Drink of the Week: Schneity Brau, Schneithorst's

Sometimes when we are out, having a drink, we are working. We are a journalist, of sorts. Other times, we are just drinking. We are not taking notes, we are not peppering the bartender with questions, we are not looking around and making astute observations about our surroundings. Drinking is not an act of scientific inquiry, it is an act of faith, like praying, and like praying, it is ruined by too much question-asking. Problem is, when we go to write about it, we are screwed. Aside from the wrinkled-up receipts we may find in our purse, we have only hazy memories to go on. Despite this, we are sitting in the bar at Schneithorst's on an early Sunday evening, drinking a beer, not writing a damn thing down.

We tried to get a beer at the Plaza Frontenac Cinema before taking in a matinee of Crazy Heart, but it turned out the theater does not have a Sunday liquor license. The movie, about a washed-up, alcoholic country singer, is so booze-soaked that we left feeling a little drunk anyway. The mall was closed by then, so the doors to Saks Fifth Avenue were locked. That was how we came in. We had a brief moment of panic, feeling trapped and out of place in the posh environs of Plaza Frontenac, before making a break for it through Canyon Café. We emerged directly across the street from Schneithorst's, and took it as a sign.

The bar, called the Bierkeller, is cavernous, the walls and arched ceiling paved with rough stones. The center of the room is dominated by an imposing wrought-iron candelabra. One wall is lined with dark wooden hutches filled with an impressive collection of beer steins, and medieval-looking weapons are displayed throughout. The matchbooks in a snifter on the bar and the bartender's shirt carry the phrase, "Since 1917."

Schneity Brau, the house beer, is served in a frozen pint glass with an Anheuser Busch logo on one side and a Schneithorst's logo on the other. It is cloudy like a wheat beer, but amber-colored. Medium-bodied, it is fruity, spicy, and crisp, making it very easy to drink. The bartender nods to us when our first is three-quarters empty. He looks as though he has been working behind a bar since we were but a twinkle in our mama's eye. We nod back, he pours us another.

Schneithorst's is no honky-tonk, but it is not exactly the wrong place to contemplate the story of a man who's past his prime. On this sleepy Sunday night, it is The Bar that Time Forgot. We're channeling not so much 1917 as 1971. We imagine this was a swinging joint back then, looking like a Swiss chalet in a James Bond movie, everyone with a V.O. Manhattan or Courvoisier Stinger in one hand, and a cigarette perched between two fingers of the other. We can practically see Sean Connery sauntering down the stone staircase. Those glamorous days are a faded memory now. The place is more or less empty, save for us and a middle-aged guy sipping white wine four or five stools down.

We are still thinking about Jeff Bridges' character in Crazy Heart, the one for which he will almost certainly win an Academy Award, the one Fox-Searchlight's press release describes as, "the richly comic, semi-tragic romantic anti-hero Bad Blake." We think he would be at home in this bar. It's richly comic: There's a quote over the bar, attributed to Arthur Schneithorst, collector of all those beer steins, which reads, "Those who mettle with beer and gulp wine run into the arms of the devil..." It's semi-tragic: See the aforementioned bald guy by his lonesome with the glass of wine. It's romantic, or at least it certainly could be, in the right company. Tonight it's just us and Bad Blake, and the guy at the other end of the bar.

Alicia Lohmar is a south-city dweller and accomplished drinker, to which she credits her German ancestry and Catholic upbringing.
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