunning interior of the Sao Bento train station, checked out the impressive cathedral, explored  the waterfront Ribeira district, and grabbed a quick shuttle boat across the Duoro River to the other side (technically another town called Vila Nova de Gaia). The other side is replete with what Porto is famous for – port wine lodges/cellars. Most (unless they have a separate bar/restaurant) seemed to require you to take a tour to have tastings; we stopped by Calem (get the 15 euro 3 port tasting premium) for a 30 minute tour followed by tastings and the bar at the prolific Sandeman port house. Port, for those of you unfamiliar, is a type of wine fortified with brandy; it’s generally pretty sweet and an after-dinner drink. We tried ports of the tawny, ruby, vintage, white, and the derided “pink” style. For years, port could not be called “port” unless it was actually finished in Vila Nova de Gaia. If you’re meh on port, if you’re also doing a tour to the Duoro Valley (see below), it’s OK to skip a tour of a wine lodge if you’re pressed on time.

Worker slicing the cachorrinho sandwich at the Gazela Snack bar

Food: Our best meal of the trip was in Porto – tascö near where we were staying. Traditional food served in a hipster-modern style and atmosphere. Get reservations (you can stop by and ask) or you’ll have a 4 hour wait. Dinner for 3 with drinks was about 40 euros. A Grade (heavy emphasis on seafood, get the baked octopus) was a nice cozy spot near the riverfront where we had dinner as well. For lunch, I recommend hiking up to Praça da Batalha and checking out the Gazela snack bar (Cervejaria Gazela) and the famous cachorrinho sandwich (sort of fancy hot dogs on grilled bread chopped into several pieces; there are now two locations across the square from one another.

Literally a cocktain in a plastic bag at Royal Cocktail Club in Porto

Drink: Aside from the port lodges, we avoided the touristy bars near the water and focused on checking out the Rua de Cândido dos Reis (and the parallel R. de Galeria de Paris) lined with late night spots and a lively, younger scene (befitting the nearby University of Porto). A couple notable spots on the strip include Pão Que Ladra, the Royal Cocktail Club, and the Bierhaus. A couple blocks away, on top of an elevated park (Passeio dos Clerigos) built a top some business was one of the coolest open-air bars I’ve ever visited-Base-a sprawling bar on a lawn with olive trees, and little cushioned benches and tables. Hiking further north, we found great cocktails at Mundo, a chill café-type vibe at Café Candelabro (bless the bartender who sighed heavily when a dude ordered a mojito late night), and a cozy patio at Aduela Taberna around the corner (great beers and cocktails).

Port tasting at Calem in Porto

Duoro Valley

Duoro Valley from a winery

If you make it to Porto, I highly recommend taking a tour to the Duoro Valley. You can try to make your own tour by taking the train, but the times are kind of awkward so we booked a van tour. We took Cool Tour Oporto, booking the 100 euro excursion (including the suggested boat cruise). The tour includes an informative 90 minute van ride (each way) with a driver and 8 passengers out to the northeast part of the country, the beautiful Duoro Valley, the premier wine-making region of Portugal. On our trip (sometimes the order changes due to weather), we trekked to the small town of Pinhão, where we embarked on a relaxing hour-long cruise of the Duoro River (great vistas), explored the town a bit, and hit up two fantastic wineries with tastings of red and white wine, port, olive oil, and honey (lunch sandwiched in between).

Lisbon

Lisbon (view from Alfalma)

After a few nights in Porto, we took the train (about 3 hours, 12.50 euros) back to Lisbon (Santa Apolonia) station to check out Portugal’s capital and largest city. Our Airbnb straddled the recommended Bairro Alto and Chiado neighborhoods overlooking the Praça Luís de Camões (lots of folks will tell you stay in the older Alfalma neighborhood or nearby, but it’s apparently not as fun late night). Lisbon is an incredibly lively place, wither people and hills everywhere.

After getting situated, we Ubered over to the São Jorge Castle (a taxi may be a better idea since the Uber dropped us off several blocks downhill from the castle since it’s a restricted area). We actually didn’t go inside the castle proper, but walked inside the walls of the surrounding village and explored. We then walked down through the Alfalma (check out the Miradouro de Santa Luzia viewpoint) neighborhood; very narrow streets and old ladies selling 1 euro shots of the popular sour cherry liquor (Ginjinha, try it in a chocolate cup). Afterwards we Ubered over to the Rossio square, where we took a great 3 hour (45 euro) Inside Lisbon Food & Wine Walk, which took us through the Baixa (downtown) and Bairro Alto neighborhoods with tastes of the ubiquitous cod fritters, vino verde (green wine), tapas, red/white wine, port, ginjinha, chorizo, and bread with a fun group and tour guide.

