The end of an era: Saying goodbye to Hoboken and hello to Basking Ridge

On Aug. 30, my life will undergo the third most dramatic change of its 44-plus years, behind somehow suckering Mrs. 9 into saying yes, and welcoming 0.9 to the family.

When I wake up on the morning of Aug. 31, for the first time in my life, I will not live in a city. We are leaving the mile square of Hoboken for the friendly confines of Basking Ridge, N.J.

We would have had to move eventually, anyway, because the next good word I hear about the schools in Hoboken will be the first, but Mrs. 9’scommute is just too long. And since my commute is measured in steps and not miles, I could not put up a convincing argument to stay. Besides, it’s time.

This will be a huge adjustment for me, as I have only lived in Manhattan and Hoboken. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me knows that I love to throw back a few good beers on occasion — days that end in “y” count as occasions. Not being able to walk to a bar will be a culture shock. And I would never think of drinking and driving.

We will actually be walking distance from the Basking Ridge New Jersey Transit station, which is a huge plus. It will be nice to be able to sneak into Hoboken or Manhattan occasionally and not have to worry about driving home. I may try to do it for a few Dallas Cowboys games this season, to avoid having to add DirecTV to the long list of goods and services we are investigating or purchasing.

We are also walking distance from the downtown area, but that statement needs a little perspective. Downtown Basking Ridge looked really nice when we drove through it, with some cool shops and restaurants, but downtown Basking Ridge is not Washington St. in Hoboken, or any street in Manhattan. It’s still nice to have the option of walking over, rather than being a typical suburbanite and having to drive everywhere, but I didn’t happen to notice any sports bars, taverns, pubs, beer gardens, or other watering holes.

Another radical change for me will be learning how to do small repairs and maintenance around the house. I have spent my entire life in apartments, where you call the superintendent with any issues. When you buy a house, a superintendent does not come along with it. I am not completely incompetent, but calling me handy would be a stretch, to say the least. The only yard I have ever had was a really tall glass filled with beer. I have never had a lawn to mow and maintain. I have never owned a grill that didn’t say “George Foreman” on it. I am more than willing to learn, but I have already decided that anything involving electricity or plumbing will result in an immediate call for professional help. I will not be responsible for blowing up, burning down, or submerging our house.

I couldn’t be happier with the house we found, though. I love the location. In addition to the proximity to the downtown area and train station, it is also really close to schools that have good reputations, so 0.9 can work on that full scholarship. The yard is a great size — large enough to have a catch, but not so large that it will be difficult and costly to maintain. There is already a neat little patio area built into the yard, which will be the new location for 9’s Outdoor Office, Beer Garden & Wine Bar. There is a small deck right next to the kitchen that is perfect for a grill. The house is pretty set back from the street. And it comes with its own Christmas tree for us Jews, as there is a huge pine in the front yard.

I moved to Hoboken in September 2000, and I have loved my 12 years here, but it’s just not the same anymore. It really hasn’t been the same for me since Ted & Jo’s, my absolute favorite bar and living room, closed in March 2008. And while I still have several friends here, many of my closest friends have let “real life” run its course, married, had kids, and moved elsewhere. Hoboken in July 2012 for me is nothing like Hoboken in September 2000, or any time between then and the untimely demise of T&J’s.

I can’t talk about Hoboken without mentioning another bar where I have felt like part of the family from the get-go: The Shannon. I don’t go there much on weekends because I am old enough to be the father of most of the patrons, but going there after softball games has been the source of some of my most fun nights in Hoboken. Everyone has always treated me and the rest of the various softball teams very well, from the owners, to the bartenders, to the bouncers. With T&J’s gone, The Shannon is the only bar in Hoboken I would even think of going to alone.

One of the biggest advantages to living in Hoboken is the ability to go out every night, with the entire town within walking distance, and between being married, having a son, and not having a lot of my close friends around anymore, I barely go out, so it’s a wash.

