ANN ABOUT TOWN: A Nerd and Her Companion Walk into a Bar

Monday, December 15, 2014, 1:36 pm
By: 
Ann Nichols

This week, holiday madness got the better of me, and I completely missed the event I had planned to write about for Ann About Town: candlelight yoga with live cello music. A gentle, restorative and highly creative event that I have now managed to miss two years in a row.

Instead, I went to a bar.

My companion was feeling down after a rough week, and we had heard that Front 43 was relatively new, had a wide selection of craft beers, and had a Happy Hour until 6:00 that featured reduced prices on food and beer. (Front 43 is not, strictly speaking, in East Lansing, but it’s so close that most EL residents can easily visit).

I am not a bar person. I don’t drink much, and the only place I would like “everybody to know my name” is the bookstore. My sole, previous experience with Happy Hour was in the 90s, at Bennigan’s, where I watched horror-stricken as women with epically shoulder-padded suits sat at the bar drinking fluorescent drinks and flirting with men with pagers.

Walking into Front 43, I was anticipating a similar scene; instead I found…cozy. It’s a small room, half bar and half tables, and at the tables sat a near-perfect demographic sample that included a group of men in suits, a family with a young child, a group of women in casual clothes and two separate loners with beer and laptops.

Since the tables were full on a Friday night, we sat at the bar and watched a quiz show with closed-captioning on one TV and a lot of Kardashians on another. This was a little scary, mainly because I counted 26 televisions—which might have been disturbing but for the fact that almost all of them were muted. (Also, according to my companion, it is customary to have multiple sets in a bar so that patrons are able to keep track of multiple sporting events simultaneously.) Bar-sitting has always seemed to me the province of the super-cool and/or the “regular,” so I was also worried that I would be identified by the young, energetic, female bartenders as Somebody’s Old Mother and recede into invisibility.

This made me yearn, just a little, for the book store, but I distracted myself with the menu. The beer list was extensive and the draft options included stout, cider, a double IPA, wheat ale, hefeweizen, red ale, fruit beer, brown ale, and a porter. There were also all kinds of interesting bottled choices behind the bar, but I was with a craft beer connoisseur who ordered a Michigan IPA called “Enigma” from Tapistry Brewing. It was very hoppy for me, but according to the expert it was exactly what it should be.

I didn’t drink because I was the designated driver, but even without beer goggles, I found that I was okay sitting at the bar. All three bartenders chatted with us, and we were included in the odd moment of bar-wide joking. It was, actually, fun in the way I had always been told bars were supposed to be. People were nice, the vibe was a good Friday night kind of chill-covered-energy, and it turns out that quiz shows are hilarious without the sound.

Somewhere in all that mellowing, we looked at the menu─ a mix of standard bar food (burgers, wings, fried pickles) and more unusual items like fried calamari, truffled macaroni, an Asian Wrap filled with Bulgogi, and nachos with “red chili pork.” There is also a small sushi menu. Both “large plates” and “small plates” are available, and a vegetarian or vegan would have several options.

They were out of calamari (always our first choice) so we whimsically abandoned our “order a bunch of interesting small plates” plan and ordered the standard-est of things: a burger and a chicken wrap. Both were well-executed, and the fries….well, we’re picky about fries and we ate them all.

It was not candlelight yoga with cello music, but maybe that was a good thing. Happy Hour at Front 43 took me out of my comfort zone and showed me that all bars are not alien, noisy, crowded, places with sticky floors and awful food. I also learned that it’s not the 90s anymore, that bartenders can actually be very nice, and that it’s okay to do something that is not spiritually enriching or artistically edifying but just plain fun.

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