Volstead’s Emporium: A Hidden Speakeasy in Uptown, MN

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Plan your visit (and reservation requests) accordingly!

The given address goes to a Steampunk cafe specializing in games and coffee–another novelty era ripe for nostalgic yearning but not the one we were looking for. Where the hell is this place? The first time I had visited Volstead’s Emporium in Uptown, Minnesota I was accompanied by a friend who was already privy to the location. Half the appeal of a secret speakeasy hidden away in a niche part of town already known for it’s fanciful coffee-shops, coin operated video game arcade clubs, and ‘hot yoga’–is that it’s a destination prided on the fact that you kind of already need to know where you’re going. Like being a member of an Eyes Wide Shut sexy, Eleusinian Mysteries kind of cult meeting or a pirate marauding around the Caribbean looking for the Isla De Muerta–an island that cannot be found except by those who already know where it is. Being ‘in the know’ about Volstead’s Emporium adds a lot to its notoriety. Going to their website offers no assistance–there is no address, no online menu, no pictures or an extensive proselytizing ‘About’ page. It’s tough to know this place even exists, or what it is, unless you become one of the initiated via word of mouth.

We were driving around Uptown one evening where, during a traffic stop, I recognized the location we were at–and that down that seedy, familiar-looking alleyway nestled behind the Steampunk cafe was the secret speakeasy I had wanted to take my boyfriend to for ages. It felt like a re-discovery and I hastily tried to remember where it was for next time, when we would plan our visit and get to transport ourselves to a faux, 1920’s era den of libations.

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For those who need a quick History lesson to refresh–the Temperance movement in the United States won a political victory from 1920-1933 when the entire country went “dry”. Meaning, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was drafted and the production, sale, and transportation of alcohol was banned. To enforce this draconian rule, the government passed the Volstead Act (Where our friendly Emporium likely took its name from) which went a step further in defining the intoxicating substances that were banned and the punishments that came with breaking these laws. The rise of bootlegging, gangsters, and speakeasies–secret law-breaking establishments selling banned booze–became a direct consequence and the 1920’s is forever remembered with these associations. 

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Unfortunately, memory is only as good as it is served. Turns out, when the summer construction is hazardous and the Happy Hour besought motorists are honking more persistently than a skein of geese, it can be a bit frustrating to try and remember a scattering of location markers after finally getting lucky finding a parking spot. Had I known that the large, neon gleaming sign for beer and bratwurst king New Bohemia resided across the street from our desired crime scene alleyway, our journey on empty stomachs might have been easier to bear. Once found, walking down said alleyway gives off an appropriate air of sleaziness, and as sweltering as the heat often gets in the summer, I was just thankful it wasn’t garbage from the line of dumpsters that marked our path. Hanging a left midway, there’s a smattering of apartment balconies claustrophobic-ly clustered together and in the small back of the building obstructed by vents, there resides a large bolted metal door with a creepy red serial killer light hanging above it. A most welcoming destination, if I ever saw one.

 “It’s all you, babe.”

I took this initiative with the fervent composure of a Flapper girl, who had likely already spent most of the evening dancing the Charleston to extinction, and rapped the door with my knuckles like I knew exactly what I was getting myself into. The slot in the door opens and a pair of eyes greets you–“Yes?”

“We have a reservation for two!”

“Name?”

The door is unbolted and we entered into a stairwell devoid of any identifying features aside from the bookie wearing a surprisingly dapper get-up. “Enjoy” is all he says as he goes back to manning the door. It’s up to us to take ourselves down the stairs and to the basement where we stand momentarily confused, there are at least three doors to choose from–not one of them marked with a sparkling Go Here to Drink sign to help us out. We could just make out the muffled sound of chatter and glass clinking enough to try Door Number 1–which ended up leading us into a time machine.

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Managed to capture before the place got packed!

An oft overlooked aspect of any dining experience is the ability to transport a patron. This can happen with really good food–it’s much easier to feel like you’re on the coast of Sorrento enjoying a bowl of pasta in a white wine sauce when the spaghetti is al dente and the clams are cooked to perfection and you’re even given a shot of limoncello to chase it all down with. But atmosphere is just as important too and at Volstead’s–you do feel like you just stepped into a 1920’s speakasy which would make even the most classy of bathtub gin stirrers proud.

