Next time I am thinking of heading north. Maybe Santa Barbara, I hear there is a Sharkeez that sponsors a rugby team there too.
Meeting a Clone in Orlando and finding a slice of England
(L to R) In college, the Clones were always messing with someone, in this case, Spike. Jeff Clone with me in Orlando. Rebecca and Danny, the bartenders at the Pine Street Bar and Grill, the bar the Orlando Rugby Club calls home.
Chris, Jeff and Tim Caldwell or as they are known among their friends, the Clones. They are three identical triplets and they are trouble, well not so much anymore. Chris was one of the first guys I met at Florida State University after my first practice. He might have handed me my first rugby beer, Jeff probably gave me my second beer. Eventually I was able to tell them apart. Chris wore a digital watch, Jeff a brown Timex. Sometimes they switched watches. Tim lived in Orlando and I got to know him too. Seeing all three together, well that isn’t something for the faint of heart, then or now. They actually get annoyed when their good friend’s can’t tell them apart. I went down to Orlando for a long weekend and naturally called Jeff to let him know I would be there and set aside a night for a few beers. Chris and Tim stopped drinking a few years ago, probably not a bad thing, but Jeff, well, while he is not the hell raiser he once was, will still meet you at the bar.
We picked the Pine Street Bar and Grill, the home of the Orlando Rugby Club. If you weren’t sure, the big banner just inside the front door lets you know this is their home. It’s in downtown Orlando which is actually a sort of hip downtown scene, outdoor bars and restaurants, café and shops. Just a few blocks long, but when your view of Orlando is Disney World and International Drive and the endless Friday’s, Appleby’s and the like, it’s a nice contrast. Unfortunately the night we were there Orlando RFC was away, but when I introduced myself as a rugby player the bar manager of the night, Danny made me feel right at home with a good pour of a Guinness. Jeff and I talked over old times and shot a game of pool.
We hit the Pine Street bar on a Friday night. There was a good crowd there. The menu is the typical bar food standards. We ordered up a plate of chicken wings that did the trick. They had a good selection of beers on tap too. The bar is split up into two rooms, the bar and pool table on one side and the second room is certainly big enough to hold two teams for a singing session.
So let me tell you a bit about the Clones. Imagine you’re a fit number 8 with a brother that’s a scrumhalf and another brother that’s a flyhalf. You pretty much have the edge on most folks when you have two guys to back you up. At a game one guy said, man I thought you were fast but it took me to the second half to realize there were two of you. Once I was on the phone talking with someone doing a telephone interview, turns out she was at Florida State the same time and also a regular at our bar, The Phyrst. She said you’re not one of those twins are you? Their legacy grows. Over the years we have all stayed in touch and while a bit calmer, they are still well, The Clones. But as always, part of what makes rugby great is meeting an old team mate at the bar, picking up the conversation right where it left off and sharing a few pints.
A SoCal Pub Crawl
Many years ago, my good friend and flyhalf Mitch Kapner moved out to Los Angeles to become a famous Hollywood screenwriter. That has resulted in many great trips out to Los Angeles and naturally, a chance to check out some great Southern California bars and pubs. Like a recent spring trip to Southern California.
A favorite is the Springbok Grill in Van Nuys, the home of the San Fernando Valley Rugby Club. The bar is owned by some South Africans who came to LA to go to college and never left. It’s a great rugby bar and has a true rugby vibe. I happened in there in the off season and a few of the players where there. The menu is a cut above pub fare and adds South African dishes like boerewors, South African sausages and peri-peri chicken. Stop by and have a pint next time you are in the Valley. http://www.thespringbok.com/
Chicken Pot Pie
Before you walk in you can tell from the outside you’re going into someplace special. The red brick three story townhouse looks oddly perfect between the modern buildings that have sprung up behind it. You actually feel like you’re stepping back in time as you walk up to the long wooden bar, seemingly unchanged over the past 120 years. Pictures of old sports legends adorn the walls and in the back main dining room the tables are covered in red checker cloth. The menus are written in chalk on the walls and I bet if Ole Blue Eyes walked in today he wouldn’t notice a thing out of place. Spike just looked around and said, “Cool.”
I started with the cream of tomato soup. The dish is just the right mix of thickness, tomato and not too much cream. Nice and warm on a cold night. P.J.’s is famous for many things, including their burgers. I have had them before, nice and thick, juicy, good beef and definitely, the “Cadillac of burgers,” as Nat King Cole pronounced them after having one, but tonight I ordered the chicken pot pie. It came out piping hot. IT’s a classic mix of chicken and vegetables served up in a thick hearty broth. Anyone can make this, but somehow they do it a little better.
This is a perfect “Guy” restaurant. You can easily imagine guys with cigars making deals over plates of freshly shucked oysters back in the 1940’s or Frank holding court at a table over late night burgers. So when in New York, step back in time and taste the real old New York and good luck deciding between the chicken pot pie, the burgers, or the daily special. It’s all great at P.J. Clarke’s.
After about ten minutes of practice with the Dubai Exiles, I turned to the player next to me and said, “I think I made the wrong jersey choice.” He laughed and said, “It doesn’t matter here Mate.” It was about 90 degrees out, at night and I was playing rugby in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Did I mention the heat?
An assignment to Dubai popped up and having not been there in over 15 years, I was looking forward to see how the city has changed. (It’s changed a lot, it’s very modern.) An internet search, a recommendation and an email or two and about 10 hours after I had landed and after my 13 hour flight, I was kitting up to play some touch rugby at a practice session for the Dubai Exiles. The team plays at Sevens Stadium, which Emirates Airlines built to host the annual Dubai 7’s. It’s a beautiful facility with five fields in addition to the main stadium. It’s a bit far out of the main part of the city however. But the grounds remind you that just beyond the grass fields, Dubai is in the desert.
Not wanting to embarrass myself and being a second row, where speed and quickness are not the hallmarks of my game, I really focused on the game, but I kept getting beat. I did say to one guy, I thought this was old boys. He explained that the younger players run around with the old boys until their practice starts. After about a half an hour someone yelled water break, a much needed water break and when we resumed, about half the group was gone. My odds on playing well instantly improved.
