"During summer when it's 24 hours of daylight, we drink to celebrate that. When it's winter and only a few hours of daylight, we drink just to get through it." Welcome to Iceland, a country with a complex and interesting relationship love of alcohol -- including several unique types of alcohol that are available nowhere else in the world. As such, no trip to Iceland is complete without visiting a few cities and regions that are famous for their local brews.

  Much like the United States, Iceland has a complex past with prohibition -- one that started earlier and lasted many, many decades longer. Enacted in 1915, the ban on alcohol was eventually loosened over the years on certain spirits, but unfortunately beer over 2.25% remained illegal until March 1st, 1989.

In order to have the most authentic Icelandic experience available, be sure to make a few new local friends over the following drinks:

Brennivín

Brennivín is unquestionably the national drink of Iceland. It is a purely Icelandic creation using potato mash and herbs native to this Nordic island nation to create an unsweetened schnapps. Sometimes called "Black Death" in reference to the original bottles, which featured a white skull on a black label, Brennivín is primarily served chilled in shot form. It is often accompanied with Icelandic hákarl (fermented shark), the national dish of Iceland. Although I am an adventurous eater, I much prefer my Brennivín sans-shark. Why? Well, as Anthony Bourdain so eloquently said, Hákarl is "the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" that he has ever eaten anywhere in the world.

Would you like a little Hákarl with your Brennivín? Yes please!
Would you like a little Hákarl with your Brennivín?

Because Brennivín is unsweetened, outside of Iceland it is sometimes referred to as an "akvavit" instead of a schnapps. Regardless, it is surprisingly smooth, hits hard, and has no shortage of foreign fans despite the fact that Brennivín has never been exported internationally. At least not until 2014 when Egill Skallagrímsson, the countriest premiere Brennivín brand and also an award-winning beer brewery, began exporting Brennivín to the United States -- but no where else. Yet.

  While Brennivín can be found throughout the country, never is it in more abundance than during Þorrablót, the Icelandic mid-winter festival every January.

Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps

There is an old saying that the worse something tastes, the better it is for you. That would appear to be a big selling point behind Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps, which yes, is made with real Icelandic moss. There is even a tuft of the famous lichen lovingly included in each bottle produced. Icelandic moss is so important that it is protected by law and has been used medicinally for centuries to treat things such as cough, sore throat and upset stomach. (Of course if you drink too much Fjallagrasa, you are liable to end up with one of these afflictions, rather than curing it.)

Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps, one of the unique types of alcohol only found in Iceland

The moss is hand-picked in the mountains of Iceland, ground up and mixed with a "specially prepared alcohol blend" which remains a trade secret of IceHerbs, the company that produces Fjallagrasa. It is then soaked for an extended period of time, allowing all of the biologically active components of the moss to dissolve. No other artificial colors or flavors are added.

Just like with Brennivín, as there is no sugar in Fjallagrasa Moss Schnapps, it is technically not a schnapps by international definition. Regardless, it is still consumed around the country for both healthly and recreational purposes.

Iceland has many unique types of alcohol not found anywhere else in the world

Reyka Vodka

Vodka may not be an Nordic creation (we owe Poland for that one) however Icelanders may have perfected it. Reyka Vodka is often referred to as the best vodka in the world by vodka connesiours. Using pure arctic water naturally filtered through a 4,000 year old lava field and then distilled in a top-of-the-line Carter-Head still -- one of only six that exist in the entire world, and the only one that is being used for vodka -- the result is so pure and delicious it goes down like water.

Reyka Vodka, arguably the best vodka in the world

With only one still Reyka is brewed in small batches of only 1,700 litres each, ensuring optimal quality every time. As an added bonus, the entire Reyka distillery is powered by volcanic geo-thermal energy, meaning that the world's best vodka is also the greenest. Everyone wins.

  Although this is Iceland's first distillery, public tours are unfortunately not available. But you can take a digital tour to see exclusive photos and learn more about the process that makes Reyka vodka so special here.

Opal

Opal is a popular licorice candy in Iceland and also the name of an equally popular vodka that also tastes like licorice. As my local buddy put it, "Once you outgrow the candy you switch to the drink." At 27% ABV Opal is not the strongest, but if you are a fan of Jägermeister straight then you will probably enjoy an Opal shot or three.

Opal is a unique type of vodka only found in Iceland

Bjórlíki

Up until 1989, the only type of beer that was legal in Iceland was the weak "near-beer" consisting of only 1-2% alcohol content. However because 40% ABV spirits such as Brennivin and vodka were legal, people would add them to their beer. Known as Bjórlíki, you will never find this for sale in any store or bar. However if you venture off the beaten path and explore the Icelandic countryside, you can taste this beauty for yourself.

Bjorliki, a weak Pilsner spiked with vodka, is a unique type of alcohol only found in Iceland

Björk & Birkir

Made from the sap of birch trees, Björk and Birkir are two relatively new Icelandic creations. Sure they might not have the history or significance of other drinks such as Brennivín and Bjórlíki, but c'mon now where else in the world can find liquor made from birch trees? Yeah, that's what I thought.

As the story goes, the two brothers behind Foss distillery traveled around Iceland sampling all the native flora until they decided that birch was the most delicious. So they planted what will one day become a sustainable birch forest and now gently "borrow" a little sap from the growing trees to make their spirits. Oh and in case you were wondering, the 27.5% ABV Björk is not named after the singer but rather the Icelandic word for "birch". It has an earthy, woody taste with a slightly sweeter finish than the 36% ABV Birkir, but both are intriguing. Either one would make a unique souvenir to take home the next time you travel Iceland.

  BONUS

Celebrate Bjórdagur, Iceland's "Beer Day"

  After nearly 75 years of prohibition, it's time to celebrate. Every March 1st is Iceland's "Beer Day" and it is best celebrated in the capital city of Reykjavik by doing a Rúntur -- the Icelandic word for "pub crawl".

