The number of times you’ve stumbled towards the Tremont Tavern is very likely higher than the number of times you’ve stumbled out. Being as how it’s a popular haunt for those in Chattanooga that style themselves as “scenesters”, you usually need to slather yourself up with some kind of lubricant to get through the door on a Friday or Saturday night. To be fair, they do a lot with a little space, but it is a very little space. So it’s quite possible that on several occasions you’ve scrunched up your face, peered through the window, and thought, “Nah.”
Wait! Don’t get in your car just yet. A cursory examination of the periphery will slowly reveal, like one of those “magic eye” pictures, that there is another bar right next door.
Rhapsody Café, situated in that sweet corner office at Hixson Pike and Tremont, has been quietly abiding in the shadow of the Tavern (can I call it “the Tav’”? should I?) for about a year and a half. That property has been many things over the years, and as such, it can seem to occupy the vision field as a sort of slow blur as things are moved into and out of it. (Get as indignant as you want, but I don’t spend a lot of time strolling in the Riverview area since Greenlife moved and the bagel shop closed. Sue me.)
The theme that Rhapsody aims for is that of “dive bar” and, like a blind guy with a rocket launcher, seems to hit the target a lot more unintentionally than intentionally. Note that term is here used endearingly: the booths and tables are cobbled together from a used restaurant supply store and don’t quite fit; the place is as dimly lit as a beer-fogged memory; the pool tables are beat to hell, like a trailer wife who just broke a plate; the décor is mostly old jazz-and-blues-themed pictures of stylized black people wailing on instruments. In short, it’s my kind of place.
Probably the most appealing thing is that the pool is free as long as you’re drinking. Of course, the tables are old, it’s a giant pain to get the balls out (joke goes here), and you’ll find as often as not that your shot gets blown by the cramped quarters of booths and elbows. But it’s free. Stop your whining.
There is also an X-Box hooked up, which you can play for free. There’s not really much to say about that. But there it is. It really is very nice of them to try to find stuff for you to do – as though you were a spoiled child – but if you wanted to spend the evening playing video games, there’s beer in your fridge. Stay home and stop taking up a booth.
Rhapsody occasionally features live music in the jazz and blues vein (naturally), and is a favorite stop for busy local playabout Husky Burnette. But karaoke is often the order of the day. Sure, a lot of people are into that, and they have that going for them, which is nice, but this is probably the biggest complaint to be had with the place. Because of the way that the bar is set up (cramped) there really is no ignoring or escaping the drunken straining of whoever is digging up Johnny Cash out of the cold ground and kicking him in the ribs.
They have a fair-to-decent selection of bottled beer, but only standard stuff on tap so there’s not much in the way of drink specials. Rhapsody Café is also ostensibly a barbecue joint. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not tried their ‘Q; but, in a town with Master Blasters, Smokey Bones, (now defunct) Shane’s, and others, I’ve never heard of them mentioned in the year and a half they’ve been open. So, while it might not actually be bad, it may be fair to assume that it’s also not much to write home about. (Why are you mailing correspondence from a bar? Your parents are going to think you’re an alcoholic. They worry about you, you know. You should call them.)
Rhapsody Café has the look and feel of being the bar of your parents, or uncles, or gym teachers. The contrast is all the sharper in the glare of the Tav’ (no, you’re right, that nickname sucks) next door. But, in a way, that’s what’s so refreshing about it – every bar that has opened in Chattanooga in the last ten years, especially in or near downtown, has tried to be slick, tried to be hip, or just plain tried too hard. They want to be the Next Big Thing with the kids. Rhapsody is just a neighborhood bar. It’s not about seeing or being seen, it’s not about supporting local organic yoga merchants, it’s not about getting college kids laid. It’s about relaxing with the fellas away from the wife and kids.
And, after all, isn’t that what drinking is all about?
Rhapsody Cafe, 1201 Hixson Pike, (423) 266-3093. Open whenever bars are open.