There are no windows and the establishment is dimly lit, there’s a piano and a jazz player in the back corner strumming soft melodies with the tempered line of the bartender shaking drinks. People are laughing uproariously all around, likely amplified by the low ceiling and general jovialness that comes with a really well mixed cocktail. It’s welcoming–and cuts the tension had while trying to find the place to begin with.

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The Old Fashioneds here are one of my favorites in the state: Bourbon, applewood smoked demerara, and house blend bitters.

We were seated at a booth across from the parlor tables, draped with curtains we could easily pull for more privacy. It felt like we were only missing poker chips and the acrid smoke of cigars hanging in the air to set the mood into one in need of a police raid. For another brief moment, I felt like a femme fatale who was clandestinely meeting with a surly detective across from me, who was cloaked in a make-believe fedora and interrogating me on my whereabouts the night Tommy the Gun was murdered–all under the veneer of a heavy sepia filter. Or that was just the Old Fashioneds talking.

Volstead’s is a novelty experience, a way to feel like you’re in a piece of history for the night–surrounded by good drinks and food to boot. There’s a library room where you could sit and partake in a re-imagined game of Clue wearing monocles and dinner jackets, a large dial safe loitering under the stairs where surely the funds of nefarious mobster money ventures is well hidden, and there is even a telephone booth in the back by the restrooms for even the most ardent Doctor Who fan to enjoy. Voldstead’s is straight up cool so put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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The scene of the crime, where Mrs. Peacock allegedly bludgeoned Colonel Mustard with a copy of Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

No one warned us about the framed mirror on the wall of our booth, that it would swing open and the waiter would grin as we jumped in surprise, serving as a portal in which to take our food and drink orders. I think the waitstaff probably finds most of their amusement in this gimmick–and it’s certainly a fun experience to team up with your waiter on. There is a buzzer under the mirror when you’re ready to order and there was at least one more incident where the frame creaked open like a horror movie prop with no waiter to be found, only for him to pop up into view a second later and ask what we’d like–to more jump scares from us. It’s hilarious.

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Bwaaaahm

Now all of this is fine and dandy, right? But the main attraction of any dining establishment is the food. And oh boy, does it not disappoint. The first time I went to Voldstead’s, I chose a guilt-free zucchini carbonara with added shrimp that was surprisingly complex and topped off the evening with warm, gooey bread pudding. This time, I went with the usual favorites my boy detective and I usually partake in at other restaurants–the first test for us being the charcuterie plate. I finally learned how to properly pronounce “charcuterie” when I embarrassingly ordered it incorrectly and my windowed waiter set me straight–not sure whether he was smirking at my inability to speak French or because I was recovering from another fun jump scare. Not to be a gerkin (no old fashioneds were consumed in the making of this dad joke), but I’m pretty easy to satisfy when it comes to charcuterie plates–the server had me at spicy salami, spec, and capicola. I was so excited I didn’t even pay attention to what the cheeses were.

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Mmmm, gerkins

Next, I ordered the most basic sounding ‘Steak & Potatoes’ which was anything but and I got it cooked a beautiful, medium-rare despite ordering it just medium, but hey–they were just looking out for me and my philistine steak preparation ordering ways. This is one of the better steaks I’ve eaten and I didn’t need to drop a $500 tab at Manny’s to enjoy it–this gorgeous hunk of meat is up there with the bavette I had at 112 Eatery and the steak I had at a (now closed) restaurant outside of New York City I had visited in high school that was apparently one of Elvis’ favorites.

