Breakfast in America

What goes on in America stays in America… eh? It seems not. A couple of weeks touring the diners of Chicago and New Orleans will certainly give any returning traveller a few extra pounds they didn’t originally take with them; and I’m not talking sterling currency here.

Breakfast in America is not just an album by the old UK rock band Supertramp. It’s an institution not to be taken lightly (as if ‘lightly’ could ever apply to food in the US); it demands time and effort… and an expectation that you might be beaten by the challenge on more than one occasion.

Yolk is a great starting point on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. An unpresupposing exterior camouflages gastronomic morning mayhem. That’s why people are often queueing to get a table; but quintessential US counter culture (of the eating at the counter variety, not the return to flower power variety) gets me in immediately. The more than pleasant greeting of a young woman in a tee-shirt claiming to be ‘Handling your huevos since 2006’ provides a warm inner feeling long before the order arrives. It also leaves me lamenting… “who is going to handle my huevos when Duck One achieves his infantile wall building wish?” The ‘Works Omlet’ with a side of joyous noise eases me nicely into the lazy challenges of the day ahead. Marvellous!

Eggsperience, off the Michigan Avenue Magnificent Mile, keeps the theme of the hen going strong. Omelet or pancakes is the first decision of the day. Oh for such difficult decisions every day! A fleeting thought about a healthy orange juice and blueberry start to the day quickly succumbs to the need for sides of a pancake stack and bacon…

Eggsperience blueberry pancakes

But, a gaze over a shoulder also suggests another visit could be needed for that omelet option! Perhaps a vegetarian compromise could be made. Though perhaps all good vegetarians should be introduced to the necessity of a side of bacon!

Eggsperience vegetarian omlet

The famous Lou Mitchell’s, west of South Loop is an institution that should not be missed on any visit to Chicago. tired of blueberries? Why not add bananas to your pancake stack to bring some variety to the practice of indulgence? I think a side of raisin toast is also called for…

And, before leaving Chicago, get messy with a late morning Cubana sandwich at Xoco, a mere waddle from the aforementioned Eggsperience. A cucumber and lime drink might help balance the spicy fried pork and avocados wrap.

Not to be usurped in the breakfast challenge, New Orleans has its own crowds gathering to sample the delights of Ruby Slipper on Magazine Street. Again, the solo traveller gets to jump the queue with a stool at the counter. Time to try out the Louisianan Omlet of shrimp and grits, with a side of sourdough toast. A foundation fit to build any day upon.

Then there is the splendour of the Palace Cafe on Canal Street. A fine location to keep exploring the unique pleasures of a southern breakfast. This time the shrimp and grits are accompanied by a creole muniere ( don’t ask me, I’m just here to eat the stuff) for added spice to kickstart yet another day of challenging levels of relaxation!

Palace Cafe Canal Street [1]

Palace Cafe shrimp grits and creole muniere

Cafe Pontalba on Jackson Square is a place to trade the creole for a touch of the cajun in your culinary morning. A cajun omelet with side of cajun potatoes could just about provide sufficient ballast for a steamboat trip along the Mississippi…

Talking of Jackson Square; for those of us with an interest in cathedral architecture and the Louisiana State Museum, a corned beef hash at Stanley’s comes highly recommended while you gaze at the architectural heritage from the comfort of your diner counter stool.  If you like your eggs ‘sunny side’ let the yolks drain into the corned beef. Just don’t shout out ‘Stella’ in a Marlon Brando impersonation, lest you startle the staff and clientele alike.

Alas, it’s getting near the time to head for the airport. The hotel provides a last port of call, and quite possibly the last eggs I will want to see for, well at least a few days!

Hotel St Marie 2 eggs breakfast

Until we speak again, it is time to return to a good old UK diet. Next time you’re in America check out the title of an old Supertramp album for guidance, but drop any notion of three square meals a day being a good idea (unless square is the shape you are aspiring to achieve).