During this time of year the sunset is after midnight and sunrise just before 3am, but because of the lingering glow that exists even after sunset, it never truly gets dark. As such, the "night" is perfect for bar-hopping and celebrating the holiday with some new Icelandic friends. Did I meantion that bars are open until 4am?

Want more unique things to do in Iceland?

The ultimate Iceland off the beaten path travel guide

  flickr // chrisgold considerable_vomit mmepassepartout borkazoid vannortwick

Published in Iceland

Exploring the fjords and glaciers. Embracing the midnight sun. Breathtaking scenery and one of the homes of the Northern Lights. A vibrant sauna culture. Yes, Norway is known for a lot of things. However the country is not known for its one-of-a-kind museums, eccentric artists and lust for liquor. But maybe it should be. The next time you find yourself in Oslo, make sure to check out at least one of the unique and offbeat destinations:

  But first a gift for all you Pinterest addicts...

All the quirky, unique and offbeat things to do in Oslo, Norway

The Mini Bottle Gallery

When you think of a glass bottle collection, do you think or of ships and other miniatures inside of bottles? Regardless of which answer you picked, this is the place for you! Welcome to The Mini Bottle Gallery, the only museum of its kind in the world. It is home to over 50,000 bottles of all shapes, sizes and designs.

The unique and offbeat Mini Bottle Gallery in Oslo, Norway, is home to a collection of over 50,000 bottles, the world's largest

The owner is a fourth generation descendent of the Ringnes brewery founders and one of Norway's most affluent businessmen. His love of bottles started as a kid upon receiving a half bottle of gin as a gift and has grown over the years into a massive collection.

In spring of 2000, Ringnes purchased a building in the heart of Oslo, and three years later the museum opened. Most bottles are full of alcohol but others have fruits, berries, even animals. Public hours are limited to between noon and 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays only, however private visits for large groups can be scheduled in advance for alternative days.

  Official Web Site

Light fixture made out of old glass bottles at the unique and one-of-a-kind Mini Bottle Gallery in Oslo, Norway
Looking up at a light fixture on the ceiling made from colored glass bottles

Torggata

All those beer and liquor bottles have you craving a drink? Head on over to Torggata, specifically the blocks in between Youngs Gate and Hausmanns Gate. 6-7 years ago this was a seedy street full of trash, graffiti and drug dealers. Now it is full of trendy new restaurants and bars, and street art has replaced graffiti. Yes, Torggata has quickly become one of the hippest parts of Oslo.

The shit shop on Torggata in Oslo, Norway
Restaurants, bars and stores that sell shit. Welcome to Torggata.

Cobblestone streets. Pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Outdoor diners enjoying the day. And a strong emerging nightlife. This is Torggata, where McDonald's struggles and exotic foreign cuisine florishes. Jaime Pesaque, the renowned Peruvian chef with restaurants in Lima, Dubai and Milano (just to name a few), now has one in Torggata as well: Piscoteket

The entire area is full of restaurants serving different cuisines from around the world, and most of these also serve alcohol as well. However there are plenty of dedicated bars to. Just go for a stroll and stop in whatever place catches your eye. Guarantee you'll have fun!

Norwegian Museum of Magic

Traditional museums have a tendancy to be boring, it's okay, we can all agree here. That's why it is our duty as travelers to support all those strange, quirky and one-of-a-kind museums scattered around the world. My rule is this: if the museum name makes you think "WTF" then you're obligated to go inside.

Over the last two decades more and more professional magicians are worrying that their trade is dying. Some magicians are revealing the secrets behind popular tricks, to inspire a new younger generation to follow in their footsteps. Others are devising newer and more elaborate stunts with the help of modern technology. Meanwhile in Norway a group of magicians began collecting magician memorabilia to tell their story.

Free entrance to the Museum of Magic in Oslo, Norway when you attend one of the Sunday magic shows

By 2001 this collection of posters, props, photographs and gear had grown so large it needed to be moved to its own apartment (exterior pictured above). Thus Norsk Tryllemuseum, the Norway Museum of Magic, was officially born.

Note: The museum is only open on Sundays from 1pm-4pm with a magic show at 2pm. Ideally, you are supposed to go for the show and enjoy the museum as a "free bonus".

  Official Web Site

  More Unique & Offbeat Museums Around The World

Vigeland Installation at Frogner Park

Gustav Vigeland was one of Norway's most esteemed sculptors and nowadays is known throughout the world. His easily recognizeable work are thos iconic statues of human beings doing, well, human things. Vigeland was also the designer of the Nobel Peace Prize medal.

In a deal with the Oslo government, Vigeland agreed to donate all his future works to the city. By the time he passed away in 1943 this was over 200 sculptures. Together they cover a sprawling 80 acres and comprise the largest sculpture park in the world created by a single artist. The pinnacle of all this artwork is a 14-metre tall monstrosity known as The Monolith. Carved entirely out of granite, 121 writhing bodies for a human totem pole obelisk.

The Gustav Vigeland Installation at Frogner Park -- 212 statues that make up the largest sculpture park in the world created by a single artist. And one of the cool, quirky and unique sights to see in Oslo, Norway

The park is open 24 hours a day and entrance is free, however it is quite popular with both locals and tourists, so try to avoid visiting at peak hours.

  Official Web Site

Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum

That's right, Gustav Vigeland had several brothers, one of which became a famous artist: Emanuel Vigeland. Although he never attained the same level of fame as his older brother, he was nonetheless an accomplished sculptor, painter and stained glass artist.

The mausoleum itself is an intriguing homage to life, death and sex, all rolled into one. It was originally intended to be a museum but halfway through Emanuel changed his mind and decided to combine mausoleum and museum into one. Shaped like a small church with bricked up windows, the acoustics of the building are so powerful that speaking loudly is simply not possible.

The Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum is one of the cool, quirky and unique sights to see in Oslo, Norway

When Emanuel passed away 1948 he was creamted and ashes placed within a low-hanging niche above the entry. The end result is that every guest of the mausoleum has to bow down to Emanuel on their way out.

