Weekend Trip – 24 Hours in the 1000 Islands

The 1000 Islands is a beautiful area, and as such it is a very popular place for people in New York and Ontario to have a cabin or cottage to use on summer weekends.

From Rochester, the 1000 Islands are probably at the maximum driving distance for having a weekend getaway cottage or cabin – about 3 hours, depending on the town.  One of the popular getaway towns on the St. Lawrence River is Clayton, NY.  One of my best friends has a cottage there, so Rachel and I recently took a quick weekend trip up there to hang with a couple of Bro’d Trippers!

We arrived in Clayton around noon on Saturday, and promptly made our way to the St. Lawrence Spirits Chateau, which had a marvelous view of the river.

The Saint Lawrence River
View of the St. Lawrence from the distillery

The spirits weren’t too shabby either.  The Downbound Gin was my favorite, followed closely by the Rye Knot Moonshine.  The tasting is only $5 and the spirits are strong, so be careful!

After our tasting we headed into downtown Clayton for lunch and brews at Wood Boat Brewery.

Three beers in front of a brick over at Wood Boat Brewery
Wood Boat Brewery

I was impressed by the beers, but even more so by their brick oven pizzas.  At places known for pizza I often get a basic margherita pizza so that I can compare apples to apples between restaurants, and that’s what I did here.  The crust was the highlight – perfectly browned, not too thick, not too thin, and quite flavorful.  Highly recommended.

We followed lunch up with a tasting at Coyote Moon Vineyard – we had a reservation for their wine boat cruise later in the evening, and we wanted to try their wines so that we knew what bottles we wanted to pick for the cruise.

White grapes on the vine
Grapes at Coyote Moon Vineyard

While not directly on the river, the vineyard is still quite picturesque, with a small outdoor stage for live music and a bunch of outdoor games in on the back lawn.  The tasting room is small but nice, and they give out some generous pours of their wines, which were very good.  If they have the apple pie wine slushy on tap when you visit, do it!

We had just enough time after the winery to sneak in a round of 18 at River Golf Adventures, before heading to Coyote Moon’s downtown location for the booze cruise.

Little did we know, included in the price of the cruise is a tasting of four wines, so that you can decide which bottle you want to bring on the boat.  We were OK with that!  We just doubled down on our favorites from the vineyard a couple of hours prior, and then made our way onto the boat with bottles in hand.  As with any booze cruise I’ve been on, things started a little quiet, with people kind of feeling out the scene and taking in the scenery.

A large boat on the Saint Lawrence River
Cute little boat on the river

There was a bachelorette party on the boat, us (a group of three guys and a girl), and about 30 middle aged women.  We knew that by the time everyone was halfway through their red blends, this boat was about to be lit.  Sure enough, about an hour in the trip had evolved into an all-out wine-fueled dance party.  It was a blast, and I will absolutely do this wine cruise again the next time I go up to the Islands.

After the booze cruise, shenanigans continued at O’Briens, with food, drinks and live music!

After sleeping off the prior day’s activities, the next morning started with an early run and bike ride.  And finally, on the way out of town we hit the #1 most essential stop on any trip to the islands: River Rat Cheese.  If you’re not going to get River Rat cheese curds, you might as well not even go to the 1000 Islands, and that’s a fact.

The entrance to 1000 Islands River Rat Cheese shop in Clayton, NY
Gotta get the curds!!

And just like that we were on the road back to Rochester, with curds and a block of maple cheddar in tow.  A solid 24 hour trip in the books.

What are some of your favorite weekend getaways?  Tell me in the comments!

 

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Cleveland Weekend Recap

the West Side Market during winter travel to Cleveland

It was February 2016 in the Land of Always Winter, and the gods had just dumped several feet of snow on our village in the North.  While we didn’t have enough vacation time to escape to somewhere tropical, a group of five bros decided to take the first ever so-called “bro’d trip” to Cleveland, Ohio, where people could at least open their front doors without 30 minute of intense shoveling.

a car buried beneath snow in Rochester NY
We were looking to get away from this whole situation…

This was a quick weekend trip, but we tried to pack a lot in, as usual.  I had been to Cleveland before a few times, but only to go to Cleveland Indians baseball games, so I was excited to see what else the city had to offer.  After a bit of research it seemed like a cool area to hang out was the Ohio City neighborhood, so we centered our trip there.

