Friday, November 21, 2014

A Personal Update


What's with your name?
I changed my name when I started travelling seriously and living in other countries. When I came back to the states, I brought a person with me who called me Jack, so everyone else called me Jack, too. Some of my oldest friends and family call me Skyler or Sky. Most of them live in the western United States. Then some people started calling me SkyJack. I like that. But you can call me Sky, Jack, Skyler, SkyJack, or Captain. Those are all the things people still call me, and I'm OK with that. How did I think I was going to have this unique, distinctive, adventurous life without a few different names sticking?

Where do you live now?
I've moved to Las Vegas. It's in the name of my blog now to help people know.

Is your wife with you?
I don't have one of those anymore.

What? What happened?
It turns out I only fall for people who don't have consciences.

Why Vegas?
I've always wanted to move to Las Vegas. I love it here. I grew up coming here at least once or twice a year. My father worked here, my grandmother lived and died here, and I have a cousin and an Aunt here. Plus, work. It might be the only place on earth with opportunities to incorporate my entire skill set. 

Where are you working now?
I'm a Beverage Manager at MGM Grand. It's a dream job for me at this point in my career. I moved my relocation schedule up because they showed interest, and then I was in a holding pattern for a bit, while seasonal managers were moved around and whatnot. Now I'm training and excited about every second of it. There's a lot to take in.

Do you miss Virginia?
I miss some people in Virginia, and I kind of wished I'd seen the leaves change one last time. VA was pretty good to me, when it's all said and done. I did some amazing things professionally, and I saw some stuff I don't think most Americans get to. I lived in Virginia almost exactly the same amount of time I lived in Germany, and I still feel like a German in a lot of ways. Surely, I'll always have a little southern boy in me now, too.

Why didn't you move back to California, either to SF Bay or to live near your mother in SoCal?
I think I might have gotten all the personal development I can out of those places. And moving back to anywhere is symbolically unfortunate. I did consider Los Angeles, but Las Vegas has always been on my target list of places to live. I really want to live in a place where all my friends will visit me from all over the world. Who doesn't visit Vegas at least once? And if they were on the fence about it, now they have a reason to come. I'll always love California, but I don't know if I ever want to live there again.

What about the restaurant?

When is your new book coming out?
I'm almost halfway done with it. It's the most ambitious project I've ever undertaken in poetry, and it's the most difficult thing I've ever written. Some time in the middle of next year I hope.

Are you going to make any more videos?
I don't think so. I was turned off by the lack of response. Maybe I'll try again, but there's too much going on right now to edit videos. If I had someone to edit them for me, I'd do it.

Isn't Vegas crazy all the time?
Well, it can be. But on my morning runs, inside Las Vegas, I run down a street that often has chickens in the middle of it and there are horses and cows, too. I saw someone walking a miniature pony like a dog. Oh, and burros. And I live next to a fairly big casino. So it's a city of contradictions. I love contradictions. Come visit me and find out.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Aces & Ales

I heard Aces & Ales was one of the best craft beer bars in Las Vegas, so I went, and it's true.

It's got fire pits and great tables, it's really dark inside, and there are video poker games on the bar. They play good music, and the service is fantastic. Tons of TVs. Plus, free wifi so I could use Untappd to log all the beers I drank. Actually had to get a DD on this adventure because I planned on doing some serious drinking. It pays to have a cool friend who's Mormon (Thanks for driving, L).

The thing I liked most about this place was the staff. Two ladies were working the bar, and they were excellently friendly. I ordered the first couple beers on my own, but then I asked if there was something on the list I just had to try. She then revealed herself to be a wonderful guide and in possession of Cicerone-level beer knowledge. I love it when someone is really into what they do. You'd think that'd be an easy thing in beer, but a lot of times craft beer people can be snobby and aloof. Not at Aces & Ales; she was excited to share and happy to serve. When I got my bill I had to double check the prices because I thought it was light. But their pricing structure is very simple and cheaper than I expected, which is always nice.

Overall, a very pleasant experience. I can't wait to go back.

This was at the Tenaya location (there are two).