So anyway, about the heat, did I mention it was hot? It was. It had been a very humid 100 degrees during the day and now it was down to about oh…90. Twice, and this is not just an excuse, I literally had the ball slip out of my sweaty hands. Later one of the other guys said that’s just part of playing in Dubai. Anyway, there was only one moment when I was feeling serious heat stroke; luckily a water break got called for about the same time. I guess I wasn’t the only one. After about an hour and half someone yelled, “Next score.” We played one more and practice in the desert heat was over. I survived my first practice in the Middle East.
Meet the club at the pub
Then the best part, for this American anyway, you get to use the locker room inside the stadium complete with showers. After that, you ride the elevator up two floors to the bar! This, for you non-Americans, is our version of rugby heaven. The beers were cold, the bar was long and the guys all couldn’t have been nicer. The pub also served food. Your pretty standard pub fare, in fact, I could have been at a pub in London. I was tempted to order the Scrum Down, a platter with wings, spring rolls, samosas, calamari, chicken quesadillas and paprika potato wedges, otherwise known as French fries. Within a round or two I felt like a new member of the team. In fact, the organizer, Marco Ayub, an American, by the way, asked if I wanted to play on Friday in their match against the Dubai Frogs, which is of course, a team of French ex-pats. They are also based at Sevens Stadium. Naturally I would have loved to play, but common sense took over, I was there for work after-all, and I opted for the sidelines, refreshing myself with cold pints from the bar that looks out over the field.
The game itself was fun. A few of the old boys I met got some playing time, Jim Graham made man of the match and the scrumhalf who drove me home, John Harvey played most of the second half. He and a guy named Psycho, who you don’t want to ask, “So, how did you get your nickname?” are organizing an Exiles tour to Cambodia. I was invited, but I don’t see how this will fly at home. Anyway, the Exiles are a great group of guys. If you are ever in Dubai and looking for some playing time, a good run, or to watch a match, contact them. They must be pretty good at welcoming new players; they did a great job with me.
A Rugby Reunion in Boynton Beach, Fla.
Boyton Beach, Fla, February, 2010
I started my rugby playing career at the Florida State University. After college I lived in Miami before moving up to New York City where I now live. But, through tournaments, weddings and reunions; I manage to get down to Florida pretty regularly and we have all stayed in touch. So it was not unusual for my old team mate and friend Dave Beaumont and I to find ourselves sitting at the bar at the Two Georges Waterfront Grille located on the Intercoastal Waterway in Boynton Beach, Fla. (About a half an hour drive south of West Palm Beach.) The Two Georges is the kind of a place you want to visit when you’re in Florida. Once a former bait shack, it has evolved into a full restaurant. It sits out on the end of a dock, but has tables, a full bar and a full menu. www.twogeorgesrestaurant.com
We had spent the day on the water diving in the amazingly clear reefs and caught five lobsters. By happy hour we were out of Red Stripe beers and found ourselves heading down the Intercoastal toward the Two Georges. We tied up and made our way to the bar.
About one Planter’s Punch into it, Dave and I turned our heads and saw waking through the door an old teammate, also named Dave. It had been years since either of had seen him and about 20 years since the just arriving Dave and I crashed, yes crashed, the other Dave’s wedding. His bride wasn’t pleased. We told folks that didn’t know us we were “Wedding Busters” who attended rugger weddings to try to talk the groom out of it. But if our mission failed, we went to the reception anyway. So where we were, three ex-teammates from about 25 years ago, right back where we started, at the bar.
Pass the crab dip
We caught up, remarked on hair loss, the amount of gray in our hair, and who played last… me. Just arrived Dave’s girlfriend was standing there looking none to pleased to have her romantic dinner on the water invaded by rugby talk and so Dave excused himself for dinner. Just as well, we were running late ourselves and finished up and headed back to the boat. However, Dave was right in our path and instead of leaving, Dave sat next to Dave’s girlfriend. We all realized we were in for a session. Then the waitress stopped by, we ordered a round of Irish whiskey, to toast the old FSU team and then told some old stories. One drink later Dave’s crab dip appetizer arrived, we all tried it, definitely order it, and then another round of Irish whiskey and drinks were ordered.
It was well past time to go, the sun was down to we had to make it back down the Interncoastal in the dark, not a big deal, unless you’re already a few beers and rum drinks into the cocktail hour. As we left, they were getting their dinners, the fresh dolphin entrée, it looked good, but we had freshly caught lobster to prepare.
So if you ever find yourself, either by car or boat near Boynton Beach, head to the Two Georges, the seafood is fresh the mood is Florida beach casual and you never know who you might run into.
Hemingway, bulls, wine and adventure
On May 16th the game of rugby lost one of the best, Gary Zanakis. My captain with the Miami Tridents, Gary was a hard-nosed player, but a true ambassador of the game. He welcomed every new player to the team and with his wife Ann, had an open house policy to ever player. The last time I played with Gary was at a Trident reunion. He had enjoyed his spirits and I feared not quite ready to play rugby. He scored two tries.
He will be missed by friends, family and the Trident family. He was layed out in his Trident jersey, holding a rugby ball and someone managed to slip in a can of beer. Gary will be waiting for us all at the great pitch in the sky.
In the words of Jerry Garcia, "May the four winds blow you safely home."
