It was a long time coming, that's for damned sure. The bar at the intersection of Arkansas and Arsenal sat tauntingly vacant for at least four years. The fresh awning advertised "Riley's," and a neon Guinness sign teased us each time we passed it en route to South Grand. Yet the place never opened. Every once in a while you'd see a hint, evidence of activity. But, for the most part, nothing. Riley's, will you ever come? And when you do, what will you be? A cheesy sports bar? A pub? A home? A bankruptcy?
Then, on a seemingly average October day, the neon buzzed to life and lights turned on. Only then did it make sense. Riley's wasn't languishing. Rather, like a butterfly in a cocoon, it was incubating. And when it finally kicked out of its shell, this bar and pizza joint, owned by William Riley Kapes, arrived with gold leaf, marble and oak. It was a pub, with fresh pints, solid stools built for endurance, and a minimal Art Deco bar, refurbished.
Here's to patience!
We walked in on the eve of last Thursday's snow, when the air outside felt like a wet Nerf ball, and requested a pint of Bass, a Drink of the Week favorite, and a glass of water, a Drink of the Week necessity. We've been on a beer kick of late and it's starting to show. Pound a lot of ale, and an American male will get this thin but noticeable layer of beer fat. Untended, it eventually consumes the belly, the chest, the upper arms and, most prominently, the chin.
So moderation dictates only one pint. But on this particular night, with the rumor of new snow in the air, an Irish coffee was in order. Bartender Ron Kittrell makes his with way more Irish than coffee, which is good because you want as much flavor as possible. Specifically, Redbreast Whiskey, triple-distilled at Midleton Distillery in County Cork, aged for a dozen years in oak casks, and so on. It's one of the most lauded names in Irish whiskey. Beer- and spirits-writer Michael Jackson raves about it. On his ridiculously refined palate, he tastes "ginger cake, brazil nuts, treacle." We don't know what treacle tastes like, but we'd swear those are corncakes and macadamia nuts in there.
But who are we to split hairs? We are somewhere we never thought we'd be: on the other side of Riley's' glass, looking out rather than in. The place has a tin ceiling that twinkles like a gold tooth. What appears to be a back-bar mirror is in fact a window into a second room. That room has a couple tables that could support eight skinnies or six fatties, all drinking pints and celebrating snow.
Snow? Did somebody say snow? That calls for a shot! Straight Redbreast, unsullied by coffee, it glides down the gullet without the abrasiveness of bourbon. Irish whiskey goes well with Bass what doesn't? Redbreast warms the chest and washes the bullshit out of the head. A fresh coat of paint is headed our way. Here's hoping we clean up as well as Riley's does and that it doesn't take nearly as long.