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Lost but not forgotten: A tribute to great specials of days past

Me (right) and a new friend enjoying a few drinks at Big Ten during "$1.50 Pitchers."
Me (right) and a new friend enjoying a few drinks at Big Ten during "$1.50 Pitchers."
Anna Lonergan, 2007 or 2008, I don't remember which.

No man's knowledge of a subject can be complete until he understands its history. Developing a weekly routine (a word I shy away from, except when it comes to this topic) with your friends around the bar specials in your area is a stellar way to ensure that no matter what banalities the rest of your week holds in store, you have a reason to look forward to any or every night of the week. As an example, I'll quickly break down a typical week in my life during the "Golden Age of the Bar Special." For some of you, this will act as a history lesson. For others, it will seem a trip down memory lane. Either way, I encourage you to think of these things and try to find the unique "routine" that works for you.

In the years 2007 and 2008, which I have deemed the "Golden Age of the Bar Special," I was privileged enough to belong to a large and active group of budding college-bar veterans. Despite our different paths and disparate responsibilities, we shared a common reverence for any bar that would provide host to us and allow us to "eat, drink, and/or be merry"--for under $10.

Our place and time could not have been more perfect. As students and recent grads in Minneapolis, we were afforded myriad options for fulfilling this minimal requirement. The axis of these options, and of the drinking week as we would know it, were fortunately timed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.

Tuesdays brought us Big Ten's $1.50 Pitcher special. Pitchers of Natty Light, and before that Beast Light, were sold at the giddiness-inducing rate of a buck-fifty. These ultra-low prices were enough to assuage fears of the gag-reflex-inducing taste of the beer (which, in a way, I came to enjoy in context). A $2 cover granted access to evenings of drinking in which our inability to read the bill at the end of the night belied its low, low numbers.

Wednesdays were the setting for what, I am convinced, will go down as the greatest special in the history of bars. The concept: All-you-can-eat pizza and all-you-can-drink beer from 5-8pm. The price: Even after multiple price-hikes, $7 at the time the American Sports Cafe was forced to close its doors. A remarkable combination of affordability, large, eclectic crowds (on Wednesdays), and an undeniable dive-bar charm made every Wednesday an experience. The hole in the men's room wall (junk-chilling though it may have been), inconsistent service (which prompted drunken shouts of, "Hey, pigtails! More beer!"), and the shells of people affixed to bar seats that were as much a fixture of ASC as the yellowed walls themselves, only served to add to the experience. The 35W-bridge collapsed on a Wednesday. I know this because I was sitting at "Beer and Pizza" when the news broke.

Thursdays could at times be a revolving door of bars visited, though by most accounts Brothers Bar & Grill (read my review here) served as the setting for many of the best Thursday nights of the Golden Age. Their $5-all-you-care-to-drink domestic tap special was (and has been) a Thursday night fallback for years. On a related note, their Wednesday $8-AYCD special (domestic taps, rails, captain/bacardi drinks, LITs) often provided an interesting, if hazy, follow-up to "Beer and Pizza."

It is worth noting that not every member of our group attended every one of these nights (though some of us got close). Rather, this schedule provided a backbone of fun in a sometimes less-than-fun life. By no means do I think you should get into a bar-rut, and you have to be open to different experiences, but finding and incorporating these things into your week is certainly a worthwhile endeavor.

Sadly, two of these specials no longer exist. "Beer and Pizza" was discontinued when the American Sports Cafe closed its doors. (I heard something about building codes--not surprising.) Station 280, a new bar, recently opened in its place and I will be checking it out soon. As for "1.50 Pitchers," it is now $3 for a pitcher. Still a deal, but I don't like the ring of "$3 Pitchers" nearly as much. They are gone, but as you can see, they are not forgotten. I encourage each of you, as I intend to do, to scour for new worthwhile specials wherever you can find them. Get a group together, and make a night of whatever you find. It may just become a tradition.