It's called a "Pub-sicle"
Part of the reason I went out to LA was to go to another friend’s birthday party. Lianna, who married Charlie several years ago and their kids now live on Manhattan Beach. Rugby sidebar – Charlie is a movie producer who worked on a few movies with Russell Crowe, owner of the Australian Rugby League Team the Rabbitos. For Lianna’s birthday we did a “pubsicle” a pub crawl from Manhattan Beach to Redondo Beach on bicycles. We ended the night at Ercoles, which I guess you would have to call a classic “dive bar.” Pool table in the back, lots of beer, looks like it needs a good cleaning and the place smells like a bar. We were having a good time when the Occidential Old Boys Rugby Club came in. You can spot a rugby team coming a mile away. Anyway, the Oxy Old Boys were a great addition and within minutes we were swapping rugby stories. So just when you think you’re not in a rugby pub, you are. The bar is right on the main street in Manhattan Beach and just up from the Manhattan Beach Pier. Finally, I didn’t get to go in, but Sharkeez, the home bar of the LA Rugby Club has moved. They are still in downtown Manhattan Beach and a block off the beach. http://www.sharkeez.net/manhattan-beach/
A South African bar in Dubai
Dubai is an interesting city. Arabic and Muslim it’s run by the Sheiks and their families. The Sheik in Dubai decided he wanted to build a rugby stadium and next thing you know, there’s a stadium. But, it’s also a very modern city, Dubai is at least, and while alcohol is not allowed in Islam, it is allowed in Dubai. Still, you don’t see any neighborhoods like Greenwich Village or Georgetown that’s filled with bars and folks walking around drinking. So bars go indoors. One place everyone on the rugby team told me about was the Nezesaussi Grill, the name comes from combining New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. The bar is just off the main lobby of the new Al Manzil Hotel. The hotel is in a part of town called “Old Town” but it’s actually the newest part of town. You step in the door and you are immediately transformed to an old English style pub. In fact, ole Angus and Gareth would be right at home arguing over who could have been Scotland back in 1956. My favorite spot was one entire wall that was a glass case of rugby balls. Pass the Boerewors
I wish I had more time to eat as they had some good looking items on the menu. I would definitely have had the South African favorite sausages, Boerewors or the ostrich meatballs. The Aussie Rules Mag-Pie, made with an Australian braised beef Wagyu looked good and so did the Springbok Trophy Cabinet Pie, chicken pot pie with Champagne. The menu had a fun mix of dishes from all three countries and more than enough choices to get you through a good day of Six Nations Rugby matches. They also have a pretty extensive wine list that only includes wines from the three countries, all good wine producers.
The night I was there it was a little slow, but clearly; this is the place to watch rugby in Dubai. The bartenders were all sporting South African Springbok jerseys, but I was told if a New Zealand match was the feature game of the day, they would be in their All-Black attire. If you ever find yourself in Dubai, stop into the Nezesaussi Grill. www.nezgrill.com
While Dubai doesn’t conjure up the image of fun drinking establishments and green grass, if you look and not that hard, you can find an active rugby community and plenty of cold beers. And in Dubai, you will definitely appreciate both.
A True Miami Trident, the Captain
The Cricketers Arms
Doing research for Pubs of Rugby is a never ending quest to seek out the best pubs and more friendly places to meet rugby players, friends and fans. Almost every time something good happens, like it did in Orlando at the Cricketers Arms. Surfing the ‘net I came across the name of the bar and realized it was actually pretty close to where I was staying. So, I ventured out alone one night to see what the place was all about. The pub is located in a massive shopping complex, Festival Bay on Orlando’s heavy commercial street, International Drive. But once you step inside the door, the atmosphere is genuine English pub.
I met the owner Phil who greeted me like a long lost friend. Even though he was busy, John the manager, once he found out I was a rugby player, made sure I always had a beer. Even though cricket seems to be the dominate sport, they show all the Six Nations matches and most of the big international rugby games. In fact, for the 2007 Rugby World Cup they stayed open 24 hours and had crowds had to turn fans away at matches at 4 a.m. they were so busy.
They have hand-pulled pints, so I had a few London Prides, not something you can usually find in the USA. The menu looked impressive with British pub favorites like Scotch Eggs, Chip Buddy, Ploughman’s Lunch and both the Irish and English versions of bangers and mash. Too bad I wasn’t there for dinner. Orlando can seem like a giant shopping mall and amusement park off-ramp, but thanks to The Cricketers Arms and the Pine Street Bar and Grill; there is a good bit of rugby camaraderie to be hand in the land of Mickey and Harry Potter.
3) The bull run from the balcony. After I ran i watched the run from above. Good I ran first. Watching it, it's over in a minute, when you are on the street, it doesn't go quite so fast.
Harry’s the Home of Singapore Rugby
The email said, “Just meet us at Harry’s, that’s where everyone will be.” So I was on my way to Singapore and I already had a rugby hook-up. Meeting the lads at a place called Harry’s in Boat Quay. My trip was already off to a good start.
After my first beer in Singapore cost me over $15, I was looking forward to a good rugby pub. Friday night I took a short walk down to the Singapore River to the riverfront venue called Boat Quay, right near the financial downtown area. It was only about 15 years ago that the area was a rundown warehouse district, but Harry’s opened up and now the place is a busy nightlife zone. About 12 years ago, the Singapore Wanderers RFC were formed and Harry’s quickly became their meeting place.
“Wanderers and Harry’s have been partners for over 10 years and Harry’s is quite simply the “Home of the Wanderers,” said Patrick Knight, president of the Wanderers.
The relationship works both ways as the rugby community latched on to Harry’s, the bar expanded to over 35 Harry’s locations around Singapore today. “We really are proud to have the Wanderers,” said Mohan Mulani, the owner of Harry’s. “They are such an important part of our business. We have always been popular with the ex-pat community and always been a great sports bar.” Mulani, a native of Singapore, said he has even made it out to see a few games, but only as a supporter.
I arrived at Harry’s to meet “Stitch,” and ex-pat Brit and former second row, who runs the Singapore Cricket Club, Singapore International 7’s tournament. Beyond supporting one club, Harry’s is also a main sponsor of the tournament.
“A typical Friday night will see 3 of 4 groups of 5 to 10 guys from different rugby clubs meeting up to chat about what rugby blokes chat about,” said Peter “Stitch” Hutton. “As the night goes on, the lines between these different groups of rugby clubs merge.”
$5 beers in Singapore
In short order, a large bucket of San Miguel beers arrives. Since it’s hot pretty much all the time in Singapore, the bar helps you keep your beer cold by passing out beer koozies all emblazoned with the Wanderers logo. (Don’t tell Harry’s but I kept mine.) Then someone whipped out their Harry’s card. And they explained how it works. For $100 you get the Harry’s/Wanderers card. It looks like a credit card and each one is numbered. That gets you 20 percent off on your bill and Harry’s gets a real accounting of how much the club’s players spent in the bar, any of the Harry’s bars. The more the players spend, the larger the cash donation Harry’s makes to the Wanderers. Oh and the best part is, $5 San Miguel beers. Yep, $5 beers in Singapore, I nearly signed up for a card right then.
