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Sherrie Flick
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Big Jim's in the Run When I asked Peter Oresick if he'd like to drink with me, I suggested one of my favorite Pittsburgh bars, Big Jim's. Big Jim's isn't like the other establishments Drinks with Poets has featured this week; it isn't a re-done dive bar or a bar with artisan anything. It's, as I like to say, a bar-bar. A place where you can get a thin yellow beer and a shot of whiskey--a basket of fries. A place where the bartenders will change the channel to Law and Order as easily as the Steelers. Big Jim's is, as they say, "in the run." The run is a little section of lower Greenfield where many steel workers once lived, and amongst those families was one named Warhola. When I asked Peter if he'd like to get a beer with me on Sunday, he said, "Of course. I'll be at church down the street. Why not show up early with your camera and I'll give you a tour?" The church, a conveniently short walk from the bar, is St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church. And this is the church that Andy Warhol himself attended all of his Pittsburgh life. Its roots are Carpatho-Rusyn, as were his, as are Peter's. I have, for years, wanted to see this church, knowing the influence it is said to have had on Warhol and his work. Peter snuck out of the service to retrieve me from the street, and I sat quietly while the priest (who was going on a little long this day, Peter whispered) finished up. The heavy smell of incense--art everywhere. Crazy colorful panels of art. I could only imagine Warhol as a boy staring at this eccentric beauty, letting it soak in, taking it with him to New York City. And we all know what happened next. We strolled down the street after church. A beautiful sunny fall day. At Big Jim's we wanted breakfast and beer. Over the murmur of TV sports, we pulled up chairs into the soft light at our table and talked Carpatho-Rusyn, Warhol, and poetry for an hour or so. St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church Part of the church's ornate interior Drinking Beer After Church By Peter Oresick A Rooney's Old Irish Style Ale and Big Jim's Breakfast After church each Sunday, our clan drifted to the opposite end of the block to my grandparents’ house for food and beer. I grew up in a small Ukrainian immigrant colony in a factory town on the banks of the Allegheny River. The priest gave us a sliver of wine-soaked bread on a golden spoon; our grandmother climbed steps from her coal cellar to offer chasers of beer. Beer, back then, was a Pony Bottle of green glass with white painted lettering. “Rolling Rock. From the glass lined-tanks of Old Latrobe we tender this premium beer for your enjoyment, as a tribute to your good taste. It comes from mountain springs to you. ’33.’” I... Continue reading
Posted Nov 10, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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The Livermore 124 S. Highland Ave. East Liberty, Pittsburgh Or Promise a Poem by Midnight By Yona Havey Take care, battleborn barkeeps. Handlebar mustaches anchor this Evening. Atmosphere? Autumn in a short glass. “Live long and prosper” or lay low & holler If the spirits move you. Very serious poets rarely write “very,” or Err on the side of milk cartons, or Readily praise Akron, Ohio, that city More circle than square. Two blocks Over, pork shoulder sold by the pound. Eh-hem, Raise your hand for another. Eh-hem, East Liberty, this round’s on me. Pittsburgh has a cityscape. Some hipsters from Brooklyn buy homes here. ** Yona Harvey is a literary artist residing in Pittsburgh. She is the author of the poetry collection, Hemming the Water. Continue reading
Posted Nov 9, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Cappuchini with skim milk and brown sugar. My favorite place to get coffee in Pittsburgh is Voluto’s on Penn Avenue in Garfield. I live in the neighborhood, and I also teach creative writing across the street at a rehab center, so it’s convenient, which is why I first started going there. It’s a safe, quiet place to sit in the mornings before heading across the street to work with those who are struggling to find their own safe places. Hemingway would have called it a “clean, well-lighted place.” The coffee is excellent, especially the cappuccino, just the right mix of earthy, fresh-ground espresso beans and warm frothed milk, and that’s another reason I’m fond of this place. But I also appreciate that each cup is lovingly and expertly topped by exquisite latte art. The barista, almost always the same guy when I’m there, takes such care in making each drink, cleaning the espresso machine carefully, warming the cup, tamping down the grinds, frothing the milk, pouring the black liquid into the cup as if it were an expensive liquor. He gives laser-like attention to painting the milky art on top—often a heart, or tree or milky echoes of hearts and trees—in gorgeous detail. The result is often so stunning I don’t want to mess it up by stirring sugar into it, or drinking it. But of course I do. And the hearts and trees disappear on my lips and tongue. My spirit feels nourished by watching someone take this kind of care with such a small thing as a cup of coffee, and I am reminded when I watch the barista build the cappuccino that life is full of such small duties that could be inspiring if we took more care with them. I reach into my pocket and finger my latest AA chip, a fingering that always brings to mind the organization’s brilliant one-day-at-a-time slogan. I like to think of it as one-coffee-at-a-time. Sometimes I see friends writing here, sometimes I write myself, and my colleague and I who teach in the rehab center sometimes plan our lessons here. We are building our own inner spaces whose art might warm and delight for a few moments. We the wounded are looking for a drink that doesn’t numb but rather wakes us to the world. ** Sheryl St. Germain is author of 7 books of poetry and prose. Her most recent book, Navigating Disaster: Sixteen Essays of Love and a Poem of Despair, was released in September 2012. Continue reading
