What We're Drinking

By Amy Giezentanner

Fayetteville is a vibrant, social town. There are always fun things to do and fun places to go. There’s something for just about everyone in this place, from art to sports, theater to food, the farmers market to an abundance of bars. There are so many bars, in fact, that it’s sometimes hard to decide which one to visit. One might even wonder how they stay in business. But despite the plethora of choices, or perhaps because of the choices, the Fayetteville bar business is hopping.

Pick almost any drink you could want and chances are there’s a Fayetteville bar that specializes in it. If wine’s your poison, step into The Wine Cellar and sample their wares. If you prefer beer, hop on over to The Hog Haus Brewing Company for some microbrewed goodness. Or if you’re a bit more cosmopolitan, check out Stir for a martini or two. But if none of these suit you, don’t fret. There are plenty of other bars where you can imbibe and share some time with friends.

So what exactly do Fayettevillians drink when so many choices abound? I wanted to know. I didn’t want to explore such a weighty subject by myself, though, so I enlisted a trusty friend to assist in my noble research. I had the pleasure of Robyn Benson’s company my first night out and even though I don’t like beer we decided to hit The Hog Haus Brewing Company first. We were hungry and we like their food.

There was an hourlong wait when we arrived so we decided to sit at the bar. I usually don’t like eating when I’m belly up to the bar, but this time it was all the better to interview the bartender. And it just so happened that the only two seats left were at the very end, where the busy bartender blended her beverages. We staked our claim to the stools and climbed aboard to sit down.

Sara Large, our friendly bartender du jour, approached almost immediately to see what we wanted. I introduced myself and asked her what the most popular drink at Hog Haus was.

“Ummmm, our beer,” she said. Dumb question. I should have known. Robyn and I laughed and explained my aversion to beer.

Sara gave me a friendly smile and said, “You might want to try our sampler platter so you can get an idea what our beers are like ’cause that’s definitely our biggest seller.” It sounded like a good idea until she explained the platter comes with six 5-ounce beers. I thought that would just waste valuable beer so I opted for two shot-sized samples instead: one of Blueberrry Wheat and the other of Root Beer. Robyn, on the other hand, loves beer and chose a small Hefe Weizen. We then ordered food and waited for our beer to arrive.

I didn’t expect to like mine, but I rarely turn down a mini-adventure so I sipped cautiously at the Blueberry Wheat. I liked its berry aroma but not its bitter flavor, which made me pucker. Robyn nursed her beer and laughed at the face I made while I sampled. I moved on to the Root Beer. Its sweetness hit the spot and primed me for one of the fruity froo-froo drinks I love so well.

I asked Sara what her most popular mixed drink was and she said, “Probably our Tidal Wave. It’s fruity and tropical. Women love it. Want me to make you one?” I agreed and chatted her up until she handed me the drink. I took my first, careful sip. It was indeed tropical and fruity with hints of coconut, exactly what I’d hoped for. Although I’d just met her, Sara could already read me well.

I asked if she could tell a person’s gender by what they ordered. “We get so many people in here and we’re so known for our beer that I try not to make those judgments. There are a lot of women who enjoy beer just as much as men.”

Robyn smirked and said she’s not so sure. “Look at the guys sitting next to us. They’re drinking stout. You could almost chew that.”

I looked around for women drinking the same thing but there were none. It seemed that men like the rich, dark brews more than most women.

“How about day of the week?” I asked as Robyn and I tucked into the food that had arrived. “Are there any drinks that are more popular on certain days of the week than on others?”

“Oh definitely. People order more beer during the week, more mixed drinks on weekends,” Sara said as she mixed another Tidal Wave. It was Saturday so its popularity was no surprise.

“Hey, you need to try our chocolate-raspberry martini. They’re pretty popular, too,” Sara said.

I had more bar-hopping research to do, though, so I declined. Robyn and I settled our bills and headed down the road to the martini bar, Stir.

It was still early when we stepped into Stir. There were only a few patrons in the house, but the bar was staffed and ready for a busy evening. I tracked down a bartender posthaste so we could get down to business. Ryan McCorry was the man of the hour here, and he offered up some alcohol-related revelations.

“The average age of our patrons is between 23 to 30,” Ryan said. “That’s where most of our business comes from.”

I asked if there was an age difference in what people ordered and he responded with a grin, “Yeah. The young crowd orders the cheapest drinks.” No surprise there, this being a starving-student college town and all.

“How about … Can you tell a person’s intentions for the evening by what they order?”

Ryan grinned like a Cheshire cat. “Oh yeah. If a person orders Long Island Iced Tea all night they’re out on a mission. If they order beer they’re probably just hangin’ with friends.”