For American’s visiting Singapore, Harry’s is a lot like heading down to the local pub. The menu should look familiar with anyone who’s been to a local English pub, but with added Asian twists, like prawn wontons, Tandoori chicken and kebobs. The food is actually very good and the dinner crowd is just as lively as the drinks crowd.
“Our official “clubhouse” is the Upstairs Bar, said Knight, “which has seen countless massive nights over the years celebrating victories and losses alike, weddings, birthdays, baby showers and a whole lot more. It is also home to our ever expanding collection of trophies.” It looks like a rugby clubhouse, lots of Wanderers pictures, trophies and banners. I could easily see a team party breaking out there.
Singapore is an interesting city. It’s a city and country and an island. The rugby community is largely ex-pats from Great Britain, Australia, the U.S. and pretty much anywhere else. Harry’s is a fun and lively spot and welcomes visitors, if you see someone with a red Wanderers beer koozie or a bunch of guys standing next to a bucket of San Miguel beers, chances are, they are rugby players too. Who knows, you might even get a $5 beer.
The Running of the Bulls, The San Fermin Festival
To Run with the Bulls at the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain, you have to be in the streets by 6 a.m. There are two ways to do this, get a good or at least a decent night’s sleep beforehand, or just do what it seems more than half the crowd did. Get good and hammered the night before on the “official drink” of the festival, calimocho. For the uninitiated, the drink is, in my humble opinion, a fairly disgusting mix of red wine and coke. Two great taste that hardly go great together. You can tell who’s been at it a while by the red wine stains all over their white clothes. The other tradition is to dress in all white with a red scarf around your neck and a red sash around your waste. For those who this inspires to run, don’t get a sash at home, wait and get one once you get there. Make sure it’s the “official” sash. But I digress… So it’s about 6 a.m. and looking around you can tell who was probably up all night imbibing calimocho and may have actually run before. Those are the guys with heavily stained clothes, a plastic cup in their hands and dirt all over their white pants. Avoid them.
We walked thru the course in reverse. Starting at the Plaza del Toros, we walked down the Estafeta. That is the main street of the bull run. It is medieval in every way. First It was built around then but it’s narrow, no sidewalk, doors open to the street and there are no barriers, it looks old. We got the main square where city hall is. It’s a magnificent old building that is the center of the old part of Pamplona and the place where police amass, dignitaries meet and where all the drunks focus. It’s also uphill from the start of the bull run, which starts in the pen then the bulls run up a narrow street, of which one wall used to be the wall to the old military hospital, rather fitting I must say. We took our place in the madness and waited for the run to start. The cops are quite good at pulling out the stumbling drunks and for some reason they clear the street first, but we were behind them and waited. I was running with two friends, a fellow rugby player and San Fermin veteran, Fran Russell and his son, TJ, who was younger, bigger and faster than both of us. So we got in the massive cauldron of out-all night drunks, runners, veterans, wine soaked fools, and police and awaited the street clearing so we could take our place.
Here Come the Bulls
We picked a spot about halfway through the run. On the Estafeta, just past “the curve.” The route sort of zigs and zags. From the city square, they run to a curve, a large wall they build in the square, that sends them careening to the right, often times sliding on their bull butts and up the Estafeta. By now they are thoroughly pissed off bulls and looking for some payback on the narrow streets. At the top of the street they are corralled into a chute and right into the Plaza del Toros where they await their fate in the afternoon bull fights. Our spot put us just past the curve. Folks that line up early miss most of the run and the guys who start farther down really are running in front of the bulls. The crowd, however, is wise to the early runners and usually boos the guys that run in well ahead of the bulls. We were not in that position.
I admit it, we or at least I, was nervous. Going back to 1924, when they starting keeping track, 15 people have been killed, the last one in 2009. Each year some 300 or so runners are injured, mostly minor bumps and bruises, but gashes and being stomped by a bull hurts, a lot. We were waiting for the start. Was this really the way I wanted to celebrate turning 50? Well I have been talking about it for years, so there was no turning back now. We made some bad jokes, gallows humor and all that. There is some tradition where runners carry a rolled up newspaper. Some say this is to ward off a bull, more on this later. Finally after waiting around, sorta like waiting for your colonoscopy, we were close. We heard it, the first rocket blast to let you know that the bulls around out of the pen. A few start running. “Wait, just wait,” said Fran. A minute later a second blast, now the bulls were out of the pen and in the street. “Hold on,” he said. Now the runners were coming faster. “Ok, let’s run,” Fran said.
With that we were off and running, finally, 35 years after I read “The Sun Also Rises,” thought about it, watched it on TV and talked about it for five years, I was in fact, running with the bulls. Or so I thought. Within less than a minute of the run I turned and saw bulls hauling ass up the street toward me. But so did everyone around me. Fran had warned me, “Don’t get hung up on the side, you have no place to move and you’re a target.” But Fran hadn’t mentioned it to the other runners who pinned me against the wall. My run was over in seconds. But being a rugby player has advantages. I pushed a few guys out of the way and rejoined the run. A guy to my left was face down in the street and I saw a bull trample over him. Not wanting the same fate, I kept running. By now the first group of about three bulls was past me, but I was up and running. Suddenly another swarm of bulls made their way to me, I was still running on the side of the street, guys by me ran around me and past me and swatted the bulls on their hides with their hands and the newspapers. I kept running. After about and hour of running, ok about a minute, the bulls passed me. I caught up to Fran, his son TJ was way ahead of us.
“How did you do,” he asked. “Ok, I got pinned,” I said through some very heavy breathing. “Keep running we need to get into the ring before they close it off,” he said. We jogged up the street and saw the ring, we strolled in and there was TJ already in the ring, camera out. We jogged up to him. We all hugged, slapped each other on the back, high fived and looked around. I have never pitched at Yankee Stadium or run onto the field during a Florida State football game, but that’s what it felt like when you run into the bull ring in Pamplona. We made it, I did it and I was still standing.