Zak Show dot Com

 

Don’t mess with Valleys Girls!

So, there I was, a bedraggled and tired travelling cat arriving home from a fabulous trip to the USA. When all of a sudden I am metaphorically arrested by a sight that would send so many Americans into rapturous delight…

Police woman with gun

Why, in American culture there are those who believe in the right that this is what every city street should look like. As for me, in my addled brain, all I could muster as a fleeting thought was an old mantra for self-respecting city cats, Don’t mess with Valleys Girls!”

So, what was going on here? I like the implied message, but couldn’t see how it was meant to be a homecoming for me…

Welcome banner

However, the image did bring to mind the old saying: “lift up any pony tail, and what you’ll find beneath is a horses ass!”, Best be careful who you aim that description at; after all, “Don’t mess with Valleys Girls!”

In the meantime, it seems like all roads home are blocked off…

Tyndall Street

Lloyd George Avenue

Could it be preparations for the stilettoed hordes descending on the city for a long weekend of perma-tanned indiscretion? If so, then the advancing mob above are surely unwittingly walking into a psychodrama beyond their wildest imaginations. After all, “Don’t mess with Valleys Girls!”

It seems that the ‘lionesses of liquor’ have already set up a roll-call of their preferred end of night play-things, with the castle walls providing a historic backdrop for contemporary fantasies. If you don’t want to end up strung up on the battlements, “Don’t mess with Valleys Girls!”

Castle

As it turns out, there was a simple explanation for all this metropolitan malarkey… it was the small matter of the biggest sporting event on the planet this year happening just around the corner from home. As much as I have fantasised about Cardiff City FC going to the Champions League Final, it could be a long wait; so the Champions League Final had come to Cardiff City! For the victors, the spoils, and the opportunity to kiss ‘old big ears’ (affectionate name for the trophy, not one of the belles of bedlam).

Modric jubilant

Until we speak again, all I can advise Luca Modric in the image above, is kiss the metal by all means fella, but “Don’t mess with Valleys Girls!”

The Gas Man

Some people thrive on hot air and gas, but few promote it in bright lights. Everything below the name is multi-storey car parking!

Until we speak again, while you are in Chicago (or anywhere else) try to stay above the twit guano.

Icon revival

As much as I would like this heading to be applied to Juno and Bella, thus reversing two tragic demises of recent years, in reality it is an update for my loyal follower. The Coal Exchange building, deep in the heart of Mount Stuart Square, has been apparently left to rot and collapse through gross negligence by local and national Welsh administrations. How nice it is to refer to an ‘iconic’ status on perimeter hoardings, while the subject of said reference basks in a catastrophic state of neglect behind.

Coal Exchange board sign

Coal Exchange exterior decay [3]

Coal Exchange [6]

Coal Exchange approach

Rumour had it that developers of a boutique hotel would be the saviour of the building where the very first £1 million cheque was handed over. No, that’s a historical fact not an inflated cost of a suite in the proposed new hotel!

Well, in March 2017 there were distinctly positive signs, for those who hold a candle (rather than an incendiary device) to the preservation of Cardiff’s architectural heritage! Coal Exchange Mar 17

Then, just as Spring in May should bring a promise of new beginnings, so the revival of a favourite old building seems truly under way…

Coal Exchange May 17 [2]

Coal Exchange May 17 [3]

Coal exchange May 17 [4]

With extensive work still to be completed across most of the site, the ultimate sign of intent is captured… as bona fide hotel residents arrive to occupy some of the small number of rooms early opened.

Coal Exchange May 17 [6]

It seems that Signature Living have sympathetic plans for the regeneration of the building, that will recapture its historic past as well as provide a sustainable basis for looking forward. And while there will be the inevitable carping about handing a community resource over to a commercial venture, the photographs at the top of this post are evidence enough of the only other real alternative!

Until we speak again, Juno’s View promises to bring documented evidence of the interior in the near future. [However, in the interim period, behold views of Chicago and New Orleans coming here very soon!]