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8oz Bavette, herb potatoes and grilled asparagus with peppercorn cognac sauce. #NeverForget

Though any sane person would be full at this point and I was working on my second cocktail (Like Clockwork–Cognac, Bourbon, Dolin dry, Amaro Nonino, Orange Bitters, Expressed Orange–definitely got me all good and “bezoomny”!), a place can’t be sufficiently done and tried until you order a dessert and a regular, black coffee. Now, it should shock no one to know that I can be a bit of a pedant about certain things–and coffee is one of those things. I’ve worked in and out of the coffee industry for the better part of 8 years as a barista and on the corporate level slinging office work. It’s not particularly hard to find quality, well-sourced beans and it is even easier to brew them right. A restaurant can tell me a lot about how much they care about every aspect of their commitment to quality and food by how good their regular brewed coffee tastes. I’ve been disappointed in establishments that otherwise provide good meals but then serve up bitter, black water mudd that tastes like it had been sitting for more than 2 hours in back. I move from disappointed to irritated when this crime is committed by an authentically-declared French or Italian restaurant where ending your meal with a good coffee is tantamount to the cultural experience. One sip from Volstead’s chosen brew and I knew this place really was every bit as great as I knew it to be.

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Tiramisu because I’m ‘basic Italian’

The tiramisu I ordered for dessert wasn’t bad either–and as your resident swarthy Italian-American, I’ve had plenty of tiramisu in my day. The only thing about it I found particular to note, was how the lady fingers weren’t soggy and absolutely drowning in booze and/or coffee. Unlike me this evening, of course.

So, dear reader, consider yourself well and in the know about Volstead’s Emporium in Uptown, MN. I’ve now passed on the secret to you–and if you’re in the area or visiting the Twin Cities, I hope that you take a moment to stumble around W. Lake St. attempting to find it. But shhhhh–don’t tell your dinner companion(s) about the mirror window.

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Cossetta’s Alimentari: An Italian Market & Pizzeria in St. Paul, MN

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Visit Cossetta’s here: https://cossettas.com/

While there are legitimate concerns out there over the authenticity of cultural cuisines and our American foundation of fast food and franchise chain restaurants, taking what is not ours and spinning for profit–it’s easy to get caught up on what is “real” food and what isn’t. One conversation, however, that I feel myself irked by consistently, is what makes Italian food authentic here in the United States. It’s a fair question, after all, because you’re not likely to find meatballs, Alfredo sauce, garlic bread, or a “Hot Dago” [1] back in the Old Country of Italy. But there is a distinct difference in what is Italian and what is Italian-American. After all, the cuisines of immigrants who came from Italy was heavily influenced in not only their fellow foreigners and adjacency to other cultural cuisines, but also in being forced to adapt old dishes to new based on the availability of foods in The States at that time. What we have here is a hodgepodge of old Italian with a distinctly American flair. How do you make do without olive oil? Butter up that bread instead and use plenty of garlic. And what do you do when you show up in a country that’s brimming with cows? Pack up those meatballs like your friendly neighborhood Swedes and toss them in the sugo! And, speaking of sauce, pretty much the only kind easily made was red because canned tomatoes were the only thing easily found in markets at the time–until you got to Alfredo sauce. “Who is Alfredo?” Native Italians will ask–well, he was a chef in Rome back in 1914 who made a white sauced based dish that happened to be served with fettuccine noodles that day when two American Silent-Film Stars dined at his restaurant. They loved it so much, they took the recipe back home which became a hit among the elite, solidifying its popularity in Olive Garden’s across the nation after Alfredo’s family later opened a few restaurants showcasing the dish stateside in the 1970’s. [2] So perhaps you can’t find meatball sub sandwiches in Italy, but these are authentic to and traditional Italian-American foods that were invented right here in the United States due to the unique cultural experiences of Italian immigrants at the time.

And probably nothing more storied to this unique experience of cultural history exists in Minnesota than Cossetta’s Market–a pinnacle of Italian-American cuisine and heritage here in St. Paul. 

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Home, Sweet Home: An Ode to Local Tourism

 

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Cathedral of St. Paul, MN

 

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

That’s a question many people ask one another, especially when first getting to know each other. It goes along with other lofty dreams and ‘get to know you’ questions like if you could be anything in the world, what would it be? Having an answer to these kinds of inquiries are automatically idealized, they have to be, because typically one has never actually lived in that place or worked that dream job to know whether or not it’s something worth even placing on a pedestal to begin with. We fall in love with a picture or in what we imagine life with no worries to be like–to be completely absorbed in the local of our choosing and nothing else. How many people answer Paris or Italy, or on a beach somewhere in Florida, or maybe even Japan? Why do those places seem more desirable than the one you’re living in right now? Likely because those other places feel like a perpetual vacation. They’re new, they’re more interesting, and they are filled with culture and history ripe for exploring.