Then right behind me I heard more noise and cheers from the crowd as the steers ran into the ring. I forgot about those. They do the sort of mop up work of the run. They make sure all bulls cleared the street and give runners one more chance to avoid a bull. I narrowly avoided a steer, just when I thought I was free and clear. An early wake up call, it turns out. “Now is when they release the baby bulls,” Fran said. After all the bulls and steers were in the ring and then the pen, a crowd gathered in front of a small archway. A minute later a bull, no baby bull, climbed over the bodies and into the ring. Now we were all amateur matadors. The bull ran everywhere. Guys tried to grab them, hit em, swat em, guys got hit by them, stepped on, pushed, shoved, butted, flipped and trampled. “This is where it gets dangerous,” Fran advised. Oh good, I thought, glad the other part was easy. After about 10 minutes, the bull tired, a cow herded the bull back into the pen and we relaxed. Until the next bull.
A way too close encounter with a Bull
Same deal, the bull jumped and climbed over the bodies at the entrance and we tried to avoid the bull. By then I had a strategy, keep the bull’s ass in front of you. If you can see his face, move sideways faster. About halfway through his turn, this bull turned and faced me, I started to sidestep away. Just as he got closer another runner sensing danger, moved and sort of fell in behind me partially using me as a shield, as he ran behind me he sort of pushed my left arm for extra balance, putting me right in front of the bull. About two feet away I am guessing. I looked right into his eyes and he into mine. I didn’t see terror, he no doubt did. Completely forgetting the rolled up newspaper I had to ward him off, instead I turned to run, I made it oh, two steps when I got hit, HARD, damn hard, real hard, harder than any tackle in 29 years of rugby, I got hit and then I was airborne. For you readers who don’t know me, I’m a big guy, 6’-2” and all I will cop to is XL, but I’m not small. Unless you’re a bull, to him I was a runt. I felt myself go up in the air instantly I hit the ground HARD, right on my ass, left side, right near where I had my hip replaced just nine months before. I heard the crowd roar. Hey, that’s for me, I thought, and then I got up faster than I have ever gotten off the ground before. I looked around for the bull. I had seen guys get hit, go down and get hit again. I didn’t wanna be that guy. I was standing, my parts intact. “That was awesome, that was great,” TJ yelled. “Did you see it,” I asked. “What did he hit me with?” TJ grinned, “he tripped you, his head, what did you think? Are you ok? That was great,” he repeated. I was looking for the bull. So how did I look,” I asked. “Cool,” he said, “cool.”
I looked down, I still had the rolled up newspaper in my hand. What a stupid tradition. At the moment I was supposed to use it, I didn’t and I doubt sincerely it would have done me a single bit of good. Hey bull, I hit you first, yeah sure, that would stop a charging bull. I dodged the bull for the rest of his run. I dodged the next bull. I was halfway through the six bull run and I was done. I could feel the pain in my ass and back. I was looking for an exit. I squeezed behind the small wall where real matadors hide from bulls. They have training. I got behind the first wall inside the ring. I put my arms up on the wall and breathed a sigh of relief. A minute later a bull slammed a guy right into the wall. I dodged that bull too, although a wall separated us, it felt close. A guy in front got wedged in the wall by the bull. Another guy tried to climb over, we tried to help him but the bull got his ass first. One guy standing inside the ring said, “Hey you’re the guy that got hit over there,” he pointed to my area of impact. “That was cool.” My first fan. We talked, we dodged bulls. Fran and TJ joined me. We hugged, high fived and congratulated ourselves again. We made it. A few bulls, a few trampled bull runners later, the Running of the Bulls for the day was over.
Raise a glass, I'm a celebrity
We walked out of the tunnel we had just run through and out onto the street. Now I was looking for my wife and daughter. But then my day took a stranger turn. I started to get recognized, really. I was suddenly a one-day, bull running honest to goodness star! A French woman made a sign of bull horns on her head and pointed to my ass. Another woman took my picture. People pointed to me, I waved, they waved. We walked over to the bull runner’s statue. We took pictures, people pointed to me. I waved. I had my picture taken. Someone shook my hand. “Your fans,” Fran asked? “Guess so,” I said.
We took a few more pictures by the Hemingway bust. We walked by the younger guys, some runners, most not, pouring their second calimochos of the day. Eventually found we found a spot in the Plaza del Castillo and raised several glasses. Later we went over to a shop that had pictures of the run, in a few TJ spotted himself clearly running, I had to look harder for myself, but I found one. It’s really me in the upper left hand corner. Just look. I did it and now I have proof. If anyone is thinking about running with the bulls, do it. It’s the most amazing five minutes of your life. That night, we again paid our respects to Hemingway and had a few drinks at the Cafe Iruna, his favorite haunt in Pamplona. We toasted our good luck again. If you ever get to Pamplona, make sure you stop in for a drink or two, it doesn't have to be calimocho. So for my next adventure, I'm thinking of climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, when I’m 60.
Pamplona Spain, July 12, 2010
Feature Pub - Harry's Singapore
British and U.S. Virgin Islands, April, 2010
The guidebook said, “where sailing and rugby come together.” As a rugby player who owns a sailboat, it might not get better that this. So before I left for my weeklong sail around the Virgin Islands, I made a note that the MUST stop that week had to be the Virgin Queen in Roadtown, Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Needless to say, I was looking forward to the visit. Rugby and sailing, perfect!
After a few glorious days sailing around the Virgin Islands, and a few stops at places like Foxy’s and the Soggy Dollar, two must do’s, on Jost Van Dyke and of course drinks on the converted mail boat turned bar the Willy T in the bay at Norman Island, we got to Roadtown. The town itself is the biggest in the British Virgin Islands, which is not to say it’s big. But it is busy. I was sailing on a friend’s beautiful 72-foot sailboat with a captain, crew and chef and amazingly, the crew, Rex Ingram, is a New Zealander and rugby player currently making his home in Colorado and after some conversation realized we had a teammate in common. And isn’t that one of the great things about rugby? Needless to say, it was not too hard to talk him into joining me on my trip to rugby and sailing paradise in, well paradise.