Read on for the day-by-day play-by-play!

view of the Cleveland skyline at night from the Cleveland Hostel
View from the rooftop of the Cleveland Hostel

Day 1 – Friday

The great thing about this trip was that it did not require anyone taking any time off from work.  Cleveland is about a 4 hour drive from Rochester, and most of us were able to sneak out about an hour early to hit the road at around 5:00pm.  We piled into a Chevy Suburban and headed for The Land.

We arrived to check into The Cleveland Hostel in Ohio City shortly after 9:00pm.  I was a little nervous about staying at a hostel, but we had enough people to get our own private room.  And honestly, this place was so nice that I would stay there solo if I had to!  I was very impressed by the cleanliness, both of our room and the common area bathrooms (each with its own lockable door).  My mind was at ease that it did not seem like the kind of Hostel where torture regularly occurs.

With the night already underway, we chose to walk down the street and do a mini-bar crawl, starting out at Nano Brew for first beer.  We followed that up with some more brews and some games at ABC The Tavern, followed by Belgian beer and pizza at Bier Markt.  All of these bars and pubs were within a very short walking distance on W 25th Street, and all had great beer selection.

At around midnight, several beers in, we made the wise decision to Uber downtown to the quite nice JACK Casino to gamble the night away…

Day 2 – Saturday

sign outside the West Side Market Cafe in Cleveland
West Side Market Cafe – great for a diner breakfast before hitting the market

We had actually won some money at the casino the night before, so we were luckily able to afford breakfast at the West Side Market Cafe, which was a 3 minute walk from The Hostel.  It is an old school diner attached to the West Side Market in Ohio City, which is the oldest operating indoor/outdoor market in the city.  The cafe had really good diner food, at very affordable prices – recommended if you are staying in Ohio City!

Genessee Cream Ale sign in West Side Market Cafe
West Side Market Cafe had a Genny Cream Ale sign – a Rochester legend!

After breakfast we walked through the West Side Market and did some sampling and bargain hunting.  A fairly standard market, but if you like public markets like this, I would definitely recommend visiting.

After dropping off our goods at the Hostel, we walked over to Great Lakes Brewing Company.  We were all familiar with Great Lakes beers as they are sold all over Rochester, and it was cool to see their home base.  We went to their cellar bar to try some of their various offerings.  It was a great atmosphere, with the feel of a pub in the English countryside.  And the beers were great as well.

drinking beers in the cellar at Great Lakes Brewing Company in Cleveland
The cellar pub at Great Lakes Brewing Company

Back near the West Side Market was our next stop at Market Garden Brewery, with good house brews and several TVs for watching college basketball, which we did for an hour or two.

Next up was the Brite Winter Festival, a yearly event held in the West Bank Flats area with music, arts and crafts, and the like.  The weather was actually pretty nice, sunny and about 50 degrees which is not bad at all for February in the Great Lakes region.  We listened to some live music, grabbed some drinks, and got dinner at the Fired Up Taco Truck, which was possibly the highlight of the whole trip.  This food truck knows how to do it – incredible tacos, empanadas, and burritos.  In the three hours that we spent at the festival, I made three separate trips to this truck for grub.

people gather underneath a bridge in Cleveland for the Brite Winter music festival
The crowd gathering at Brite Winter Fest

After a few hours at the festival, the sun had long since gone down and it was getting really chilly.  We were quite impressed by the casino the night before (particularly by the fact that we still had money when we left), so we couldn’t resist the urge to go back and try our luck again.  I actually came out even this time, but my traveling companions were not so lucky…

Once the group had lost a sufficient amount of money, we knew that Market Garden Brewery was very close to the Hostel and served food late night, so we went back to try some of the food that we had seen leaving the kitchen earlier.  I would call it a step up from your traditional pub fare, and it was quite good, even late!  We then retired for the night, with our sights set on brunch.

Day 3 – Sunday

We chose Tremont Tap House for brunch in the Tremont neighborhood, which neighbors Ohio City.  We started with some tasty oysters (which recently have become my favorite thing), followed by more traditional brunch fare, which was fantastic.  A great way to end the trip and fuel up for the ride home.

But we weren’t quite done yet!  We needed some brunch dessert, obviously.  We knew there was a Spudnuts on the route home, so we stopped in for some potato-based donuts, which were well worth the stop.

