|Crowne Pub, despite what the sign says|
When someone asks which bar is our favorite, we say there really isn't one. But Duso's, on Midland Street, always gets a mention for its $1 pints of PBR anytime. That's tough to beat.
Now the Crowne Pub has opened directly across the street from Duso's, throwing down a beery gauntlet with $1 pints of Hamm's anytime and free bar games to boot.
Perhaps it all boils down to whether you prefer PBR or Hamm's (though it might be tough to tell the difference) and whether you care about the looming presence of a large stuffed bear in the Crowne Pub.
Also to consider: The Crowne doesn't open till 4 p.m.; Duso's opens at 2, which could be much more convenient. And, instead of a bear, Duso's has a colorful display of brassieres; your call on a preference there. And the Crowne serves food late.
Perhaps this could be the opening inning of a beer price war. What if Duso's gets a roll of pennies handy and drops the PBR to 99 cents? It hasn't happened yet, but we're just raising the idea in
|Nameless bear in the Crowne Pub|
The Crowne Pub looks like it's been part of the Midland Street bar scene for eons, with tin ceilings and lots of old wood. The stonework at the top of the building's facade labels the building as the Westover block, dated 1882. But old city directories and phone books show that liquor sales came quite recently.
The 1893 city directory shows a cigar manufacturer and someone selling notions there, along with residents presumably upstairs. In 1922, the space was a dry goods store. From at least 1929 to around 1949, it was a Kroger's (they were a lot smaller then). Then, till 1986, it was an Evenknit store, selling hosiery and the like. And for a few more years, it was a drapery store.
But by 2006, it was Lumberjack's Steak House & Piano Bar. And by around 2011 it had become Midland Street Jack's, with country music. It reopened this June as the Crowne Pub. Some of the decor, such as the animal heads on the wall, were holdovers from Jack's. Out front, the Jack's sign and the Lumberjack's awning remain (though owner Joe Marsh says he plans to replace the sign soon). UPDATE: It's been changed.
Marsh, who used to run a bar in California, said he figures Midland Street -- which a few years back was packed with bar-goers -- will rebound within a couple years. "It's gonna come back," he
|Malori on duty behind the bar|
The Crowne Pub is open 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Thursday, 3 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday, noon-2 a.m. Saturday and noon-midnight Sunday. Food is served till 1:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m. Sunday).
But back to that stuffed bear. He (yes, we're sure it's a male) does look happy, though you have to be careful with a bear; it might be a mean drunk. In the Midland Street Jack's days, he was on guard in the front window, perhaps helping scare off robbers. Now the beast has been moved to the end of the bar, where he holds a bright bikini; Malori, one of the bartenders (who used to work down the block at Lucky's), says it's a safety device to keep anyone from bumping into some sharp claws.
The bear (a grizzly, Malori says) hasn't been named. With the bar's deal on Hamm's beer, Marsh
|Crowne Pub owner Joe Marsh|
And about those free bar games: There are two pool tables (so far, one is free; the other still needs a bit of mechanical modifying) a classic wooden shuffleboard table (with a nice old scoring device on the wall) and two ping-pong tables. Cornhole can be set up out front. And Marsh said a foosball table is on the way.
(A warning about the shuffleboard table: Many tables around town have one side that's a bit high, allowing for artful arcing throws to get past a blocker. But this table -- Marsh said it came out of someone's basement in Bridgeport -- has slight drop-offs on both sides, meaning any puck that heads close to either edge inevitably falls in the gutter.)
The decor includes lots of wood ducks. One afternoon, the TVs had whatever was on Channel 5, sports and the Fox Business channel. The side room, which contains some of the games, also has three stuffed sofas and a row of stools made from beer kegs. The men's room is large, completely black and white. There's plenty of outdoor seating out front on the recently-widened sidewalk.
Hamm's is one of 24 beers on tap, including an assortment of craft brews. A few more beers (and wines) are bottled. There's a full bar, with a bunch of high-end bottles. Harry asked Malori for a Manhattan; she suggested Woodford bourbon. It was pricey but great.
The food menu is mostly standard (but well prepared) bar fare (Mrs. Hairy Guy described it as "up a notch") -- a good half-pound burger ($8, with fries and slaw), fish tacos, nachos, soup. The
|Shuffleboard at the Crowne Pub|
And then there are desserts, which aren't standard fare.
The assortment of $4 deep-fried treats -- a Twinkie, Oreos (six of them), a Ding Dong and a cupcake, presented a tough decision.
Malori was pushing the Oreos. But the name Ding Dong really sounded like the pinnacle of deep-fried sweets. Problem is that it's been decades since we tried a Ding Dong, and we really couldn't recall how it tastes to start with. And part of the intrigue (maybe all of it) is to see how the product is transformed. That's something any serious food critic would consider, right?
So, after weighing the relative merits of each, we asked for the Twinkie (which, full disclosure here, is our second favorite snack cake, behind Little Debbies). And what arrived shortly was (to invoke a hackneyed phrase) not your father's deep-fried Twinkie. It was a serious dessert. It's a Twinkie (at least we think so), crispy and hot, drizzled with chocolate sauce, accompanied by mounds of whipped cream and a couple of cherries.
Of course, the Twinkie's filling had become all runny and the whole thing didn't taste much like a Twinkie anymore. But we can imagine it becoming much more popular late at night if recreational marijuana becomes legal.
See Doc's report on the Crowne Pub: A day at the new West Side free-game wildlife preserve
605 E. Midland Street