You’ll notice that Portugal has a lot of beautiful tiles; great replicas can be found at Fábrica Sant’Anna in Chiado. We also headed over to regal neighborhood of Belem, and checked out the grand Jerónimos Monastery, the Monument to the Discoveries (kind of a pro-colonial massive monument with great lookout), and the famous Pasteis de Belém which cranks out these delicious legendary custard pastries.

Time Out Market

Food: Lisbon has great food. You’ll find it hard to resist making multiple trips to the hipsterish Time Out Market, a great food hall in the Cais do Sodre neighborhood (good place to grab lunch before taking the cheap train to Belem). There are tons of options; including one side that features famous Portuguese chefs. We had a terrific suckling pork sandwich and salmon tataki at the Henrique sa Pessoa stand. We also had a great dinners at Cantinho do Avillez in Chiado (José Avillez seems like a Jose Andres type restauranteur with several concepts around town), L-Bistro in Cais do Sodre, and Carmo.  Try to grab a bifana sandwich while you’re in Lisbon-a simple cheap sandwich with thin slices of pork tenderloin (O Trevo has solid ones in a spartan snack bar setting). Late night, old dudes carrying boxes of freshly baked pão com Chouriço (literally rolls baked with Portugese sausage) roam Bairro Alto to sell to revelers; these are awesome and remind me of my beloved WV pepperoni rolls.

Ubiquitous old-school streetcar in Lisbon

Drink: Lisbon is a great party town. The Bairro Alto neighborhood has tons of bars in their narrow streets. When the weather is warm, folks just goto any spot and grab a cheap drink and take it outside. There’s a very popular folk style of music in Lisbon called “fado”; most tourists will go to a pricey dinner that includes music and sit for a couple hours. We weren’t as patient and found a spot called Tasca Do Chico in Bairro ALto and lined up until folks left after the previous set and heard some great music. Another wild nightlife area is the so-called “Pink Street” down the hill in Cais do Sodre. Lots of locals and guys and gals from Portugal and the UK on their bachelor/bachelorette parties there. A few blocks west of Bairro Alto is one of the cooler bars I checked out in Portugal: PARK, which is a rooftop bar on top of a parking garage with a tremendous atmosphere playing old school hip hop.

Sintra/Cascais

 

Pena Palace in Sintra

A common day trip from Lisbon is the charming town of Sintra. Most people take a cheap train, but since there was 3 of us and got a late start, we took an Uber which was only about 25 euros for the 45 minute ride. Half the time was spent navigating the bumper-to-bumper traffic to top of the hill upon which the Pena Palace is situated. The Palace, which was built with his own money by a German dude who married the Portuguese queen in mid 19th century, evokes German castles and looks like Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Highly recommend buying tickets in advance, and pony up 3 euros for the round trip bus ride from the ticket entrance to the palace itself to save time and energy. The place is ridiculous with jaw-dropping views. Afterwards, we hiked down 10 minutes to the Moorish Castle, a classic castle that dates over 1000 years and explored the ramparts. If we had more time we would have explored the Quinta da Regaleira and the town of Sintra itself. Instead, we took another 20 euro Uber to the charming seaside beach town of Cascais and explored a bit before heading back to Lisbon (cheap 45 minute train or 25 euro Uber).

Moorish Castle

Barred in Portland Maine

A lone sailboat in Casco Bay, Portland, Maine

Mrs. Barred in DC and I recently spent an amazing couple days over the July 4th holiday in the other Portland, the one in Maine. Hopping a $200 non-stop flight from DCA on American Airlines (you can also drive there in 10 hours or so from DC), we found a more blue-collar/hipster town (lots of tattoos and cigarette smoke-smelling Uber/Lyfts) than expected with fantastic food and beer, beautiful views, and friendly locals. Here are some recommendations/thoughts:

Breweries

There are a ton of breweries in Maine, many of them in the Portland area. The breweries not only focus on the now ubiquitous hazy New England IPA but also lots of Belgian-style ales (saisons, farmhouse ales and the like).

