After having traveled the world, including spending a great deal of time in England, I decided it was time to come home and re-acclimate myself to my homeland of America. Much has changed since I had left. With being away for such a long time, I traveled our beautiful country almost like a stranger, taking in the beautiful scenery with virgin eyes.
I had heard of a small town located on the old Cumberland Trail that had been laid out in a romantic style with winding roads, parks, large trees, and an eclectic mix of homes. It sounded to me a bit like a piece of an English garden on a large, Americanized scale. Plus, it had been named after a good friend of mine. A cohort in the literary business, who collected and edited the writings of Diedrich Knickerbocker.
How weird would it be for me to visit a place named after Washington Irving? What a notion!
I had communicated with a fellow named Michael, who beckons from Indianapolis, who suggested that we might meet in Irvington for drinks at a local café. He warned me to not let my first impressions of the town ruin my experience, that this place was certainly a diamond in the rough. He wrote:
“For the uninitiated, a drive through Irvington via Washington Street is slightly less than inviting. Sure, you've got a Starbucks and a few decent looking independent businesses, but to your average suburb dwelling white folk, there's nothing there that really reaches out and grabs you. If you've adventured a little more into Irvington you'll find just beyond that strip of storefront on Washington lies a beautiful little neighborhood with charming old houses, fountains, and people who really care about their community.”
He suggested we meet at a place called “The Legend”, named for one of the Washington’s most popular tales. I stepped inside to find a warm place packed with an inviting mixture of locals and travelers who have stopped on their way to other places along the National Road.
Indeed, Michael was accurate when he said, “The Legend Classic Irvington Cafe echoes the feel of Irvington - from the outside you might not expect anything grand, but a step through the door reveals a classy, inviting and beautiful little restaurant, with a warm staff who do a good job with everything from service to the beer menu.”
Ah, the selection of ales and porters! It served me well. It is odd how a cold beverage can take off the chill of a cold winter evening.
I selected a seat in proximity to where the publican was serving pint after pint of his intoxicating collection of spirits from behind his bar. On the wall, a quote from Washington was stenciled.
While the man whose name this town carries may have never stepped foot inside its limits, he surely would have found this place to be worthy of several pages in his latest collection of writings. Listening to the people hear talk about the town and others in the town, I found myself thinking that this isn’t too unlike Tarrytown. And that this town too contained many spirits, even outside of the liquid variety.
My host for the evening arrived, as well as many of his fellow distinguished intellectuals who choose to hold court around these parts while putting away pints. They frequently discuss the political and social winds that blow through these parts and are quick to share in their experiences.
Along with Michael was his lovely companion Gina. From a nearby neighborhood came Lady Kelly and her traveling partner Matthew. James, who is well versed in the letters of the law as well as the arts and literature. And finally, there was Jason, who hails from Irvington and speaks of it in a very boastful manner.
A strange fellow with an even stranger name was promised to join our company, but Shit McGee never showed.
Wanting to join in their eclectic group’s frivolities, I followed suit when they all ordered their first beer, a Winter White Ale from the brewery of Bell’s in Michigan. As the ale was poured, James entertained us with advice on wooing the young women of nearby Indianapolis:
Gentlemen, you're out on New Years Eve with a special lady. This is date number two. You're really into this girl after the first date, but of course, you're still getting to know her. You want to show her a memorable evening, so you've decided to take her to the most impressive restaurant in your cool Eastside Indianapolis 'hood—The Legend.
As you wait for a table, you sit down at the bar and take a look at the beverage menu. There's plenty of wine, and you're pretty sure she's going to order something red, maybe a Shiraz or a zinfandel. But your date—let's call her Kate (as in Kate Winslet)—looks at you and says, "I feel like having a beer."
As a guy who likes his beer, and good beer at that, you feel confident in your ability to give sterling advice in this situation.
"What kind of beer do you like?" you ask.
"Not the pissy stuff, but nothing too heavy, either," says Kate. "If they have Blue Moon, I'll take one of those."
