Thursday, February 09, 2006

Pedaling to Paradise: The Search for a Clean, Well-lighted Place...

Last Tuesday evening marked a first for the Tuesday Night Swill (TNS) rides. Instead of the usual trio/duo setting out to get in some miles on the road, interrupted only by the chance to eat and throw down a few pints, this time we ended up with seven alcohooligans.


For us, that's a huge number. Hell, that's almost of WUSS Tour de Swill proportions.

The evening started out with DT, Jason, and I meeting sometime-TNSer Gary at the usual time and spot in Falls Church. The plan was to catch up with Butch and Steve in Georgetown at a quasi-yuppie joint called Pizzeria Paradiso.

Well, it was a quasi-yuppie joint until recently, when PP's beer manager, Thor Cheston, got the idea that offering some quality craft brews might be a good thing, not only for business and his own peace of mind, but for the discriminating palates of the many thirsty souls wandering the streets of the DC Metro area like zombies with scabrous livers, a taste for the flesh of living yeast, and fat wallets to back it all up.

So Thor decided to convert the basement dining area to something he calls Birreria Paradiso, a small venue that takes its cue from the usual rathskeller beer bars, with one notable exception. Birreria Paradiso boasts an impressive lineup. Impressive, as in quality and diversity: old homegrown standbys rub shoulders with some of the best Europe has to offer, a real eclectic mix that is, regrettably, all too uncommon in this area. Have a look at what was flowing from the taps on Tuesday and see if you don't agree:
  • Schneider Aventinus Wheat Doppelbock
  • Saison Dupont
  • Fullers ESB
  • Unibroue Maudite
  • Rogue Shakespeare Stout
  • Rogue Dead Guy Ale (upstairs)
  • Chimay (upstairs)
  • Kasteel Tripel
  • Bluebird Bitter
  • Jever Pilsner (upstairs)
  • Duchesse de Bourgogne
  • Hoffbrau Weizen
  • Ommegang Hennepin
  • Dogfish Head 60 (upstairs) and 90 Minute IPA
  • Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout
  • Clipper City Small Craft Warning Uber Pils (handpull)
Add to the above a cache of 80 bottled beers—including the reputed "best beer in the world," Trappiste Rochefort 10 (8 too!)—and you get my point.

What's more, for you purists out there, the beers are served in style-appropriate glasses. That means tulip-shaped goblets for strong and imperial ales, traditional (read: sub-16 oz.) pint glasses for the lower-octane ales, pilsner glasses for, um, pilsners, English "true pint" pub glasses for stouts, and some funky phallic monster of a glass (German wheat beer glass?) that was reserved for the Schneider Aventinus offering listed above. A nice touch of authenticity that stops well short of pretentiousness. Okay, it still has the feel of a yuppie joint about it (c'mon, it's Georgetown), but make no mistake: this place is serious about showcasing some great beers, and the staff is cool and informed.

But back to the ride. DT showed up with an old lugged Fuji in place of his Pista, something he'd cobbled together last minute that didn't include bar tape or a front brake. No worries about the latter, since up until a short time ago, a front brake on a fixie was a luxury item for him.

We headed off into the frigid evening (the coldest night of the year to date), hitting the W&OD and riding into Arlington. About halfway there, DT suffered a broken—make that horribly mangled—chain. Noticing that he and Gary were nowhere to be seen behind us, Jason and I circled back and found the two inspecting the damage. To pass the time while DT rejoined the chain, I thanked aloud each caring, altruistic, shining example of irrepressible human compassion that rode past us silently with scarcely a glance, as if ashamed of their own misanthropic indifference. We didn't need anything, and the fact that there were four of us probably played into the thing, but it's kind of depressing to watch people ride by like insensate robots.

The mech meant that we would be running a bit late. We hopped back on the bikes and headed into Georgetown, suffering only one dropped chain (guess who?) on the way.

Once on M Street, it wasn't long before we reached our destination, where two fixies, an On-One and a Bianchi, sat outside in the cold, signifying that our buddies were inside in the warmth. I got the idea to hang my bike up in a nearby tree, and the others quickly followed suit, stacking the frames helter-skelter between boughs on the barren sapling. We made a half-hearted effort to secure the bikes with a couple of cable locks and headed in and down the stairs to the Birreria.

At the bar, Shiva Steve and Butch were already half a pint up on us, but it didn't take us long to get up to speed. I started out with a 90 Minute IPA, which disappeared quickly. Next, I got my hands on the Duchesse, a red-haired beauty of Flemish ancestry that flowed from the tap like liquid ambrosia and left behind a delicate lace. Wow! By turns tart and sweet; heady, rich, and ruby-colored, but with a punch that steps aside just long enough to let all the flavor through. Red ale just got interesting!

