In the bizarro world of corporate coolness that is Maloney's Tavern (1432 Market Street), packs of Marlboro Lights cost $9, all finger food arrives in wax-paper-lined metal buckets on strangely shaped porcelain plates and accompanied by perfectly portioned sides, policy allows Top 40 songs to make only one appearance every twelve or so songs, and the dozen-plus flat-screen TVs show sports and news, no exceptions. Okay, there's one exception: On weekends after 8 p.m., every eighteen minutes, the P.A. cuts out and each TV shows a popular movie clip that lasts between thirty seconds and five minutes. One more exception: The bartender who tells me all this says he'll occasionally turn on a sitcom or something if it's totally dead and that's what the customer really wants.
But don't tell.
At Maloney's, the music is heavily controlled and corporatized, which means it's, well, bad. The golden oldies that come on are fun enough, and gentle Paul Simon and Bob Marley hits aren't exactly offensive, but most of it (Gin Blossoms? Really?) is so washed out as to be almost unnoticeable. Nightly DJs — who stand behind an acrylic resin shield bearing the words "ON AIR" and in front of rows of tiny televisions broadcasting everything currently playing around the two-room (and two-bar) tavern — are given iTunes credit with which to download pre-approved playlists. The song selection, I'm told, does improve when a sentient being is at the dials, but with a no-hip-hop policy and an atmosphere geared toward "a more mature crowd," bumpin,' clubbin,' rockin' and rollin' are strictly discouraged.
This concept — of a precociously Cheers-esque corner bar where (as the website explains) everybody knows your name — extends to a section of the bar room that is wall-to-wall bookcases. Sure, the books are purchased by managers at massive sales and stores with no regard for literary value, and, yeah, TVs cover more than a small section of the titles, but still, sitting in booths surrounded by dust-encrusted hardcovers is kind of fun. Definitely different. Satisfyingly distracting. Beyond the bookcases hangs an array of symmetrically aligned (yet completely cluttered) framed black-and-white glossies of Hollywood actors and big-screen scenes. Their presence is intentionally nostalgic and comically cut-rate — a customer once phoned to request the sale of a handful, offering between $50 and $100 for each. "We print them off the Internet, dude," the bartender remembers responding. "You really don't want them."
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Despite these whiffs of homogenous monotony, however, the place is pretty great. In addition to a long, narrow patio that allows (encourages?) smoking, it's spacious, comfortable (in an all-leather-upholstered way), clean and cheap. Happy hour (3 to 7 p.m. every day) features $1 off everything and half-off appetizers. This may not sound like much, but scoring a $3.75 Guinness and eating a $5 May Day Malone's Sampler (sliders, tenders, mozzarella sticks and ravioli) feels a lot like hitting a Central City jackpot. I also drink $4.25 twenty-ouncers of Dos Equis and order a $2.50 pound of tender-hot Brooklyn wings — served in a bucket, buddied up with sides of ranch and creamy wasabi — and feel like I'm ripping the place off.
But then, that's more or less what Maloney's has done to Cheers.
To see where Drew Bixby has been drinking, go to his column online for an embedded map. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.