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Old train tracks in Northeast Minneapolis

But while most of us are busy looking across the ocean or horizon for something better, some unknown adventure that supposedly exists somewhere outside of our own per view–all of that could be lying in wait in your own hometown waiting for you to explore and appreciate like any ordinary tourist would.

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When I was younger, I used to abhor living in Minnesota. Half of the year is dedicated to being an icebox and the other half is so grossly humid and hot, we’re all begging for a blizzard again. It never made sense to me, why anyone would willingly choose to live here–those exasperated statements more common in the throes of polar vortexes clocking -40 degrees Fahrenheit. I thought it was nothing more than a flyover state, shameless in its midwestern lifestyle and stalks of corn and farmland everywhere. I wanted to be anywhere but here and dreamed of traveling and living among the world–where surely culture and history ran rampant. 

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Minneapolis lookin’ like a green screen

The first time I left the country, I spent three weeks road tripping through France and Italy. Even though I thought they were lovely countries and have since been back to both, when my flight was about to land and I glimpsed the cityscape of Minneapolis, I started to weep. It was then that I realized, Minnesota all along was actually a wonderful and beautiful place to call home. It had everything I needed right here–It’s a perfectly acceptable place to live with its own plethora of culture and great food, Instagram worthy landscapes–and, of course, history.

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Chess & Coffee at Blue Ox Coffee Company

There’s Glensheen mansion in Duluth, our own little Downton Abbey–or wait, is that the James J. Hill house in St. Paul? There’s the North Shore and the sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. Stillwater and the rock caves, Bemidji and the legends of friendly giant Paul Bunyan and his blue Ox Babe, Rochester and the Mayo family. Local legends like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, and Prince–all born and raised here. Their footsteps walkable, their hangs and, in Prince’s case home/studio, all view-able. Our local scene of music, food, coffee, etc. is no joke either. The Twin Cities being an incredibly underrated stomping ground just as worthy of anyone’s attention as Chicago, Houston, Miami, and other major metropolises. Yeah, I said it.

Milwaukee Avenue Historic District

Milwaukee Avenue Historic District

So why am I telling you about how awesome Minnesota is? Because I’d like to show you. Traveling and writing about my experiences abroad is something of a living dream for me–and getting to indulge in history my passion. My next trip won’t be until next Spring, where I’m planning to visit Athens, Greece for the first time–but until then, let me take you on a journey through my home state’s local tourism. If you ever find yourself on this side of the country, I hope I can help show you the very best places to visit when you do!

And, of course, my history posts will still continue as I find time to fit in some good ol’ research on top of it all.

SKOL!

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The gorgeous North Shore

Paris Day 5-6: Disneyland in Paris

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I’ve been to Disney World in Orlando more times than I can remember. I’m assuming it’s at least in the double digits, so to say I’m familiar with the park is probably an understatement. Disneyland Paris is something else, however, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the park was not a mirror image of its predecessors.

Opening in April of 1992, the park is still celebrating it’s 25th anniversary this year though it’s now officially crossed the 26 year mark. But we’re also celebrating other significant milestones with this park visit. The first time my mother ever got the chance to experience a Disney Park, it was with my grandmother, which was also her first visit too. It was on this trip that my mother became obsessed with Disney and Mickey Mouse, passing along her love to me as well. So, for the first time, we were both visiting a Disney park for the first time together, neither of us having been to Disneyland Paris before.

And the park is certainly unique! Not only does it have exclusive rides, but even the classic staples found at all Disney Parks are different–and we were even able to enjoy experiences that no longer exist at older parks. One of these was Captain Jack’s restaurant (though of different name back then), which is a sit-down restaurant inside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride which is seen from the boats going through. My mother explained that she went to this restaurant with my grandmother too, so we made sure to check it out as well. The food was amazing but I’m pretty sure I’ve never felt as full in my entire life.