You glance at the taps. Based upon Kate's preference, you see a beer that you think will do her one better than a Blue Moon. You motion to the bartender and point at the tap handle for the Bell's Winter White Ale.
Kate raises an eyebrow as the bartender sets her pint in front of her.
"Hmmmm. Looks like bubbly grapefruit juice. So cloudy. I've never seen a beer like this."
"Don't worry. Just smell it," you say.
"Mmmmm. Smells spicy. Kind of like Blue Moon, but more intense."
"Give it a try," you suggest.
Kate raises the glass to her lips and takes a sip. Now she raises both eyebrows.
"Mmmmm. Spicy, orangey, a little banana in there. And smooth. I'll have to be careful so I don't drink this too fast."
Kate flashes you a big, bright smile. "You've got good taste," she says.
You like where the night seems to be headed.
The others listened and nodded as they sipped, sniffed, and studied the elixir. Matthew made some notes in his journal.
Lady Kelly contemplated the differences between this beer and wheat beers that she would consume during the days of summer. She called it, “a souped-up, spicy version of my favorite summer wheat beers. Not what I expected -- in a good way. Much better from the tap than in the bottle, and a good alternative for those who aren't fans of dark beers, yet still want something with a little holiday flair.”
Indeed, I agreed that it was a step up from the wheat based beers that I had consumed while traveling Europe. Often, they tasted of strong fruits and spices, much like drinking a variety of exotic fruits from tropical regions. This beer, however, is a much better reflection of our beloved country by blending the flavors in a much more appealing manner, making this a melting pot of wheat beers.
It has been mentioned that a bottled variety of this beer had been served at a local gathering of the city’s greatest artistic minds. Gina mentioned that, “as one of our sampling beers at the last Big Car event, I wasn't really impressed with this beer. However, after having it on tap at the Legend I think my views about it have changed somewhat. From the tap, it gives off a strong Belgian nose but it's balanced by a taste that is creamy with hints of orange.”
Michael, who was also at the art event, disagreed with Gina’s initial impressions. “It was my favorite of that night. But I continue my support of this beer on tap - the flavors come out a bit more. A light fruity lemon nose and cloudy lemonade appearance leads to an extremely drinkable and agreeable "Blue Moon with flavor" sort of taste. Your first thought might not be "winter" with this ale, but there's something about it that really fits the weather. I'd guess this one is palatable to just about anyone, and would probably make a nice holiday party beer.”
This beer was certainly making my holiday travels more enjoyable! But the evening was far from over.
There is a stout that Michael truly adores, and he has consumed many a bottle over the past several months. But when he heard that kegs of the brew had made it’s way to Irvington, he knew that a stop at the Legend was necessary.
“I was really excited to visit The Legend knowing that the Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout from the Bluegrass Brewing Company was on tap,” he said. “I drink more of this beer at home than any other, and it never fails to be exactly the beer I want it to be.”
The next round was being poured, and Michael pointed out that it poured dark black with a creamy head “as thick as mashed potatoes.” He always had a way with words!
“A straight coffee nose with a hint of sweetness leads to a front of straight coffee (though that depends on who you ask). I never really get a bourbon taste out of this one, though there's a definite strong alcohol note. Despite the strong flavors, it's extremely drinkable, and hard to put down.” And for what it is worth, I never did see Michael put it down!
It was a beautiful drink, combining the best of both sides of the ocean: the stouts of England and the bourbons of America. And a perfect, chewy accompaniment for a cold winter night.
Once again, James stood up to continue his tale from earlier:
A week after your date with Kate, you roll into The Legend with some friends. It's guys' night out. Time for some dinner, followed by some pints at your favorite sports bar to catch some college basketball. But you need a before-dinner beer to get things kicked off.
"So how'd New Years Eve go?" asks one of your friends. We'll call him Seth (as in Seth Rogen).
"Pretty good," you reply.
"That's it? Just, 'Pretty good?'"
