What: Oaken Barrel Brewing Company, Greenwood, Indiana
The author will have to confess: this is the happiest place on earth.
Secondly, the author will have to confess: she is a regular at the happiest place on earth. She has a mug and everything.
This review will not, could not possibly, be objective.
The Oaken Barrel brews the finest beer in the world (next to my beloved Bell’s Two-Hearted). That beer is called Gnaw Bone Pale Ale. It will melt your heart, make you weep, and then it will make you its slave. Forever. And you will not only not care about these things, you will be grateful.
They brew other beers, also: a raspberry wheat beer (Razz-Wheat, often suggested to women who like wine), Alabaster (a white ale akin to Blue Moon, but better, also served with an orange), Indiana Amber (a red ale), Snake Pit (porter), Super Fly (an India Pale Ale with 7.5% alcohol and a smooth, deceptive finish). There are also excellent seasonal brews in rotation (the Apple Buzz in fall and Epiphany in winter are practically world-famous). These are all very well, but what you want is the Gnaw Bone Pale Ale. That’s the beer for you (if you like hops. And all that is good and pure and true in the world.)
As a further bonus, besides truly excellent craft beers, they have food. Solidly, reliably, magnificently good food. (If it’s cold, try the Shepherd’s Pie; bonus points if you come on a day when either pierogies or Korean spare ribs are on special; triple bonus points if you come on the Fourth of July when they roast an entire pig and serve it up with fantastic side dishes.)
The bar is wood, the chairs and table are wood. There is no formica to be found in the Oaken Barrel. The atmosphere is warm and inviting. I said it was the happiest place on earth and I meant it. To linger in summer in the beer garden (out back, with a fountain) is paradise such as few men deserve but all can experience.
I think, next to the much beloved Gnaw Bone, it is the staff that makes the Barrel its superlative self. The Barrel is a magnet for bold, bright, funny, perspicacious people. It hires every single one of them and they make the Barrel, nay, the entire world, a better place. They are kind to all visitors; and to regulars, they are surpassingly so. To go to the Barrel once is to have a nice time; to go twice is to become family, in the best sense, minus the stuff of sitcoms and romcoms and dramas. (Become a regular and you get a mug, eventually a pewter mug, and after that, a chair with your name on it.) The Barrel appreciates its customers. Unlike many businesses, they can use the normally euphemistic “guest” of the hospitality industry and mean it. Without laughing.
So go. Go, go, go to the Oaken Barrel. If Greenwood, Indiana is out of your way, the Gnaw Bone alone is worth the trip. (Seriously, it is the best thing you will ever hope to quaff, if quaffing is something you enjoy, and the good lord help you if it’s not.)
Rating: 5 (of 4) Sláintes ♣♣♣♣♣
(and if they ever add a TV dedicated to C-Span just for me, this rating becomes 10 of 4 Sláintes.)
What: The Brass Ring Lounge, Indianapolis, Indiana
The Brass Ring Lounge is a little gem of a place, just off Shelby Street a block out of Fountain Square in Indianapolis. Fountain Square has always been a bit artsy: historic (read: old) buildings, antique shops, duckpin bowling, and ethnic food. It had gotten a little sad, frayed more completely than just the edges. But after a couple of years of new investment, including a new fountain, in the area, Fountain Square proper is rejuvenating in some wonderful ways. It’s still artsy. But now, seemingly, it’s artsy because it wants to be, not because it’s too poor to choose differently.
The Brass Ring is a lot like its Fountain Square home. Housed in a building that must once have been a Thirties-era filling station, it celebrates its garage doors by throwing them open when the weather’s nice. It celebrates the past in every corner—black and white photos from Vegas’ heyday, once-provocative pin-ups of Marlene Dietrich and Bettie Page, and TCM, exclusively, is showing on the two TV screens above the bar. Standards and big-band music play through the speakers, except on nights when there is live music. Oh, yes, there is a piano. They have live music. Not karaoke, not a band; when you’re lucky, there’s a pianist, a vocalist, and maybe a cool cat of a jazz drummer using those brushy things to provide rhythm on a snare. The place is artsy and hip and, not to anthropomorphize over much, very self-aware.