Allagash Brewing

Allagash Brewing

  • Allagash -You’ve surely drunk their famous Belgian White. Stop by the brewery about at 15 minute ($12 Uber/Lyft) ride out from downtown to sample the other popular saisons, sours, farmhouse ales and other Belgian-style beers in pretty fancy digs. The free 1-hour long tour is popular and available daily.  We got the $5 pre-set flight (changes regularly but likely always comes with the White)-4 3 oz. pours. $4 pours of all beers are available (6 oz-10 oz. usually) with $2.50 half pours.

Bunker Brewing

  • Bunker – In isolated area in Libbytown west of downtown (about 10 min/$8 Uber/Lyft). Located in 1920s-era garage (no A/C so sweltering when we went). Ping pong table is nice.

Shipyard Brewing

  • Shipyard – A few blocks east of downtown. Not necessarily a “cool” brewery but we had the most fun there at Maine’s #1 by volume brewery. Lots of fun merchandise, several sodas on tap for the kids, and a mix of NE IPAs and fruited beers (the latter from Sea Dog Brewing which it owns and brews).

Oxbow

  • Oxbow Blending and Bottling – Best beer we had in Portland. Technically brewed about an hour away with some finishing done at the location. Great farmhouse stuff. In the heart of the Munjoy Hill neighborhood, walkable from downtown or $6 Uber/Lyft. 4 oz. pours $2-3, 8 oz. pours $3.50-5, 12 oz. pours $5-7.
  • Sebago – Local brewery chain in the bottom of a Hampton Inn. ($3.50 pints available on Wednesdays) Spot to wait while waiting for seats at Eventide (see below)

Gritty McDuff’s

  • Gritty McDuff’s: Brewpub in heart of downtown. Mugs adorned on the wall. Beer isn’t remarkable but convenient location $5 pints at HH.

Spots we didn’t visit:

Note that across the street from Allagash are a number of microbreweries (Definitive, Battery Steele, Foundation) and a distillery (New England Distillery). Geary is also walking distance from Allagahs. None of these were open when we visited (we went on the 4th) but I’ve heard several are great.

Walking distance from downtown (in addition to Shipyard, Seabago, and Gritty’s mentioned above). Next door to Oxbow is Maine Mead Works and Hardshore Distilling and less than 10 minute walk away is Rising Tide Brewery and Maine Craft Distilling. A bit further are Urban Farm Fermentory (Gruitt), Lone Pine, and Goodfire. Also right in heart of downtown is Liquid Riot Bottling, which serves its own beer and liquor. Elsewhere in the greater Portland area are the acclaimed Bissell Brothers and many other breweries (see map)

Restaurants/Eats

Portland has incredible food. Although there are tons of options, most spots don’t accept reservations and we had to wait for tables on a random Thursday afternoon (albeit July 4th week) at 2pm.

  • Eventide Oyster Bar – Cool, tiny spot east of downtown. Fantastic famous brown butter lobster roll and incredible selection of oysters. Great cocktails as well. Super popular – we had a 90 minute wait on July 3rd at 8:30pm
  • Central Provisions – Recent James Beard nominee for Best New Restaurant, inventive spot in heart of downtown. We had an awesome fried pork special.
  • High Roller Lobster Co. – Recently a food cart, now a popular brick and mortar spot. Very popular, sort of decked out a dinner. Great $19 lobster roll
  • Duckfat – Amazing duckfat-fried frites available at original location near downtown or in patio area of Oxbow. Recommend the donut holes as well. More substantial meals available at old location.
  • Holy Donut – Super popular (20 minute wait in line when I went) spot cranking out tasty potato donuts until they sell out in early afternoon. Honestly, I would say a bit overrated, we enjoyed Duckfat’s donut holes better.
  • The Gelato Fiasco – Gelato spot right with tons of varieties.

Spots We Didn’t Visit But Were Recommended: Hot Suppa!, Empire Chinese, Petite Jacqueline, Fore Street, Scales, Bayside American, Bite into Maine, Miyake, Street & Co., Hugos, Slab, Otto Pizza, Walters, Bao Bao

Bars

Get started early, as bars have to close at 1a every night.