We set off walking and sweating and eventually found the place. Luckily a sign pointed us up a flight of stairs to the Virgin Queen. We walked in. The place had the feel of a meeting room where someone built a small bar in the middle and decided to place tables around the small square room. The walls had all the proper sailboat photos, a few beer posters and that was it. Not a rugby poster anywhere. So after we laughed and put in our beer orders, I asked a few questions. Turns out the rugby team USED to drink there a few years ago, but not for very long and they haven’t been back in a while.
Still we ordered lunch. I had the curry chicken and Rex had the shepherd’s pie. Both accompanied by Red Stripes, the official beer of Jamaica, reggae and the Caribbean. Actually, despite the look of the pie, not exactly what you would get at a proper British pub, the food was quite good. In fact, I have to say, the special board looked pretty good and they apparently won an award a few years ago for having the best pizza in the BVI. The staff was friendly and run by an American who escaped the cold and bought the bar a few years ago. If you are in Roadtown and looking for air conditioning on full blast and a good inexpensive meal, the Virgin Queen is a good stop.
But it’s in a busy section and not near water or outside with a view, so you don’t really get the island experience there. And I never saw a rugby player. Apparently they now head over to a place called Mulligan’s at Nanny Cay. Ah, a good Irish bar in the Virgin Islands, now we are talking.
A social club that plays good rugby
The San Diego Old Aztecs at their home, the Point Loma Grill and Pub. Look for their jersey above the bar.
San Diego is a surfing town, even the rugby bars have surfboards on the wall.
Also worth a mention is the Bareback Grill, New Zealand Burgers and ‘Wiches. This is right in the Gas Lamp District and has a big open space. Sadly I only walked by, but would definitely be on my list for the next visit. The Surfers and Old Aztecs both support the Bareback Grill. http://www.barebackgrill.com/index.php
(left to right) McSorley's, Curtis, your author, Mitch, 20 darks, a friendly McSorley's barman, just make sure you order correctly.
Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 2010 In which I play at 7s Stadium, sort of
These are good men to know in Dubai. On the left, the bartenders and cook at Sevens Stadium. On the right, two of the bartenders at the Nezesaussie Grill in the Al-Manzil Hotel, this is Dubai's premier rugby pub.
Long Live Elaine's (and a good rugby story)
If you live in New York and follow the celebrity gossip pages then you know all about Elaine’s. The restaurant was an Upper East Side and really New York City institution and a hangout of celebrities, powerbrokers, movers and shakers and a popular spot for writers and reporters who covered them. I was no Elaine’s regular, but I had been there many times over the years. I spent about 15 years covering news in New York City, so I have a few buddies in the business, much more famous than me who would occasionally say, hey it’s been a while, let’s go up to Elaine’s next week. Needless to say I race up there.
One night I met the cast of the Soprano’s, minus James Gandolfini, another night, I took the former Los Angeles Country sheriff there. The Rev. Al Sharpton was there, TV stars
Meet Harry, Mohan Mulani
New York - Thanksgiving Eve, 2010
There we were, the day before Thanksgiving, three old teammates hoisting a few, more than a few, in the oldest bar in New York City. This is what a rugby reunion should be all about. A few friends, good drink and food and at one of the greatest bars, ok I’ll say it, in the world.
Their motto is, “we were here before you were born.” It’s true. McSorley’s Old Ale House has been around since 1854. Not much has changed. If Abe Lincoln, who is said to have had an ale there, walked in today, he would immediately recognize the place. It is a great place, an institution, a landmark and a good mug of beer.
My drinking buddies were Mitch Kapner, now of Los Angeles and a screenwriter, who did manage to name a character after me in his movie, “The Whole Nine Yards.” Rent it if you haven’t seen it. With us was Curtis Hayes, now living in Shanghai, China. As luck would have it, both of them were going to be in New York at the same time. Going to McSorley’s was definitely required.
I have been going to McSorley’s almost since I moved to New York City in 1988. In fact, one day the barmen recognized me and felt like I was now a real New Yorker. While I don’t get there as often as I would like, the bartenders still make room for me and serve me a bit quicker than the masses that are always there.
There is a row of tables and a big potbellied stove to the left, a wooden bar to the right, the souvenirs of over 100 years behind the bar, I love the original wanted poster for John Wilkes Booth, and pictures of great New Yorkers on the wall, including New York City’s only two presidents, Teddy Roosevelt and Chester Arthur. Sawdust covers the floor, sometimes fresh, sometimes not and the dust of a few generations covers the treasurers behind the bar. It’s perfect just the way it is.
Try the cheese plate
A back room holds more tables and the small kitchen. The menu is simple, burgers, sandwiches, but the star on the menu is the cheese plate. Cheddar cheese, onions and saltines served up with hot English mustard. It’s simple but something about it works. Years ago, someone coined the phrase, “A Man’s Lunch.” Our gang has taken that to mean a few ales and a few cheese plates at McSorley’s.
They serve two kinds of beers here, McSorley’s dark and McSorley’s light. It’s only light in the sense that it’s not dark. Oh, order your beers evenly. As in, two and two or six and six, not I’ll have a Bud draft. That will get you tossed out, or at least not served. A usual order when you’re at a table is 10 and 10. They go down fast and I usually make a black and tan. The bartenders can actually carry 20 beers at once. Seeing that is reason enough to place a big order.
There are so many McSorley’s stories. On her last night in New York before moving to Florida my friend Maria brought her brother to McSorley’s. We closed the place and they only drove as far as New Jersey the next day. One couple broke up after we got the girl to get her boyfriend to try more hot mustard than he should have. The night before a trip to Africa, a friend did his best to get the only lady bartender to go with us. The next time I was in, she asked how we did and was amazed we made our early morning flight. I admit I love it when a tourist tries to order a cocktail or some beer brand and the bartender looks at me and says, “Talk to him” and turns away, leaving me to explain McSorley’s protocol. Nothing is better than going to McSorley’s on a cold winter day and having a table by the stove with a crowd of friends with you. Although it is pretty good any time of the year.