Just as an aside, there’s a goldfish, for life, and a plaster pink elephant, presumably mascot, oracle, muse, and occasional warning.
The Ring is staffed by attractive hipsters, happily of the welcoming kind and not the sneering variety. And this is all to the good. The clientele encompasses everyone: young, old, hipster, the emphatically and perpetually non-hip. The occasional professional has been sighted. Mostly it’s just normal folk. All of them are treated well.
The liquors are extensive, handsomely displayed and illuminated. The staff is knowledgeable about the selection, whether one is ordering a cocktail or a craft beer (also a good selection) or a soft drink. They have food, too, and what appears to be good food, (again, with the anthropomorphic language) as self-assured and aware as the place that hosts it (read for this: someone on staff is up on their foodie culture– sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, specialty cheeses. It’s elevated bar food: all wraps and hummus, et cetera, et cetera). Prices are reasonable, and gourmet bar food and sandwiches aside, let’s be frank here: you aren’t going to the Ring for food, regardless of how presumably wonderful it is. Though you certainly could do so. And without fear of ridicule.
Fine drinks and fine staff, the Brass Ring is a fine place. Best of all, to this reviewer, it’s got that magical ability to be anything you need it to be. It has the personality that chains or the local dive bars lack. Its affection for the past lends it what could pleasantly be termed “character.” There is no pressure at the Ring to look a certain way or be a certain thing. You just go in. If you’re with friends, it’s conducive to all manner of convivial conversations. If you’re alone, that’s fine, too, and you don’t feel gritty when you leave. The soundtrack and the littleness of the place manage to provide just the right amount of sound and anonymity without coldness to suit whatever need you’ve got going, be it brooding, socializing, or just a draught to pull you through.
Rating: 4 Sláintes ♣♣♣♣
Where: The Irish Lion Restaurant and Pub, Bloomington, Indiana.
The Red One and I were out for the day, capering about southern Indiana, and we decided to stop in Bloomington for lunch. He, knowing me so well, suggested The Irish Lion. Well, upon hearing “Irish,” I was all in favor. I would like to write up a review, but that seems to call for a delicate palate (which I have not), a foodie’s view of the world (ditto), and perhaps a witty critique or two (ditto, ditto).
So, I will tell you what we had: The Red One had the chicken rollòg, a chicken-spinach-bacon sandwich wrap. It was utterly delightful. For me, it was the Celtic Stew, which I now refer to as comfort-heaven-in-a-white-china-bowl, or, alternatively, as lamb-carrots-and-potatoes-in-heavenly-dream-gravy.
It was damn good. You mayhaps ought to hie thyself down to Bloomington and get yourself a bowl of it. Pair it with the St. Peter’s India Pale Ale. (You can thank me for this tip later.)
The place is charming as all hell; the service is pleasant; the food is great. You should go. Possibly right this very minute.
And that concludes what, in all probability, is the least-incisive restaurant review ever, although it is a very enthusiastic and earnest one.
Rating: Four Sláintes ♣♣♣♣
You would think now that Emerald Orange is nearly in her terrible twos, the author would feel like an old hand at the proper care and feeding of the blogosphere. This is simply not the case. The author is perpetually mystified by the dos and don’ts of The Successful Blog. The Successful Blog itself is a strange and perhaps mythic creature whose very identity can shift on a daily basis. This author suspects The Successful Blog avoids authors who worry overmuch about Successful Blogs. Putting that question aside for a moment, the author has read both fantastic and outright tragic blog posts on the Internet, lack of censorship being brilliant for information and creativity but unsuccessful at quality control and (maybe) overproduction. At any rate, as this particular blog nears its toddlerhood, here are some thoughts on bloggery that the author has not yet resolved in the effort to create a Better Emerald Orange. She puts it to you, blogosphere. What are your thoughts?