 

 

Home of the Black Cats

Black Cat House

Sunderland is a city with a claim to be first to return their count at just about any national vote. Indeed the shock Brexit vote of 23rd June 2016 can be claimed to have started here. A recent visit gave some insights into why they are quick with the count… as a tour of the city centre suggests there is little else to do than stay in doors and count votes! What the Luftwaffe started in the 1940’s the city planners completed in the 1960’s and 70’s.

The local people are informally known as ‘mackems’, one explanation emerging from their former shipbuilding tradition, whereby it is the Sunderland shipyards that ‘mackem’ (or make them); and the rival Newcastle shipyards that finish them off… ‘tackem’ (or take them). My recent visit to the city was perhaps summed up by a representation of this very name, but closed to business…

Machem Pizza

Even their strangely named football ground, the Stadium of Light was shrouded in darkness (though it wasn’t a match night).

Stadium of Light

However, all is not doom and gloom. If you have a spare couple of hours, that should be just about enough time, then get your Google maps out. A stop off at the Hilton Garden Inn, next door to the Stadium of Light offers a great steak and glass of Rioja.

Hilton Garden Inn [2]

Then take a stroll over the old iron bridge into the city centre…

Bridge [3]

Navigate your way passed the colourful Magistrates Court (Tip: don’t end up inside as a result of thinking you can vandalise or litter the place as a means of visually improving the city’s demeanour!)…

Somewhere within the tribute to grim concrete lies a couple of interesting pubs with good ale selections. If the local CAMRA reps are to be believed, then The Ship Isis is the best pub in the area. Test that claim for yourself, but I would certainly recommend a visit if you like a pint of Allendale Mosaic &/or Camerons Strong-arm in restored Victorian surroundings…

But if you want to experience the real deal, there is always the likes of an Anarchy Blonde Star waiting at the Dun Cow, next door to the Empire Theatre…

Dun Cow and empire Theatre

As I write it seems the local football team are hurtling towards relegation out of the Premier League. I can only muse that if the disgruntled of one Stadium of Light decided to smash up the town to vent their anger, it would take Sherlock Holmes like attention to detail to spot the difference.

Until we speak again, I am sure that Juno would advise no more than a couple of hours needed to sample all that Sunderland has to offer, and then quietly make your escape!

Plotting an escape

 

Revolution without the beer

My avid reader will be aware of a very recent post on the birthplace of the industrial revolution. You would be forgiven for thinking I got somewhat pub obsessed in my reflections on days gone by in Manchester. So, here is my opportunity to salute the architectural legacy of Manchester (with maybe one potential sighting of a pub!).

Artistic cats will be particularly drawn to the Manchester Art Gallery on Mosley Street, a Grade I listed building in Greek Ionic style built in the 1820’s, it acts to remind us that cultural appreciation is free to all… well, at least those who can be bothered to take their gaze temporarily away from a screen these days.

manchester-art-gallery-mosley-street

Meanwhile, cats who like to read something in a more traditional style may be attracted to the Manchester Central Library on St. Peter’s Square. Loosely based on the Pantheon in Rome, this Grade II listed building, combines a columned portico fronting a rotunda, built in the 1930’s. It succeeds the original and first free lending library of 1852, when Manchester demonstrated a ground-breaking recognition of the benefits of providing education resources for its local population.

central-library-2

For orchestral cats there is the Manchester Free Trade Hall. Built in the 1850’s as a monument to the repeal of the Corn Laws, this building on Peter Street is also built on the site of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. It became the home of the Halle Orchestra, before more recently succumbing to mammon’s requirement for more hotel space.

free-trade-hall-4

free-trade-hall-2

free-trade-hall-1

Talking of hotel rooms, for decadent cats there is always the magnificent sight of the Manchester Midland Hotel. The Edwardian Baroque Grade II listed building was erected in 1903 facing St. Peter’s Square to serve the northern railway terminal. Interestingly enough, the true frontage faced the square, with the rear of the hotel facing the station! However, even the side street facade was adorned with the same elegant detail, including direct access to the Spa and hairdressers.

