Venue Watch, DIY edition

The upstart DIY venue 131 Washington saw its $5000 Kickstarter request get over the hump this weekend. With the money, co-organizers Alex Launi and Colin Matthews intend to finish structural renovations that will transform the previously underutilized space into an affordable artist complex (two of five studios are fully built and rented) and fully functional, chem-free, donation-only performance space (efforts to install plumbing have been met with difficulty since October, but Launi hopes to can the Porta-Potty setup by the end of the month). For now, celebrate with them at their inaugural First Friday opening, featuring paintings and performance by studio artist Meghan Howland and Elsbeth Paige-Jeffers, and check  131washington.org for developing news.


Wine by the tap

The Maine incarnation of an emergent global trend popped up at Havana South in Portland a couple years back, but is only now gaining momentum, and may really expand in 2012. It's wine in a keg. A boon to wineries, shippers, distributors, restaurants, and wine drinkers alike, wine that is "bottled" in sixth-barrel-sized kegs saves on materials, shipping, and storage, and keeps wine fresher longer. One such keg holds 220 glasses of wine, says Eric Agren, owner of Fuel, a Lewiston restaurant that joined the wine-keg movement a couple months ago. "That's equivalent to cases and cases and cases of wine," he says, marveling at the reduction in glass, cork, cardboard, and fuel needed to package and ship it all.

Kept under pressure with nitrogen, and with white wine run through a cold plate to chill it before dispensing, the kegs save Agren "about 30 percent on the cost of the wine," allowing him to charge $7 a glass for each of his two kegged wines, instead of the $9.50 he would charge if that same wine were poured from a bottle. With an investment of just a few hundred bucks for a tap and pressure system, it's a relatively easy way to save money for restaurants — and isn't out of reach for aficionados at home.

The major stumbling block, Agren says, is consumer perception. Keg wine is not box wine; rather, it comes from the high-end boutique wineries that are most concerned with green practices (like organic vineyards, carbon-neutral production, and so on), so the quality is not a concern. Best of all, like beer kegs, the wine kegs get reused, going back to the winery for cleaning and refilling over and over. It's almost like a neverending supply of eco-friendly, delicious wine!

Playing fair with campaign finance

In December, the Democratic Caucus of the US House of Representatives announced the creation of a Task Force on Fair Governance. Maine representative Chellie Pingree, who formerly served as executive director of the national organization Common Cause, a non-profit lobbying group that advocates for clean elections and open government, was chosen to co-chair the task force, along with John Sarbanes (Maryland), John Lewis (Georgia), and Michael Capuano (Massachusetts).

While its power is sure to be diluted in the Republican-controlled house, the new entity is charged with developing policies related to campaign finance reform, disclosure rules for elected officials, and voting rights.

Pingree's appointment to the post makes sense; she helped introduce a clean elections bill in the last Congress, is a cosponsor of legislation to amend the Constitution to clarify that corporations do not have the same rights as individuals, and was the first member of Congress to post online the appropriations requests she received.

"American people feel like they've lost their voice in steering the country's direction," Pingree said in a news release. "Corporations have been given the same rights as people. Lawmakers appear to answer to lobbyists. I feel that government should be accountable to the people who cast their votes, not special interests who have gained more and more influence in recent years. We need to pass reforms that put real people back at the center of our focus."

Now there's an idea.

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