I’m sure we will find some decent places to eat, and hopefully a few that deliver, especially Chinese. I would have to turn in my barely used Jew card if I didn’t have regular access to Chinese food. However, after 12 years in Hoboken, I’ve developed an addiction to certain restaurants and dishes, and they will be difficult to replace:

  • Precious: When I moved from Manhattan to Hoboken, I thought I was saying goodbye to good Chinese food. Fortunately, I was mistaken. Precious is as good as any of the places I ever ordered from in Manhattan, and I am convinced that sorcery is the only explanation for how quickly they show up. Chicken Amazing is one of my favorite dishes of all-time.
  • Maru: Sushi from Maru is always fresh and delicious, and some of the specialty rolls are off the hook. I think the Hawaiian Roll is my personal favorite.
  • Rosario’s: I have never actually set foot in the restaurant, but Triple Fiesta is one of the best pasta dishes I have ever enjoyed, and it has been a delivery staple in our household.
  • Fiore’s: Roast beef, gravy, and fresh mozzarella — need I say anything else?
  • Leo’s: I will truly miss this genuine, family-run, inexpensive Italian restaurant littered with Frank Sinatra memorabilia. The stuffed mushrooms appetizer and the marsala sauce are to die for.
  • Zack’s: Bizarro Ted & Jo’s (same owner, nearly identical to the old homestead) imported Balsamic Chicken from the old T&J’s menu. After making the mistake of removing it for a while, it returned, due to popular demand. The beer selection is fantastic, too.
  • Three A’s: I will miss the outstanding dirty martinis and the second-best pork chops I have ever had, trailing only the ones my dear friend and old roommate used to cook up.
  • Philly’s Cheesesteaks: OK, it’s not Tony Luke’s, or Jim’s, or even Lee’s Hoagies, but the cheesesteaks here are the closest to real Philadelphia cheesesteaks I’ve had up in these parts.
  • Cucharamama: I have yet to refer to this place by its actual name, usually alternating between Cucaracha and Coochie Mama, but the Spanish food is outstanding, as are the cocktails. I could use a Mojito right about now.
  • Zafra: This is another source of excellent Spanish food, minus the cocktails. I only wish it had more than three tables (OK, I’m exaggerating on the number of tables, but not by much).
  • Biggie’s: I have been neglecting this place, and the new location where Clam Broth House used to be has an expanded menu, for those who haven’t been. I must treat myself to clams steamed in beer, very soon.
  • Hoboken Bar & Grill: This is another place I have neglected recently, for no good reason. It has a fantastic menu and an equally fantastic beer selection.

I will also miss Pier A, the park with the best possible view of Manhattan. I don’t know Basking Ridge well enough to know what bodies of water are nearby, but I’m pretty sure none provides the view of Manhattan across the Hudson River.

Naturally, there are some things I will not miss about Hoboken, although, as I said, I wouldn’t trade the past 12 years for any other place.

It will be great to invite people over to the new house without worrying about where they will be able to park. Parking in Hoboken is absolutely nonexistent, but we have a small blacktop area that could probably fit nine cars, if needed.

Speaking of parking, I won’t miss the parking area in my current building, and the assholes who believe ownership of a BMW entitles them to park free-of-charge while the rest of us pay $200 per month.

I will also not miss the corruption that runs rampant throughout politics in Hudson County in general and Hoboken in particular. I am under no delusions that corruption doesn’t exist in Basking Ridge and Somerset County. Corruption exists whenever a person gains control over decisions that affect others. It’s human nature. But when you have a mayor who begins serving his term July 1, 2009, and is ousted July 31, 2009, you have some serious issues.

I will not miss the inevitable traffic that comes with trying to get in or out of Hoboken, due to its proximity to the Hudson River and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels. I am sure Basking Ridge has its own traffic trouble spots, as a map of New Jersey should accompany the listing for “traffic” in the dictionary, but I am just about done with sitting under the covered roadway (if you live anywhere near here, this requires no explanation) for minutes that seem like hours.

I am also sure that living in the suburbs will come with its own driving challenges, but I will not miss driving in Hoboken, as the stupidity level of people behind the wheel seems to accelerate at a more rapid rate than the price of gas. Every time someone stops at an intersection when they don’t have a stop sign, I want to pull over and kick their car. Doing that only causes accidents, as people are unsure whether to proceed or not. And the same people who stop when they don’t have a stop sign usually fly right through the intersection when they do have a stop sign. Plus, double-parking is a fact of life, especially with the dearth of available parking I mentioned earlier, but it would be nice if people tried to get as close as possible to the legally parked cars, rather than just sitting in the middle of already narrow streets.