To © or Not to ©. Plagiarism is bad. It is theft. Proper attribution is only fair, especially in the world of copy-paste. Everyone wants the credit for their own work, whether it’s shoddy or exceptional or something in-between. So here’s the question: is it protective and prudent or merely pretentious to throw the “all words and images here are the copyright of the author unless otherwise specified” script on the blog or About page or on every post? Some blogs mention it, some don’t. To this “writer” it would seem to go without saying that, yes, by all means, please take what you like but throw me a link or an attribution. Because only Bad People plagiarize and there just can’t be very many Bad People out there. Naïve? Humble? What say you, blogosphere?
Find Your Niche. As is immediately obvious to anyone who peeps in at it, Emerald Orange is nothing if not Utterly Random. Which means one day, the author is pleasing to someone but on the next she is offending/boring them. There’s a lot of advice out there on Becoming a Better Blogger. Quite a bit of it suggests it is wise to create a niche blog: to limit the blog to one topic or type and create others if one wants to branch out. For this author, that’s probably a keen suggestion, but one that would require more time online than she currently has. But she hates knowing that perhaps she is disappointing her little band of followers and guests who sort of like one thing and then check back and see something incomprehensible or uninteresting. Is the random/niche polarity really so important in pleasing the (potential) readership? Or do you just do that thing you do and be grateful when/if someone somewhere likes it a little? (This has been the author’s philosophy.)
Breakfast Serial (And Style). This writer is a tireless defender of the serial comma. Despite the fact that current media practice eliminates the last comma (e.g.: “apple, kiwi and orange” instead of “apple, kiwi, and orange”), this author refuses to let the serial comma go gracefully into that good night unless she has a darned good reason for doing so (paid employment writing somewhere that’s insistent on the subject). The author also has been known to experience anxiety about the style question: should she be using AP, Chicago Manual, or MLA? Does it really matter if one is consistent? Does it matter even then? It’s just a blog, for goodness’ sake! Do any other bloggers freak themselves out on these things?
Show Me the Money. Monetization of The Blog. Some bloggers go outright with the Tips or Donate button, some get/have ads, and others still are Amazon Associates so when they recommend books or what have you, any clicks generate a tiny commission. The truly confident and/or entrepreneurial authors/bloggers publish their blogs by subscription only or as serial e-books. This author understands: what’s better than to get paid a little something so you can pay your bills and have more time for writing? And if one has more time to write and research, the writing is much more likely to be something worth reading. But then it sort of makes her squirm: the best thing about the Internet is the (mostly) free dissemination of information and the collaboration and connections that creates. Luckily for the author, she suspects this is only (or should be only) an issue for Successful Blogs (depending on definition of “successful,” again.)
Support Group. The blogosphere is full of warm, funny, and smart people. Just as the geniuses at WordPress suggest, it really is a good idea to Read Other Blogs, “Like” them, and comment on them. It’s rewarding on its own (good stuff to read and it’s nice to support other people) and sometimes it creates a support network of bloggers who follow—and, happily, become acquainted with–one another. And recently, (switching to first person now) I became aware of yet another way to support and be supported by fellow bloggers. The kind folks at Indianapolis Bloggers have come up with the brilliant idea to create a kind of home base for, well, Indianapolis blogs. They have generously allowed me to join the lists. If you’re around the Circle City, you should check them out. If you’re not, you should check them out anyway and then steal the idea for your city (with proper attribution to Indianapolis Bloggers, of course).
Happy writing and blogging, one and all. I’d love to hear what your thoughts and suggestions on all things blogging are. And, if you’re reading this, thanks for stopping by.
“Water is H2O, hydrogen two parts, oxygen one, / But there is also a third thing, that makes it water / And nobody knows what it is.”D.H. Lawrence, “The Third Thing”