  Official Web Site

Of course this is only the tip of the glacier of things to do in Oslo. For more advice and information for what to do and where, check out this Norway travel guide....and have fun!

What other unique or quirky Oslo sights are there?

  More Offbeat Travel Guides     More On Norway

  flickr   //   iammadforit   glimeend   vidariv   aaslex   BONO

Published in Norway

Just last week we filled you in on the best up-and-coming wine destinations in the U.S. and abroad. This week, we’ve added a few of our favorite well known wine destinations to the mix, so you can decide which destinations fit your budget and travel style.

 

Wine Destinations by Cost of Weekend Trip for Two
City/Region Avg Nightly Hotel Price Avg Flight Price from Top 30 US Airports Total for 2-Night Stay for 2 People
Columbia Valley, WA/OR $82 $338 $840
Long Island, NY $91 $361 $904
Monticello, VA $160 $354 $1,028
Sonoita, AZ $144 $433 $1,154
Sonoma, CA $297 $345 $1,284
Napa, CA $375 $345 $1,440
Ontario, Canada $205 $551 $1,512
Paso Robles, CA $214 $609 $1,646
Malibu, CA $496 $349 $1,690
Loire Valley, France $118 $1,195 $2,626
Primorska, Slovenia $155 $1,210 $2,730
Catalonia, Spain $178 $1,208 $2,772
Mendoza, Argentina $99 $1,312 $2,822
Mosel Valley, Germany $128 $1,555 $3,366
Tuscany, Italy $169 $1,548 $3,434
Barossa Valley, Australia $170 $1,744 $3,828
Marlborough, New Zealand $151 $2,012 $4,326

Deal Destinations:

If you guessed that domestic destinations would be the best deal, you’re correct. If traveling from within the U.S. to Columbia Valley or Long Island’s wine country, you can enjoy a weekend getaway for two for less that $1,000 (excluding food and wine of course).

Splurge Destination:

American fans of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc might be disappointed: New Zealand’s Marlborough region is the most expensive to travel to from the States. A weekend wine tasting adventure for two costs more than $4,000. Those who stay in the U.S. during crush season will notice that flights to Malibu, Sonoma, and Napa are reasonable, but the hotel prices are much more expensive than other domestic wine destinations.

International Wine Lovers:

Got your heart set on a wine-infused rendezvous complete with exotic accents and cuisine? Then your best bet is to give Loire Valley, France, a try. The total price tag comes in at about $2,500. Alternatively, you could save by visiting Ontario, Canada, instead for about $1,500, but something tells us that our neighbor to the north isn’t going to give you the international experience you’re hoping for.

Got a favorite wine destination you want us to price out for you? Leave us a note in the comments section and we’ll look into it.

  The article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on September 29th.

Published in Travel Tips

In 2007, Congress declared September to be America’s National Bourbon Heritage Month—so it’s time to get sipping.

The most popular type of whiskey in the U.S., bourbon is made from a grain mixture (aka “mash”) that’s at least 51 percent corn. Federal law also mandates that bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels and bottled at 80 proof or stronger, and nothing other than distilled water can be added to the bottles.

There’s no better place to celebrate this American spirit than in its birthplace: Kentucky’s Bourbon Country. Fly into Lexington and prepare to drink up on this multi-day tour.

Bourbon barrels aging in the warehouse

Day 1: Buffalo Trace Distillery – Frankfort, Kentucky

Where else to start exploring the history of bourbon than at America’s oldest continuously operating distillery? For over 200 years, Buffalo Trace has been distilling bourbons—the distillery even remained open during Prohibition in order to make bourbon for “medicinal purposes.” In the past decade alone, the family-owned bourbon producer has earned more awards than any other distillery in the world.

Take part in Buffalo Trace’s award-winning history by embarking on the Trace Tour, a free, hour-long tour that walks visitors through every stage of the bourbon-making process, from aging barrels to packaging (and, of course, tasting the finished product). You’ll also be able to taste the exclusive Pappy Van Winkle or George T. Stagg (both are bottled at Buffalo Trace)—but for a price.

Where to Stay   Nearby Lexington is the state’s second-largest city and is considered the Horse Capital of the World. The city is also home to a wide range of budget-friendly hotels; check out the Hyatt Place Lexington for easy access to restaurants and downtown attractions, or the University Inn Hotel, which offers quiet lodgings and a continental breakfast.

Day 2: Woodford Reserve to Wild Turkey

After waking up in Lexington, prepare to visit two distilleries over the course of the day (don’t worry; they’re not far from each other).

Woodford Reserve Distillery – Versailles, Kentucky

Start off at one of the country’s smallest and oldest distilleries. To this day, Woodford Reserve is crafted in small batches in order to enhance the flavor of each of the bourbon’s ingredients and developmental stages—grains, water, fermentation, distillation, and maturation. The distillery builds and chars its own barrels and boasts one of the longest fermentation processes in the country, all of which contributes to the bourbon’s complex flavor profile.

The daily tour ($10 per person) at Woodford Reserve explores the history of bourbon and details the distillery’s unique approach to the bourbon-making process. Or take an even more in-depth approach on the Cork to Corn Tour ($30 per person), a two-hour session that covers the mechanical, chemical, and technical processes that contribute to making great bourbon.

Wild Turkey – Lawrenceburg, Kentucky

Located just 16 miles down the road from Woodford Reserve is the distillery for Wild Turkey, one of the country’s most popular bourbons. The original distillery was founded in 1869 and then modernized in 1933 once Prohibition had ended. It sits atop a limestone shelf on the Kentucky River, which provides water for the distillery. In order to keep up with high demand, in 2010 the brand created a new, larger distillery nearby. Just how big is demand? The new warehouse can hold 20,000 barrels.

The free tour allows visitors to watch mash being made, peruse the original fermentation room, and witness the bourbon-making process from filling the barrels to bottling the aged bourbon.

Where to Stay   Head back to the hotel in Lexington for the evening and rest up—you’ll be traveling partway across the state the next day.