  • Novare Res Bier Cafe – hidden off alley/parking lot in downtown, spot sports a huge beer list and large beer gardne
  • Union – Restaurant with great cocktails in the stylish Press Hotel.
  • Amigo’s – Although this is your typical trashy kind of scuzzy meat market bar, the deck out back is perfect for live music (most nights/week during summer). Had a ton of fun.
  • Pearl – nightclub downtown. Entertaining late night.
  • RiRa – bar right off water, good spot for pre-cruise beer (local Portland breweries on tap)

Bars We Didn’t Visit But Were Recommended: The North Point, Bull Feeney’s, The Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, Petite Jacqueline, Bearded Lady’s Jewel Box, The Snug

Things to Do

Since we were there over the 4th, we took a booze cruise on the Casco Bay Lines ferry. $30 for a 3.5 hour cruise, cash bar (cash only but $6 pints of Allagash White and $5 rails), and the legendary(?) DJ HAUNT (also known as “Dave”) who entertained the mostly 40s/50s somethings with 70s music and other not-so-fresh hits. Amazing fireworks though (the Portland show off the East Promenade is over a half hour long followed by another 10-15 minute show closer to downtown). We also sailed with the Portland Schooner Co.; $45 for a relaxing 2 hour sail the next morning. The Casco Bay is beautiful with a couple forts, other islands, and lighthouses to see.

On a Portland Schooner Co. sailboat

Visitors to Portland also visit the Portland Museum of Art and the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad Museum (admission includes a train ride), walk along the Eastern Promenade, find a beach, and take a ferry to the islands.

Lodging

We stayed at Hyatt Place Old Port due to its convenience and fact it only cost 12,000 Hyatt points a night. (transfer from your Chase Sapphire card). Free hotel airport shuttle saved us about $15/each way. Would recommend.

We just had a drink there, but the Press Hotel near the Portland City Hall in downtown is awesome. The hotel used to be the offices of the local newspaper and they went all out with the theme. If you are really into newspapers, highly recommend staying there or stopping by.

If you want to stay closer to all the close-in breweries, the Hampton Inn and Residence Inn are good bets.

Barred in Ireland (No-Car Version)

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

We recently spent a week in the amazing country of Ireland (thanks to a $316 roundtrip flight deal). Unlike most people who travel to the Emerald Isle, Mrs. Barred in DC and I decided not to rent a car, instead taking public transportation to travel to the west of Ireland (Galway and the nearby Burren and the Cliffs of Moher), Kinsale in the south, and back to Dublin. Amazing it didn’t rain the whole time we were there until the morning we left Ireland. We’ll be back, soon. Here’s an overview of bar culture in Ireland, a recommended itinerary for a weeklong car-free Ireland adventure, and a ranking of the pubs we visited.

Ireland Pub Culture

Tremendous Irish Coffees at Bulman Bar in Kinsale

Tremendous Irish Coffees at Bulman Bar in Kinsale

 

For many, Irish pubs are the best part about the beautiful country. It certainly was for us. We spent 7 nights and 8 days in Ireland, imbibing at 34 pubs along the way. Pubs in Ireland are incredibly warm and friendly places; we made new friends-both locals and visitors from around the world. Acoustic music (a guy on a guitar or larger groups playing together) was heard in most spots we visited, with musicians playing a mix of popular “Irish” folk songs (favorite: Dirty Old Town) as well as covers you would hear at any frat party in America. Pubgoers would frequently join in the action to sing and sometimes even play an instrument. Most bars had steady crowds all day, but only a handful really went full tilt late night. Sometimes we could start a tab if you sat at the bar when it was not that busy (chatting with the uniformly friendly bartenders), but we usually paid for drinks  as you ordered them (even those covered by credit card). Tips weren’t standard; sometimes we left a few coins if we paid in cash.

Beer was the drink of choice most of the time. If you order a “beer” in Ireland, you’ll typically get a full pint (570 mL, about 19 oz.) of Guinness. A “glass” (which Barred in DC unabashedly ordered; glasses were supposedly originally devised so women could drink at pubs) is a half pint. Pints ran about 4-5 euros usually. Beer taps were adorned with brightly lit tap handle facades, much larger than here in the U.S. Unsurprisingly, nearly every single pub we went to had Guinness on tap, and most patrons would drink that. Other beers on tap in most spots included Irish products like Smithwick’s (Irish red ale), Murphy’s Irish Stout, and Bulman’s Irish Cider (if you can find Beamish on tap, get that, so good), and terrible European macro-like beers like Carlsberg and Heineken. Surprisingly, most bars we had served Budweiser and Coors Light (bartender said that pubs were required to serve them to get the other more desired beers) though I rarely saw anyone drank that. Beer is quite sessionable in Ireland-hoppy high ABV IPAs are fairly rare-you could down pint after pint and still be in decent shape.

