Bar time at the Park Tavern (931 East 11th Avenue) is roughly fifteen minutes fast, which means, of course, that last-call and you-can't-stay-here cries leave the mouths of bar staff between 1:30 and 1:45 (real time) each morning, sometimes earlier. Boo, hiss and other profanities. It also means that when my watch reads 4:15 p.m., my fourth Bud draft is accompanied by a red token signifying my next drink is on the house. Hip, hip and hooray! With three weekly two-for-one happy hours — 9-11 a.m. Monday through Friday; 4:30-6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.-midnight Wednesday through Monday — cashing in these colored tokens might seem simpler than fastening Velcro. But unless everyone in the group is on exactly the same consumption schedule, someone's bound to leave with one or more left over. Plus, the tokens change colors every few months, with expired colors only having value on the first Monday of every month thereafter. My friend Cole thinks they should distribute pocket-sized laminates containing all the rules; I think it's only safe to take these suckers home if the plan is to return. Soon.
The Park Tav is a plain-and-simple sports bar with a massive menu (breakfast is served every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.) and plenty of tables and booths with favorable views of the flat-screen TVs. It is by no means a dump, though it occasionally smells of harsh cleaners and fryer grease and boasts a number of divey characteristics — trophies; a random steering-wheel clock; a bottle opener duct-taped to the server-station railing; cold, no-frills bathrooms with etched and scratched mirrors; an open-faced tackle box nailed to the wall organizing credit cards and IDs by last-name letter (all patrons running tabs must also fork over their IDs, thanks to some scumbag a few weeks back who ran up a $90 tab on a stolen credit card). A rectangular piece of two-inch-thick plywood resting where the window by the front door should be tells the story of a man who, after being 86'd, returned around 4 a.m., put one of the patio tables through the window (as well as his fist through a POS touch-screen machine), trailed blood through the bar and into the women's bathroom (where he apparently fell and rolled around in it) and scared the Spanish-speaking shit out of a cleaning lady, who eventually found the courage to call her bilingual husband to make the 911 call. She is still reluctant to return to work.
During sporting events and on weekend nights, the place is packed with a college and popped-collar crowd; it's also quite loud, whether from the turn-page jukebox or competitive screams and shrieks. Otherwise — and lately, in general, according to grumbling bartenders — things are slow and subdued. Cole and I experience both phenomena on a recent Sunday afternoon-into-evening visit. Seated at the bar, we receive stellar service regardless of chaos or calm; Cole's pours are strong (well vodka comes from the gun) and my beers are refilled sans request. One tender even offers to reheat my cheese fries in the oven when I let them sit for a few. Sometime after 7 p.m., with the football crowd long gone and a token still to my name, I contemplate killing a few bucks at one of the two foosball tables, three pool tables or Ms. Pacman/Galaga machine, but decide to focus all my energies on beer instead.
There's no telling how long the tokens will be red, and I'm in no position to forfeit a free drink.