Del Diego or everybody needs a Public house, a local.

A few years ago, while living in Chapel Hill I wrote about my favorite bar in town, the mythical Zog’s with the equally mythical crew of Mandey, James and Rob. Today we travel to this side of the ocean to talk about my favorite watering hole in this town, which, while totally different from Zog’s on the outside, has very similar DNA.

I am talking about the mythical Del Diego, with the equally mythical crew of David and Fernando. While Zog’s was a dive – and proud of it, Del Diego is as sophisticated a joint as you are going to find: sleek and minimalist -late XX C. interesting minimalism, not XXI C. boring minimalist. So what do they have in common? An authentic connection with their customers, a genuine pride in their craft – cocktails, and a keen sense of humor!

Fernando Del Diego opened his eponymous bar in 1992 with his two sons, the aforementioned Fernando Jr. and David. I saw a brief writeup in the Iberia magazine during a flight and took note; it did not disappoint, serious cocktails in a friendly atmosphere within a cool setting. I loved it, and it soon became my favorite spot (as life has moved me around I have had to pick local joints (The Parkway Pub in Boston – OK, Revere), Zog’s in Chapel Hill, and The Parrot in Naples) but I always returned to Del Diego.

The cocktail scene in Madrid was led since the ’30s by Museo Chicote, where Hemingway, Ava Gardener and hip bullfighters and locals drank like thirsty camels. Years later,  right behind Chicote sprung Cock, some say it used to be Chicote’s back room, where Franco’s people quenched their thirst out of the limelight. From that school, Fernando set up his own joint making an interesting triangle – all three bars are on the same block!

Originally I did not have a set drink, the guys were always handy to make whatever I was in the mood for. For a while -before The Big Lebowski- I had a White Russian, but then I quickly set on their Manhattan. I rarely went in the warm summer months, so I did not have a set summer drink, the Manhattan being relatively heavy for warmer weather. That was until I recently discovered an old Spanish gin from the once British island of Menorca: Xoriguer. And now I am obsessed and can’t wait for Summer to have a thirst quenching Gin Gimlet!

Del Diego is an obligatory stop when I’m in the area, or I’m with friends, or showing folks around. They are always kind, and polite, and fun.

Don Fernando passed a few years ago, but his two boys are doing a great job keeping the joint rolling; I am really proud of them.

“I drink to make other people more interesting.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

 

 

Zog’s, Zoggys, Chez Zog’s, The Zog, Zogmeister, Zoggy Woggy´s, etc.

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WordPress, the platform that hosts this blog has recently updated their software, making it easier to see the posts I have written. I was surprised to see that I cite Zog’s often but have never had a dedicated post. Here it is.

The reason I have not written about Zog’s before is that it is my hideaway, my cocoon, an extension of my living room, and I did not want to blow my hideaway, expose my little secret, or God forbid, bring in droves of tourists, camera in hand. But last fall when the Romance Studies Department could not find a suitable venue for their Pre-Halloween Halloween party, I sacrificed my closely guarded secrecy of Zog’s to offer it as a venue. Our department’s Social co-Chair Jordan organized a great party. Normally I do not participate in these activities (see below, under Sartre) but, since I was the facilitator of the venue I had no choice but to go. I just dusted my old Sheikh outfit (that my dad bought in Jeddah in the 70s when he met King Fahd. So now that my whole department knows about my watering hole, I guess there is little left to lose.

When I first moved to Chapel Hill in that distant June of 2012. I quickly had to stake my territory, run some recon ops, and establish myself. There were (are) two bars around the corner from my cottage, one on top of the other. The ground level bar had big windows, and a glossy, wannabe fancy air about it. Zog’s was literally an open (yellow) door with some creaky wooden stairs leading up to the bar. The choice was obvious. I have never regretted it. Of course I have had to go to other bars in Chapel Hill for social obligations, but I always go back to Zog’s. Most memorably, my dear friend Stjepan, before moving to Japan asked me to go to his favorite bar, a well-known Franklin Street purveyor of libations. Yes it was a pretty place, with an impressive bar, but it was, how can I say? Fratastic? The last thing I want is to have to drink surrounded by the kids I teach all day long, or a bunch of posers, or to pay more than I should for a refreshment. You guessed, I have never gone back to that joint.

At the end of the day it is not so much about the quality of the drinks – especially if it is only a Tanqueray and tonic when it is hot, or a neat Maker’s Mark the rest of the time (IMHO the best value in Bourbon) , or the music, or the atmosphere, although all those things matter, you can get used to different styles. It is always about the people. In this case awesome owner Mandey and her little brother James, and the rest of the staff, Michael, Reese, Josh and Jedd. I love them all. Top, top human beings, nice people, caring, funny, professional, and very good at their jobs!

Unfortunately I only go a couple of times a week, and I mostly read, but I have had some nice conversations, especially with James, as we share a passion for orchestral music. With Jedd I chat about Jung, spirituality and other silly stuff. With Josh we mostly talk about comedic techniques, with Reese we talk history, archaeology and love. And with Mandey, I can pour my heart out while she pours me a drink! Of course I also chat with other established regulars, Jeff – who has a drink named in his honor: the “Electric Jeff” – although I would rather drink sewer water than that neon green drink. The darts league people on Thursday nights, and a few other regulars.

It is a bit of a rule that I always go after shows, concerts, plays, etc. I need the time to digest whatever I have seen or heard and Zog’s is the perfect venue for that. Of course they have two pool tables, darts, fine cigars and a ton of local art for sale, occasional bands, they are dog friendly, cat friendly, even bunny rabbit friendly. But I go because it is my favorite bar.

Although I do not agree with everything Jean Paul Sartre said, I do agree with him in that “L’enfer, c’est les autres” which has been loosely translated as “hell is other people”. (Those who know me even a little bit, know that I am mostly against translations). So unless I am going to have a decent conversation, I would rather just read and drink.