"Well, okay, check this out," you say. "Kate digs beer."
"So what?" says Seth. "Lots of girls dig beer."
"Yeah, but she digs good beer. She's a beer goddess."
"So what does this beer goddess like to drink?" asks Seth.
"Well, she had the Bells Winter White Ale, and she liked it, but she loved that one."
You point to the tap handle for the BBC Jefferson's Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout.
"That beer?" asks Seth. "Are you serious?"
"Oh yeah, just wait until you try it."
You motion to the bartender and point at the BBC tap handle again.
"Four, please." (You're ordering not only for you and Seth, but also for your other buddies Paul—as in Paul Rudd—and Steve—as in Steve Carrell.)
Seth lifts up his pint and eyes it.
"Man, this looks like dirty motor oil with a little bit of tan fuzz on top."
Laughter once again.
"Very vivid," you say. "Now take a whiff."
"Holy crap, dude! That's seriously intense. Smells like baked brown sugar and black coffee."
"So what the hell are you waiting for? Taste it."
"Oh, man. Now I know why they call this Bourbon Barrel Stout. This seriously hit me with a smack of bourbon."
Seth takes another sip, smacking his lips as he tries to get a good handle on the flavor of the beer.
"Okay, now this has mellowed out some. Tastes like coffee and brown sugar with a little bit of chocolate in it. Wicked good."
Seth sets his pint back on the bar.
"You know what? That Kate has good taste," he says.
"I know," you reply. "Good taste in beer and good taste in men."
Kelly, whose lady-like qualities may have been diminished by the intoxicating effect of the brews (but nevertheless is always a lady in my book), commented about the beer’s “initial bitchslap of earthy, past-its-prime espresso (if you've ever worked as a barista, you know this smell) followed by a kidney punch of bourbony sweetness and a Vulcan neck pinch of dark chocolate and licorice. Knowing that this is on tap just a stone's throw from my house could be a dangerous situation, indeed, as I had finished my glass almost before I knew it.”
I considered asking about this “Vulcan” chocolate and licorice, but figured it must have been a local purveyor of confections. Then I turned to Gina and inquired about her reaction to the stout.
“As one of Mike's favorites, I've had a lot of opportunities to try this at home and I've always liked it, but I never would have considered it a favorite. I always thought the Bourbon flavor came through too strong, it never left me wanting more than a few sips. But like the Winter White, this was a completely different beer on tap. The Bourbon Barrel Stout was wonderfully complex and the nose alone provided coffee, chocolate, fig, brown sugar, and molasses. The first taste was like having a really great espresso with a shot of bourbon. As it warmed, the bourbon flavor came through more and the coffee flavor a bit less but the beer remained smooth and enjoyable.”
I turned to Jason to inquire his opinions of the matter, but he seemed to be lost in his own mind, most likely wondering why his good acquaintance Shit McGee hadn’t arrived.
No matter, as I’m sure that the two of them will show up here at the Legend time and time again. I came to understand how a town like this would be so devotedly loved by all, despite any of the seedier establishments and residents that might stake claim along the old National Road.
As my travels continue, I’m certain that I will stop and stay at pubs and inns that attempt to pull together an establishment that is much like what purveyor John has created. But no where will you find the same collection of characters, the same collection of stories, the same collection of beers, as you do here at The Legend in Irvington. You could very easily write a whole collection of stories about this place.
Beer Ratings (out of five mugs):
Bells’ Winter White
Kelly: 3.75 mugs
Matt: 3.62 mugs
Jim: 4.00 mugs
Gina: 3.45 mugs
Mike: 3.75 mugs
Jason: 3.875 mugs
KOTBR Average: 3.74 mugs
BBC Jefferson’s Reserve Bourbon Barrel Stout
Kelly: 4.5 mugs
Matt: 4.87 mugs
Jim: 4.75 mugs
Gina: 4.95 mugs
Mike: 5.00 mugs
Jason: 4.875 mugs
KOTBR Average: 4.82 mugs