Day 3: Jim Beam to Bulleit

Wake up for the approximately 1.5-hour drive from Lexington to Clermont—perhaps better known as the home of Jim Beam. You’ll be visiting two distilleries again today, so be sure to pace yourself. On the way to Clermont, stop for lunch in Bardstown, the official Bourbon Capital of the World. Shop for souvenirs (and, of course, bourbon) at the Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace before driving on to Jim Beam.

Jim Beam bourbon whiskey from Kentucky

Jim Beam – Clermont, Kentucky

Another of America’s most popular bourbons, Jim Beam was founded in 1795 and has been family owned and operated for seven generations. The distillery is known for aging its bourbon twice as long as the standard aging process and has used the same strain of yeast for more than 75 years.

The Jim Beam American Stillhouse tour ($10 for adults 21 and over, free for anyone under 21) allows visitors to actively participate in the bourbon production process, from mixing grains to bottling your very own product from Jim Beam.

Bulleit bourbon whiskey from Kentucky

Bulleit – Louisville, KY

Twenty-nine miles away from Jim Beam sits the Bulleit Distilling Company. Despite being the baby of the bunch (the distillery was founded in 1987), Bulleit Bourbon has already made quite a name for itself. The company’s founder, Thomas E. Bulleit, Jr., quit his job as a successful lawyer and pursued his lifelong dream of reviving his great-great-grandfather’s bourbon recipe, which was produced between 1830 and 1860. The distillery maintains the family tradition by creating a spicy-yet-smooth flavor that’s earned accolades across the country.

The Stitzel-Weller Distillery tour ($10 for adults 21 and over, free for anyone under 21) takes place in a beautiful old building that first opened on Derby Day in 1935 and was reopened to the public in 2014. Learn about Bulleit’s distinctive family recipe while strolling through the distillery, then finish things off with (you guessed it) a tasting.

Where to Stay   Head to Louisville, which is just a few miles away from Bulleit’s distillery. The city is packed with fun things to do; not least among those activities is the Urban Bourbon Trail, a bar-hopping adventure among the self-dubbed “world’s best bourbon bars,” each of which serves at least 50 different bourbon varieties.

Turn in for the night at the luxurious and stylish 21c Museum Hotel, which also includes an on-site modern art museum. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option after sipping on bourbon all evening, check out the Econo Lodge Downtown.

Three days, five distilleries, and a whole lotta bourbon—after touring some of America’s best bourbon distilleries, you may just want to go ahead and declare October (and November, and December…) your own personal bourbon appreciation month.

  This article was posted on Hipmunk's Tailwind blog by The Hipmunk on September 18th.

Published in United States

Do you love a swig of beer or a glass of wine? No, I'm not going to tell you to stop! In fact I'm most likely the one urging you to have another glass. Just don't drink the same thing on vacation that you would be at home -- try something new! Never heard of it? Sound strange? Just go for it!

Oh the stories I could tell of all the crazy local brews I've drank with locals around the world... ;)

Here are five drinks that you should definitely try:

Arak

Arak is the traditional beverage in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Israel and Turkey. The word ‘arak' means sweat in Arabic. Don't turn away from this alcoholic drink assuming it to be someone's sweat though. The drink is anise-flavored and diluted with water for consumption. The liquor is clear but upon dilution with water, it becomes milky. This is because anethole, the essential oil in anise, is insoluble in water. Adding ice causes the arak to form an unpleasant layer on the surface. If you order a bottle of arak, the waiter will usually serve it with several glasses as one does not drink arak in the same glass again due to the emulsification of the liquid. Arak is served with appetizers.

Ouzo

If you visit Greece, you must certainly try out their coffees and frappés. But don't forget to try out ouzo, the essentially Greek drink, along with a platter of olives, fries, fish and cheese. You will find it tastes of liquorice and is smoother than absinthe. Ouzo is generally flavored with anise or mint or coriander. Like arak, ouzo too becomes milky when mixed with water. For the same reason, adding ice to the drink is avoided. The Greeks use ouzo in many recipes and consider it to have healing properties due to the presence of anise.

Sake

Sake, a wine made of rice, is a traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage. The rice used to make sake differs from the normal rice that the Japanese eat. Sake comes in several varieties which are served at a range of temperatures. Though sake goes best with Japanese cuisine, you can enjoy the beverage with Chinese food too. Food that is flavored with herbs will also work well.

Cachaça

This is Brazil's national beverage. According to a survey, the country produces over a billion litres of cachaça annually but only 1% of it is exported. Fresh sugarcane juice is fermented and then distilled to make cachaça. Some types of rums are also made in the same way which is why cachaça is also referred to as Brazilian rum. The liquor may be consumed either aged or un-aged. Un-aged cachaça will come cheaper but do look for the dark and premium variety that is aged in wooden barrels. Caipirinha is a popular cocktail that includes cachaça as the main ingredient.

Mezcal

This Mexican distilled alcoholic beverage is much like tequila's cousin as they are both made from (different types of) agave plants. Mezcal is made from the maguey plant while tequila is made from the blue agave plant. Most of the mezcal produced by Mexico is made in a region called Oaxaca. A popular saying that you might get to hear is Para todo mal, mezcal, y para todo bien también, translated as, For everything bad, mezcal and for everything good, the same.

The drink might not seem inviting if you see larva in a bottle of mezcal, but many alcohol makers have embraced this age-old technique now. You can find mezcal without the larva too. You can relish it with sliced oranges dusted with ground chili, fried larvae and salt.

  Don't forget to purchase a bottle or two as a souvenir if you really fall in love with the taste of any of these drinks. That way you will have a tale to tell your friends over a round of drinks too.

Cheers to new adventures!

Published in Travel Tips

Alcohol consumption is a popular social activity in a variety countries all over this world, however few cities take it to the level that the residents of Tokyo do. From hard liquor sold around-the-clock in corner stores to clubs whose closing time is not until "the last person leaves," this mega-metropolis has a decidedly care-free attitude toward drinking. Just as the local citizens love their cigarettes, it should come as no surprise that they also love their fermented beverages -- more so than any other country I have seen in this corner of the world. Take China, for example: drinking is not immensely popular among the locals, and their big holiday, Chinese New Year, is a time most often spent with the family, not an excuse to go out drinking.

