Sunday, May 16, 2010

What do you do when life sucks?

When life just fucking sucks pond scum, what's your plan?  When you're out of work and money's tight, and your creditors have followed through with their promise to ruin your credit rating by turning your account over to a professional collection agency who has yet to discover you don't give a shit because your credit is already shot to hell, what is your best course of action?  When your friends have stopped calling you, and don't answer the phone when you call them, and even their voice mail doesn't work for you because they aren't returning any of your calls, and the bartenders at your favorite five watering holes have told you not to show up anymore until you can pay off your tab, what is left?

Road trip.


As it turned out, Roomful Of Blues was playing The Thirsty Ear in Columbus, Ohio on Thursday, May 13th 2010 and I wanted to see them.  Since my brother Big Mike lives in Dublin with his roommate Lash, and since both men are generous people - not to a fault - it was easy for me to secure quarters for one night and a comrade to go out drinking and clubbing with, namely Mike.  Lash wasn't interested.

About 3:00 Thursday afternoon I put my car under me and pointed my nose South; by 5:30 I was in Dublin.  Ohio, Snorkelnose, Ohio - not Ireland.  Mike suggested we go out to Barley's Smokehouse and Brewpub, which turned out to be an outstanding place to eat and drink.

Barley's Smokehouse and Brewpub
1130 Dublin Road
Columbus, OH 43215-1039
(614) 485-0227
M - Thr: 11 am - 10 pm; Fri - Sat: 11 am - 11 pm; Sun: Noon - 8:30 pm

This is a brewery, first and foremost, and the beer is absolutely first rate.  The dress code is casual and the ambiance is much more in keeping with a brewery than a sports bar or restaurant.

Fresh Beer Sold Here!


Beer List

I had the Scottish Ale, which I heartily recommend to everyone.  Everyone, that is, who is interested is drinking something besides BudBudLightMickMickLightBushBushLightandWeaselSpit.  Mike had the Hoptopus which he claims is better than the Scottish Ale.  Mike is wrong about this, by the way.

The place also offers smoked barbecue.  I had pulled pork fajitas, which is smoked and dry seasoned pulled pork with flour tortillas and the usual fajita condiments.  Mike had a sampler plate which included home made sausage - outstanding!  The service was much better than I expected.  Our waitress was friendly and was available when we needed her for something and didn't pester us with inane waitress questions (Is everything delicious!?) while we were enjoying our dinner.  I had two Scottish Ales and would have had a third, but it was getting late and I've learned to pace myself.

On a scale of zero to 10, I give the service a solid 8, the food and drink an 8.5 and the ambiance a 7, giving Barley's Smokehouse and Brewpub  a solid 8 overall.  Wherever else I go in Columbus has to beat Barley's, and that is not going to be easy.

The Thirsty Ear is only a short distance from Barley's, and we arrived around 7:00.  There is not much parking to be had, so if you decide to visit The Thirsty Ear, plan on parking on a side street somewhere and walking.  We scored rock star parking on a side street, which was nice.

The Thirsty Ear
1200 West Third Avenue
Grandview, OH 43212
(614) 299-4987
Tues-Wed-Thur 4:00pm - 2:30am
Fri-Sat 4:00pm - 2:30am
Sunday 4:00pm - 12:30am (or later)

What you have to understand about The Thirsty Ear is that it's a neighborhood bar.  Regulars go there to drink and socialize, and the venue reflects that - or at least it did before The Ear changed hands recently.  For instance, there used to be a series of neon beer signs in the front window which provided a nice 60 megahertz hum to the sound system.  The bar was always open - it's a bar, right?  How are people like me going to sit and morosely drink beer, wondering why life sucks if the bar stops serving?  Answer to rhetorical question: We'll go somewhere else.  So, for example, when the California Guitar Trio played the Thirsty Ear and expected some version of a crowd that enjoys chamber music and a venue suitable for same, they may have been a tad put off by the 60 megahertz hum, the crash and rattle of the bar business and the locals ignoring them and their refined music in favor of the game on TV and general conversation.  But like I say, the place has changed hands.  The beer signs are gone, an outdoor patio has been added and there are plans to open up the room next door to handle entertainment.  The Ear serves bar food; pizza, wings and the occasional sandwich.  The kitchen is sketchy and might or might not be open.  The drinks are bar drinks with enough top shelf to satisfy the occasional poseur connoisseur who wants something different.  The ambiance is that of a neighborhood bar that's being reinvented as something else.  Go figure.  The service was a little sketchy.  Our original server was a chubby sour looking blond girl who clearly wanted to be somewhere else and reluctantly took our orders.  About halfway through the evening the blond left and was replaced by two young men, one of whom sussed out that if he served us he'd get money.  Our service improved.  I rate the food and drink at a 7, the service at a 6 and the ambiance at a 7.  Overall, the place gets a 7, and I wouldn't hesitate to return - but make no mistake about what the Ear is; a bar.  It is not an upscale watering hole with pretty young men and women trying to decide who will be going home with who or what.  Some of the women you'll find at the Ear have more miles on them than I-75.

Our Doorman

As a sort of bonus to our evening, both bar TVs were tuned to the Boston Celtics vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers with the sound off.  That didn't stop the locals from watching the game and howling or commenting as they saw fit, which didn't bother Roomful of Blues at all.

Ticket Please!