Aside from beer, bars offered lots and lots of Irish whiskey. The more common varieties of whiskey and other types of liquor are hung upside down behind most bars, with a spout so the bartender can precisely measure out the 35.5 mL (1.2 oz.) standard pour for a single liquor drink. We consumed a ton of Jameson, easily the most common variety of Irish whiskey, and saw plenty of promotional signs encouraging mixing with ginger ale. pubs rarely have the drink guns behind the bar; mixers for drinks are usually an extra cost (couple euro), and come in mini-glass bottles that can cover 2-3 mixed drinks (There were some mixers (“white lemonade”) that were poured out of plastic liter bottles to top off liquor).

Suggested Car-Free Itinerary

Galway (The Burren/Cliffs of Moher)
We flew into Dublin’s International Airport after taking an overnight United redeye from Dulles, and, after picking up our bags, grabbed a seat on the Irish Citylink bus (around 20 euros; allow about an hour to get through security and baggage) for a comfortable 3 hour ride across the country to Galway. Staying at the affordable (though a nearby loud club kept us up later than ideal) Skeffington Arms Hotel right on Eyre Square (JFK gave a speech here while president) in the center of Galway, we spent 2 nights in the youthful city. Galway itself is worth just strolling around and enjoying the pubs and medieval atmosphere-there’s not much in the way of sights. Instead, we took a well-organized 8-hour bus tour from Galway Tour Company (25 euro), taking us south through the Country Clare and many cool sites including The Burren (desolate landscape with unique flora and fauna), a lunch/pub stop in the wonderful village of Doolin, and the dramatic and beautiful Cliffs of Moher. Back in Galway, we joined the cheap Shamrock Pub Crawl with a group of Brazilian guys (learning English on a student visa-not the only Brazilians we ran into on the trip) with a fun American-Irish student tour guide. Our stay in Galway included incredible fish & chips (and some enormous local oysters) at McDonagh’s, right on the main drag. It would have been nice to have another night in Galway (taking a bus tour to the wild region of Connemara); we’ll do it again someday.

The Burren

The Burren

Kinsale
Our journey took us on yet another Citylink bus (22 euro), cutting south and east just over 3 hours to Cork Airport; from there, instead of flying out of the modern airport, we waited about 40 minutes until the local Bus Eireann (#226; 7 euros, bring exact change0) came by to take us the final 30 minutes to the beautiful harbor/coastal town of Kinsale. Colorful and charming Kinsale (the buildings are all painted different colors) treated us to incredible food, particularly fresh and inventive seafood (have a traditional meal at Jim Edwards , and although it’s a bit over-priced and touristy, definitely go to the famous Fishy Fish by the habro). We stayed at the highly-recommended Old Bank House. The elegant rooms (with chandelier) overlooked the town and the harbor; an amazing breakfast (incredible omelets made with farm fresh eggs, Irish cheddar, and Irish ham) awaited us each morning. As guests, we were also able to get a night cap after closing time at the affiliated Blue Haven hotel down the street.

Sightseeing in Kinsale includes strolling around at atmospheric streets, hopping into boutiques and other cute shops,  and walking by the harbor, but no trip would be complete without heading to the 350-year old star-shaped Charles Fort (4 euro). We were rewarded with stunning views of the Kinsale harbor, as well as the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. Although we took a 9 euro taxi to the fort, on the way back to Kinsale town, we stopped by the famous Bulman Bar and leisurely walked along the harbor on the famous Scilly Walk (about 2 miles one way). We grabbed nosh and fluids at our favorite Kinsale pub, The Spaniard, (with some colorful characters0 before heading back to town.