We rode Pirates of the Caribbean 3 times in the course of our visit, it being one of our all time favorites from Disney Parks. Though the dialogue spoken in the ride was French, the Pirate’s Life song was sung in English so it was both familiar and fun. It also wasn’t a copy of the original, there were a few added features like a Barbossa who, under moonlight, dazzled in cursed skeletal glory. Different odds and ends like poor kitties floating on crates, a captain’s quarters, and of course the view of Captain Jack’s Restaurant made it a unique treat despite the many times I’ve been on the ride in Disney World. We also saw the new addition of a Pirate Red-Head, which has since changed over from the original wench auction.

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The park worlds are all different too! There is Frontierland (not set-up the same as Disney World at all), Adventureland which is broken up by an Adventure Isle which contains a pirate ship, Skull Rock, and a maze of dark tunnel caves which is a whole lot of fun put would have probably given my parents a heart-attack if my brother and I played in them as kids. Fantasyland which includes enough exclusive features to set it apart, and Discoveryland which replaces Tomorrowland as the sci-fi otherword but with more of a steampunk flair in aesthetic. There is also a second park called Walt Disney Studios which takes the place of Hollywood Studios at Disney World which includes Tower of Terror and one of my old favorites, Animation Studio which has since been turned into a Star Wars outpost in Disney World.

And, of course, the Disney castle is different–instead of Cinderella, the castle in the middle belongs to Sleeping Beauty and upstairs there is an entire stained glass gallery featuring her story. Also, underneath the castle in a dark cave lives the dragon…

As for the rides that can’t be found at Disney World? We tried them all! Ratatouille being the most well-known, we hit up that one first especially since the lines for it are ridiculously long. And though it was fun, I can’t suggest that an hour wait is worth it. It was certainly a pleasant ride, but we were good with one go. You ride on a mouse mobile chasing around in Gusteau’s restaurant but the ride relies mostly on motion with the action happening on screen and the mouse car moving in place along in response. There are some fun moments where you do move through the kitchen and pleasant smells like citrus are injected into the air. Another exclusive ride that left us a bit wanting was Indiana Jones and The Temple of Peril. It’s a short mine cart roller coaster that hooks and loops around a cool looking temple ruin, but it mostly jostles you around and both my mother and I repeatedly had our heads pinging back and forth against our headrest so we left the ride feeling a bit disoriented and woozy. The ride also lacks the magic of integrating you into the world of Indiana Jones which other Disney rides are pretty good about doing, nothing during the ride had anything to do with the whipped crusader aside from name alone which was a shame. It could have been a roller coaster from anywhere.

One of my favorites was Star Wars Hyperspace Mountain, which was a refurbishment of Space Mountain, a similar thing having happened to the ride at Disneyland California too. Space Mountain, in my experience at Disney World, isn’t a ride that had aged well. Half the time it’s broken down and the other half it’s rickety and rough, throwing you around in an un-enjoyable experience that’s hardly even dark enough anymore, the blackness of space impossible when the roller coaster tracks are visible. So I was excited to see how Hyperspace Mountain improved upon the formula and I was not disappointed. IT WAS COOL! First thing it does is launch you so fast it straps you back and you momentarily loose your breath as your body tries to adjust to the velocity, and once you’re finally able to breathe again, you’re being thrown around in the dark with flashing lasers and dogfights between X-Wings and Tie Fighters, it’s honestly a treat.

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Surprisingly, in a country that prides itself on food, Disneyland Paris didn’t have much variety in options. I remember when I was a kid, the food wasn’t that impressive at Disney World either, but over the years they’ve really strengthened their culinary prowess and now you can’t turn a corner without a stall having its own unique dish to salivate and throw down $20 for (I’m exaggerating but also it’s kinda on the mark) If you’re curious to see what Disney World has going on in the food world, I suggest following Disneyfoodblog but be prepared to pack your bags and book your tickets. At Disneyland Paris, every single stall either had popcorn and ice cream or sugared crepes and a hot dog. Don’t get me wrong, these hot dogs are something else. They’re giant doggies nestled in a baguette and I could probably eat one every day but you just want some options, you know?

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And maybe this is simply because of the culture in Europe. We saw signs telling people that picnicking within the park was not permitted and we were wondering, was that seriously a thing? Evidently. Most of the visitors at Disneyland Paris brought in school sized backpacks full of food that they’d consume in line for a ride. There was one guy chowing down a bowl of noodles before getting on Hyperspace mountain and I have to wonder if he had an iron gut.