Gigantic, Multiple-Floor Clubs Lure In The Young Local Crowds

The Tokyo club scene rocks!
No, this isn't the party...just the pre-party.

The same cannot be said about Japan. They love their spirits be it holiday, weekday, or weekend! Beer, sake, wine, liquor, all are enjoyed in ample quantities. That fact is further re-inforced by the single biggest difference between drinking in Tokyo and drinking Stateside... Are you ready for this one? There is no official closing time! Forget that 2am cutoff we have in the States, that is usually just when things are getting good but then ol' Johnny Q Bartender just has to go slap on the ugly lights as he gives you the ol' "You don't have to go home but you can't stay here" line.

Sail past the 4am alcohol-cutoff that NYC residents love to brag about as well, none of those early nights here in Tokyo. As the bulk of large Tokyo clubs do not open their doors until 11pm or midnight, it will often be 2 or maybe 3am before the place really gets packed. Add in the fact that the majority of these venues stay open as long as there is a profit to be made and that frequently results in it being 5-6-7am before you stumble out into the morning sun, momentarily confused as to why it is so damn bright in the middle of the night. It is only the sobering sight of hordes of businessmen dressed in identical black suits scurrying along every which direction that makes you realize that you are now a part of the Tokyo morning rush-hour. Trains are running again and packed full of individuals en route to work alongside others desperate to crawl into bed before the hangover hits. But the night does not always stop here...

Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Another key difference regarding alcohol laws was not initially apparent until you find yourself leaving one of these clubs at sunrise with no desire to end the party. This is what I dubbed the memory-maker — or for some it was usually more of a memory-eraser.

Yes, believe it or not in Tokyo you can purchase alcohol 24/7 — that's right, beer, wine, even hard liquor! The easiest place to purchase it is from Lawson corner stores that are located on nearly every block. Walk fifty paces, grab a little tray of fresh sushi, maybe some ramen too, oh and what else did I need..? Ahhh yes a liter of 12yr Yamazaki, Japan's premiere whisky. (Japanese whisky is most similar to Scotch whisky and therefore contains no 'e')

Cheers in Tokyo

Although it may sound as though Tokyo and its' nightlife is a sort of alcohol-heaven, make sure that your wallet can take the hit as nothing in or around the city is cheap. Since Tokyo is one of the most expensive cities in the world to call home, it should be no surprise that everything else in the city is expensive, including the clubs. As with most things you get what you pay for and none of these clubs disappoint, just do not be surprised to see the club cover charges are ¥3000-4000 (roughly $35-45 USD) just to step foot in the door. Drinks cost an average of ¥800-1000 ($10-12 USD). Most venues include a token for one free drink upon paying the cover but I quickly learned one important thing: when redeeming the free drink token, do not wave it around when placing your drink order or you may end up with a weak drink. Instead wait until the bartender places the drink in front of you to reveal the token.
  Curiosity piqued yet? It should be. Read more~   the dazzling Tokyo club scene

I Do Believe There Is A Bar Every 40 Metres Or Less!

Beer, wine, and mixed drinks at the bars are generally slightly less expensive than inside the clubs, not to mention there is no hefty cover charge. Another financial upside is the fact that since tipping in Japan is actually considered very offensive, need to worry about adding in a ¥200 tip with each drink. It is almost like saying that you are above the person being tipped and thus implying that they are inferior and need your assistance. Besides, as the cost of living in the city is anything but cheap, employees in Tokyo are already paid well-enough to free them from any reliance on tips. This proud self-reliance and unwillingness to accept hand-outs is deeply entwined with their culture and I believe helps explain the almost complete lack of homeless people. It is also pretty damn admirable, if I do say so myself.

Good friends and good drinks in Tokyo, Japan

There is only one place which I can recall that may have had a tip jar on the bar was ShibuyaNUTS — and because I know you are curious, 'NUTS' stands from the Next Underground Techno Scene. Every few weeks I would pop in for a couple hours during NUTS' weekly Sunday night ReggaeFest and it wasn't long before I had made friends with one of the young bartenders. Realizing that I prefered my whisky half-and-half with 7Up (never Coke), he made sure to start pouring my drinks with a wicked heavy hand. In return I never bothered to take my change. Whether it made it into his pocket or the tip jar that may not have even existed, I haven't the faintest idea and nor do I care. All I know is that being a young cat (or whatever the reason may have been) he certainly not offended in the slightest about accepting extra cash from me.

The Classic Charlie Brown Football Gag
Replace poor Charlie Brown's body with mine and
swap Lucy out for the lower portion of that staircase

Yup, that's exactly how it happened!

(And a good reason why I need a cameraman to follow me around)

But this much I do remember: one night that bartender got me so damn drunk that I took not one, not two, but three nasty falls during my drunken stumble back to my flat. On the positive side two of these falls were quite hilarious, if I do say so myself. Luckily this was while Jared was in town, so he was able to get a couple pictures of my injuries.

  Remember the classic Charlie Brown football gag where Lucy lifts the ball up precisely as Charlie goes to kick it and his momentum causes him to fly up into the air, feet up over head before slamming back down to the ground?

Well that my friends is exactly what happened to me. That night after leaving ShibuyaNUTS I was descending rain-covered steps on the far side of a pedestrian walkway over a busy intersection when one of my feet slipped due to my rapid multiple-steps-at-once pace combined with — c'mon, let's face it — my high level of inebriation. As that foot flew past its anticipated step my forward momentum carried me out off the stairs and forward thru the air, both feet rising up nearly level with my head as I continued to sail past the last remaining eight or so steps. My spine hit the sidewalk first followed a split-second later by a resounding thud as the back of my head bounced against the concrete a mere couple inches from the lowest step on the staircase.

  Jared took photos of my injuries after we returned to the flat. I still have those scars to this very day, too.