Colorful Kinsale

Colorful Kinsale

View from Charles Fort, Atlantic Ocean in background

View from Charles Fort, Atlantic Ocean in background

Dublin

Although we could have spent many more days in Kinsale, alas, after 2 nights, we got back on the #226 bus, this time (around 7 euro again) taking it to Cork Bus Station about 50 minutes away. A couple hours later, we were on the incredibly comfortable Irish Rail for a 3 hour train ride to Dublin (40 euro). In the Dublin, Ireland’s largest city and capital, we stayed at the uber-stylish The Morgan (get a cheap rate anywhere in area using Hotwire secret rate hotels). The Temple Bar is the main nightlife area of Dublin, full of men and women on stag and hen parties. Although local Dubliners seem to despise the neighborhood’s high prices (pint’s were one euro more than other areas) and crowds, this is basically the main area for late night drinking. Pubs, though not particularly Irish/authentic, in Temple Bar are fun, lively, and often crowded, and most feature live music. We recommend the 13 euro Irish Musical Pub Crawl, which takes listeners to 3 different pubs (both in Temple Bar and near O’Connell Street across the river); it features a superb overview of Irish music offered by 2 funny Irish musicians (Mrs. Barred in DC even played a country music song to the 50 other people that joined the crawl).

Worthwhile tourist activities in Dublin include touring the pretentious Trinity College grounds (the Book of Kells-an ancient illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament-and the college’s library are a must) strolling through Merion Square and St. Stephen’s Green (beautiful examples of Dublin’s famous doors are nearby), walking down the shop-filled Grafton Street area, and visting the atmospheric and historic Kilanmain Gaol (make sure you buy tickets in advance). This jail housed prisoners, including many key figures in the rebellion against the U.K. and others in the tragic Irish Civil War that followed. The emotional tour is a must for any visitor to Ireland; the Gaol is best paired with a walk by/through the courtyard of the Royal Hospital (now the Irish Museum of Modern Art) down to the Guinness Brewery.

The Guinness Storehouse is worth a visit if you like Guinness at all, even accounting for its steep 20 euro cost (14 euro for certain advance purchases). The Storehouse is like a beer amusement park devoted to the history and production of Guinness (it’s actually made elsewhere on the sprawling grounds), and includes a fun Guinness Academy where you learn how to pour a proper pint from a tap after learning how to drink the beer in a Victorian library-type room. The tour concludes with a visit to the Gravity Bar high above the storehouse; spectacular 360 degree views of Dublin and the surrounding area abound.

Trinity College and the Book of Kells

Trinity College and the Book of Kells

Guinness Brewery

Guinness Brewery

Pub Ranking

Galway

  1. Barr An Chaladh – tiny pub with great live music
  2. The Quays – sprawling spot with great live music, rocking late
  3. The Salt House – craft beer from around the world across the river from downtown
  4. Tig Coili – cozy, great “trad spot” for traditional Irish music
  5. Monroe’s Live – popular live music spot
  6. Taafe’s Bar – another great “trad spot”
  7. McSwiggans – straight-up pub with solid food
  8. The Kings Head – solid spot
  9. Murty Rabbitt’s – good spot near bus station
  10. The Skeff Bar – party scene, big spot right on Eyre Square
  11. Fibber Maggees – college spot, beer pong upstairs

Dunguaire Castle

Dunguaire Castle south of Galway in County Clare

Doolin

  1. Gus O’Connors – atmospheric spot with solid pub food

    Gus O'Connors

    Gus O’Connors

Kinsale (last call is 11:30 on weekdays, 12:30 on weekends)

  1. The Spaniard – Quaint 350+ year pub around the bend from town. Great food
  2. The Folk House – Great spot for live music, lively crowd. Great whiskey and beer.
  3. Bulman Bar – gastropub near waterfront and Charles Castle. Best Irish coffees ever
  4. Tap Tavern – sorta divey spot on outskirts of downtown. Awesome husband/wife owners
  5. Kitty O’ses – good live music
  6. Silent Banjo – another cozy spot
  7. Blue Haven Bar – can drink here after hours if you’re a guest of hotel or Old Bank Townhouse
  8. Armada Bar – very central

Bulman Bar

Bulman Bar

The Spaniard

The Spaniard

Dublin

  1. Whelan’s – legendary sprawling live music spot sort of off beaten path
  2. The Palace Bar – Victorian bar
  3. The Brazen Head – oldest pub in Ireland, west of Temple Bar area. Lots of cool rooms
  4. Oliver St. John Gogarty – live music on both floors, huge spot, lively late
  5. The Norseman – nice spot with good live music
  6. The Stag’s Head – south of Temple Bar area, quite atmospheric and dark
  7. Guinness Gravity Bar – best view of Dublin high above Guinness Brewery. Requires 20 euro to get into brewery
  8. Porterhouse Central – popular Irish brewpub, makes own beer
  9. Temple Bar – the eponymous bar, usually crowded
  10. Brannigan’s – nice spot off O’Connnell Street north of the River Liffey
  11. Ha’Penny Bridge Inn – good spot for live music
  12. Madigan’s Earl Street – old school spot with old school people off O’Connell north of the river
  13. The Quays Irish – a little bit sloppier spot right in heart of Temple Bar
  14. Lafayette – punk rock vibe