midland-hotel-1

midland-hotel-3

midland-hotel-4

If you’re looking for insurance against the mind-numbing advancement of bland architectural fashions, look no further than the corner of Oxford Road and Whitworth Street. It used to be the iconic Refuge Building in my day, but no less magnificent is now the Principal… a Grade II listed building constructed in the latter part of the 19th century, and housing an early example of the importance of financing public welfare through life insurance and pensions. It has more recently become the home of the Palace Hotel… well a great conglomeration of architectural gems needs beds for the volume of visitors to be accommodated!

principal-building-oxford-road

Did you think I would ignore the needs of the administration cats amongst you? Manchester Town Hall on Albert Square is a Victorian neo-gothic building completed in 1877. And the old Queen even reflected her love for a pre-Brexit German union with the formidable Albert Memorial, whereby the pillar of teutonic heartthrobness faces the great home of Manchester City Council many years after his untimely demise. A Grade I listed building, this centrepiece of Manchester is considered one of the best examples of Gothic revival architecture in the world. In the 1930’s an extension was built and connected by two covered bridges.

town-hall-2

town-hall-4

albert-memorial

town-hall-3

But when visiting such architectural beauty don’t be blinded by the overall majesty of the building, look for the detail, as there is a history to be read by looking at the ornate representations just above the natural eye-line…

town-hall-detail

For spiritual cats there is always the Friend’s Meeting House on Mount Street. Built in 1828 this has been the home for the Quaker community, and provides a venue for all forms of action towards social and economic justice, including providing shelter for homeless asylum seekers during cold winter months.

quaker-friends-meeting-house

The aforementioned Whitworth Street is always worth a stroll, if only to experience a canyon of former late 19th century industrial warehouses, now largely converted into apartments. Here names such as India House and China House reference Manchester’s original connection to the wider world of industry and commerce.

whitworth-street-1

Look up when strolling along King Street and you might just take in the motto of ‘upward and onward’ as Doric columns support an image of advancement. Here lies Manchester’s first town hall, a seat of administration from the early 1820’s until the present day structure opened in 1877 at Albert Square, when the demands of a burgeoning bureaucracy required a larger home.

king-street-roof-sculpture

As time passes the old must inevitably give way to the new, but is it always a gracious transition? The Chinese influence will take on greater significance as the 21st century progresses (i.e. not just affecting our palate!)…

chinatown

The new must occupy space alongside the old… well, at least until the new gets condemned or simply falls down, leaving the aesthetic champions to once again dominate the picture. But here a number of new buildings offer some startling contrast to the historic core of the city…

new-on-mosley-strret

old-new

hilton-hotel

Then there is the confusion of the old and the new, as trams re-occupy the street as the best mode of transport. Blackpool may be home to the longest consistently running tram, but Swansea to Mumbles in south Wales was home to the very first tram. In recent decades Manchester was again at the forefront of adopting the form as its primary means of transporting the masses around the centre of the city…

trams

So, Manchester has a historical core to match the best of them, and a willingness to showcase its history in splendid fashion. Did you spot that pub? Until we speak again, take Bella’s lead and become an inquisitive cat.

reading-paper-and-books

Birthplace of the Industrial Revolution

Forgive me the indulgence, but it was a quiet Monday night revisiting a good friend and an important place in my personal story. When you’ve been in Manchester at an important time in your life, I can assure you Manchester gets into you. Its history, its culture… come to think of it, Cardiff has a big lesson to learn, albeit far too late… that the places where people get together to share tall tales and fabulous ales don’t necessarily need to succumb to the persuasion of the bulldozer!

