I survived most of my New York winters subsisting on a cultural diet of double-features at the Film Forum (a repertory theater in the Village that would screen monthlong series of film noir, or classic screwball comedies) and college basketball double-headers at the Riviera Café and Sports Bar, also in the Village, a schizophrenic establishment where gay couples chatted over derivative bistro fare in the front room, while hetero businessmen (mostly Big 10 and ACC grads) and jock-chicks like me poured through pitchers of Brooklyn Lager in the back.
Come fall, the Yankees' four-years-out-of-five chokehold on the World Series found me getting my hometown fix at a number of Manhattan sports bars: Park Avenue Country Club (as tony as it sounds), The Sporting Club (a massive, multi-level, reservations-required, casino-like Valhalla for all things athletic), Time Out (what Boomer's turned into after former Jets QB Boomer Esiason sold his stake). And on the night in 2001 when the Yanks beefed it in Game 7 against the Diamondbacks, I was sitting on a bar stool at Llywelyn's Pub -- not a sports bar per se, but a great place to watch sports -- on my first-ever visit to St. Louis.
What I'm saying is that I love sports bars, and I don't think there's one right way to do them. Establish clear sightlines to the screens from every seat, of course. Devise an assorted and flowing beer list, natch. Work out a menu of bar-food staples that the kitchen can handle; at the least, let nothing look or taste entirely like microwaved frozen-food product. Then go and do whatever you want. Dress the place up, dirty it down. Doesn't matter.
Unfortunately, Q's Sports Bar & Grill, housed since February on the ground floor of the Central West End's Westmoreland apartment building (former digs of the more upscale Turvey's on the Green), needs to be schooled on the fundamentals of the sports-bar game. The main room's ten TVs, mounted off the ceiling, are mostly 19- and 26-inchers, making it hard to get absorbed in the onscreen action. A mere five beers come on tap -- Bud Light, Michelob Ultra Light, Boulevard Wheat, Schlafly Pale Ale and Fat Tire -- and a pitcher of the latter three (you know, the real beers) costs an extorted twelve dollars.
Most disappointingly, Q's doesn't know what kind of sports bar it wants to be. And so, by default, it has wound up an off-putting mishmash of middle-aged-jock hangout, neighborhood watering hole and frat-house basement.
Like many of the Central West End's prewar apartment buildings, the Westmoreland exudes a continental attitude -- yet here are some déclassé plastic promo banners for Coors Light draped across the lobby moldings, and over there stand the bar's wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling French windows, which let in too much light. Couple those with Q's cream-colored walls, and this is the brightest sports-bar interior I've ever seen. (A big reason The Sporting Club in New York was so great was that it was like entering a cavernous temple. As game clocks ticked away on countless TV screens, time felt like it stood still.)
With walls of wood paneling and carpets of dark green, it's dimmer in Q's adjacent rooms, which take up the rest of the lobby floor -- but also creepier. Seeing that the room's barely furnished by a tangle of Formica tables, vinyl-upholstered chairs, granny-patterned sofas, a pool table and a large-screen TV (one of only two throughout, the other positioned in the awkward foyer-cum-dining room), one feels compelled to ask if those areas are even part of the restaurant's domain.
Q's boasts one of St. Louis' few Internet jukeboxes, which can download any song instantly -- any song. A friend who lives near Q's told me that he and his girlfriend once called up a bunch of Velvet Underground and Smiths tracks just to screw with the other (few) customers. An Internet jukebox may be nifty, technologically speaking; by design, it is also a jukebox devoid of personality, character -- and that sums up Q's to a T.
The place feels like a blank slate, sanitary. What defines it are little bits of sports-bar self-parody: the aforementioned beer posters; a buxom blond, all-female (and genuinely friendly) waitstaff; and a virtually all-male clientele. (When I came in for lunch one day, they were lined up at the bar, hunched over their pint glasses like longshoremen on break.) Empty out the people, change the channel from ESPN to HGTV, and you might welcome a sewing circle inside.
Much like Q's itself, bar food, as a culinary genre, is hard to define. Usually the common denominator among menu items is the color brown, except that pretty much any bar will serve you a salad nowadays -- which, hopefully, contains nothing brown, unless you count croutons or slices of grilled chicken. Q's appetizer menu, as an example of this bar-food conundrum, includes both beer-battered shrimp and teriyaki shrimp, but pretty much everything else sticks to the expected: chips and salsa, mozzarella sticks, chili, burgers, chicken strips, St. Louis-style personal pizzas, club sandwiches and no dessert. It is food you could make at home, or have delivered. Food that you don't make a point of going out for but that you'll happily order when out watching the game with friends. Food that should be hard to mess up -- except that Q's does, often.
It is not difficult to produce a plate of hot chicken wings garnished with cold celery stalks. Not only was the celery so warm it was wilted, but the stalks were strangely thin and dark green; they looked like chives. It can be a little difficult to turn out a truly medium-cooked hamburger if the kitchen's being slammed. But when it's not, there's not much excuse for a dry, hardly-pink patty sitting on a borderline-stale bun. I understand that when a breaded entity like a jalapeño popper gets heated up, the pocket of air and dollop of cream cheese trapped inside is gonna get real hot. But nobody should have to complain the next day about the tongue blister. This is the kind of wildly inconsistent kitchen where one day the mini-tacos come out pliant with a center best described as creamed beef -- and then another day the tortilla shell shatters upon first bite and the meat's so overly nuked it's practically disintegrated.
When an order of cheese quesadillas failed to show with the rest of our appetizers, I thought twice about whether to bother the waitress for them. I'm glad I did and was happy to discover that a couple of dishes rank above satisfactory. The cheese was perfectly melted, soft but not runny or coagulated, and encased in a grilled flour tortilla with just the right amount of bite. Likewise, the fried cod on the fish-and-chips plate nailed its crunchy exterior and came with a deliciously tart tartar sauce.
On my second visit to Q's, my friends and I came for the season debut of Monday-night football. The game was only a quarter in by the time we'd finished eating, and we debated whether or not to stay and drink, to the tune of $12 per pitcher and a hookless Janet Jackson ballad that had snuck onto the jukebox. It wasn't a lengthy debate -- and what a blowout when leaving the bar to watch the game at home gets voted the better play.