 I showed our ticket to the doorman and we got in without issue.  While Mike hit the head I commandeered an unwatched bar stool someone had placed across the room next to the wall.  The stool was not structurally sound, but being an old pro I didn't care.  I moved it to the bar next to an unclaimed stool and asked everyone to squeeze over a little.  Evidently the other men at the bar were either pros or retired pros because they wordlessly moved over to accommodate another stool.  It's nice to deal with a professional. The one and only woman at the bar wanted to bitch about it, but her boyfriend was disinclined to champion her cause so she reluctantly moved down.


The venue in the bar consisted of the bar and bar stools on one side, folding chairs and a few cocktail tables on the other.  The chairs that were next to a table were already scarfed up, so we were fortunate to get seats at the bar.  Around showtime the place filled up to standing room only.

The Crowd on the Left

Bar Crowd

The Ear is a small place, and this is the crowd at the start of the first set.  Note that no one seems to care about the odd looking photographer.

Roomful of Blues Warming Up

The band didn't make any bones about getting set up or warming up.  Quite obviously they don't need to make a grand entrance or keep the audience waiting, which I found refreshing.  I find it irritating to have to wait any length of time for a band to show up.  Roomful was prompt, and I and the audience appreciated that.

The Blue Suit

The fellow in the blue suit is a new edition to the Thirsty Ear.  Mike and I were trying to decide if he is one of the new owners or is the front man.  Here's a slightly better photo of him below.

The Suit

The man wasn't unfriendly, but seemed a little full of himself.  His attire is a somewhat modified zoot suit constructed of sofa fabric.  I think the hair is real; it's perfectly coiffed and held in place by six ounces of hair spray.  If he got hit in the head with a pool cue, I doubt he'd feel a thing.  He is the master of ceremonies (emcee) and in addition to being overdressed he worked far and away too hard to get applause for the act.  He could have accomplished more with less in all aspects.

Here's the band, front line.

Roomful Of Blues

Here's the back line, keyboard, drums and bass.  The horns and vocalist are on a short break while the guitar player keeps everything going.  The guitarist was good, but not excellent.

Roomful Of Blues

Roomful of Blues is a real band, which is to say there are no superstars or headliners.  Each member gets equal billing and equal time.  The specialty is blues and jump blues or swing, and as anyone who has heard them can attest they are excellent in this genre.  I expected that the evening material would be from their latest CD Raisin’ A Ruckus, and some of it was.  They did new arrangements of Round it Down and Black Night along with a few others.  The rest of the first set was new, original material yet to be recorded.  One of the numbers I enjoyed was an arrangement of an old standard, Jambalaya, heavily influenced by swing music style.  While other bands have tried this one, Roomful is the only band I've heard yet that hasn't butchered the song and failed miserably in the attempt.  Roomful played two long sets and kept the audience entertained throughout both sets.  They did an excellent job and I'm glad I went to see them.  The only bad news was the sound board.

The Thirsty Ear is a small venue.  The horn section (trumpet and two saxophones) did not need to be amplified and was, while the bass tended to get drowned out.  Perversely, so did the drums - which is something I've never experienced before.  The keyboard and guitar were amplified correctly.  The thing was that when a performer or section took the lead, they weren't turned down at the end of the solo.  The result was that the vocals were being drowned out, then were so loud that the lyrics got distorted.  To compensate for the vocals, the sound guy would turn up the horn section, then the keyboard and guitar would get turned up.  The bass and drums got neglected to the point where the bass player had to keep his eyes on the drummer to make sure the two were on good speaking terms - which they were until the sound man decided to get creative, then the two were forced to use sign language.

As a whole, the band started off at just the right volume.  They got progressively louder with each number and when the second set started they were noisy enough to be uncomfortable.  We stayed for about five numbers into the second set and then we left.  My ears were ringing and so were Mike's.  This is the only major flaw in an otherwise perfect evening, and in my mind the man at the sound board should be replaced at the first opportunity, or at least have his job explained to him in very concise terms.

Roomful Of Blues is easily one of the top three bands of its kind in the U.S. and I'd cheerfully go see them again. I'm confident that they'll get the sound problem straightened out before then.  I spoke to the sax player briefly who thanked me for coming to see them and told me to look for their next CD in the fall.

The evening ended around midnight back at Mike's place for a generous nightcap from his top shelf.  Naturally I chose Glenfiddich, which is a very smooth scotch whiskey and just the thing for the end of the evening.  Mike prefers Laphroaig which is excellent, but a bit rough for the end of the night.


Professionals will recognize the two short tumblers on the right as high quality scotch glasses; leaded crystal with a fourteen carat gold rim.  The empty glass on the left is a bourbon glass, leaded crystal with a square base.  Mike has always possessed refined taste when it comes to whiskey, a trait of his that I continue to admire.  Rather than a learned quality, Mike seems to come by this naturally.

Between the music, beer, food and liquor I am restored to something of my old self.  My road trip was a success.


Stephanie Lorée said...

If you're into blues (and classic rock at all) you may want to check out Soul Kitchen: I think they're great, though I may be a bit biased.

Mad Jack said...

You may have good reason for your bias. I checked the website but can't find where they are playing next.

Stephanie Lorée said...

Here's the next gig info:

Soul Kitchen will be performing at Coach's Bar & Grill at 16015 Ida West Road, Petersburg, MI, Saturday, June 12th, from 9:00pm - 1:00am

Event is free and open to the public!!