I will not miss having upstairs neighbors. I have no beef with anyone who has lived in the apartment upstairs. The problem is that my building was constructed in the typical Hoboken method of getting it completed as quickly as possible and cutting every corner, so there is absolutely nothing muffling the sound of the people walking upstairs. I jumped out of bed a few times the first couple of weeks I lived here because it sounded like someone was walking through my living room.

I will not miss Cablevision in the least. I have hated that company and its piss-poor service and treatment of customers for years. Having worked for a weekly newspaper that covered the cable industry, I also know about the detestable Dolan family, and I hate them, too, particularly cokehead James Dolan. Fuck the Cablevision-owned Knicks and Rangers, as well. We could have gotten Verizon FiOS in our current apartment, but we knew we were moving, so there was no point. FiOS will be a welcome addition in Basking Ridge, however. There is no way the Internet service won’t blow away Cablevision’s spotty, overrated Optimum Online, which seems to get slower every day.

All in all, I am looking forward to starting a new chapter in my life. As I said, it will be a huge adjustment on many levels, but I am confident that it will turn out to be a good move in the end. Hoboken: It’s been real. Basking Ridge: Duck, punk! Here we come.

A very non-Nine Fourth of July

After years of being spoiled with the most perfect possible view of a decent fireworks display without leaving the deck of our old beach house on Long Beach Island, I spent this Fourth of July watching an even better fireworks display from the grounds of Cherokee High School in Marlton, N.J., with my wife and her extended family. Some things about it were great, and some were just weird.

July 4 fireworks from Marlton, NJ

At this stage of my life — 42 and grumpy — I am totally over giant crowds. The Marlton fireworks had an ideal number of people — enough to make it seem like an event, and totally worth being there, but a small enough group to allow us to arrive two hours before the fireworks started and find ample space for our beach chairs. And while I would never dream of comparing the show to the Macy’s Spectacular that has spoiled me in New York for most of my life, it was definitely better than the LBI effort.

The weird part: 2010 marked the first Fourth of July since I was about 14 or 15 when I did not indulge in a single sip of beer. Nor did I partake in the American tradition of pigging out on red meat (we did barbecue a little, but it was more for the purposes of eating dinner before heading to the fireworks than for putting on a display of gluttony).

It was still fun, and I’d definitely do it again. With the LBI house no longer an option, there’s no way in hell I’m dealing with the crowds in Hoboken, Manhattan, Philadelphia, or any of the “real” big-city fireworks displays. And spending time with the family is always fun (no, I am NOT just saying that because some of them read this blog!).

But I could have used a cold one, or several.

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival: Why can’t there be one every week?

I’m not saying that the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival that was held at la.venue on the West Side of Manhattan Saturday was geared toward men, but the first thing I saw when walking into the venue (pun intended) was a young, attractive blond woman in a checkered shirt with most of the buttons undone, tied in a knot at the bottom, and Daisy Duke shorts, and she was holding a plate of bacon. You do the math.

Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival

All kidding aside, plenty of women were there enjoying the festivities, as well, and any woman who likes any combination of beer, bourbon, bacon and barbecue is OK in my book.

I am by no means trying to pass myself off as an expert, nor am I claiming that the brands I’m about to recommend should be considered the best, but a few of the spirits I tried left impressions, and I wanted to share those.

Buffalo Trace a Kentucky bourbon, was one of the more hearty samples of the day.

I had tried Woodford Reserve previously and, while I didn’t hate it, I wasn’t that impressed, either. I don’t know what I was thinking. This was one of the best spirits I tried Saturday, if not the best, and a bottle will adorn my shelf soon.

Once I was done chuckling at the name, because acting like Beavis or Butt-head will apparently never leave my system, I also enjoyed George Dickle, another Tennessee whisky.

1792 Ridgemont Reserve was probably my favorite bourbon. I’m not going to try to throw reviewers’ terms into this blog. All I can say is I took one sip, pulled the glass away from my mouth and could do nothing but exclaim, “Wow!”