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A few other stray observations…

Both parks are small, which is no surprise since the internet is pretty up front about warning visitors of this. Walt Disney Studios takes less than an hour to walk all around with no stops, so if you’re planning a visit, get the multi-pass.

France being France was eager to let us know what they were responsible for inventing which was pretty funny. Declarations were featured in a few of their rides like ‘the French invented animation!’, ‘the French invented special effects!’, ‘the French invented shooting films on location!’. It was honestly endearing.

It’s a Small World WAS sung in French!

There was a severe lack of adult beverages which is the opposite problem at Disney World. Do Europeans not need to be drowning in booze in order to get through a day spent with their kids?

Both days the Aladdin signing autographs was white as hell.

Do Europeans get the same sense of wonder and awe with our history and aesthetic as we do theirs? Frontierland is an ode to the American West, do their minds tick and whirl with imaginings of Cowboys and Native Americans?

Some guy accidentally sneezed on my mother and she reflexively said “Bless you!” to him which cued a fervently concerned discussion in German where the wife was pretty sure my mother meant something along the lines of gesundheit rather than the other probable two worded phrase she might have fired off instead.

Other treats, a pineapple dole whip float. It’s not the same as the swirl featured in Disney World but it did the job. And the beignets are delicious!

All in all, I’m super glad we checked out Disneyland Paris. As lifelong Disney fans, it was really cool to experience Disney in a different way and I’ll always remember it fondly as that crazy time we went to visit Mickey Mouse in Paris. Now I’ll need to visit Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo too!

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Paris Day 4: Life is Laissez-faire

Today is our last day in the city of Paris before we move on to see if Pirates of the Caribbean is sung in French. Since we wore out the soles of our shoes yesterday with all our walking, we thought we’d take it a bit easy today since we’ll be hitting the pavement hard in Disneyland. In the morning, we took a walk a few blocks down to visit a bakery and stop into a cafe for a quick breakfast.

I don’t know what it is about their ham, but every dish I’ve had with it featured is beyond amazing. It basically melts in your mouth and the flavor from the juices makes me feel like declaring France the king of the pig over Italy which just feels sacrilegious to me. As we were sitting outside on the patio, we must have looked like locals who knew what the hell we were doing because a group of fellow tourists came up to us trying to speak French, asking us for directions. We were so proud of ourselves, especially since they were looking for help in getting to the Opera Granier which we knew intimately at this point, as our hotel is located within walking distance. We told them the way and felt like proud Parisians for a minute. Not shortly after, however, my mother was back to spreading the good word of Minnesota “oop!” which does a much more satisfactory job than “excusez-moi” when accidentally running into people, if you ask me.

Since we are so close, we decided to try and see if our tourist friends made it safely from our directions and decided to tour the Opera Granier ourselves!

Named after it’s grand architect Charles Garnier, the Opera House was completed in 1875, after an assassination attempt on Emperor Napoleon III prompted a desire for a new opera location since the old one was getting a bit dangerous. Hilariously, however, France was a republic again by the time the Opera Garnier was completed. Napoleon III was super dead and unable to attend the opening, but thanks anyway!

And, of course, the Opera Garnier is known for another famous spectre, the Phantom! The novel by Gaston Leroux, The Phantom of the Opéra, is inspired by tales and events that occurred at the Opera, one in particular being the accident in which a patron was killed after a chandelier had become dislodged, crashing through the auditorium. Gaston was an investigative journalist and claimed the story as factual in the opening chapter of the novel, but unfortunately it’s mostly a work of fiction.

I think if I was sitting in the seats directly below this, I’d probably keep looking up every 5 seconds just to make sure I wasn’t about to become a ghost myself.

Standing inside the Opera Garnier is nothing short of astonishing. I probably spent 20 minutes just soaking up the gold in this room with my mouth hanging open. Despite the looks, however, it’s not as expensive as it might seem. Though some things like the fireplace and a few statues are genuinely fully gilded with gold leaf, a majority of this room was oil painted and created to give the effect of gilding.

I don’t know about you, but this works just as well for me!

There is even a sad Salieri who lives here, which I stopped giggling long enough to snap a photo of. He DID NOT kill Mozart, but R.I.P. Milos Forman.