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Dry Manhattan

I love a Dry Manhattan, especially this time of year. A long time ago, I read somewhere it was Frank Sinatra's favorite drink, and Jack Daniels was his favorite whiskey (he was buried with a bottle of it). So, I decided to give it a try, fell in love, and now I always drink it with Jack. And I drink it in a rocks glass because it seems like that's how Frankie would take it, too.

How I make a Dry Manhattan at home:

  1. If I have a jigger, I fill it up heavy and let a bit more slosh over into the glass. If I don't have a jigger, I just pour heavy, maybe I count to two.
  2. I put a dollop of dry vermouth in it (about the same amount I put in my Martinis)
  3. I splash Angostura aromatic bitters in.
  4. I drop in a grip of ice.

I take with no fruit because I hate the Maraschino cherries most bars use in America. If it's the real-deal ones that really swank bars sometimes have, I'll go for it, but I hate the candy ones. I usually don't have cherries on-hand at home either.
Sometimes I use a shaker, but it isn't really necessary. The ice drop seems to work fine, and I swirl it around a bit.

This is the only thing I drink with Jack Daniels. I don't have anything against Jack Daniels, but that cardboardy background kind of brings together the bitters and the vermouth and lingers a little so that you want to take another slug. Sinatra must have said that at some point.

The Manhattan is the sonnet of the cocktail world. The best bartenders stick to the confines of the form but nonetheless express great creativity with it, like the boundaries 14 lines represent.

There are a ton of variations, including one with Fernet-Branca, one of my favorite things on the planet. But my Dry Manhattan is inspired by Frank Sinatra, and there's nothing fancy about it, and I love it.

Anyway, it's kind of my go-to winter drink, and I'm drinking one right now.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Velveteen Rabbit on First Friday.

I'd been wanting to check out the Velveteen Rabbit for a bit.

On First Fridays Art Walk in Las Vegas, there are hot air balloon rides, probably a hundred or so booths, and at least as many food trucks. The arts district here is a fantastic place that couldn't help but remind me of all the Fridays I spent wandering Oakland for Art Murmur. There was a disproportionate amount of street art, spray paint stuff, but other than that, it was great. There were artists doing live paintings, fire workers doing their thing, and more live music than you know what to do with. Also, there were a few art cars on display that I'm sure are cast offs from past Burning Man festivals. First Fridays was great. I wish there were some poetry someplace. . . if there was, I didn't see it.

Bar stands were there, too. You could even text a number and a tequila rep would appear and buy you a drink. And there were mobile ATMs everywhere, too. All and all, just a wonderfully organized event.

There are even free shuttles from Fremont Street. So I went to the container park, got on a double-decker bus, and arrived right at the entrance of the walk. When I was done wandering, I came back to where the bus had dropped me off, and I found out it'd be a few minutes before the next shuttle arrived, and what did I see as I spun around looking for a way to fill my time?! The Velveteen Rabbit! I'd been meaning to get in there, and now was the perfect time!

The blue neon sign is a great clue as to what goes on in there. It's the arts district's mixology bar, replete with elegant DIY lighting, jiggers aplenty, a thick, unpolished bar, and knowledgeable barkeeps that keep things interesting. Super friendly and patient service is what I observed.

I started with one of their seasonal cocktails, asking the bartender what his favorite was. When he suggested one with peach schnapps and mescal, I was slightly apprehensive, but the smokiness balanced by the mellow sweetness was a welcome delight. Then I had a Hank-panky. When you order a drink with Fernet-Branca, "the bartender's handshake," it lets your new friend know you're not just some fuck who doesn't know what he's doing. It was perfect. Then I said one of my favorite things to say: Bartender's choice.

Remember the Maine
He made me a Remember the Maine. I had never had one before, and that's what I love about doing things this way. A new adventure in beverage! In fact, READ THIS ABOUT REMEMBER THE MAINE! It was one of this bartender's favorite classic cocktails, and we got into a pretty awesome conversation about what is great about life in the booze world.

My publisher texted me I should order a Sidecar because he was drinking one in Virginia. So I did, and it was transcendent. One of the bartenders said he went through a long spell when all he drank was Sidecars. I don't often go for them, but I was glad I did that night.