Blanton’s Single Barrel was another fantastic bourbon. One of my friends had enjoyed it before, and she (yes, she, believe it or not) was spot-on with her recommendation.

One of the more interesting spirits I tried was Hudson New York Corn Whiskey. I’m pretty sure that if I poured this stuff into the gas tank of my Honda Accord, the car would run. I actually really enjoyed it, but I seriously doubt I could drink more than one. It was one of the strongest things I’ve ever tasted.

As far as beer, I had already tried most of the selections at the show, but other than the joke of Coors Light having a table there (give me a break), it was a stellar beer selection.

One of the beers that were new to me was Sixpoint Sweet Action. This was an outstanding cream ale, and that’s a style I don’t drink very often.

My favorite beer at the show, by far, was the Heartland Brewing Sumatra Porter with Chicory. This stuff tasted like very strong, very good coffee, and it was the only beer that made me go back for seconds (thirds, too, if I recall correctly).

A San Francisco-based brewery called Speakeasy brought two very solid brews: Big Daddy IPA and Prohibition Ale. Both are highly recommended.

I’m sure there were a few other bourbons and beers that I enjoyed, but cut me some slack: After all, I was drinking all day!

In any event, if the Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival comes to your city, do NOT miss it. Trust me.

Major surprise at Minor League game

I absolutely love Minor League Baseball and really need to get to more games. I love being much closer than you’ll ever get at a Major League Baseball game (unless you feel like handing over $1,250 to Lonn Trost and the rest of the ass hats in the Yankees organization). I love the relaxed, family atmosphere. I love paying $1.75 for a hotdog and $4 for a freezing cold beer. I love enjoying the game itself and not stressing over who’s winning and losing.

FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Reading Phillies

FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Reading Phillies

Just for the sake of getting out of town and doing something different, my girlfriend and I spent Saturday night in the bustling metropolis of Reading, Pa. We did some outlet shopping during the day (half-price Coach bags, ladies!), then went to FirstEnergy Stadium to see the Harrisburg Senators, the AA affiliate of the Washington Nationals, take on the Reading Phillies, the AA affiliate of the real Phillies.

While driving into the parking lot — and by the way, not only were fourth-row tickets behind the Phillies’ dugout $11.50, but parking was free (yes, free!) — we saw a sign that said, “Brad Lidge tonight.” Yes, that Brad Lidge, the closer of the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies.

Lidge pitched the top of the first inning as part of his injury rehab, and it was remarkable to watch him pitch from so close. He dominated his inning after a leadoff single, then was probably well past the Reading city limits by the time rain delayed the game after the bottom of the first inning.

Brad Lidge, chicken cheesesteak, Lancaster Brewing Rare Rooster and Hop Hog and fourth-row seats, all for probably under $50, including the beer: Like I said, I absolutely love Minor League Baseball!

Brad Lidge with Reading Phillies on rehab assignment

Brad Lidge with Reading Phillies on rehab assignment

The New York Yankees: As fan-friendly as ever

I don’t know why anything the New York Yankees organization does surprises me anymore, but today was a real whopper.

Rain delay at Yankee Stadium

Rain delay at Yankee Stadium

First, the 1:05 game against the last-place Washington Nationals was delayed not one hour, not two hours, not three hours, but five-and-a-half hours. I understand that the Yankees already have three games to make up, and I realize that the Nationals don’t come back to Yankee Stadium this season, but five-and-a-half hours? Really?

Then, after waiting out the rain delay at Yankee Tavern, when the rain finally let up and they started preparing the field, I entered the ballpark to find out that they had cut off beer sales. Why? If there was such a concern that the 10,000 or so people who were dumb enough to wait out a five-and-a-half-hour delay (myself very much included) were going to be that angry and unruly, maybe that should be a consideration the next time a decision is made on whether to postpone a game or not. Naturally, the people in the Legends Suite had plenty of beer, but I guess those of us who don’t fork over $1,250 per game don’t count.

The one nice thing the ball club did was let people move downstairs, but even that struck me as a public-relations ploy. With all of the abuse the Yankees organization has gotten about the premium seats being empty on TV, the last thing they wanted was another game where the field level was about as sparsely populated as Montana farmland.

