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Plan A(-minor chords, alcohol, and ambience)

Dive in.
Dive in.
www.myspace.com/rhapsodycafe

There are very few times in life when you state your wishes out loud to the universe and said universe deems fit to grant them.

Some time ago I wrote a feature on Rhapsody Café: Blues, Beer, and Barbecue. I didn’t think my earlier review was particularly unflattering – my overall position on the establishment was positive, despite elucidating a few small gripes. Yet afterwards the owner very politely reached out to say that he had changed all of the very things I took issue with and suggested that I give the place another shot.

Since I actually had to think about what I was doing this time instead of interpreting the quavering Sanskrit on the back of a bar napkin, I resolved to take the average of several return visits in order to make sure I got the facts right. And…you know…to drink and stuff.

The first thing that struck me was how much cleaner the visual field had become. Don’t get me wrong, Rhapsody is still lovingly dive-chic, but the too-many tables, the bandstand, the loathsome karaoke machine, and the previously mentioned inexplicable video game stations have been cleared out to make room for…nothing. Open space. Which was what Rhapsody really needed.

One of my favorite things about the establishment was the two free pool tables. The cloud to that silver lining was that the space was cramped, but they’ve solved the issue by playing King Solomon and cutting the offering in half. So now instead of throwing elbows to get around the pool table, you have to throw elbows to get to the pool table first. Honestly, though, there’s never too much of a line and the regulars are pretty good about sharing. It is rare that one can make a logistical decision based entirely on faith in human nature, and I’m quite glad it paid off.

One of the biggest and brightest new feathers in Rhapsody’s delightful Sunday-a-churchgoin’ hat is a new liquor license. Of course a sweating Tom Collins is always going to be a draw in itself (we all know that’s a drink, right?), but they wield it in a way that I find particularly gratifying: Rhapsody has expanded its beer offerings to include an eclectic selection of high-gravity beers. The case includes bottled selections that are interesting if not comprehensive, such as Thelonius Monk Ale (9.7% ABV, kids),Yazoo Sue (9.0% ABV) and some Thai beer that must have been invented by accident because I doubt the Thai even know what beer is. (Protip: I tried it; they don’t.)

The very best thing about the beer case is that it is stuffed with Miller Lite, Budweiser, and all of the other things that make you yell at your kids’ soccer coach. “That seems like an unlikely endorsement from you,” you might say with uncharacteristic elocution. Wait for it…I like that it’s in the case because they keep that swill off of the taps.

You want a $2.00 bottle of Bud Light, fine, it’s your world, squirrel, and all that. But those of us that drink like men instead of smooth-faced frat boys find a lot to say about Rhapsody’s small but well-executed lineup of taps. There is always at least one (and sometimes more) very good high-gravity beer, such as Skull Splitter (8.5% ABV), Andy Gator (8.0% ABV), and Hop Czar (7.6% ABV). Lodging one tap over is Highland’s popular session beer for grownups, Gaelic Ale, and the remaining real estate sees a rotation of transient Sam Adams and New Belgium seasonals. In short, if you have a favorite beer, they may or may not offer it; but they will have something you’ll like, perhaps something that will make you pull out your phone right at the bar and break up with your previous favorite beer via text message although you really should be more classy than that.

There’s plenty of reasons to come to Rhapsody to drink, but I will have to stand by my original assertion that the food is not a draw. The menu is so much of an afterthought that there isn’t one – you ask for food and the bartender will tell you what they happen to have in the building. Come to think of it, the list is so short that I believe I can rattle it off right now: hamburger, bratwurst, pulled pork sandwich or plate with two sides, wings, and chips and queso.

The bratwurst is pretty darn good and the price you pay is more Freudian than pecuniary (it’s cheap, is what I’m saying). I did have to try the barbecue pork since it was part of the tagline and thus ostensibly part of Rhapsody’s mystique. The meat was tender, and the sauce was sweet, no smoke, and tomato-based. I thought it was light yet complex enough to please until the audible sizzle in my mouth drowned out my thoughts. There’s so much cayenne in it that the finish tastes literally like upturning a bottle of Texas Pete. Pain is not a flavor. I will pass. But I do so with the qualification that if you like hotspicy, then you may very well like the somewhat unique counterbalance; it doesn’t remind me of any BBQ I’ve tried anywhere else, so that’s a mark in its favor. To be completely honest, though, I don’t think the owners much care any longer about pushing the barbecue angle for any reason beyond alliteration.

Otherwise, I hereby amend my earlier review. Never let anyone tell you that one person can’t make a difference by stamping your foot like a little girl until you get your way. The airier space, new plasma screen above the bar, the blues music cranking on the PA, and great beer selection have started to pull in a few more of the chill-uminati that filter in and out of the Tavern next door. But Rhapsody is rarely particularly crowded, which sort of puts me in an awkward spot. I want to tell you that I really like this bar and that you should totally go. However, should Rhapsody ever become as crowded and as difficult to find purchase as is the Tremont, the owners might be happy but I will once again be relegated to the sidewalk, tears streaming down my face before the monster I’ve created.

Enjoy.

Rhapsody Cafe, 1201 Hixson Pike, (423) 266-3093. Open whenever bars are open.

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