They also have a great beer selection. The tap markers are mannequin hands. A guy next to me was having a hard time trying to decide what to have, and I convinced him to get the Brown from Tenaya Creek. I told him not to sample it, but just get a pint and that if he didn't like it, I'd buy him a round. He loved it. Then he showed me naked pictures of girls he met on Tinder. Girls on Tinder don't send me naked pictures. It cracked me up because what else are you supposed to do in this crazy world where in the span of ten minutes you can have a history lesson taught by a cocktail made in 1933 about a ship exploding in 1898 and then have a guy show you nude photos of a faceless woman on a space age phone after discussing the merit of supporting your local brewery in a city that defies all probability every day?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Have You Seen Interstellar?

I kind of think that Christopher Nolan did the Batman movies so he can con top-rate actors and studios into letting him make movies like Interstellar, and that makes me feel better about his Batman movies. Interstellar is pretty stellar.

I saw it on 35mm Wednesday night at the Galaxy at the Cannery in Las Vegas. It's the most luxurious cinema I've been to. Electric lounge seats with little tables attached and craft beer on tap makes it my new favorite. Plus, they announce in the beginning of the show that they will literally remove you without refund if you so much as look at your cell phone. And seats are assigned.

The grainy 35mm lends something to this project, I think. It's a dying medium, and the scratches and cigarette burns made me a little nostalgic. It also reminded me of 2001:Space Odyssey in a theater. The film deals a lot with the struggles against decay, reciting Dylan Thomas over and over again, so there's an elegant reach with the degradation of celluloid mirroring the dying of cellulose on planet Earth. And, the Dylan Thomas reading was welcome because it assumes you know a poem--gasp! Smart people who know a few poems by heart will save the world if it ever is saved.

Heavy themes aplenty in this one, but in particular I liked the notion of being stuck between wanting to be a pioneer/adventurer on the cutting edge, doing what you know you're best at and wanting to fulfill your duty to the greater whole of humanity. Being born a generation "too early or too late," Cooper (McConaughey) wishes he could do it all. If that's not a theme for Gen-X-ers I don't know what is.

The sci-fi premise touches some familiar bases that make it a tiny bit predictable, worm holes, time-bending, relativity, black holes, interdiminsional shifting about. But Christopher Nolan navigates them so adroitly, and the acting is so good, and the look and feel of the film is such that you don't mind you might have seen some of this before. And sci-fi suffers from that so frequently at this point, I kind of like that it reminded me of Warren Beatty's Reds in parts.

It's a little talky, but I like cerebral science fiction and wish J.J. Abrams never turned Star Trek into Buck Rogers. It's a little heavy-handed on philosophical themes like love, but that's refreshing too after the genre has been riddled by laser pistols and giant explosions, zip-zap.

Jonathan Nolan wrote this one, but that kind of goes without saying with Christopher Nolan movies. Why we aren't calling these films "Nolan brothers movies" is weird to me. He wrote Memento. If you liked Memento, and since you have eyeballs and are human, I'm assuming you did, you will like Interstellar.

And one more thing: can Jessica Chastain ever be bad in anything? It's as if she single-handedly saves some films. I think she's the most alluring woman in Hollywood, and I hope every filmmaker save Michael Bay starts begging her for even a cameo. Actually, she could probably even make a Michael Bay movie watchable.

Red Bull Cocktails

When I was a kid, Red Bull was a new thing. Vodka Red Bull was a good drink at clubs because well-vodka was often bottom-barrel stuff, and the Red Bull could keep you dancing. Some people gave this drink cute names, but no matter where you went, a Vodka Red Bull was right there. It tasted like gummibears soaked in kerosene, but I drank it happily. 

Soon, Jaeger with Red Bull started showing up. Then, there were a million new energy drinks, and countless flavored vodkas appeared, and then sweet malt liquor like Schmirnoff Ice. Alcapops. So as my tastes matured and developed, the market became more geared toward cocktails that tasted like children's treats. And people born just a couple years behind me are maybe a little stunted.