His specialty drink, Raspberry Long Island Iced Tea, is apparently inspired by the mission-minded folks. But there are other drinks to be had at Stir besides beer and assorted alcoholic teas. Many, many others.

You can pretty much take your pick of drinks at Stir. Those who plan to stay out all night and need extra energy can get vodka with Red Bull, Stir’s most popular drink. Or they could try a Jaegerbomb, a combination of Jaegermeister and Red Bull. I planned to sleep that night, though, and I just needed a chocolate fix so I ordered a Mint Chocolate Chip Martini.

I couldn’t wait for some yum in my mouth, but I almost choked on my first sip when it arrived. Again, laughter from the Peanut Gallery. The drink was well-balanced with chocolate and mint, absolutely delicious, but I’m a lightweight. I decided after a few more, slower sips that martinis probably weren’t my thing. And since Robyn and I both believe in researching responsibly, we paid our bills and left for our respective homes. It’d been a fun evening, but it was time for that sleep I’d planned to get.

The following Wednesday brought me to The Wine Cellar, the portion of research I looked forward to most because I developed a serious appreciation for wine when I went to culinary school. I wanted to hear what the bartender had to say about which wines were most popular, and I wasn’t surprised at what I found.

“We really don’t have a best-selling wine because of what we offer with this machine,” said The Wine Cellar’s general manager, Evan McClung. “It has 16 reds and 8 whites right now. People can get a half glass if they want to sample something or they can get a full glass. We switch ’em out every so often, depending on how fast they go.

“Our most popular white, though, is probably Moscato D’Asti. The ladies love that sweeter white with a slight sparkle.”

That sounded right up my alley, but sadly I had too much to do that day so I abstained. I like to enjoy my wine, not down it like a shot, so I decided to return when I had time to lounge as I sipped. Apparently that’s what many people like to do at The Wine Cellar: take their time and enjoy the variety.

“Wives come in for wine and a lot of husbands are happy to see beer,” Evan said. “Men may start out with a glass or two of wine and then switch to whiskey or beer or whatever. We do have a fully stocked bar. We have a martini menu with pretty much all my recipes that I came up with over the years just messing around.”

One of his best drinks, possibly his pride and joy, is the Blue Pirate. “It’s a massive rum blend with some juices and Blue Curacao,” he said. “It’s 18 ounces of deliciousness.”

He almost had me sold until I glanced at my watch. Time was ticking, so I said my thanks and headed out the door, down the street to my next appointment.

What would Dickson Street be without the tried and true Jose’s gracing its sidewalk? Fayetteville just wouldn’t be Fayetteville without it, so I made it my next stop. It was a good excuse to down some chips and salsa, anyway.

I plopped myself at the bar, ordered up and gave my spiel to the bartender on duty, Lori Barnes. She obliged with my drink, but declined to answer my questions. She referred me instead to Jared Berry, who’d been with Jose’s longer, and then she served up a bigger coconut margarita than I’d bargained for. This drink was going to take me a while.

My first sip from the bathtub of frozen brew confirmed what I’d heard about Jose’s: they can mix a mean margarita. I actually had to put my train of thought on hold to savor the rich coconut mixed with sweet and sour. It was sublime. I wanted the recipe for my very own, but that wasn’t about to happen.

“The secret to a great margarita is the sweet and sour mix,” Jared said. “This is Jose’s personal mix. You can make a lot of different ’ritas if you have a good mix.”

One look around the bar told me Jose’s stands behind that: three margarita machines and a whole station devoted to them. And that was just at this bar. There are two other bars on the premises, no doubt similarly bedecked. It’s no surprise Jose’s is famous for their “ritas.”

“Thursday night is probably our busiest night because it’s Biker Night,” Jared said. “Our biker clientele is pretty established in their careers. They’d have to be to afford a hobby like that. But Wednesday is the best deal because of Margarita Madness.”

I asked Jared if there was a difference in what men and women ordered. “Women like the swirled ’ritas,” he said. “Guys drink them on the rocks. There are women who like margaritas on the rocks, too, but a lot of them like the swirls.”

There are enough men and women who like the rocked out version to make margaritas on the rocks Jose’s bestseller. People return for them time and again, just like they return to Fayetteville’s friendly bars for fun with friends.

Fayetteville’s bounty of bars is where Northwest Arkansans go to relax and enjoy the bounty of life. Whether you’re going to a game, seeing a show or just going out for dinner, you can definitely take your pick of locations for drinks as part of your evening. Take your time and sample the variety Fayetteville has to offer. But don’t worry if you can’t try it all in one night; you can always come back for more. I always do.

Categories: Features