Posted Nov 8, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Today, I drink with two poets who explore how and where and when and why we drink. From Kelly's Bar to Salt of the Earth. --Sherrie Flick Salt of the Earth - Jessica Server Before my senior year at Boston University, I was introduced to the Cantab Lounge. I had just turned 21, had just returned from living abroad (where I’d discovered my tolerance for tequila), and after having spent most of my life acting older than my years, had just learned to embrace the peak of my youth. A Central Square dive, the Cantab became a kind of classroom for me – the kind with bluegrass and twinkly lights. I recall a sense of great clarity, as though the Cantab was right where I was supposed to be. My tastes have since changed, moving from clear – tequila, gin, and vodka— to the complex, the browns and reds of whiskey, bourbon, and wine. Craft cocktails. Old Vine Zinfandels. While I love the smoky earthiness of where I’ve landed, I sometimes crave those unfettered undertones - juniper or agave – that cut to my youth, even knowing that memory has distilled them into something much simpler than truth. Scotch - Chivas, Chartreuse, Sorel, Apple, Lemon at Salt The Cantab Lounge The fifth string of the twangy mandolin pulled on my shirt’s loose third button. Charlie’s intense eyes, his face caught up in a violation of the white moon-face of his banjo, before he left that place and moved to Nashville, before I made a case for myself; I had to grow the fuck up. Long summer nights were hot with sap dripping from trees to the Charles. The club hid me in all that freedom to solo. I envied them, in lax plaids and bolo ties, flaunting their sexy pit stains that show ardor, how men can be grimy and hot and still beautiful. Effortless charm bought strum by strum—like twisted threads in a knot they needed only each other, the stink of the place, cheap whiskey, their own fingers. I tapped the table, downed another drink. I never told them I played, could fingerpick and strum; I preferred fandom as I licked salt off the pad of my hand. It was quick when later at the club Charlie’s hands found my ass, played it like a five-string around the floor. He studied me close, churned me out in old timey rhythms. I was once a tuned and polished dulcimer—a young rare thing, yet easily mastered. I clung to the music upon me. And just as fall arrived, I lost it; chose instead those walls and the club’s cool gray cement floors. It all happened at the Cantab, where I turned down settling down, replaced it with dim lights, brown corduroy thin at the knees from owning the music. It was the twang. The cheap feel of damp breezes up my jean skirt. A real desire that one night, I’d shock them all, peel two shots of tequila down at... Continue reading
Posted Nov 7, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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In Pittsburgh people like to give directions by referencing places that no longer exist. Thus: Butterjoint is where More's used to be. More's (pronounced more-ayes), a fine old-time dining establishment, had an ancient bartender who knew his cocktails and the appropriate glasses in which to serve them. A giant piano sat stuffed into the corner with a faithful group gathered round belting out show tunes. It was dark and dank and fading, and we knew it was destined to close, but we loved More's and often hung out there, the youngest patrons at the bar by about 30 years. Butterjoint, an off-shoot of Legume restaurant next door, replaced More's bar and has recently zoomed into its own with handcrafted cocktails and a small menu that hosts excellent pierogies. It's a bubbling beam of happiness on Craig Street in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh and a great place to hang out. I covet the tiny tables by the front window. Sheila Squillante and I grabbed one of those and tried on an old-timey Pickle Back for size. --Sherrie Flick Pickle Back: Old Heaven Hill Bonded Bourbon, house sour pickle brine Pickle Back By Sheila Squillante I had no idea I loved bourbon until two years ago. Someone handed me a paper cup with an inch of Basil Hayden’s at a funeral after-party. “Two fingers, neat,” I would later learn is the term for this. I sipped it carefully, a little tentatively. I expected, I think, to hate it. But I did not hate it. No, I did not. I touched it lightly with the tip of my tongue and let it spread, smoothly over every surface of my mouth. I swallowed and it was like ingesting autumn light. Not burning but warmly suffusive. Golden and everywhere. I was at a funeral and this was all body, all life. I loved it. Learning this love, coming to embrace it as part of me, has felt like an unlikely blessing, much like finding real, dear friendships in my 40s. I never expected it but how sweet and welcome! What a comfort and balm. So I do associate bourbon with new friends (like the one who asked me to be part of this series), but also, actually, with old ones. My friend, the poet and sociologist, Sandra L. Faulkner, has been drinking Maker’s Mark for as long as I’ve known her. We met in a community poetry class more than ten years ago, and she struck me immediately as a powerful, feminist force—both her work and her person. Full of whimsy, but not to be trifled with, Sandra drank Maker’s then the way I drink it now: not neat, but with one, perfect, icy rock. Sandra’s own love of bourbon was recently featured in Small Batch: An Anthology of Bourbon Poetry (Two of Cups Press), which includes her poem “Invitation to a Dead Grandmother.” She is also a talented knitter, canner, and pickler of glorious produce, and I have no doubt that were she... Continue reading
