Things I’m Recommending Right Now…

Paging Thru My Travel Journals

In the last podcast episode, I mentioned that I’ve found myself giving out a lot of travel recommendations recently. So rather than limiting them to a 2-barstool radius in my favorite Nashville taprooms, here are (in no particular order) the things I’ve been recommending lately…

Restaurants, Bars, and Taprooms

  • Nashville
    • Vinyl Tap Talk to any Nashvillian who’s lived here for more than five years and it won’t take long ’til they start complaining about all the changes — especially traffic and, if they live in East Nashville, gentrification. East Nashville is traveling the same path as Brooklyn, Chicago’s Wicker Park, and Madrid’s Malasaña neighborhoods. Escalating rents have forced many of the musicians who “urban pioneered” East Nashville to retreat north to Madison and Goodlettsville. But they’ll reconvene at Vinyl Tap to support a friend’s set. The guy next to you watching this band will more than likely be plugging in as the lead guitarist for the next. Vinyl Tap is a weird combination of craft beer bar, vinyl record store, and music venue; but they make all three work.
    • Barrique Brewing This is my favorite taproom in Nashville, though its focus on lagers and barrel-aged sours might not be for everyone. There’s typically one IPA on tap, 3-4 different lagers (light, dark, smoked), a couple of British styles on beer engines, and a cooler full of sour bottles. It’s in an industrial pocket on the redevelopment path between the Tennessee Titans’ new stadium and Oracle’s new corporate headquarters. Don’t sleep on this place ’cause it’ll be plowed under in 3-4 years.
    • Tailor Owner Vivek Surti calls his food “First Generation American Cuisine,” built on his “experience growing up here in middle Tennessee as a first-generation American of Indian descent”. Much more elegant than how I describe it to friends — Hillbilly Indian. Tailor is a dinner party restaurant. There are two seatings during which every table is served the same dish at the same time, accompanied by Surti’s explanations of what’s in front of you. I’ve eaten there three times and have yet to be disappointed.
  • Louisville
    • 610 Magnolia Located in a little house in the Old Louisville neighborhood, 610 Magnolia is a great example of what I call “comfortable fine dining” — a warm, cozy dining room; friendly (but not overly familiar) wait staff; a wine list with a nice range of price points; and, of course, imaginative and well-executed food.
    • Angel’s Envy You can’t go to Kentucky without hitting a bourbon distillery, and this one is conveniently located in downtown Louisville. The tour takes you from mash deck to distilling columns to bottling line. But for me, the best part is the tasting that finishes the tour. Rather than just pouring out a couple of shots at a hightop, they seat the tour group in a barrel-lined tasting room, teach you how to properly taste whiskey, and then walk the group through a discussion about what everyone tastes and smells. Very educational… and great whiskey too!
  • Chattanooga
    • Calliope Helmed by a Jordanian chef in a not-so-great neighborhood, it’s Middle Eastern food using local, Southern ingredients. And any place that puts lamb neck on their menu will get me in the door. It was excellent, and when they put the whole, head-on red snapper on our table so I could dig out the fish cheeks and collar meat, I was sold. They also have a fun wine list with bottles from Lebanon, Georgia (the country, not the state), Armenia, and Cyprus, as well as usual suspects (France, California).
    • Elsie’s Daughter And any menu that lists a bone marrow tartine will also my attention. Cozy bar; interesting drinks; tight menu. Good place for a night cap and a late-night bite.
    • Niedlov’s Cafe & Bakery Popular place for breakfast with a nice selection of pastries and breakfast sandwiches. Pick up a loaf of their daily special bread on your way out.
  • Memphis
    • Gus’s Fried Chicken While asking a group of Memphians their favorite barbecue joint is still the best way to start an argument, there’s no disagreement about the best fried chicken. This is the place for lunch after a walk through Tom Lee Park along the bank of the Mississippi River.
    • Wiseacre Brewing – Downtown I haven’t been too excited by the Wiseacre beers that make it up to Nashville, so this taproom wasn’t high on my list. But it was a couple of blocks over from the National Civil Rights Museum, so we walked over. And were glad we did. There’s a broad range of well-executed beers, nice bright space, friendly bar staff, and a good pizza kitchen.

Oaxaca (Oaxaca de Juárez)

As I talked about in episode #199, I’ve always been a bit “ehh” about Mexico. I’ve done “resort-y” Mexico — Cabo, Cancún, Puerto Vallarta — and am not a big fan. It just feels like LA or Houston with a better selection of tequila. But Oaxaca is different. We were there for a week at the start of March. For me, it’s a good fit — interesting food, lots of culture, a mezcal scene to dig into, and no beach. And it’s not overrun with tourists.

  • Areas – We stayed in the Jalatlaco neighborhood and then moved further west into the main part of town, north of the Zócalo. Both neighborhoods were cool. We could walk to a number of bars and restaurants, and never felt unsafe.
  • Restaurants – Best high-end restaurant – Casa Oaxaca; best street food – Pasillo de Humo. This city is about food. There are a lot of great restaurants.
  • Mezcal – The state of Oaxaca (of which Oaxaca City is the capital) makes 80-90% of the mezcal in Mexico, so you should tuck into it. A typical bar’s mezcal menu can be overwhelming, so invest in a bit of education. The bartender at Sobrio by Mezcal Speakeasy patiently walked us through a vertical tasting; same type of agave, three different distillation techniques. La Mezcaloteca was a reservation-only hour-long educational tasting. And unlike in the US, none of the Oaxaca mezcals I drank were smoky.


The Picnic: A Rush for Freedom and the Collapse of Communism by Matthew Longo is one of the best books I’ve read this year so far.

My first and last trips to Hungary bookend Longo’s story. My first visit was in the spring of 1989. It was before the main events of The Picnic, but I could feel the tension of change building. My last visit was the autumn of 2019, around the time of the 30th anniversary activities of Pan European Picnic and the fall of the Communist regime. By then, the public’s mood had pivoted — from excitement and fear of political change to disappointment and cynicism as to what that change had actually delivered. With this background, I looked forward to reading The Picnic.

And it didn’t disappoint. The book is, at its core, a range of oral histories — from the then-Hungarian Prime Minister trying to reform the country without sparking a re-run of the 1956 Soviet invasion, to the Hungarian dissidents who organized the picnic, to a number of East German families who breached the Austrian-Hungarian border during and immediately after the picnic. These stories make the book a compelling read. It moves quickly; pulling the reader into the building risk and the subsequent let-down felt by all the participants.

I give Longo a lot of credit for not getting in the way of these folks telling their stories; letting their own words stand without surrounding them with his own commentary. As a professor of politics at Leiden University, Longo has a definite point of view — and he does the right thing by keeping it to the Prologue and the Epilogue; less than 20 pages.

Highly recommended if you’re interested in modern European history.

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