The monthly not-usually-drink-related Lew's Top Ten. This month, a truly off-the-top-of-my-head list of the cities and towns I most like to visit or have most enjoyed on a single visit. Thoroughly me-centric, and I'm not anywhere near as well-traveled as I'd like to be...but it's what I've got. As always, the list is unranked, in the order I happened to write them down, and as I've done in the past, I cheated a little by shoving some close cities together.
1. Portland, Maine. The first time I drove into Portland, it was 72°, blue sky with a few clouds, and I bought a paper and looked at the want ads. Just a marvelous city, surrounded by water, fed by the water (and B&M Beans), and blessed with some solid beer joints. A little gem.
2. Chicago. Cathy and I have been enjoying the blazes out of Chicago for quite a few years now, thanks to WhiskyFest Chicago and our good friends, George and Sue Sarmiento, both Chicago natives who have shown us some of the fun to be had there (and Frank E., and Terry and Monica Sullivan...yeah, all you guys). Great museums, the Lake, the German joints (and Polish joints, and Ukrainian joints, and Swedish joints, and Irish joints...), and some truly excellent beer spots. A great city to walk around in, to dine in, to have a hell of a time in.
3. San Francisco. Simply gorgeous, in a way most cities only hope for. The Bay's a wonderful window on the world (and Oakland), the bridges are inspiring, and there are bars here that have been serving for well over a century. The people are very interesting and friendly (friendlier than I remember from the 1980s, actually), the food is outstanding, and the romance is palpable.
4. Portland, Oregon. Only been once, can't wait to return. Portland has a smaller beauty, and an intense desire to better itself that is much more appealing than it sounds. One of the best beer scenes in the world, of course (although believe me, guys...we know you know...), and a happy worn-in attitude about it.
5. Bamberg. How can you not like a town with so many good breweries, so much history and preserved architecture, walkable and beautiful? I'd go back every year if I could.
6. Toronto. Good beer in excellent places, great transit, old buildings, the St. Lawrence Market, and vibe just shimmering off it. And of course, The Lake, right there, which Toronto makes the most of. Love visiting this town, any month of the year.
7. Düsseldorf/Köln. I picked both to avoid the arguments, yes. Hate to disappoint the folks who told me to skip Köln (and kölsch) and just stay in D-dorf and drink altbier: I love both, and I particularly love the places they're served. Actually, if I were going to go on where they're served, Köln might have a slight edge, if only because of numbers. But truly, both wonderful places, -- not just for beer, for people and architecture and setting and history -- and I'm hoping to make them a yearly visit.
8. Ghent. I really am picking Ghent over Brussels, after only one visit to each. It may be because I was a bit overwhelmed by Brussels (may be that I was a bit over-served there...), but mostly it's the canals and the look of Ghent. I'm a sucker for water, and Ghent has so much of it. It's also of a more manageable size than Brussels for a first-time visit. My opinion may well change (especially after I get to Brugge), but for now: top ten.
9. Madison. Spectacular lake setting, and when it's really on, it's beautiful here. The people are wonderful, the beer culture is the closest thing to Germany I've encounted in the U.S., and the brewpubs rock. Another town I'd re-locate to in a heartbeat.
10. Washington/Baltimore. I hate the heat, I despise humidity. These towns can be miserable with it. But I love them; DC for the bustle, the international character and attractions of such a relatively small city, the Smithsonian, the embassies, and all the goings-on. Baltimore is special for its real personality, a town that has as much individual character as Boston or New York, some great beer bars and brewpubs, a gorgeous ballpark, and the whole harborside thing, and the exceptional seafood. Always happy to visit these towns; need to do that again soon.