The Hill-Top Tavern (4907 Lowell Boulevard) will not run a tab for anyone. I know this because a sign taped behind the bar says so. Other signs, some written in Sharpie on scraps of cardboard and paper, some typed but so yellow they look like they were hunted, pecked and printed from a Commodore 64: "We Do Not Accept Credit Cards," "Pitcher Beer Special /$5.00 ea/Mon-Fri/9:30 pm to 1:30 am/Bud + Bud Light + Busch" and, by the pay phone in the corner, "Please Keep Calls Short. Thank you!" Hanging just below this request is a handwritten addendum: "Do Not Answer Phone." It doesn't ring, so I'm not even tempted.
I've come with a group because it's the Saturday night before my birthday, and because the place comes highly recommended by a friend (who shows up an hour after we do with a posse of his own). As we enter, one of three gentlemen sitting in silence and watching nothing in particular on the dust-covered tubes rises and greets us. He pours us $7 pitchers of Bud and two consecutive four-finger vodka-cranberrys with itty-bitty winged critters floating in them: The cran, he eventually discovers, has gone to the fruit flies. We all laugh and love the place immediately. From down the bar, a regular leans in our direction and flirts with Maggie: "So, other than the bugs, how's your night going?"
A round is sipped with relative reticence, so Jessica plugs a five into the compact-disc jukebox and begins turning pages — until the pages jam and no longer turn. I pick a few songs from the visible choices — Queen, Elton John, Bowie — and then, on a suggestion from the only other guy in the bar, enter number combinations at random until the credits are exhausted. If the blind picks ever play, no one notices.
Split into two rooms — one with pool tables, the other with booths, video games, the juke and the bar — the Hill-Top caters to blue-collars and Regis students, though we see none of the latter during our tenure. I'm told by a reliable source (her mom and dad met here) that Bill Murray, a Regis alum, drinks within these walls when he's in town. Old friends clearly meet here — one man in a navy-blue sweatshirt and handlebar mustache swings open the front door, drops the case holding his two-piece billiards cue and hollers at a familiar face at the other end of the room, "I knew your ass would be in here tonight! How the hell you been?" And then there's us first-timers, occupying the lion's share of the bar stools and keeping the new tender, who shows up just after 9 p.m. to relieve the original, on his toes.
Lyle wears a canvas hat with floppy brims buttoned to the sides and refills a few pitchers of Bud before pointing my attention to the prices for Busch — draws for $1.25, pints for $1.75, pitchers for $5.50 — and standing with his hand on the tap until I acquiesce. As I'm reaching into my wallet to pay, a loyal friend strikes down the attempt on the grounds of my birth. Not one to be outdone, Lyle returns with a bottle of tequila and offers me a shot on the house. When I ask for it chilled, he shakes up a brimming lowball's worth, pours the first shot and leaves the rest, which I share nearly four times over with those closest to me.
Before we bottoms-up, I take stock of the available snacks — three types of jerky, assorted nuts, a variety of bagged chips — and hit the head. The bathroom, though small, has a working lock and a flushing toilet. What it doesn't have is soap, anything resembling water pressure or a functional light switch (the light is always on, by the way). When I return to the group, everyone's dragging their feet about leaving, even though others are waiting for us at the next bar. So I grab a nearby pitcher and pour myself another glass. It's my goddamn birthday, after all.
I can stay if I want to.
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