So Mitch, Curtis and I talked about past games, caught up on what we were doing now. Counted gray hair and remembered going there when we were much younger. Our old team, the Manhattan RFC used to wind up there somewhat regularly after a Thursday practice or a Saturday game. So we had all been there many times. It was great to be back.
Sometimes the bar can get really busy and a line forms out the door and down the block. Tourists do at times seem to be taking over the place. But I can’t complain. When friends come in to New York City, I always make sure we stop in at McSorley’s. Their other motto is “Be Good, or Be Gone.” So far, so good.
McSorley's is on East 7th Street in the East Village near Astor Place.
1) If you look really hard, I mean really hard you can see my head in the upper left hand corner. It's there, trust me.
She only fell off her bike twice, but that happens on a Pub-sicle. The new Sharkeez in Manhattan Beach, home of the LARC.
China, LA and rugby all come together in the oldest bar in New York
Leaving LA, I went down to San Diego and started my pub crawl at the Point Loma Grill and Pub. The bar is home of the San Diego Old Aztecs Rugby Club and has been since the bar opened about three years ago. A perfect spot for post game socials, The Pt. Loma Grill has a large outdoor picnic table area, big indoor area and a good mix of beers both on tap and in the bottle, including several local craft beers. The burgers are all half-pounders and they have great happy hour specials. One of the Aztec players said, “We are a social club that plays good rugby.” They were great guys, welcomed me like a teammate and have a great social tradition in addition to winning the Southern California Division II crown annually. Visit the pub and you will probably see an Aztec or two at the bar. The bar is also a supporter of (maybe my favorite rugby club team name) the San Diego Surfers Women’s Rugby Club. http://www.pointlomasports.com/
I hit San Diego’s Gas Lamp District and stopped into The Local. They call themselves and Eatery and Drinking Hole and well, they are. The Gas Lamp District is San Diego’s downtown and nighttime bar scene. They seem to be the downtown rugby bar of choice. Although not a real club sponsor, I saw an upcoming Tequila Tasting hosted by the Aztecs and Old Mission Beach Athletic Club, OMBAC, held a trivia night there. The Surfers also frequent the bar. It’s a big classic watering hole and a good beer stop in the District
Everybody Goes to Harry's in Singapore
Your author (left) enjoying a $5 San Miguel beer at the home of the Singapore Wanderers RFC at Harry's in Boat Quay
A huge rugby supporter, Mohan Mulani has embraced rugby and the Singapore Wanderers at Harry's, if you see him, make sure you say hello.Unless you would rather chat up Kristin, the Boat Quay manager. (below)
Rugby in the Virgin Islands or bars in paradise
(L ) The staff of the Virgin Queen, (M and R) Mulligan's at Nanny Cay, Roadtown, Tortola, British V.I.
2) That's me in the center of the Plaza del Toros. We are the group of three in the middle.
About a year ago I was there with a few friends and Elaine walked over to our table. By now she would look at me and stare and say something like, “You have been here before.” I would tell her who I was and who I knew and she would realize that I had some minor claim to fame and buy me a drink or something and move on. The last time we talked I told her I was writing a cook book…the Rugby Player’s Cook Book and she said, “Come with me kid.” She walked me to a back table and said, “What’s your name again?” I told her and she said, “Peter meet David, he is writing a book about rugby.”
Where I meet a huge Ireland Supporter
With that, actor Peter O’Toole, (Lawrence of Arabia, My Favorite Year) stood up and shook my hand and said, “I love rugby.” I believe it was Six Nations time and I think I had seen Ireland play someone the week before and I said something like congratulations on the win over Wales last week. He told me he was there. This man is a fan. We talked for a few minutes about the game and then he told me his playing experience, asked about mine and then we talked about the book. He couldn’t have been more charming. I asked him for a recipe, he said sure, I gave him my number and we shook hands again.
I went back to my table and my friends were ok, I’ll say it, a little envious. “Wasn’t that Peter O’Toole?” they asked? Yep, I told them we were talking about rugby. They all laughed and said rugby? Really? Yep, he’s a former player and fan and he is going to write something for my book. We ordered another round of drinks.
Well, I haven’t heard back from my new friend Peter, although I am sure he is going to come up with something great. I always meant to go back and see if Elaine knew how to get in touch with him so I could contact him directly, but I never did. Sadly, Elaine passed away Dec. 3, 2010. She was in institution and a true New York original. She will be missed and I doubt Elaine’s will be the same. But once, for about 10 minutes, Elaine’s was the best rugby bar in the world. Peter never provided a recipe, but was still fun to talk rugby with. He died in 2013.
4) Me next to the bust of Hemingway, his book "The Sun Also Rises" turned a small local party into a worldwide event. I had to at least pay my respects. His bust is just outside the bullring.
Back in LA for some Hollywood history
It’s not a rugby pub, but it is my favorite bar in Los Angeles, Musso and Frank’s. This place is a landmark, an institution, a legend. Charlie Chaplin used to have lunch there almost every day the Humphrey Bogart movie, "The Big Sleep" was written here. Bogart drank here too. The bartenders there now probably served him. You have probably seen this place in movies like "Oceans 11" or "Swingers". This is the one bar not to miss in LA. It’s old Hollywood and right on Hollywood Boulevard, and there’s not much of that around. http://www.mussoandfrankgrill.com/ Order the martini. Sit at the bar. they bartenders serve you up and you get a beaker with another ¾ of a martini sitting in front of you on ice. Nice touch.
A visit to a New York City landmark
New York, March 2010
At Florida State, we called him Spike. His real name is Robert, not Bob, Robert. A great guy and a tough second row, Spike comes from Seneca, S.C. He used to say just write me a letter, address it Spike, Seneca, SC and I’ll get the damn letter. I did and he did, that’s a small town. After college Spike would throw this huge Fourth of July party at his lakefront house. Somehow, Spike got us all to come to from all over the U.S.A. Spike threw a helluva party, the barbecue was always going, bands played, a beer truck was parked on the lawn and a fantastic time was had by all.