Spudnuts sign at donut shop outside of Cleveland
Stopped at Spudnuts for brunch dessert on the way home

And with that, the inaugural bro’d trip was in the books, confirming Cleveland as a worthy destination within driving distance for a quick weekend change of scenery.  I will be back!

Highlights

  • The Cleveland Hostel
  • Fired Up Taco Truck
  • Great Lakes Brewing

Next Time

What did I miss?  What areas of Cleveland should I check out next time?  Let me know in the comments!

 

NYC Weekend Recap

the Manhattan Bridge from the DUMBO neighborhood in New York City

This trip was planned for a weekend when Rachel was throwing a bridal shower in Hoboken, which I used as an excuse for taking a PTO day and hitching a ride to spend the weekend exploring New York City!  Of course, by “hitching a ride” I mean I ended up driving the whole way, but hey – that means I got to control the tunes.

I recruited a few friends (Jared, Jeremiah, and John) to join as well, and we turned it into a 2nd annual “bro’d trip” (read “road trip” with a b) – last year’s bro’d trip was to Cleveland.  I was especially interested in exploring some neighborhoods that I hadn’t spent much time in.  I had been to New York plenty of times before, but mostly for business trips or very specific events that did not leave a lot of exploring time (recap coming soon of my NYC Marathon viewing experience…).  In all my years of existence I had maybe spent about four cumulative hours in Brooklyn in my life before this trip, and from what I remembered I really liked it, so I focused the trip in Williamsburg.

Another key aspect of planning this trip was the Good Passport cocktail deal.  We did one of these last summer in Rochester, and it was awesome.  They do them more frequently in NYC, and this trip coincided nicely with a passport deal going on from early March through early May.  Basically, you pay an up front fee to get your “passport” (in this case $37), which allows you to get a cocktail at a specified number of bars during a specific time frame (in this case, 25 bars were participating).  Each place will have a different cocktail (or a couple that you can choose from) based on whatever that passport’s theme is.  For this one, the theme was cocktails using spirits produced by women-owned distilleries.

With NYC prices, this thing pays for itself even if you only go to three or four of the bars.

And now, the recap!

Priorities:

  • Good Passport cocktails
  • Watch and/or play ball at legendary basketball courts
  • World Trade Center
  • Death & Company
  • Smorgasburg

Day 1 – Friday

We were up early on Friday and hit the road around 8am.  The plan was to drop the bridal shower participants off in Hoboken, where three bro’d trippers would meet the fourth who was already in the city for work.  From there, we’d drive over to Williamsburg to check into our Airbnb.

The plan was executed perfectly, and by 3pm we were checked in and ready to hit the town.  We had a lot of walkable places that we wanted to start with, but unfortunately the weather was not cooperative.  It was about 40 degrees and pouring rain all of Friday, so Lyft and the subway were the predominant modes of transportation.

First stop was Delaney Barbecue for a late lunch.  But wait!  I forgot a cardinal rule of planning – check the hours of operation!  Delaney doesn’t open until 5pm on Fridays.  Off to a good start…🤦‍♂️

We recovered with a quick Yelp search, which revealed that we were right around the corner from a well-reviewed and quick Turkish spot called Abracadabra.  After fueling up with a tasty Abracadabra burger, we needed to kill about an hour before The Shanty opened, which was where we had to go to pick up our cocktail passport.  We headed over to Lucky Dog (affectionately called “dog bar” by a friend who recommended it) for a beer and to see some pups.  I love places like this – a dive bar with good beer selection, shuffleboard, and a dog-friendly policy.

a dog sitting at the bar watching our shuffleboard game in Brooklyn
This guy was watching our shuffleboard game very intently.

Once the shuffleboard game was done, it was time to take a Lyft to pick up our passports at The Shanty, which is the bar at the New York Distilling Company.  There, we had a lovely take on an Old Fashioned using their Mr. Katz’s Rock and Rye as the base.

From there, we squeezed in two more passport cocktails in Brooklyn before heading into Manhattan to meet up with the bridal shower team for dinner.  First was Northern Bell, for a bourbon-based John Daly style drink and a tasty spread of deep fried deviled eggs, pickled veggies, and pimento cheese.

IMG_4390
A delicious southern spread at Northern Bell.

