While others just bellied up to the bar in the Anchor Brewery Tasting Room, we fell in with bad companions...

...which led to my later being held prisoner at this table at 21st Amendment by (from left) Doc, Lucy, Steve & Falling Rock's Chris Black, who was clearly desperate to be in the picture.

Thankfully, at least I didn't force my way behind the bar to bond with Tommy & Julio at Tommy's Mexican the way some other people did.

Liquid Diet on the road
Day Two: San Francisco Dreaming

"THE BEST BARTENDER IN THE WORLD..." Somebody promises you that you're gonna meet the best there is, you get your back up a bit, you know what I mean? We'll just see about that, pal. Bring him on.

How that turned out will be revealed a bit further on. It unfolded late in the evening and our story starts in mid-afternoon when we had arrived back in San Francisco after a hearty breakfast in Boonville and pleasant ride in clear weather back down Route 101 and across the Golden Gate Bridge. Our hotel, a Holiday Inn, was located right on 101 (Van Ness Avenue), half a block from the California Avenue cable line and a couple of blocks from the Great American Music Hall where the Celebrator party was to be held. A great location and I'd guess the cab ride to Anchor Brewery was by the longest we took during the entire stay. Or, more definitively, the longest I took, as we often went our separate ways once ensconced in the city.

I should probably note here that San Francisco is one of my favorite cities in the world. "The place where people are happiest" someone once described it, and while that may have been offered back in the era of flowers-in-the-hair and sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll (hell, who wouldn't be happy?), it's still accurate. I was reminded on this trip that, aside from Philadelphia, New York and Wilmington, all in the orbit in which I grew up and where I lived all my life, San Francisco is the city I have visited most often. There is an excitement to the place which conveys a sense of being alive and even the native Californians there aren't really like, well, native Californians, if you know what I mean.

The visit to Anchor was set up by Andy Musser, who has found life after baseball (bad timing that, just as baseball is coming back) as Anchor's East Coast rep, getting paid now to do what he was doing anyway as an avocation. Nice work if you can get it. Everybody in the craft beer world ought to visit Anchor periodically, I contend, if only to be reminded of just how important this brewery and founder Fritz Maytag were in creating the variety of beers and breweries we enjoy in this country today. "The man who saving brewing" or something very close to that was the way Michael Jackson described Maytag in an article and it is an argument that can be made. That said. Fritz's absence during our visit meant we were never able to convince anyone to let us see the distilling operations and for that we're going to have to take points off the next time we tally up.

In the big scheme of the weekend, though, our visit to Anchor served more as a launching pad than anything else. No sooner had we gotten our first beer in the Tasting Room (Anchor Summer Brew, initial step in working our way up to Old Foghorn) that the bartender asked if we were in town for the Barley Wine Festival (a recurring question everywhere we went, about which I'll have further comment in a later installment) and when I added we were also bound for the Celebrator party, he nodded to someone standing behind us and said "So's this guy." "This guy" turned out to be Chris Black, owner of Falling Rock Tap House in Denver, someone who may be, impossible as it sounds, at least as loud as Lew Bryson and who may actually know as many people in the business as Tom Peters (okay, now I'm getting ridiculous).

When it turned out that our plans for the next stop were also mutual, 21st Amendment, one of the city's best known brewpubs, and that Chris had a car to boot, we had definitely bonded. When they finally shut down the bar (hey, we don't leave until you make us) and we were leaving, Chris stopped at a table and soon its three occupants were part of our traveling party. They were Bill Syzak ("drbill" on the Burgundian Babble Belt, where he discourses knowledgeably about craft beers based upon one of the more extraordinary private collections I've yet heard about), and his traveling companions, Steve Steinbergs and Lucy Collins, who seemed to enjoy poking fun at him as much as we all soon did. They were up from Pasadena and environs and before the weekend was over had convinced me to at least tentatively promise something I never thought I'd even consider: Southern California Beer Trip (we shall see).

Crammed into a car much too small (not so bad if you're sitting in the right place), we made our way into the night. 21st Amendment lived up to its reputation. They were involved in a joint promotion with Magnolia Brewery & Cafe in which each were brewing three strong beers as, I think, a symbol of solidarity with the Toronado event (in which they each, of course, had barley wines entered) and I had a very nice Belgian Strong Ale and even more impressive Double Trouble IPA. As we sat there, a sixelle of Lower De Boom Barley Wine was wheeled out on the way to the Toronado and the whole room broke out into cheers and people rushed over to touch it. As a dispassionate journalist, I...well, the damned thing was right there next to me.

Leaving our Pasadena crew behind, Chris, Matt and I set out for Tommy's Mexican Restaurant, home of, Chris assured us," the best bartender in the world." We walked into a room packed from wall to wall. Somehow we managed to work our way toward the bar and as we got close a voice yelled out. "Chris!" "Julio!" "What are your friends' names?" Before Chris could even finish telling him, margaritas were coming to us over the heads of the crowd. Fantastic margaritas. Followed by a second round, made with a different tequila than the first, and equally good. Then shots of yet another tequila, another round, more shots....

All the while, Julio Bemejo, for that was his name, and his two or three assistants were serving the huge crowd without a problem or slip-up. And Julio was also carrying on a steady stream of banter with one and all. "Once he knows your name," somebody confided, "he never forgets it." Lord knows, I got used to hearing mine called as another margarita came across the bar and into my hand. Somewhere in there we dragooned a table and dinner was eaten, Guyer disappeared and Chris and I ended up at the bar again where, in addition to pouring us new drinks, Julio began giving free ones at random to various women at the bar, pointing at me and telling them I had bought them.

Was he the world's greatest bartender? Well, my judgement might be somewhat prejudiced at this point, but the fact is that the guy had recently been asked by Vicente Fox, the president of Mexico, to accompany him on trip to Europe just so he could make and pour the margaritas. I think that right there moves you up pretty high in the rankings.

Saturday, February 15: Toronado Barley Wine Festival

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