The Mizzou/KU game's on the three TVs above the bar at Tanner B's. We're in the Fox Park neighborhood on a Tuesday night. University of Kansas coach Bill Self seems like he's going to cry. Across the court, Mizzou's snakelike coach, Quin Snyder, hisses at a referee. A few people sit at the bar, enraptured by the simulcast. A few others couldn't care less. The stereo's playing R.E.M.'s "Man on the Moon." A cop walks in, passes an older couple playing gin rummy and heads to a back booth. Then another cop comes in and sits down next him -- like boyfriend and boyfriend. A waitress delivers meat loaf and mashed potatoes to a lone diner and drops off two pints of pale ale to a couple others.
We gaze through the big plate-glass windows that face out onto the four-way stop at Shenandoah and Nebraska. Not much is happening. It's winter, so the double-dutchers and the nascent rappers are tucked away, waiting to explode in the spring. In the wintertime, stray cats rule the streets of Fox Park, a relief considering that a total of five members of the fuzz are now in here, all shoveling in big helpings of comfort food. Barring a crazed sniper with a bead on our forehead (or, worse, a kidney stone), we can lift our glass of coffee stout with a feeling of utmost security. We're safe. The cold weather polices the streets in February. The cops eat pot roast. Summer seems a decade away.
The two-year-old Tanner B's has nestled itself into the weekly pattern of the neighborhood -- most likely because it's a clean, well-lighted place. The music's not too loud -- mostly white guys with guitars and pianos -- nor are the people. The smoke's not bad, which is good. Tanner B's serves excellent garlic mashed potatoes, and on Thursdays the kitchen doles out some of the best fried chicken in town. It's a place where it's easy to relax. A place where a good book (we'd suggest Stanley Elkin's The Franchiser) and a good beer could make for a perfect evening.
The cops are watching us. It's just coffee stout, sir, made by Schlafly and served on draught here at Tanner B's. Yes, coffee stout: the spawn of a romantic encounter between Kaldi's coffee and Schlafly beer. Kaldi's provides the grounds, which are brewed toddy-style -- cold. The process eliminates much of the bitterness. Then the brewmasters mix the dense blend into Schlafly's oatmeal stout, which is a dark beer, sweet and earthy. At a ratio of a pound of coffee per barrel (about a shot of espresso per pint), the stout kills.
Over a walkie-talkie, a dispatcher blurts out a series of sibilant letters and numbers. Trouble in south St. Louis. Somewhere, but not here. Here, the fried chicken has just arrived. Kansas has just kicked Mizzou's ass. The cops erupt with laughter. The lady shuffles the deck, then deals.
Outside, an Olds '98 races through the stop sign. Two cats scatter. A tumbleweed Schnucks bag rolls down the street. Pour another pint.