Then the capper was the big announcement that in gratitude for the fans waiting out the delay, every ticket to tonight’s game could be exchanged for one free bleacher, grandstand or terrace seat for a future non-premium game. Sounds great, right?

I picked three random midweek games against marginal teams and, just as I suspected, I couldn’t get two seats together in the bleachers, in the grandstand, or in the terrace level. The cheapest pair of seats I found was in the main level, for $125 apiece, and they’re not covered by tonight’s generous gift.

So what exactly did we get in return for waiting five-and-a-half hours to see the Yankees get shut out by the worst team in Major League Baseball? I mean besides wet, sober and irritated?

This organization really needs to be gutted.

Unemployment Nine: Play ball!

Anyone who follows this blog knows I’ve been deadly serious about my job search since getting laid off Oct. 2. But every once in a while, in the interest of maintaining a baseline level of sanity, I’ve treated myself to a break here and there.

Boston Beer Works Espresso Stout

Boston Beer Works Espresso Stout

Well, unless something happens between now and Thursday — “something” being a job interview — it’s time for another break.

Thursday at 1 p.m., YES Network will air its first spring-training game of the 2009 season, with the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays — I never thought I’d be able to type that with a straight face — coming to Steinbrenner Field in Tampa to play the New York Yankees.

So just before 1 p.m., the following steps will occur:

• This much-overworked PC will be turned off.

Panasonic Viera

Panasonic Viera

• The 64-ounce growler of Boston Beer Works Espresso Stout will be opened and enjoyed liberally, one pint at a time.

• My roommate’s plasma TV will be powered up.

• My ass (and the rest of my carcass) will retire to my recliner.

• I will proceed to watch nine innings of (hopefully) uninterrupted Grapefruit League baseball and enjoy every single pitch and sip.

I’m never home for these preseason games, so I might as well take advantage of the sad fact that nobody has shown any interest in hiring me and enjoy the game.

Play ball!

Steinbrenner Field

Steinbrenner Field

I must have beer radar

My girlfriend and I went to Boston this past weekend and, due to both holiday-weekend traffic and a bad accident on I-91 in Connecticut, it took us seven-and-a-half hours to get there. The trip back was far more relaxing for a number of reasons.

SBC Restaurant and Brewery

SBC Restaurant and Brewery

Our trusty GPS took us back via an entirely different route. We took 95 to 91 to 84 to 90 (Massachusetts Turnpike) on the way there, but, on the return trip, the GPS’ shrill female voice commanded us to leave 84 for Connecticut Route 15, or the Wilbur Cross Parkway, which I had never heard of in my life. It actually turns out that the Wilbur Cross Parkway becomes the Merritt Parkway, which I have heard of, and that took us into the Hutchison River Parkway, the Saw Mill River Parkway, the Henry Hudson Parkway and, finally, the West Side Highway to the Lincoln Tunnel.

So, where does beer come into this?

While we were still on the Wilbur Cross Parkway, we decided to stop for lunch as soon as we found an exit that looked like it led to civilization. By civilization, I was really hoping for a Wendy’s, but what we ended up finding blew Wendy’s away.

We took the exit for Hamden, which I had also never heard of, and by sheer luck went right instead of left, where we actually would have found our Wendy’s. The first establishment on the right: SBC Restaurant and Brewery!

Leave it to me to find a brewery in the middle of nowhere!

The only unfortunate part of this tale of hops and malt is that they were out of their stout and their porter — the two beers I’d have really preferred — but I really enjoyed my pint of brown ale and my fish and chips.

It’s good to see my beer radar works, even in the middle of the Connecticut woods!

Consuming calories in Boston

After invading Washington, D.C., last Presidents’ Day weekend, my girlfriend and I headed in the opposite direction this past weekend and basically ate and drank the city of Boston.

The first of two fantastic restaurants we enjoyed was Atlantic Fish. This was the best seafood meal I’d had in quite some time. Everything was fantastic — great bottle of wine (David Bruce Pinot Noir), fresh clams on the half-shell, hearty bisque, tasty sushi tuna appetizer, her salmon dinner and my blackened scallop dinner. Atlantic Fish is definitely recommended.