Oliver St. John Gogarty

Oliver St. John Gogarty

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Guinness Storehouse advertising

Guinness Storehouse advertising

Guinness Academy

Guinness Academy

View from the Guinness Brewery Gravity Bar

View from the Guinness Brewery Gravity Bar

The Brazen Head

The Brazen Head

 

Barred in Asheville

Asheville

Asheville

[UPDATED 11/20/16 with another trip]
Asheville
, the western North Carolina city nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, lives up to the hype, Barred in DC can safely say after visiting it twice in 2016. The artsy, off-beat community of 80,000 is known for its incredible beer scene, excellent food, and surrounding beauty. Get your own cheap flight (or go on a road trip), find lodging in its walkable and charming downtown, and go. If you have more time, take a $8 Uber to the funky, untouristy West Asheville and check out some cool eateries and bars on West Haywood. Below are suggested activities to do and places to eat/drink. If you’re at a loss for your next step, just chat with any of the friendly locals.

Amazing Pubcycle

Pubcycle

Pubcycle

Sure it’s cheesy, but the 90 minute Amazing Pubcycle tour was worth the $24 to get bearings downtown. Here’s how it works-about 10 people sit and cycle on bike seats around a U shaped contraption while the tour guide/DJ (get on Tyler’s tour) drives the pubcycle (which has a motor to assist) and generally hypes up the pubcyclers as well as passing pedestrians. Drinking BYOB cans of beer or Solo cups of wine is encouraged, and stops at a brewery and a brewpub are good places to fill up. A shorter, cheaper 40 minute ride (no stops) is available, and tours happen all afternoon and evening long.

Breweries

Lot of this being drank in Asheville

Lot of this being drank in Asheville

If you love beer, Asheville is awesome. 40+ breweries are in the area, including a ridiculous amount downtown. For your first trip, I would suggest keeping it simple and just brewery hop on the South Slope a few blocks south of downtown; stopping by the ridiculous Sierra Nevada brewery campus a couple miles from the airport is also well worth it (bocce, mini-farm, firepits, amphitheater, huge restaurant/brewhouse). Every restaurant or bar will also have multiple local breweries on tap, often for less than $5/beer.

Catawba Brewing

Catawba Brewing

Visited:

  • Green Man – original brewery side-by-side to much larger space. Small bar downstairs in newer space and go upstairs to bar and great patio. Loved the Holly King, an American Strong Ale style.
  • Catawba – Pair with amazing Vortex Donuts next door.
  • Wicked Weed – Slickest, biggest place downtown.
  • Twin Leaf – Little more rustic, darker. Flagship beer is an IPA called Juicy Fruit. Amazing Basil Tripel
  • Wicked Weed Funkatorium – Sour beer mecca. Even if you don’t like sours, there’s something for everyone.
  • Burial – a bit off beaten path, great outdoor spaces in front and back. Excellent coconut brown porter
  • Hi-Wire– more of an industrial feel. Get the “Pink Drink” tart wheat ale
  • Asheville Brewing– closer to downtown, good pizza
  • Other Suggestions: Lexington Avenue Brewery, One World, Highland, Pisgah

Restaurants

Curate

Curate

Asheville has a tremendous food scene-great values to be had downtown as well as in West Asheville (Haywood Road area) and in the River Arts District.