Posted Nov 6, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Many Monday nights I climb the stairs to Harvard & Highland in the East Liberty neighborhood of Pittsburgh. The bar sits above its sister institution Union Pig & Chicken, and you can order from UP&C's menu until 11pm. I teach until 9:30. They have barbequed tofu, mac n cheese, and greens. They also have an assortment of, I am told, delicious meat, but I am a vegetarian and that this comfort food is available to me post-classroom is almost as luscious as the space itself. Harvard & Highland is a comfy urban bird's nest--snuggled up above the concrete. Streetlight glow trickling in through the big windows lets you settle in, stay a while. This isn't prime time for the bar of course, late Monday night. So it seems special. Friendly bartenders, beautiful cocktails. --Sherrie Flick H&H Sour: Bourbon, Pistachio, Lemon, Egg white, Angostura The Sour By Joy Katz In my second year of grad school, I threw a party for the incoming MFAs. A party in my little apartment with something in a big pot, like chick pea stew. In strode a guy freshly shaven in a jacket and tie. He said he’d have a Manhattan. This was before cocktails made their comeback, a long while before the glamstalgic first episode of Mad Men, so the jacket, the well-brushed hair, the casual, confident demand utterly lacked context. I have beer and wine, I said, irritated, certain this guy was very insane. He eventually became a good friend. I had my first martini sometime later that year, no idea what a martini was for or what was in it, just thought I’d order one, and I held it and sat watching my friends play pool at the sticky pool table in the Central West End of St. Louis. The guy who demanded a Manhattan now lives outside of Paris and does international security work he cannot discuss. I remember very well his short story in which the narrator is made of metal. Eventually, over the next decade, martinis became a regular part of my life. I love that they are made of metal, an icy shaker of bitter liquors. A cocktail is part of my peaceful life. I have enough of a dark side just in my brain; I don’t drink much. But I have a weakness for the kind of places that have opened, even near my house, in Pittsburgh, the kind of bars I used to like to go to in New York, where you shout at your friend over an expanse of marble and order things from bartenders wearing vests and ties. My students are friendly. They are respectful of each other. In certain moments they seem to me not quite real — made of something warmer than metal, definitely. Even though they are at this moment driving cars and writing checks and caring for pets. Some of them are married; some have kids. They are throwing parties in their apartments and ashing their cigarettes into the last... Continue reading
Posted Nov 5, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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It seems to me I’ve always been friends with poets. Even in the midst of graduate school--when people sometimes picked teams—you could find me at the poet table waving at the fiction writers. I am, I should note, a fiction writer and a food writer. So I feel like a bit of an imposter guest blogging here, but I also feel at home. Hello friends! Poets! Hello. Sit down. Would you like something to drink? For 10 years I served as Artistic Director for the Gist Street Reading Series in Pittsburgh. There, we hosted a prose writer and a poet each month on the third floor of James Simon’s sculpture studio. Heading out for drinks with the writers after the reading was one of my favorite things to do. Friendships formed over stories and laughter. Beer, cocktails, wine, coffee. It didn’t matter. For this week I've decided to recreate that moment to a degree by taking a series of poets living in Pittsburgh out for drinks. Ideally, these posts will serve as an introduction to a host of great poets with a bonus tour of excellent places to get coffee and cocktails and beer in Pittsburgh (poetic drink insight included). --Sherrie Flick The Extra-short Americano: Your Brief History By Heather McNaugher "Roomy 8 oz. Americano made with the scalding hot water, not whatever tepid, lukewarm bath water comes out of that machine." Commonplace Coffee Co., Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh When you’re a housecleaner who covets a career change to a high-end artisan espresso roasteria in Seattle in 1995, you had better make sure your drink is in order. No more Venti Vanilla Half-caf Soy Latte with Whip. You need to streamline and taste coffee, not obscure it in so much cotton candy. There are many ways to order this drink. Most involve hand gestures for maximum control over the barista who in lamb-chops and National tee is, by nature of his craft, a perfectionist and control freak. He doesn’t need your help. You point to the tower of 8 oz. to-go cups. Staying or going, the to-go cup gives you options. With your thumb and index finger you make a letter-C, about six ounces high. “Extra-short 8 oz. Americano to go.” Next, using the full and impressive length of your left arm, you point to a little-used machine in the corner. “Made with the scalding undrinkably hot water from over there, not whatever tepid lukewarm excuse comes from this thing.” Here you chin-point disdainfully at the primary machine, calibrated for perfect espresso; not so much, apparently, for even reasonably hot water. In recent years you’ve had to adjust your ordering. Amidst the patter of telecommuting bloggers, early Cat Power on Spotify, and the hiss of steaming cappuccino milk, “extra-short” has more than once been misheard as extra-shot. This has middle-of-the-night ramifications involving cold sweats and racing existential doubt. So you’ve taken to saying “roomy”—“a roomy 8 oz. Americano”—which, well, it’s not your brother in his Bucknell sweatshirt whose back you’re slapping—“Hey,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 4, 2013 at The Best American Poetry
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Oct 31, 2013