Derek Freal got injured while drunk in Tokyo

Thankfully I was considerably drunk and did not initially feel much pain. After struggling to my feet I managed to follow that spectacular show up with two more subsequent self-induced falls in as many minutes. One was chest-first (resulting in cuts to my right hand, wrist, and arm) and the other a second blow to the back of my skull yet again. As you can see in the pictures, rather than clean my wounds I decided to pass out bleeding. Not my brightest idea, especially considering the wound on the back of my head. I had to throw away that pillow the next morning.

Whisky from the depression era!

Personally, I had never before in all my life and certainly never since done so much daily drinking over not just a week or two but multiple months. The month that Jared was here visiting me was the worst, out in the clubs all night and then grabbing a bottle afterwards to continue the party with local friends. But even once he left and I hooked up with Mayu, my Japanese cougar, we started to frequent the more sophisticated and upscale places which she was used to. Despite the prices increasing dramatically that did little if anything deter our alcohol consumption. She and I From fancy restaurants owned by Japanese celebrities and random upscale bars, many of these were places I would never have found or never been able to gain access as a lone gaijin wandering aimlessly. One of the upscale whisky bars we visited in Hiroo even had a bottle of whisky from the Prohibition-era. That is me with said bottle on the right.

I firmly believe that anyone who enjoys a good night out on the town should consider visiting Tokyo while they are still young and able enough to survive an entire night of drinking. Go for the full experience and trust me, you will have a memorable time.

Ready For Another
Unexpected Surprise?

Despite the relentless drinking that many locals engage in, never once in my three months did I observe a single fight or even any minor disagreements between friends or lovers. Nothing even remotely close. Not like back Stateside, where disputes or fights occur with an all-too-common frequency at the slightest provocation. Of course a couple friends have recently pointed out the fact that my Japanese is limited at best, so how can I accurately judge what I heard? Regardless of the language, words themselves are but a mere 10% of the actual act of communication. The real message lies not exactly with the wording but in the body language, pitch, tone, and general context of the speaker, and to a lesser extent in the reaction of the listener. In all my people-watching never once was there anything resembling animosity. Talk about refreshing! Even random strangers are friendly and respectful, albeit sometimes a little shy. What an amazing culture! I love everything about you Japan.

Nonbei Yokocho, Shibuya ward, Tokyo, Japan
Drunkards' Alley is actually two parallel alleys jam-packed with
dozens of miniature bars, the biggest only about 10'x10'

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

No matter where you may be in Tokyo the ambiance is always pleasant. Streets are clean and every public trash can is divided into sections for recycling and compost. Even the tiniest bars are clean and well-maintained, another stark contrast to the US. And believe me, I did plenty of drinking in these hole-in-the-wall bars. I even found a full neighborhood of nothing but miniature bars! It was so amazing that I would end up at least popping my head in for a few minutes on an almost nightly basis as a sort of warmup before our nightly loop along the drinking circuit. The neighborhood is called Nonbeiyokocho and is also known as Drunkards' Alley or the Alley of the Drunkards (pictured on the left).

  If you are eager to enjoy a beer in one of the world's smallest bars or looking to meet some great people and make new friends, well then this is the spot! I cannot stress that enough.

I have been informed by several individuals over the years — although I have yet to confirm this one personally — that if you get too drunk and happen to pass out on a street corner during a cold night, someone walking by will take off their jacket to cover you before continuing on their way, sans jacket. Now c'mon, is that not incredible!?! Where else in the world would someone, especially a stranger, demonstrate such compassion for an unknown individual? Not just a stranger but a passed out drunk person that could well be a vagrant. Nowhere but Japan! That is but a small part of what makes this such a unique and unparallel country. (Kind of wish I had tested it during my injury night and just passed out laying there on the sidewalk, bleeding)

Drinking with friends at a darts bar in the Ebisu ward of Tokyo, Japan

Included below are some random pictures from an assortment of my many drunken nights in Tokyo. Photography is strictly forbidden inside all the clubs, so all my photos come from various bars. However, just below this paragraph you will notice a large photofrom inside of random Shibuya club. Towards the end of my trip I met this fantastic local "businessman" at Non. Despite the fact he would never elaborate any more about his work, he was still a very worldly person to spoke with and we had a lot of great conversations. We also went to a lot of fun clubs and parties together on a variety of different nights. Not only did this mysterious gentleman always get us into the clubs via the back door — no cover charge, no security search — but the staff also kindly looked the other way whenever Shige would break any of the rules, such as taking flash photos inside.

Shibuya friends
Oh man this picture tells a thousand stories...if you know how to read it ;)

Our mysterious friend is at the forefront alongside the Japanese wrapper whose private, closed-club birthday party we were currently attending (I cannot believe I have forgotten his name!). On the far right is one of the dudes from the rapper's posse, in the back middle is my drunk ass, and on the far left is my sometimes traveling buddy Jared.

Even more impressive than backdoor access to everywhere when with him was the fact that regardless of where we went, steady streams of people were slowly yet continuously approaching Shige and bow to show respect. Unfortunately because any exchanges would be spoken quickly, quietly, and in Japanese, I was never able to pinpoint why everyone respected him. The plot thickens... One evening Jared and I had accompanied Shige to one of his flats in a dark corner of Shibuya, where among other things he showed us a collection of enlarged photographs featuring him with Hugh Hefner and three bunnies. Others photos were with a variety of American and European celebrities, mostly actors. There was even one photograph with him and the old man from Orange County Choppers, so I would be willing to wager a bet that stashed somewhere in this great city Shige also has a custom NY chopper.

Lots of beer on tap in Tokyo, Japan

After returning to Tokyo from the Philippines was when Jared flew back home and I began dating Mayu. One evening I brought her along for dinner with Shige. Big mistake. Mayu behaved strangely and was quite hesitant to join in our conversation. Despite the limited time I had known her I could tell she was being uncharacteristically silent. Only later that night did I find out the reason why: she squeeked out something about him being Yakuza and then would never speak another peep about it or even join me if she knew that my "Japanese father" would be there. Uncertain of Shige's reaction, I never asked him myself — although that certainly would have explained a whole helluva lot!