Despite his rural roots, Robert is fairly well traveled; he’s been to Europe, skis in Colorado and came to New York regularly to buy clothes for his chain of stores. He has slacked off on the New York trips and we have slacked off on the late night pub crawls we used to do. On a recent visit, we decided to meet up and have a few drinks and a dinner, not too late, Spike said, we both had to get up early. Times sure do change. We met up at O’Brien’s, just off Times Square on West 46th Street, www.obriensnyc.com , which the unofficial home of the New York Rugby Club. We settled in upstairs at the Sin Bin and caught up over a few pints of Guinness. For dinner, I picked P.J. Clarke’s a New York City institution and a piece of New York City dining history. www.pjclarkes.com on East 3rd Avenue at 55th Street.
Frank Sinatra used to have his own table always ready for him. It was one of Jackie Kennedy’s haunts. Buddy Holly proposed to his wife there and Ray Milland nearly drank himself to death there in the film classic, “The Lost Weekend.” If any place might impress an out-of-town visitor, P.J.’s should do it. The fact that actor Tim Hutton is a part owner is just a little bit of icing on the cake.
A recent assignment to Singapore introduced us to Harry's. All total there are some 32 Harry's located just about anywhere you want go in Singapore. But our favorite was the original Harry's in Boat Quay, right on the Singapore River and just a few steps away from the downtown financial district. Less than 20 years ago Boat Quay was rundown docklands but Harry's led the way to transform this area into a lively nightlife district.
Harry's is also the home of the Singapore Wanderers Rugby Club. Actually Harry's is the heart of Singapore rugby as on Friday nights players from all 10 of the teams in Singapore might just be represented at Harry's. Singapore is hot, it's about 80 miles north of the equator and so it's hot and humid. Luckily Harry's has plenty of Wanderers red beer cozzies to keep your beers cold. The Wanderers also have a discount card with Harry's that gets them a discount on anything they buy and $5 San Miguel beers. In Singapore where a beer is about $14 a beer, the discount is huge.
Harry's is a popular with the ex-pat crowd and the menu reflects the English pub tradition of bangers and mash, and shepherd's pie, with hearty American-style burgers and pizzas and Asian dishes including curry, prawns and Japanese style spaghetti. (No I didn't try that.) Most dinner guests opt for the tables under the tents (it does rain a lot in Singapore) that line the riverside that give you a great view of the new Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Singapore waterfront. Harry's is also know for great jazz music.
Being the home of the Wanderers, the upstairs at Harry's looks like the teams clubhouse. If you are over on business, you can host an event for about 100 in the room too. There is also a huge mural that shows you what Boat Quay looked like not too long ago. Singapore is an island and a country and not that big. One of their nicknames is the Red Dot, for what it looks like on maps. Check out the Harry's in places like Dempsey Hill, on Orchard Street, Chjimes, or the Sun Tec convention center, to name just a few.
Harry's recently expanded his empire and opened The Club, a boutique hotel near Chinatown and Club Road. It's a cool and casual hotel in black and white and naturally includes a lively bar of its own. If you need a room, check it out, or rather, check in.http://theclub.com.sg, you can walk from the hotel to Boat Quay.If you get to Singapore, stop into Harry's. If it's around happy hour see if you see a bunch of guys drinking San Miguel beers with red beer holders, chances are, your going to meet the Singapore ruggers.
That’s Captain Mulligan’s, you know, like in golf, take a Mulligan.
So our drink turned into a quest and we jumped in a cab for Nanny Cay. The place is actually a rather large marina and when the driver said you’re here we couldn’t help but burst out laughing. Mulligan’s is NOT an Irish pub. Not by any stretch of the imagination. I even said to the bartender, ummm, nice Irish pub you have here. He didn’t think Mulligan’s was an Irish name, he explained, it’s mulligan, like in golf, you know, where you get to hit again.” And then he pointed to the driving range, actually a raised wooden deck with a piece of Astroturf where folks can hit golf balls into the ocean and ya know what, that’s kinda cool.
Still we settled into the bar and looked around. Mulligan’s is a pretty cool place. It’s a big wide open bar. It’s little more than a tin covered platform but it’s wide open and has a great view of the water. We ordered up a couple of Red Stripes. The bartender said he was new, but said they do show a lot of the international rugby matches there and pointed to the large outdoor white wall that they use to project the TV to. Pretty cool idea. The bar itself is only about a decent penalty kick away from a beach. At the water there are a few picnic tables and a kid’s play area, so kids can have some fun while Dad is at the bar with his mates. The ceiling is covered in flags from around the world, especially the United Kingdom and a few random rugby jerseys flew from the rafters too. So it’s gotta have some rugby from time to time.
We checked out the menu and it’s the typical bar menu in the Caribbean. Some curry dishes, a little jerk chicken, burgers, wings and lots of seafood. We were there just after lunch and focused on the drinks, but I can see how a full bar with two rugby teams could fill the place up and have lots of room for practicing their golf swing or hanging out in the Caribbean sun.
Mulligan’s may not be an Irish pub or even a true rugby pub, but if you find yourself in Roadtown, stop in, practice your swing, sip on a Red Stripe or try one of their frozen drinks. It’s hard not to leave with a smile on your face after some time spent at Mulligan’s.
Skinny Legs and all
Ever just walk into a bar and say, this is the place! Well that happened to me at a bar called Skinny Legs in a place called Coral Bay in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Most folks go to Cruz Bay or Trunk Bay but one day with my wife Janet and daughter Mackenzie decided to do some exploring and we happened on Skinny Legs. Actually, Mac picked the place out. The sign read, Skinny Legs, “A Pretty OK Place.” But it’s more than OK. The menu is handwritten on an old surf board, hot dogs are a specialty, but then ago so are the burgers and fish sandwiches. Old discarded and lost flip flops make up a lot of the art on the walls and the bar area feels like an old section of the dock. But the food is good, the drinks are cold and you can even do some quality souvenir shopping in the shops next to the bar. Next time you find yourself in St. John take a cruise over to Coral Bay and see another side of the island, and make a stop at Skinny Legs, warning, you might wind up staying there a while.
(Gary, Max Martin, Ann, me, your author, Dave Martin)