About halfway through my date with the Duchesse, Joe stopped in, bringing us up to the aforementioned record-breaking seven riders. We crowded the bar area, taking up all but two seats.

Finished with the good lady, I moved on to a familiar friend, or should I say comrade, Old Rasputin. Great in the bottle, better on tap! Had this beer been around in the late 19th Century, I have to think that Tsarina Alexander would have been wooed more by its complex personality than by the powers of the mystical eponym himself.

The conversation picked up as the beers went down, focusing on the usual topics: Heidegger and eschatology, existentialism after Sartre, the unwillingness of the US to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the intrinsic right of indigenous peoples to remain autonomous against the threats presented by globalization, bikes. Well, at least one of those things.

We ordered food, most of us opting for the pizza, which was pretty good and really hit the spot. Loaded with toppings and featuring large hunks of tomato in place of standard red sauce, it disappeared all too quickly.

The other guys were tossing 'em back like it was the final judgement. Gary was favoring the 90 Minute IPAs and seemed immune to their legendary potency. Joe seemed to be sticking with the Belgians. Steve, Butch, and Jason were all over the place in their choices, taking full advantage of the diverse selection. DT ended up trying a bottle of the Rochefort 10. Very good with a truly unique flavor and a huge head that went nuclear as soon as it hit the glass. But the pre-taste hype (and the pre-taste beer?) kind of ruined it for me, so I'm sure I didn't appreciate all it has to offer. Maybe some other time.

From Old Rasputin I moved on to the Saison Dupont. Crisp and a little citrousy with a curious pepper taste that cut through the yeastiness. Huge foam cap. Tasty. At some point, Jason experienced an epiphany of sorts and requested a black-and-tan made up of 60 Minute IPA and Shakespeare Stout. Someone else followed suit. I tried a sip. Yeah, it was good, with both flavors shining through equally—harmony instead of hegemony, can you dig it?

After a few hours, the party began to wind down, with Butch and Joe cutting out first. The rest of us had another beer to brace for the cold. I think ("think" being the operative word here) I ended up back with the Duchesse, though by this time I was probably too impaired to appreciate her European sophistication. We finished up, paid up, thanked Thor, and made our way upstairs and out the door.

Outside, we harvested the bikes and made our way along M Street to Key Bridge, five strong now with the addition of Steve. I took the lead with Jason drafting me, and after the bridge we veered off the path toward Rosslyn to throw in the climb (known as DT's hill) up Key Boulevard. The rest of the ride seemed to go quickly; we rolled down Wilson Boulevard to Fairfax Boulevard alongside light traffic before regaining the Custis Trail. I was surprisingly solid and steady for the amount of alcohol my liver was working overtime to process—wrestling the muscles in my legs for blood, no doubt—and the cold never registered.

Just inside Falls Church, we split up with Steve, since he had to pedal further west to reach home. It wasn't until the next morning that we all learned he'd taken a spill right before we split up, his drunk-biking skills being a bit rusty from neglect. Seems he landed hard on the hand he broke a few years back at the Watershed and was feeling it. Aside from this, it was a great night and a good ride, sure to be repeated.

After all, Pliny the Elder is due for an appearance at the Birreria soon.


gmr2048 said...

"Gary was favoring the 90 Minute IPAs and seemed immune to their legendary potency"

Yeah, "seemed" is the right word. Most of you guys (DT caught me in the act) missed me sliding into home plate for the winning run on the ride home. Turning my head to make sure DT was still behind me, I got off on the left side of the path along Rt. 66. Seeing the fence flash past at a scary pace, I over-corrected to the right, got back onto the path, and slid out. The palm of my glove bore the brunt of the asphalt, and I got a couple of nice road-rash burns on my leg. After a minute lying-out on the pavement, I re-mounted my steed and carried on (wobbly) towards the meeting spot.

iconoclasst said...

That sounds like the spot where I took out a chunk of trail with my chin way back. You know, the mysterious fork bending incident.

What was I drinking that day? 90 Minute IPA.

I'm telling you man, that's a stealth beer...lays low for a while, then pops up out of nowhere to drop its payload on you just when you think it's all been metabolized.

Good to know it wasn't serious.

ShivaSteve said...

Gary, that's about exactly what I did! My gloves were pretty torn up and a bit of road rash on the legs. Luckily my thumb is doing pretty fine and I've been riding to work the last couple of days with just a brace on. The strong ones do sneak up on you!

I went back to RFD's today for lunch but they are out of the Pliny the Elder :-( Luckily they still had some hoppy leftovers from the Lupulin Slam III, however....

Yuri said...

that looks like a damn good time

riderx said...

We went to Rochefort last year when we were in. Drank many of those delicious beers. Ahhh, the memories!