What's best about The Horseshoe Lounge is that it's competent and comfortable. What's worst is that it's competent and comfortable. It's almost unfair for an out-of-towner to judge this neighborhood bar on the basis of one quick-and-dirty happy hour, but the regulars here must feel something special that I didn't at this seven-year-old watering hole adjoined by Jonesy's Eat Bar. If you don't live in this booze-starved section of Uptown, it's hard to imagine what would bring you around here.
The Horseshoe looks just about perfect. The red booths, the casino-style carpeting, the wide bar and its crimson seats -- it's downright beautiful. But the painfully dim lighting, the Olympia signs and the buzzing pinball machines drag it back towards the dive its trying to be. From 3 to 7 p.m., the Horseshoe's happy hour generously discounts nearly all the house beers and a selection of liquors, from which I pulled a draft of Upslope Brown Ale ($3) and a Tanqueray gin and tonic ($3). Just in case you missed it -- those are some fine lookin' deals right there.
The respective stomachs of my companion and mine were churning like cement mixers, so it wasn't long before we had ordered one of everything on the happy hour menu: a pair of meatball sliders, a personal-sized cheese pizza, and a Chicago-style hot dog, all three bucks each. First off, you can't render final judgement on The Horseshoe Lounge's kitchen on these cheap eats alone. The regular menu features such intriguing items as "naughty tots" with bacon, cream cheese and jalapenos ($6.50) and fried chicken as a pizza topping.
The hot dog: admirably kitted out with all the Windy City fixins', but a little under-cooked. The pizza: satisfying enough, but bland. Those meatball sliders stole the show, though -- tennis ball-sized orbs of goodness from "Grandma Butcher's" recipe. All perfectly fine, but there was little about any of the whole experience that I would scribble on a postcard and send to the folks.
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My companion went so far as to say "I wouldn't come back here again." This man is a musician, for God's sake -- he should be gaga over $3 microbrews. Me, I'd like to come back, sample the menu, make some friends. Maybe there's magic at the Horseshoe yet -- I just can't see it.