Then came the craft cocktail craze. I love it. I've been to a few of the best cocktail bars in the world, and I know a few celebrity mixologists, and I am enamored of this world of booze we live in today. It came along just in time for me. And in a small way, I've been a part of it. 

So I was googling around thinking about Red Bull because in Las Vegas, the slim cans are ubiquitous. I can often smell it spilled in the streets, and their logo emblazons everything from menus to billboards. Are there any "good" cocktails out there with Red Bull?
But most of the drinks on that list turn me off. 

If you know of any good ones, please let me know in the comments. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Have You Seen John Wick?

At its best moments, John Wick reminds you of the first Die Hard movie where a rated-R is well earned and well used and the main character is not made of steel.

Man, this was a good movie. It's what action movies should be: swift, stylized, creative violence that gets your blood going. Add a decent chase in there, and you've got yourself something really hot on your hands.

John Wick is what Keanu Reaves should have been doing for the last ten years. John Wick is what the remake of the remake of Point Blank should have been. John Wick makes me think there might be hope for the action genre.

The two men who directed it are basically stunt guys who have worked with all of the great directors around these days and also worked on the Bourne movies. It feels like they just got their favorite character actors together, worked intensely on the action sequences, and let the actors do their thing. A ton of cameos and delights abound with the cast, many of whom I recognized from my favorite HBO stuff. I loved seeing them on the big screen. And you can't help but ask where Keanu has been for so long. He's better at this role than any other he's ever played.

The action is tight and smart. I actually flinched at some of the gun play and cringed at some of the hand-to-hand stuff, which for once you can actually see! I can't tell you how disappointed I was with the Bourne sequels and The Dark Night; they bragged about all the work they did on the fight scenes and then shrouded them in drums, darkness, and shaky-cam, Who knew Keanu could fight like this?

The gun play was efficient and kind of beautiful. It reminded me of Equillibrium at some points and a little of early John Woo films. Phenomenal, really!

Then, there's the cars. Big American muscle cars from various years screeching on runways, docks, and wet streets. A few Europeans thrown in there for good measure.

And lastly, I loved the way women were treated in this flick. There are no damsels or screaming threats of lady-torture. All the women are strong, even a bartender who's kind of obviously into the protagonist. There's a lady assassin who is sexy but doesn't seem to actually use that for anything. It's her confidence and air of danger that's sexy.

I need to see this thing again. Finally a smart, well-made action movie. Moar please.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014


I went to the Stratosphere with my friend L. For $35 you get to go to the top of the tallest structure west of the Mississippi and ride all of the rides. It's a great way to spend an evening.

First though, L was running late, so I decided to play a few hands of Blackjack. The dealer was cool, and I was up to $100 at one point, but I ended up giving most of that back. I think I was $10 in the hole, but I tipped her and also had enough in chips left to tip the bartender at the lobby bar and the valet.

I asked for a Fernet Branca on rocks, but the bartender didn't know what that was (bad sign), so I ordered a Dirty Martini with Tanqueray. It came garnished with stale olives and a chip of ice, but it tasted right. The music was a mix, but there was more rock and roll than you usually get at places like this, and I dug that. "Everything is better with Rock and Roll."

L showed up and we figured out how to get to the top of the tower. The signage of the place and indeed the very flow of traffic seems to be a haphazard afterthought. The ladies at the counter selling tickets told us to use the machines. The machine contract must have gone to the lowest bidder. One was down, the other two ran like they were on DDOS. But it added to the fear of dying at the top.

The double-decker elevator is fun, there's a video screen showing the people riding beneath your feet. Your ears pop with the changing pressure. It's fast. At the top, more confusion as to where to go. I wondered if someone had spiked my drink. But the view!

I've been to the tops of many a tall building, but this is Las Vegas. Things are more fabulous out here. This glowing garden in the middle of the black valley looks like a shining testament to our humanity. Keep the crown jewels, England.

The bar up there was closed for a private party, so we couldn't get a drink, which was disappointing.

