Andrew Jenner -- February 11th, 2010
Guest blogger Andrew chronicles his happy hour quest in downtown Harrisonburg. Photos by Randy Lowery
So I’ve resorted to the hackneyed open-my-essay-with-a-dictionary-definition trick. But there’s a reason: serious confusion has come to surround the word “value.” People use it when they mean “cheap.” (Much like people seem to have gotten “efficient” mixed up with “frenzied.”) The fast food Value Menus are cheap, not valuable. Those glossy mass mailings touting great-value bargains have a singular focus on price, at the expense of quality and importance, the other pillars of true value.
It seemed like I should do something, cast a light, howl in protest, identify that of actual value in our fine town and expose the frauds. So I went to Happy Hour.
Not one, not two, but many Happy Hours, to sift through the stunning array of drinks to be had, to spend of my own hard-earned money and to, with cold objectivity, evaluate the relative worth, utility or importance of beer drinking in our cluttered downtown environment, to restore the dignity of that much-abused concept: value. In vino veritas.
My first stop was Clementine Cafe, where I met my friend Weldon after work. Clementine has a weekday $2-off-drafts Happy Hour special during which a Bell’s Two Hearted Ale can be had for $3 (+tax+tip, of course). A Two Hearted – an IPA-style beer – is not at all a bad way to start an afternoon, and $3 seems a fair price. One could no doubt do better; one could most certainly do a lot worse. And so this became a reasonable value baseline: a better beer for $3 or less beats this out; a worse beer for $3 or a comparable one for more is simple of lesser value. Weldon and I chatted while we drank, but nothing notable really happened. This was the warm-up round.
After I’d drained the Two Hearted, we headed next door to Dave’s Downtown Taverna, where I ordered a 75¢ Natural Light draft. Pocket change, literally.
When cold, Natural Light seems equally palatable as any other inexpensive frat-party brews, and it’s hard to quibble with 75¢. Besides, Weldon is the sort of master conversationalist whom any beer drinker is lucky to count a friend, snippets of the Australian Open were playing on the TV above the bar, the bartender had on a tie so ugly it was an entertainment in its own right and Dave’s fries are unrivalled downtown – all of these being environmental constants that narrow the playing field between high- and low-quality Happy Hour beers. Yes, Natty is no doubt of low quality, just as it is of stunningly low price.
I began to engage in some mental gymnastics comparing the $3 Two Hearted Ale to the 75¢ Natural Light, trying to somehow quantify and compare the experiences of drinking them. Was the Two Hearted FOUR TIMES better than the Natty, I wondered? But really, it’s an impossible question to answer, and Merriam-Webster acknowledges as much – value is about relative, not absolute, worth. I’ll leave it at this: the 15 minutes I spent at Dave’s with my Natural Light was worth all 75 pennies (+tax+tip) it cost me. That’s value, like it or not.
Next we tried Jack Brown’s Beer and Burger Joint, but found it was so completely full it seemed foolish to attempt entry. If crowds really do have any wisdom, there must be value at JB’s B&BJ, but I was unable to conduct my own independent review.
And so, we tromped across the street to Cuchi Guido’s. I was reluctant (it just didn’t give me good vibes) but I ordered a $3 (+tax+tip) Heineken. I never really figured out if this was a Happy Hour special or not, but it doesn’t really matter because the whole experience was kind of a disaster. First, Heineken has a massively and unjustly inflated reputation. It is a beer of questionable value at any price in any setting. Also, chaos reigned at Cuchi’s, and, even allowing for some opening-week confusion, waiting 15 minutes for a stupid Heineken is no good. Weldon and I settled up and left – wham, bam, thank you, Cuchi (I couldn’t resist just one of those). Anyway, the point of all this isn’t to cast aspersions or anything, so I’ll stop there.
Weldon and I headed to Cally’s on Court Square; he seemed unfazed by the Cuchi’s debacle and was chatting amicably about some topic I neglected to record in my notebook.
Sidenote: Yes, I skipped over Finnigan’s (mad props) and Beyond (I’m just not down – long story, but I’m still trying to avoid aspersions). I did some counting and figured I would have to make at least 10 Happy Hour stops if I was going to hit every downtown place where drink is to be had, and since I weigh like 153, and since I had some dinner plans, and since I’m the kind of upstanding young man who wouldn’t binge and tell, even for the sake of journalistic excellence, I had to pick my battles.
At Cally’s they had something called Golden Light on special for their “Tilt the Tank Tuesday” deal. It was Golden and Light, and fairly valuable I think, and I’m actually not sure what it cost me, because my beautiful wife was there to meet us when we arrived, and she picked up the tab. I bumped into another friend at the bar, and conversation got fast and furious and disjointed – talking to wife, talking to friend, talking to Weldon, talking to Weldon’s wife (also met us there) – and my notebook got lost and forgotten in my back pocket, as is wont to happen during such moments of barroom serendipity. So, although I don’t have much of detail to report, trust me, a good time was being had by all. Dare I say, a valuable time? Things were looking up.
Next, The Artful Dodger, where I dropped $1.50 (+tip only, since the AD retails drinks for weird prices that magically work out to nice round post-tax amounts) on a bottle of Mickey’s “Fine Malt Liquor.” I saw another friend there, launched a conversation about architecture and contemplated the fact that the Dodger is the kind of place where a long-haired charlatan like me can just sit there and drink his fine malt liquor like a man, undisturbed and unjudged – it’s hard to measure the value of having that sort of welcoming institution around (No comment on the Mickey’s really; I suppose it was about as fine as any other malt liquor).
My reverie ended when the owner of the Dodger appeared behind the bar to make some sort of scornful remark about my Mickey’s. “Oh, I bet you’re writing an article,” he said. Indeed. (The owner happens to be my boss a few mornings a week, so I’m used to – and possibly deserve – this sort of stuff. So much for objectivity here, too. Never mind that. Just go patronize the place and leave big tips for the long-haired dude barista on morning shift).
And finally, north to the Local Chop & Grill House, where they have a $2-off-drafts Happy Hour special that completely rewrites the rules of the game when it comes to beer and value in Harrisonburg. I had a Victory Golden Monkey for an eye-popping, double-take-inducing $2 (+tax+tip). If you’ve never had a Golden Monkey, remedy that, and if you’ve never been to a LCGH Happy Hour, run don’t walk. The fact that this deal exists is proof positive that something good and righteous still exists in this life, a beacon of hope shining above the chatter and vitriol and Heinekens fouling the world. The Golden Monkey was a knockout punch to the afternoon, sending me home in a tired glow. LCGH Happy Hour – worthy, useful and important, i.e., valuable. No, Valuable. No, Invaluable. Good Night.
Andrew Jenner is a freelance writer who lives in Harrisonburg