The other incredible meal was in Boston’s North End at a restaurant called Taranta, which bills itself as a “marriage between Southern Italian and Peruvian cuisine.” Again, every part of the meal was delicious: another great bottle of wine (La Posta Malbec blend), pan-roasted mussels, her pappardelle pasta with wild mushrooms porcini and my pork chops (the pork chops are their specialty, with good reason).

Now, on to the booze!

Bleacher Bar

Bleacher Bar

If you’re a baseball fan, the Bleacher Bar is a must. It’s built into Fenway Park, and I mean built into Fenway Park — the huge window is actually the right-center-field wall. It’s a great way to get a peak inside a historic ballpark during the offseason or while the Red Sox are on the road, and I’m sure it’s a zoo on game days.

Growler from Boston Beer Works

Growler from Boston Beer Works

I rarely go to another city without hunting for microbreweries, so I visited two old standbys. The first was Boston Beer Works, right near Fenway Park, which had an Espresso Stout that might have cracked my top 10 beers of all time. In fact, it was so good that I brought home a growler.

The second was John Harvard’s Brew House in Cambridge, right by Harvard. I was disappointed that they don’t seem to offer their porter any more, but the XO Stout and Provision Ale were fantastic.

I seriously need to go on a diet.

This blog inspired by beer

Pearls Before Swine, by Stephan Pastis, has been one of my favorite daily comic strips since the Daily News picked it up. And today’s installment was a masterpiece.

Continuing with the theme of the Rat character modeling his life and writing career after that of Ernest Hemingway, well, it just makes me want to have a beer.

In fact, I may never blog sober again!

Pearls Before Swine 8/21/08

Pearls Before Swine 8/21/08

Beer vs. wine: drunken confusion

This past weekend’s arrest of an art-gallery owner in East Hampton for serving wine during the opening of an exhibit stoked the fires of an old debate I used to partake in.

As anyone who either knows me or has read this blog knows, I am a big fan of both beer and wine. I’m clearly far from anti-wine, but my loyalty belongs to beer for years of service, personal preference and, sometimes, plain old logistics. I’m not about to be caught dead sipping a chardonnay at a Yankee game, or ordering a glass of merlot at a bar after playing softball. Those are beer times. But with a nice dinner or at home relaxing, wine is fine.

That being said, the attitude of law enforcement when it comes to the two beverages has always befuddled me. And what really brought it to the forefront for me were several experiences while playing softball on the Great Lawn in Central Park.

Fact: Beer and wine are both alcoholic beverages. Fact: Beer and wine have similar alcoholic contents — if anything, wine is stronger than beer. Fact: Consuming either one in public is against the law. So why did police officers patrolling the park bust softball players’ balls for having a few beers during or after games, while, mere yards away, people waiting to get into Shakespeare in the Park were allowed to sit on picnic blankets and sip wine unmolested from clearly visible bottles and glasses?

In fact, the senility that sets in after turning 40 is clouding my memory as to which mayor it was, but I clearly remember a story in one of the tabloids featuring either Mayor Giuliani or Mayor Bloomberg drinking wine in the park while waiting for a performance.

So even though I’m not anti-wine, I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder about wine’s image as the drink of the elite and beer’s white-trash reputation. Selective enforcement is bullshit, period.

With all of that being said, I have very conflicting opinions on the East Hampton incident. The beer loyalist in me was happy to see stuffy wine drinkers in an art gallery go through some of the hassles I’ve gone through. But both the wine fan and the practical voice in my head were amazed at the utter silliness of this arrest.

The woman was serving wine during an event. She wasn’t selling wine. She wasn’t throwing a loud, raucous party. I wasn’t there, but I’d be willing to wager a significant amount of money that people weren’t craning their heads out of an art gallery and yelling, “Show your tits!” at passers-by. So, what exactly is the problem?

Maybe I’d have a different view on things if I hadn’t spent my whole life in Manhattan and Hoboken, where driving is rarely part of the equation. I’ve very rarely been confronted with the dilemma of car keys in one hand and an adult beverage in the other.

But I really don’t think the fear of drinking and driving was behind either this weekend’s gallery incident or the harassment myself and countless other softball players have endured in Central Park. I believe in both cases, someone in the law-enforcement community was bored, had a hair up their ass or was looking to fill a quota.

Perhaps that someone needs a drink?