"So, I don't know what the protocol is here. Am I supposed to pretend like I don't recognize you?"
I looked up from my beer at the waitress standing beside my table at the Irish Hound. "No," I said. "You don't have to pretend. It doesn't much matter anymore these days."
She nodded, and smiled. "Okay. Well, great book, by the way."
"Thanks," I said. And then, formalities over, I ordered a cheeseburger to go with my beer, and fries to go with my cheeseburger, and mozzarella sticks to go with my fries. A nice, light breakfast on a Friday morning.
It's really no surprise that I was recognized at the Hound. In the years when I suffered with no work bar close by the office (or in the years when the closest bar was a place I wouldn't walk into on a bet), the Hound was where I would stop off on my way home for a couple of pops or a few quiet moments after the happy-hour crowds had cleared out and before the serious, all-night drinkers arrived. The Hound is a nice place, with a beautiful and well-stocked mirror-backed long bar, chandeliers like old-fashioned gas lamps and an overall vibe of comforting Irish-Americanism — like a historic Dublin pub as filtered through a design firm in Gary, Indiana. Not a saccharine vision of the Old Sod, but neither an old sod's dream of the motherland.
Still, it was good enough for me. And though it'd been a few years since I'd been back to the Hound, I found it relatively unchanged. It is, after all, one of the fourteen neighborhood joints opened by Mark Berzins and his Little Pub Company — one of the places whose kitchen Sean Kelly oversaw before he threw in with some Larimer partners at LoHi SteakBar (reviewed this week). And Berzins is a man who specializes in neighborhood joints that don't aspire to be anything more. Thus, the Hound's menu is a spare and simple presentation of deep-fried apps, potato skins, nachos and chicken wings, affectless burgers, simple sandwiches and a couple of salads. The Hound has a kitchen not so that it will be a destination, but simply so people don't go elsewhere when they get hungry.
And while there's nothing wrong with such a business plan (it's what all bars did before some owners decided they needed to turn their saloons into fucking gastropubs), it struck me that Kelly must've learned some very valuable lessons while working for Berzins. His menu at LoHi is not much more than a very ground-up version of the one at the Hound — a bar menu handled by a chef rather than a cook, and written to be an integral part of the business rather than merely a honey trap to keep the rummies on their stools.