From there, we headed into Bushwick to Montana’s Trail House, where the passport cocktail was a Daiquiri made with rum from a local distillery.  This place had a nice cozy atmosphere, and a patio which would have been great if the weather was better.  We saw some good-looking food coming out of the kitchen as well, but didn’t try anything as we were in a hurry to slurp down our drinks and get to our dinner reservation.

daiquiri cocktail and the cocktail passport at Montana's Trail House in Brooklyn
The Daiquiri at Montana’s Trail House.

Next we made the short walk in the rain to the L station at Jefferson St, and took the L to 1st Av in East Village.  We met the Hoboken crew at French-inspired Tree Bistro for our dinner reservation.  Another place with a great outdoor area that would have been awesome if the weather was nice, but we were still able to sit outside under a heated tent.  I was surprised that it was not very busy at all on a Friday night, because the food was very good.  I highly recommend the calamari and the panna cotta.

After supper, I insisted that the group go to Death & Company for a digestif.  As a home bartender disciple of the Death & Co book, this was the stop that I was most excited for.  I was expecting a wait of maybe an hour and a half or so for eight people, so I put my name and number in at the door and we went down the street to Amor y Amargo in the meantime.  Death & Co never called 😔.  Next time, we will go with a smaller group, or perhaps split into groups of two.  Going on a busy Friday night around 10pm was probably not the best strategy for getting in, either.  For these NYC speakeasies, the way to do it is getting there right when they open, or going on a weekday.

Amor y Amargo did not disappoint, though – a very small spot with very good cocktails on tap featuring all kinds of bitters.

a wall full of liquor bottles on shelves behind the bar at Amor y Amargo
Amor y Amargo

From there, we wandered over to Poco for another passport cocktail, before the two groups parted ways and the bro’d trippers took the L back to Williamsburg.  We closed the night with a brew at Radegast, a massive German beer hall, followed by some street meat 🙏.  A solid first day of #steintinerary.

Day 2 – Saturday

The main event in my mind for Saturday was the first Smorgasburg of the year.  I had stumbled upon Smorgasburg accidentally in my research, and it instantly became the focal point around which everything else would be planned.  Anything involving outdoor food – trucks, tents, carts, festivals, whatever – I’m all about it.

Smorgasburg starts at 11am and the plan was to do lunch there, so we chose some morning activities not too far from the location.  After the late night Friday, we definitely needed some coffee to wake the hell up, so we started at The Flat’s BkSpeed, which is a hip coffee shop by day, and appears to be a hip bar and intimate music venue at night.  The banana split latte was marvelous, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Next, we had to go get some Instagram shots.  I had my eye on getting some photos in the DUMBO neighborhood (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass), where you can find great views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, with downtown Manhattan in the background.  The iconic shot (at the top of this post) is at the intersection of Water Street and Washington Street.  You feel so small looking up at the Manhattan Bridge, and if you get the right angle (which is right in the middle of the intersection), the gap in the bridge support frames the Empire State Building perfectly.

Here are some other shots from the parks on the East River:

view from under the Brooklyn Bridge, looking toward the Manhattan skyline
Brooklyn Bridge, backed by the Manhattan skyline.
view of the Williamsburg Bridge from the DUMBO neighborhood
Looking the other way, at the Williamsburg Bridge.

After walking around DUMBO and then perusing Bedford Avenue back in Williamsburg, we had worked up enough of an appetite to hit Smorgasburg.  After scouting the premises, I had identified some tents with smaller portions which would allow me to try multiple things.  First up was a little brisket sandwich at the Mighty Quinn’s tent, followed by a lemon garlic chicken jian bing, and finally a banana pudding dessert.  All were very tasty and affordable.  There was also a sizeable crowd for such a crappy day (it was about 45 degrees, very windy and cloudy).

food tents at Smorgasburg, overlooking the Manhattan skyline
Smorgasburg

After Smorgasburg, the plan was to meet up with Jared’s brother in Manhattan and hit a few more of the cocktail passport locations in East Village, West Village, and Chelsea.  We took the L into Manhattan again, this time over to the west side, and went to Sons & Daughters NYC.  Unfortunately, it turns out they do not offer the passport cocktail during brunch hours, so we just got some cheap beers and planned our next move.

The weather was starting to improve, so we thought next we might see if there were any good games going on at The Cage, a renowned basketball court in Greenwich Village, right off the Washington Square subway station.  There were some people playing, but the quality of play left something to be desired.  It was still fun to see, and I can only imagine how exciting it would be to watch great players there.  Even with scrubs on the court, it was a great atmosphere, with tons of people going in and out of the subway station and stopping to watch.