The rides are contraptions that dangle and spin you over the edge of the tower and shoot you off the top of it. Thrilling, terrifying, wonderful. I recommend doing all of them. I didn't feel like going on any of them more than once, so it wasn't a loss that we didn't buy bracelets that allow you to take unlimited rides.

I found out about Level 107 Lounge after this outing, so I'll be going back to the tower for that.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Big Dog's Brewing

Where I currently call home is right down the street from Las Vegas's oldest brewery, Big Dog's, and I've gone to their draft house a few time because it's pretty fantastic. Last night was the last game of the World Series, and the Giants were in it, and I'd only seen game one and four, so I went to Big Dog's where they have so many screens, you can look around and dig the people while watching the game. Turned out to be one of the best baseball games I'd seen in years, and what a place to watch it.

Vegas is weird when it comes to sports. Since the population is kind of made up of various diaspora, you'll find people loyal to their hometown sports teams everywhere you go. And Nevada doesn't have pro team, so it's different from anywhere I've ever been. For example, if you go to Chicago during baseball season, you're a Sox fan or a Cubs fan, that's it. Here, you can go into a bar and it'll be Giants fans sitting next to Royals fans.

Anyway, this brewery has ten or so beers they make there, and all of them are on point. In particular, I like their Dirty Dog IPA and their Tail Wagger Wheat is one of the better craft Hefeweizens I've had. In addition to that, they also have a huge selection of guest taps. This is a treat because I miss drinking some of the hard-to-get Goose Islands and Firestone Walkers

The decor is kind of cowboyish with rustic wood. They just installed glass rinsers at every tap standard, and they have a few kinds of glasses, so their presentation is pretty right on. Video poker at every seat at the bar, and screens EVERYWHERE if you're into that, but also they have a low-light outdoor seating area that they've done up nicely enough you don't feel like you're sitting in a parking lot. The personnel are knowledgeable, and they're acceptably quick even when they're busy as hell.


Also, free Wifi, which I shouldn't even have to tell you about, but I hate it when a bar doesn't have free Wifi. In fact, I hate it when any place doesn't have it. How am I supposed to give you free advertisement without it? Ugh, Caesars properties all want to charge you for it, and I abhor them for that. Just another reason to go anywhere else. Anyway, you can go on Untapped and log all your Big Dog's beers here because it's FREE!

I wish they'd have a couple more vegetarian options on their menu. They probably figure they don't have to because most of their clientele seem perfectly cool eating sausages and burgers, but I'm kind of a regular now, and all I get are fries or hummus. I got their Boca burger once, and it was OK. A Greek salad could be cool. or just a discount on getting salads without the meat could be an idea. I don't know, it would be nice to be able to come for dinner there more often.

I ended up sitting next to a guy from Seattle who grew up in Nebraska who liked Kansas City. It was fun watching the game with him until his lady started saying he doesn't watch baseball and was putting him down. I hate rude people like that. But over all, it was a really cool way to watch the Giants win the World Series and have a few great beers. I ordered a flight of five, and the bartender gave me an extra sample of their Oktoberfest "just for fun." I love this place.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tenaya Creek

I went to Tenaya Creek. It's the second oldest brewery in Las Vegas (15 years). They've won a couple medals at GABF, and it's clear why: their beer is pretty delicious. Their taproom had video poker at every stool, and everyone, patrons and service, was really friendly. I ended up getting in conversations with a few people and even a famous doctor who was in town on holiday.


Video poker installed at almost every seat, and they have pinball too. I put 50 cents in their Lord of the Rings machine and played for 40 minutes. I dug their wrought iron flight-holding thing that looked like a sculpture.

They've got a few flagships including a fantastic Brown (not too sweet, a little nutty) and a Pale Ale you could write home about if you wanted to make your mom happy--she doesn't hear from you enough! But they also had a bunch of seasonals that were really quite impressive in that there were five of them and they were all kind of epic. The seasonal that stood out for me was the DIPA and their Barley Wine.


Someone ordered a Cosmo, and I asked the bartender if they got much call for that sort of thing. She said a lot of people come for the atmosphere even if they aren't beer people, and I can see why: it's a really chill place with friendly locals. Who wouldn't like that?