And That My Friends Is Tokyo — A City Where Anything Is Possible!

  Been to Japan? What did you think about the culture, the nightlife? Share your thoughts below!
  Maybe you even recognize the rapper from my photo or possibly know his name? I feel like that could even possibly be it on his hand...?? If you know, please let me know. Thanks!

Even Once The Party Is Over, Tokyo Still Leaves You Impressed

Besides Booze, The World's Most Successful Metropolis Is Also Host To An Abundance
Of Other Surprising And Often-Unexpected Features, Especially For First-Time Visitors

Given that Tokyo is home to a staggering 36.9 million residents, it should be downright shocking that the world's most populated metropolis does not suffer from those key issues plaguing nearly every other metropolis with a multi-million population: crime, pollution, trash, traffic, a homeless population, sections of deteriorating infrastructure, even a public disdain for strangers or the inability of the local government to properly streamline important functions such as emergency medical services or public transportation. However I am proud to say that amazingly Tokyo has all of those items well under control. The only one that could even remotely be considered to have room for improvement is the traffic, and that is debatable.

Drunk Derek Freal always knows how to wow the ladies, even in Tokyo, Japan when he doesn't speak the language

Due to the efficiency and reliability of the Tokyo metro system, combined with the high prices and taxes for personal vehicles, only the wealthiest of businessmen drive. As such often the only cars on the roads alongside the taxis and delivery drivers are sparkling new Audis and Mercedes that appear to have just rolled off the showroom floor only minutes before. The miniscule proportion of private commuters in local traffic is just not a serious issue -- I've sat through worse in dozens of cities, including my hometown of Austin, Texas — and the population of that entire greater metropolis region is not even a paltry 4% of Tokyo's. Further illustrating the significance of these amazing achievements is evidenced by the fact that Tokyo has a harmonious, realitvely efficient, and overall smooth-running city despite the fact that the region is not only located in an earthquake hotspot and plagued year-round but also boasts a population that is a whopping 75% greater than even its closest competition, Delhi. That is an extra 15 million people more or the entire population of Beijing!

Drinking in Tokyo, Japan

Toss in some of the best cuisine anywhere, a one-of-a-kind fashion industry, amazing shopping, diverse districts that are home to never-ending sights, and a vibrant, respectful, and deeply historic culture...

Well now that my friends that is my beloved Tokyo! You would be hard-pressed to find a better all-around combination of technology and efficiency anywhere. On the depressing day three years ago that I said goodbye to my flat in Ebisu and moved back Stateside I swore to return once I had traveled the globe to the point of exhaustion and start a family there.

  I made this map while in Ebisu to help familiarize myself with my new home and the local neighborhood. Includes are mostly clubs and bars in the Shibuya/Ebisu area, making it a perfect fit with this article. Plus there are also a few extra shopping locations, the closest 24/7 ATM that accepts all foreign cards, and maybe even a hidden restaurant or two. Oh yes, and the ex's flat. Don't go there.

{jumi [*5][shibuya]}

  So let's hear it! What are your thoughts on Tokyo? Could you keep up with the local rate of alcohol consumption without getting cirrhosis of the liver? Share your thoughts below!

Published in Japan

Just south of where you are, in the middle of nowhere, somewhere, is an interesting 14 mile x 26 mile chunk of limestone over a million years old; floating regally in the Lesser Antilles and the minds of many a tourist who has visited there. It’s culture likened to that old, ever popular T.V. series Fantasy Island. Have you ever watched the flim (island term for film), “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”? Same concept.

This Windward, Caribbean Island is known as Barbados. B’dos or BIM to a local Bajan, though they can’t tell you exactly where the latter name originated. Here you will find the standard tropical beaches, fish markets, artisan markets and a secluded place tourist guides won’t direct you to, Crystal Waters. Steeped in rum, wrinkles and pretense, it’s a Seniors ‘Meat Market’ not to be missed by Social Scientists such as myself and those who just want to experience another level of life and living with no rules, boundaries or judgement before they transition to the afterlife.

Located a mere minutes from the ever popular party spot the St. Lawrence Gap, Crystal waters is THE place to go if you are of the elderly persuasion, retired, preferably widowed and on the prowl. No worries if you aren’t single. If your partner is open to a little, ‘get-what-ya-can-on-the-side’ you’re welcome to.

Kiteboarding and windsurfing in Barbados

A gap in the West Indies refers to a road or driveway one can turn on to. If you want to go to Crystal Waters, ”Turn left about six gaps passed the St. Lawrence Gap”. Hidden in the crotch at the end of the gap, tucked away on a beautiful beach where you can hand feed endangered hawksbill turtles and even hitch a ride to the sea floor if you can hang on (guide books won’t tell you this either), is a small, nondescript rum shack with an outdoor dance floor that erotically, explodes to life at 7:00 pm on Tuesday nights.

Every night is party night in B’dos, unlike weekends in Canada which are usually reserved for imbibing. Some Bajan nights are conducive to Liming (a Bajan term for relaxing) and others, set aside for hard-core partying. One particular Sunday night my friend ‘carried me’ (Bajan for the Canadian phrase ‘took me’) off the beaten path because another friend, an amazing local calypsonian, Mr. Impact (as tourists know him, Anderson Ward as I know him) was performing at a place called Crystal Waters.

In a mere fifteen gaps from my apartment my friend Sandrean exposed my emotions to a world where my ignorance about life and living had become as apparent as the effects of the Old Brigand Rum (four bucks Canadian a bottle) I was using as a crutch to survive this new environment. All of a sudden I didn’t know B’dos at all.

That's the Miami Beach in the distance. Miami Beach in Barbados, not Florida.

In my mid-forties, I was about to grow the hell up when it came to S and S! Seniors and sex, seniors and sexuality! Steupes! (a sound Bajan’s make by sucking air through their teeth when they are disgusted, shocked or surprised).