The Cage basketball courts in Manhattan, with a few people playing a game
Ballin’ at The Cage.

From there, we walked over to Barney’s Bone Broth for a little broth snack.  I’ve been on the broth train since Rachel and I recently visited an excellent restaurant near Rochester called FLX Table (best new restaurant in the US!), where we were greeted with a cup of tasty broth.  Barney’s was very good, and I enhanced mine with a soft boiled duck egg.

After Barney’s, it was time for another passport cocktail at Rouge Tomate in Chelsea, where we had a very refreshing citrus gin cocktail.  We were starting to get used to this whole not paying for drinks thing, so we kept it going at Slowly Shirley next, an underground speakeasy with great drinks, a cool atmosphere, and a strong adherence to the speakeasy era, right down to the guy with a mop following closely behind anybody whose feet touched the bare floor to aggressively scrub away their footprints.  Here, I saw a drink on the menu that I just had to try, so I gave away my passport drink in favor of a Summer in Siam, which I think was a fine decision.  Any cocktail with some kick to it tends to catch my eye, and I couldn’t turn down the habenero-infused rum, with tamarind liqueur, pineapple, lime, and Thai basil.  👌

After a quick drink upstairs at The Happiest Hour (which struck me as a great place for singles to mingle), it was time to catch our dinner reservation at Pondicheri, an Indian restaurant that also offered a cocktail as part of the passport deal.  Their drink was a vodka-based salt lassi, which was quite refreshing and went well with the food.  I highly recommend the Seafood Aviyal!

Next, we had to rush to find a sports bar to watch my UNC Tar Heels play against Oregon in the Final Four.  A close walk from Pondicheri was Rogue, with a boisterous crowd and plenty of TVs to catch the game.  UNC eked out a close victory, so the celebration continued at John Doe for another passport drink (a lovely rosebud gin drink), and then at 230 Fifth rooftop bar, looking out at the Empire State Building which was colored Tar Heel blue.  The drinks were about what you’d expect at a club-style bar – sugary and expensive – but I say just get a cheap beer and enjoy that view!

view of the Manhattan skyline and Empire State Building lit up in Tar Heel blue
Go Heels!!

From there, the antics were well underway.  We ended up bouncing around, hitting Live Bait, trying to get into Webster Hall just to see what kind of craziness was ensuing but turning around once we realized it was $35 to get in, having a beer at the Village Pourhouse, and finally getting some street meat and heading back to Brooklyn, unsure about how on Earth we were supposed to wake up in 4 hours to pack up and get to the World Trade Center for our 9am entry time…

Day 3 – Sunday

Somehow, we did it!  After a frantic pack job, we were in a Lyft en route to One World Observatory.  At $34 per ticket, it’s a steep price to pay for a view, which is something that I normally don’t like to do.  But in this case, I think it was worth it.  The view really is unlike any other, and on a Sunday morning the crowd was not too big so we could take in the view at all angles unobstructed.

view of the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges from the World Trade Center
Overlooking Brooklyn
view of the island of Manhattan from the top of the World Trade Center
Looking north over Manhattan

After about 30 minutes on top of the world, we were in dire need of food and coffee.  We walked around the Financial District and stopped in at Leo’s Bagels, which hit the spot.  At this point we were running low on time (we had a basketball game back in Rochester scheduled for 9pm), but we were oh-so-close to the best bar in the WORLD, so we had to stop in for a drink at The Dead Rabbit, which did not disappoint.  Best bar in the world?  On a Sunday morning it was hard to tell, but the drinks were fantastic.  The jury is still out…

After taking the J train back to Brooklyn and getting our car, it was time for one more stop before we hit the road.  Some would argue that Di Fara in Midwood is the best pizza in the city, so we had to try it.  Expect a wait – ours was an hour or so – but the result is worth it.  Again, jury is out for me on the “best in the city” prize, but I was not disappointed.

written list of the places we traveled to in NYC
The complete Steintinerary

Next Time:

  • Explore more of Brooklyn
  • Explore Harlem
  • More basketball courts – get out to play on one of them
  • Speakeasies: Death & Company, Attaboy, Please Don’t Tell
  • Smorgasburg again – I could eat every meal there
  • Delaney BBQ
  • Shipps Biscuit at Saltie – top 3 breakfast sandwich ever

What would you add to the list?  Add your suggestions to the comments!