Tommy Ducks may have justifiably been buried under the foundations of the Bridgewater Hall, but Peveril of the Peak can still offer a good pint of Timothy Taylor’s Landlord, amongst other fine beers, where Wilsons beers used to bring cheer.

peveril-of-the-peak-3

And while you’re in the vicinity The Britons Protection offers local north-west beers, before you jump on the tram in the background, though it prides itself on its whiskey collection…

the-britons-protection

Portland Street offers a couple of interesting, if small hostelries. The Grey Horse Inn is the first of my Hydes Anvil Ales recommendations…

grey-horse-inn

If you’re looking for something a little cramped try the Circus Tavern. Proudly declaring itself the smallest bar in Europe with the warmest welcome. It advertises Tetleys beers, not the first of stops that take you down memory lane to beers that no longer exist!

circus-tavern

Take a minor detour around to Charles Street, just off Oxford Road, and you must pay a visit to the famous Lass O’ Gowrie. Try not to be put off by the incursion of southern beer from Greene King, as this historic boozer also showcases local micro breweries.

lass-o-gowrie-1

And, talking about ‘paying a visit’, check out the sign on the side of the pub facing over the small adjoining canal. If you’ve been sampling the wares of each of the pubs so far you are certainly ready to ‘pay a visit’…

lass-o-gowrie-3

Just around the corner I’m reminded of a ‘back in the day’ moment, as I stumble across The Garratt on Princess Street. Strange what time does, it used to be ‘The Old Garratt‘ in my dim distant memory… somehow, as time passes by, the ‘Old’ gets dropped! It also used to be home to Boddingtons beers, another name that passes into the supping history memory banks.

the-garratt

Heading north on Princess Street towards the magnificent Manchester Town Hall (and taking a right and a left at the appropriate places) you are presented with three pubs in a row. You are now on Kennedy Street and I’ll spare you the agony of choice… go for the middle option, The City Arms. Amongst the local beers was the option of a Stoke-on-Trent import, but keep your eyes peeled for a Titanic Iceberg!

city-arms-kennedy-street

But if t’s a taste of history you want, why not join the lawyers and modern day industrialists in Mr Thomas’s Chop House on Cross Street? Food might be the order of the day here, but if you are looking for northern sourced liquids, Holts, Thwaites, Robinsons or Black Sheep beers might just quench your thirst…

mr-thomass-chop-house-1

 

The revolution has recently given rise to a Northern Quarter, so if you are in the vicinity of Oldham Street why not try the local brew of J.W. Lees at Gullivers

gullivers-oldham-street

Then you simply cross the road to grace the Castle Hotel, where the well-established Robinsons Ales from Stockport are now joined by a wider range in which to imbibe…

castle-hotel-oldham-street

The Northern Quarter is heavily populated with ‘bars’, but it is not difficult to find Port Street for a Moorhouse’s White Witch (that’s a beer by the way, from Burnley) in the Crown & Anchor

crown-anchor-port-street

Looking for something unusual, knowledgeable, and maybe a bit expensive if you’re not taking notice? But you need to arrive after 4.00pm to sample the thirds, halves or pints of what the Port Street Beer House has to offer. We did the evening before the following shot was taken, and I can assure you the beer menu goes on forever. Check the chalkboard sign top left at the bar for ‘Growlers’, you’ll have to ask Dave about those!

port-street-beer-house

However, for me there is only one place to end a long nostalgic trip down memory lane (or is that Ducie Street?).

jolly-angler-1

It’s not for the feint-hearted, and maybe some of the locals don’t actually have a home to go to…

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But the welcome is warm…

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And at this time of a pub crawl you just need to look over your shoulder and whisper a somewhat slurred goodnight…

jolly-angler-2

Well, what did you expect? Being an industrialised revolutionary was thirsty work you know! There is plenty of space in Manchester for the range of modern day ‘bars’, but they haven’t swept away the good old fashioned pub. So until we speak again, may all of your crawls be nostalgic, and don’t forget to finish off with some of Bella’s advice and check out the water!

water-2