The Hungover Gourmet


Bars We Love... by Anita j Michel

Brass Rail, Champaign, IL
While there is no shortage of bars in the twin cities of Champaign and Urbana, there is a shortage of bars that I feel comfortable enough to patronize. After you cross off all the campus undergraduate vomitoriums, the upscale martini spots, dance bars, strip clubs, fern bars, and knife-fight bars, the list that remains is very short. One of the two or three bars that I regularly patronize is the Brass Rail, located on a triangular corner in a flatiron style building, right across the street from a retirement apartment building. Yes, the Brass Rail is a prototypical Old Man Bar. Cheap wood paneling, limited beer selection (only Pabst and Leinnie's on tap), thick smoke, and old people sitting on stools, complaining about the weather, politics, sports, and their no-good children who don't come to visit them.

While it is an Old Man Bar, the Brass Rail is clean and comfortable. The bathrooms are immaculate. On Friday nights you can be sure that "Walker, Texas Ranger" will be on both the televisions. Food? Well, they've got Hot Pockets, Dinty Moore Beef Stew, and frozen cheeseburgers – anything you can put in the microwave behind the bar. The Brass Rail is also the one stop shopping location for local vagrants to purchase their cheap pint and half-pint bottles of liquor.

Depressing? Sometimes. But, they've got a great jukebox, friendly bartenders, and you don't have to scream to have a conversation. The Brass Rail is certainly the domestic six-pack of Champaign bars. And sometimes, that's all you need.

Howard's Club H, Bowling Green, OH
Pulling up stakes from my comfy (and, at that time, cheap) Philadelphia apartment almost seven years ago was probably the most difficult move I have done in my life to date. I moved to Bowling Green, Ohio to attend graduate school. For the geographically impaired, Bowling Green is not exactly in the nicest part of the state – it's about 25 miles south of Toledo, and besides that, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It's a cute little town, but it is a little town, with not much more than Bowling Green State University, a Kroger supermarket, and the requisite Wal-Mart. Bowling Green is also home to the yearly National Tractor Pulling Championships (, so that should give you a pretty good idea of what I had gotten myself into. To say I experienced severe culture shock is an understatement.

I soon found that the bar scene in Bowling Green was heavily populated by undergraduates, since you could gain bar entrance at age 19, even though you couldn't (technically) consume alcohol. And I'm sure none of those 19 and 20 year olds would ever have their of-age friends buy liquor for them, would they? There were few places for graduate students to hang out, two "nice" bars, with overpriced and limited beer selection, ferns, and no jukeboxes. I was curious about a divey looking place near my apartment called Howard's Club H. It took up a large part of a block, had no windows, and just generally looked downscale. One of the nebbishy older grad students warned us new arrivals not to go in there – it was dangerous and smelly. But, then again, who was he to give advice about bars, as he didn't drink?

Well, what more incentive did I need than that. Plus, if Dirty Frank's in Philadelphia taught me anything, no windows = cool, cheap bar.

So, on a Friday night before classes began, four of us new recruits – Wisconsin Tim, Dakota Joe, good-little-innocent-girl-from-rural-Ohio Anna, and myself - pushed opened the heavy windowless wooden door to Howard's Club H.

And, at that moment, I found my home away from home for the next two years. The place was a total pit. Rickety barstools, chairs and tables, including some picnic tables, all gouged and carved up. Pool tables. A good jukebox. Five or six pinball machines. A little "stage" for bands. A wide selection of domestic beer, from the not bad to the completely gagworthy. Cheap prices, starting at a paltry 65 cents for a juice glass of Drury's. Plastic bottles of incredibly vile pre-mixed drinks like Alabama Slammers, Kamakazies, and Margaritas. Skanky bathrooms with condom dispensers, as well as perfume dispensers – 25 cents for a spritz of knock-off Obsession. No food except for the beef jerky, chips, and pork rinds behind the bar.

It was love at first sight. But it was almost a one night stand, as we were nearly ejected that first night, thanks to innocent Anna getting a wee bit hammered and flipping the metal ashtrays around the table.

Howard's became my regular place to go in Bowling Green. I read there, I wrote there, I just relaxed there. Sometimes national acts would play there, but usually it was just local cover bands. When I wanted to escape the undergraduate culture of BG, Howard's is where I hid out. Sometimes I wonder if Howard's kept its run-down condition on purpose, to keep out the students, and give the locals – and broke grad students who just wanted a beer and didn't want to talk about classes – a place to escape the University life.

Anita j is a longtime friend, frequent THG contributor and the editor of the fabulous zine LOW HUG. Check out her blog for info on how to pick up the latest issue as well as her numerous other writing projects.

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