After the Opera, we walked some more, taking in the sights and sounds of Paris. We passed a shop with sizzling hens, produce stalls, and got plenty a whiff from the flower shops lining the streets. Though it wasn’t night yet and we had no interest in seeing the can-can dancers, we waved to the Moulin Rouge anyway.

Plenty tired now from all of our walking, we kicked up our feet outside on a cafe patio so I could read my Shakespeare & Company copy of Hunchback of Notre Dame and my mother could people watch. Also, had myself a real flat white rather than the Starbucks knockoff I’m used to and a tasty savory croissant with tomato, ham, & cheese!

Though Paris is beautiful in the rain, we spent it indoors at a restaurant enjoying our last meal in town. Managed to knock off a few French cuisine staples too!

Beef bourgignoun!

Creme brûlée!

And the prettiest cappuccino I’ve ever seen!

Thanks for the love, Paris! You’ve been swell to a couple of bumpkins with a flimsy grasp of the language, and we’ve been nothing but smiles since we’ve got here! We’re in perfect moods to take to Disneyland and my mom is frothing at the mouth to get her hands on a Mickey Mouse sugar cookie. Au revoir!

Paris Day 3: Versailles, The Louvre, & Food. Oh My!

I forgot to mention a few notes from yesterday in my haste to get into bed! We learned about the unofficial memorial to Princess Diana while touring, it’s a golden torch that hangs out above the tunnel where the fatal crash occurred. So when we took our ride to our dinner cruise later, we were in cryptic shock when we realized we were traveling through the same tunnel. It does feel a bit eery! On our dinner cruise, I was given the privilege of tasting the wine for the table because I apparently said ‘bonjour!’ well enough in greeting that the waiter got confused and thought I was French, so take that mother! Also, the Luxor Obelisk I took a picture of in my last post also happens to be displayed in the same spot Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI were executed on the guillotine during the French Revolution. This last tidbit brings me to the start of our adventure this morning!

Like I had mentioned earlier, the Chateau de Versailles was one of my favorite things I had seen on my previous trip and I was excited for my mother to see it. I made her watch Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette film back home in preparation which, while not entirely perfect in historical accuracy, makes for a beautiful movie which I love regardless and the film was even shot on location! We arrived at Versailles early morning so we could get in before it got too crowded.

Opulent, yet faint with age, Versailles is still the pearl of France. Where once the extravagance behind its doors were regarded as gratuitously frivolous and enraged the populous into a rebellious frenzy, it now exists as a shell of itself–most of the inner furnishing lost, after it had all been removed following the revolution. Yet, you can still get a sense of the characters who once walked these halls–from the Sun King’s love of hunting proudly displayed in reverence to Artemis to what fun must have been had in the billiards room, it’s impossible to escape the shadow of greatness.

One of the things I did not get to see last time were the extensive gardens. We rented a cart to drive out back to see the Grand & Petit Trianon, and got to drive through the gardens all afternoon. It was a beautiful mid-60’s sunny day in Spring with a light breeze carrying with it a hint of moisture blowing off from the canal. So, perfect, basically. Within the Petit Trianon was the classic portrait of Marie Antoinette, who while alive, hated the lifestyle at Versailles. Kindred introverts, Marie would hide away from the court at Versailles in favor of residing at the Trianon or her cottage home created to emulate a simpler, quieter country life.

I have written about Marie a few times on this blog, if you want a taste of a bit of her sass you can read here or if you are curious to know what her famous last words might have been before being executed, check it out here.

Before leaving the gardens, we had to check out a fountain show too!

Now, onto some food! For breakfast at Versailles, we stopped into Angelina’s where I was determined to capture a video of the hot chocolate pouring into my cup because I’m cruel like that.

Then, after burning off all that chocolate walking around the gardens, we split a fresh club sandwich and replenished our supply of sugar with a Nutella banana crepe, all served within the gardens itself!

Nap time probably, but nope! We were now off to hit up the Louvre so we could say hi to Mona Lisa and get my fix of other historical people I really dig.

My answer whenever someone asks that question, “Who would you invite to dinner, living or dead?” That’d be my boy Marcus Aurelius!