Tremendous food at Chani Pani

Tremendous food at Chani Pani

Visited:

  • Chai Pani – amazing Indian street food. Rotis are on point.
  • Curate – renowned Spanish tapas spot from former Jose Andres protégé and El Bulli alum. Get reservations or better yet sidle up to bar at 6-6:30 and grab an early dinner.
  • Buxton Hall – Incredible bbq spot with pulled pork, smoked fried chicken, and catfish. Beware of slushies on tap. No reservations so get there early for a table. Adjacent to Catawba Brewing
  • Rhubarb – A little more pricey but tasty modern Southern. RIght in epicenter of downtown. Brunch is affordable with easy reservation availability
  • Bomba – cozy café right in epicenter of downtown. Huge, delicious arepas for lunch.
  • Buffalo Nickel – excellent elevated pub/American food in West Asheville. Easy reservations [closed April 2017]
  • Local Provisions – Great modern American spot right by Wicked Weed brewing (good option for relatively last minute reservation[closed indefinitely Nov 2017]
  • French Broad Chocolate Lounge – fantastic dessert, though with lines all day

Other Suggestions:

  • Downtown: Table, Rankin Vault Cocktail Lounge (burgers only), White Duck Taco, Salsas, Limones, Tupelo Honey Cafe
  • River Arts District: 12 Bones
  • West Asheville: The Admiral, Sunny Point Cafe

Bars

Asheville Yacht Club

Asheville Yacht Club

Asheville bars don’t generally get rowdy and are on the whole chill, even late. Folks day-drinking at breweries might have something to do with it. Still, there are a number of worthwhile spots.  The locals seem to gravitate to somewhat more hipstery spots in West Asheville

Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar

Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar

The Double Crown

The Double Crown

Visited:

  • Sovereign Remedies – classy, low-key cocktail bar off the beaten path east of downtown.
  • The Double Crown – funky, divey spot in West Asheville with live music. Solid cocktails and a piano behind the bar. Requires membership (pay at door)
  • Battery Park Book Exchange & Champagne Bar – a champagne bar in the middle of a vaguely European labyrinth used book store in the corner of the Grove Arcade
  • Asheville Yacht Club – wild, grungy pirate-themed tiki bar. Get the Painkiller drink. Requires club membership (pay at door; can be just a $1)
  • Foggy Mountain Brew Pub – easygoing brewpub with nice patio on sort of back streets right downtown. Great live music many nights.
  • Desoto Lounge – another West Asheville west divey spot. Foosball, ping pong in back
  • Skybar – unique bar nearly encompassing three floors of glorified fire escape balconies, stairs, and landings. No actual bar, roving servers take orders. Live music from one of the landings. May encounter wait to take tiny elevator to top floor
  • 5 Walnut Wine Bar – tiny wine bar with amazing live music every night
  • The Montford – Hyatt Place’s rooftop bar (mostly enclosed) with amazing views. $1 or $2 more expensive than rest of town but probably best view in town.
  • The Imperial Life – small, swanky 2nd floor cocktail bar
  • The Southern Kitchen and Bar – great patio, standard spot, late night food
  • The Bier Garden – locals spot, quite the scene. Better beer elsewhere despite name
  • Off the Wagon Dueling Piano Bar – get your dueling piano fix here.

Other Stuff to Do

Aside from eating and drinking, Asheville is known for the beautiful surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains. If you have a car, get on the Blue Ridge Parkway and go up to Craggy Gardens (quick hike up mountain for amazing vistas) or Mt. Mitchell, the highest point east of the Mississippi. There are plenty of outdoor activities to do, and there’s some charming places to purchase art, clothing, and other cool stuff. The sprawling Biltmore mansion and grounds are a few miles away, though the price is steep ($60).

Shop – Just wander from artisan to clothing shop to boutique, but some suggestions we visited are below:

  • Grove Arcade – historic commercial building with small shops on edge of downtown
  • Horse + Hero indie art shop, open late
  • Southern Charm – affordable woman’s clothing boutique
  • Kress Emporium – sort of mini-mall with arts & crafts vendors
  • K2 Studio – awesome furniture store underneath Kress Emporium
  • Woolworth Walk – another mini-mall, this time with a soda fountain

How to Get there from DC

Driving takes about 7.5 hours from DC. We flew direct on something called Allegiant; the $75 we paid for a roundtrip flight from BWI was about right considering carry-on bags were extra and on one occasion we were delayed 22 hours due to mechanical issues. Otherwise, a connecting flight through Charlotte or Atlanta on an airline you have heard of can run $250-400.

Where to Stay

The new (opened in March 2016) comfortable Hyatt Place Asheville/Downtown is only a 10 minute walk to the very center of downtown and features free parking. Look for periodic deals or use 12,000 Hyatt points a night (easy to transfer if you have a Chase Sapphire card, which you should).