Imagine a setting on the clear waters of the Caribbean. You arrive promptly at 7:00 pm to indulge in the hour-long, two-for-one drink special; Canadians can’t pass up this marketing ploy. Mr. Impact is already on stage, his Calypso and sexy hip gyrations (whinin’ and wokin’ up) stirring a little somethin’ somethin’ inside your nether regions. Rum cascades down your throat quenching your thirst, your inhibitions float on the tropical breeze that licks and tickles your near naked, sweaty skin causing you to horripilate.

The music and atmosphere are wreaking havoc on your nerve system but you refrain from letting loose. After all, there are seniors about and you respect your elders. As the sun goes down (it gets dark early in BIM) and evening shrouds your identity, the Crystal Waters spirit envelopes your senses. Charmed, like a cobra to a flute player, by a way of life you’re not accustomed to, but one Bajan’s and longtime visitors to the island are.

A mutually symbiotic lifestyle based not only on sex and self-indulgence, but economy and means. As suddenly as two-for-one ends and with tsunami force, those seniors, seated around the place looking frail and heat exhausted knock you aside without remorse as they grind their way to the dance floor. Most of them half-naked too.

A mutually symbiotic lifestyle based not only on sex and self-indulgence, but economy and means. As suddenly as two-for-one ends and with tsunami force, those seniors, seated around the place looking frail and heat exhausted knock you aside without remorse as they grind their way to the dance floor. Most of them half-naked too.

Elderly women are skimpily clad in bikinis and a wrap or, some of the sexiest evening attire you have ever seen, elderly men in speedos or shorts. They rule this place. They know it and they show it. When I say elderly, I mean a demographic ranging from late sixties to eighties and beyond. There are of course those younger, but when the ritual begins and these guests begin to unwind, none of them seem a day over 16. Arthritis is a mere question mark at this moment. And the moves! Prepare yourself for some of the most sexy, erotically charged bumpin’ and grindin’ that would put most youth I know to shame. And speaking of younger people – who do you think the elderly are kissing and cuddling up to, rubbin’ and wokin’ up?

For three hours this ensues. Drinking, grinding of asses and all kinda things I needn’t mention. At 10:00 pm sharp, it comes to an abrupt halt. After all, these sixteen year olds are seniors. The energy they expend in that three hours is equal to eight hours hard, hard labor in the workforce.

Seniors being silly is what you see on the surface if you are participating in the merriment superficially, with a rum-blind, right eye (strangely enough, when I drink Old Brigand, only my right eye gets drunk with double vision.) But alas, there is more to Crystal Waters than meets the eye, if you omit the rum and take a good hard look...

Published in Barbados

This "Cool" Bar Puts A Shiver Of Satisfaction In Your Spine

Have you heard of the Ice Hotel in Sweden, or any of the subsequent ones that have opened in nearly two dozen other countries?

Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Well this is the same idea, only located in Roppongi, the infamous tourist district in the Minato ward of Tokyo. It is a warehouse kept at -5° C because the entire interior is made of ice sculptures.

The bar, the chairs and tables, the artwork, even the cups, all of which are handcarved and actually imported from the Ice Hotel in Sweden. You are even bundled up in an authentic Ice Hotel jacket; upon paying your cover charge the staff graciously helps you suit-up. From there you proceed through a intermediary room — kind of like when entering a shooting range — kept at or below 10° C.

Ice Bar Tokyo

This was definitely a cool ass place, no pun intended. The drinks were small and a little expensive though, but obviously you are paying for the scenery. It was ¥3500 cover just to get in (roughly $45 USD, but that is a normal Tokyo cover charge), and drinks were ¥1200 each ($15 USD). And yes, they were ridiculously small! Even though the ice cups are physically big chunks of ice, there is only a narrow hole drilled at the top of it, about an inch in diameter and maybe four inches down — basically nothing more than a Texas-sized shot. And you are forced to re-use your cups, as they are all imported from Sweden at great cost. The first one comes free with the first drink but after that, if you need a new glass due to melting or breakage you are charged ¥800 for the glass plus ¥1200 cost of the drink. If you keep your gloves on, you should be able to get about a half dozen drinks out of your ice cup before heat from your lips have melted it to the point of needing a new glass.

Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Additionally, it is worth mentioning that the Ice Bar Tokyo is owned by Absolut Vodka and as such you only have a choice between about a dozen-and-a-half to two dozen varying drinks, all containing a multitude of flavored Absolut vodkas mixed with assorted juices. Regardless of the fact I hate vodka now (too much of it when I was a younger), it was intriguing enough to spend an hour and a couple hundred dollars there in the freezing temperatures. It was also interesting to see how frequently the bartenders would swap out with the front stay, so that they could warm up briefly.

Derek Freal at the Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Derek Freal at the Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

Yes, Tokyo's IceBar is one of those places that you only go for show. Now that I went once, I have no urge to go back. Its going to be exactly the same, the initial thrill is gone now that I have seen it. But it has visitor appeal, you know, its a fantastic place to take someone who is new to the city or never seen anything like that. Just be prepared to shell out a hundred thousand yen at the absolute minimum.

  Have you experienced this ice bar or any of the others? Share your comments below.

Derek Freal at the Absolut Ice Bar Tokyo

[ UPDATE ] Regretfully as of September 30th, 2011, IceBar Tokyo has closed their doors as part of the effort to control energy consumption in the wake of the earthquake is eastern Japan. With so many other businesses and families working hard to control their power usage, it is unjustifiable for IBT to waste such vast amounts of energy freezing a warehouse and maintaining such cold temperatures. Please visit the IceBar Tokyo official web site for more information on when they will open their doors again.

  Other notable cities around the world with ice bars: Monterrey, Mexico City, Panama City, Orlando, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Barcelona, Athens, Seoul, Hong Kong, Mumbai, Saint Petersburg, New Delhi, and Dubai.

Published in Japan

Login to The HoliDaze to submit articles and comments or register your blog.