And then there is his son Commodus, who is my favorite asshole. I wrote about this douche on my blog before which you can read about here!

More Joan of Arc ❤

And this handsome devil Antinous, thought to be one of the most beautiful people in the classical world, not unlike the male version of Helen. I wrote about him too and the ridiculous ending to his story here.

And, of course, the smile known around the world.

Last but not least, I ate a really fantastic burger and America should really get on this Ramen bun thing, I’m just Seine-in’.

Those Saucy Romans

Garum sauce

If you thought putting anchovies on pizza was gross, brace yourself for this next post. The Roman Empire, being a wretched hive of scum and villainy for about the entirety of it’s hellion reign across most of Europe, wasn’t exactly shy about being off the wall crazy about some of its more questionable pleasures. From painting lavish dick pics everywhere to delighting in some healthy disembowelment in the gladiatorial arena, not much of these practices would be accepted in modern day society. Well, okay, except for maybe the first one.

One of the things the Romans were famously into, was soaking their food up in a sauce known as “Garum” or “Liquamen” which we’ve found archaeological evidence of in manufacturing, residue in pottery, and depicted in art and writing of the time. The sauce knew no societal bounds, common among people of all different classes and religions (evidence of a kosher option even exists) [1 & 3]. So, basically sounds like the Roman version of ketchup. How bad could it be?

Another liquid, too, of a very exquisite nature, is that known as “garuim:” it is prepared from the intestines of fish and various parts which would otherwise be thrown away, macerated in salt; so that it is, in fact, the result of their putrefaction. – Pliny the Elder, The Natural History [2]

Makes me want to hurl harder than a highlander tossing a log across long distances to impress his skirt wearing friends.

But was it really all that bad? Obviously, it was incredibly popular and how far removed would our taste buds really be from our Classical ancestors? Are we really any different, slathering our sushi rolls with eel sauce?

Evidently, garum was probably similar to popular fish sauces found in Vietnamese, Indochinese, and Turkish cuisine today. And based on our sources and the ancient recipe we’ve discovered concerning its production (A salt to fish ratio of 1:8), “the amount of salt used in the production process inhibited putrefaction and, hence, prevented any rancid smells. Bacterial fermentation, similar to that found in the production of cheeses, induced maturation of the product.” [3] Pliny claimed that the sauce itself smelled a bit funky, but what decent cheese doesn’t? And let’s not forget that even if it had a strong ode de parfum, he still called it exquisite. [2]

Garum party

What life was like for the Romans before the invention of Nutella

Probably seems strange that such a popular and maybe not all that gross sauce would just disappear then. But apparently, the sauce itself was fairly expensive, even some higher quality versions near the end of the Roman Empire’s life span would cost about $500 of today’s moolah. [3 & 4] It’s always baffling to me how unperturbed we are to have table salt readily available in a cupboard or at a restaurant, but it used to be a precious commodity that was heavily taxed and fought over. With a salt tax introduced among the empire, garum production became a bit too expensive since it was the necessary component that made it deliciously putridy. And with the collapse of power in the western half of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the ownership of the Mediterranean seas became an indisputable playground for some good old fashioned piracy. [4]

If you’re not turned off by the process and are still curious how it tasted, however, you’re in luck! It’s starting to make a comeback.

Do you not realize that garum sociorum, that expensive bloody mass of decayed fish, consumes the stomach with its salted putrefaction?

— Seneca, Epistle 95. [5]
Fact Check it, yo!
[1] LEARY, T. (1994). JEWS, FISH, FOOD LAWS AND THE ELDER PLINY. Acta Classica, 37, 111-114. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/24594356
[2] Pliny the Elder, The Natural History. John Bostock, M.D., F.R.S. H.T. Riley, Esq., B.A. London. Taylor and Francis, Red Lion Court, Fleet Street. 1855.
[3] Curtis, R. (1983). In Defense of Garum. The Classical Journal,78(3), 232-240. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3297180
[4] Prichep, D. (2013, October 26). Fish Sauce: An Ancient Roman Condiment Rises Again. Retrieved March 20, 2018, from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/10/26/240237774/fish-sauce-an-ancient-roman-condiment-rises-again