is an award winning
member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers. His column
Adventures in Beerland
is now a regular feature of
|He’s the Czar of Noir; he’s Eddie Muller. A writer and film historian by trade, Mr. Muller walks us through the darkest
shadows in Turner Classic Movies' Noir Alley every Sunday morning. If you don’t know film noir, I’ll let Eddie himself
describe it: “When a cloud of smoke wafts through an obliquely lit room; when the camera tightly frames a gun-
wielding hand; when an urban landscape is the backdrop for a tension-filled tale of crime; these are the signs that
you are watching a film noir.” To simplify just a bit, think 1930s, 40s, and 50s black and white mystery movies that
may be old fashioned in many ways but still speak to countless people today just the way certain bars do. Yes, there
are noir bars and their noir patrons.
I unabashedly admit to enjoying noir movies and even more their tavern counterparts. As such it’s not surprising that
I thought about Eddie Muller last week when occasion (and my friend’s car) brought me to two bars worthy of any noir
film, The Old Canal Inn and Hoover’s Tavern. When I walked into each place I could almost hear Lauren Bacall
provocatively whispering “you know how to drink beer, don’t you Vince? You just put your lips together, and…sip”.
(For the non-noir folks check out To Have and To Have Not 1945).
The Old Canal Inn was built in 1908 so it definitely qualifies as old and to its credit, looked it. The bar itself is
wooden, dark, worn, and long. The place has a welcoming feel as evidenced by two youthful gentlemen who
challenged several of my party to a beer pong contest in a small enclave off to the right of the bar. Cups were
already set up and filled. Fortunately my companions declined since they most certainly would have been fleeced.
Those pongers may have looked like friendly novices but their crisply pressed shirts that read “We are professionals”
gave them away. If I asked them how in good conscience two such dapper individuals could hustle unsuspecting
folks I imagined they would quote Vincent Price in Laura (1944): "I can afford a blemish on my character, but not on
The canal part of The Old Canal is a bit of a stretch. It supposedly was named for the Morris Canal that passed
through another part of town. Baloney. It’s clear to me that the owner had more than a few drinks when trying to
think of the name. In his inebriated sate he had a vision of himself playing baseball with Marino Rivera in, where else,
Panama. He then spent the huge signing bonus he received from the Yankees and bought a canal which he
indulgently named after himself. Right, his name was ….Canal. Now some people might think buying a canal is a
waste of money. As Elsa Lancaster said “"Isn’t it a pity? The wrong people always have money." (The Big Clock –
The Old Canal had what looked to be 30 or so taps with a bit less than two thirds boasting of some the world’s most
famous macro light American lagers that ran the gamut of flavors from A to A. The only thing missing from that
group was a line for Poland Springs. It would fit in nicely. The rest of the taps had a decent number of quality craft
brews including special treats like Toppling Goliath’s King Sue and Magnify Finer Things. The real treasure of the
group however was Goose Island Bourbon County Stout. Yes that Bourbon County Stout. Goose Island may have
sold their soul, not to mention the brewery, to Budweiser (InBev) but the Bourbon County Brand is still a great and
one that you will usually only find at serious craft bars and then rarely. It didn’t take an inquiring mind to wonder just
how this old dive bar got such a highly sought out beer. An informative bartender gave me the answer.
“Look around, buddy” he said, “You’ll never believe how much Bud and Bud Light we sell especially in the afternoon
and happy hour. It’s an old time crowd then. They knock ‘em down. We sell so much that the Bud people always
thank us with an offer to buy Bourbon County. Last year we even got four of the variants. We started getting calls
within 10 minutes of listing it online.” I’m not sure that’s the fairest way to allot rare beer but that’s not my problem.
My only problem will be getting there fast enough when they next get it. However for the beer moralists who are
troubled by the inherent unfairness of that distribution system let me refer you to Howard Duff’s line in Shakedown
(1950) “Decency and integrity are fancy words, but they never kept anybody well fed. And I’ve got quite an appetite.”
And a thirst too. .
Every other day I search Untappd and BeerMenus for my favorite beers one of which is the aforementioned Bourbon
County Stout. It’s become an exercise in futility most times but every once in a while the bells ring and the rockets
explode. A few days ago I found it listed at Hoover’s Tavern, one of my favorite neighborhood bars. Hoover’s is not
a Yuppie upscale craft beer emporium. It’s a traditional spit and sawdust (not literally since they cleaned it) local pub
with a sign on its front door that politely says “No Club Colors”, Shirts Must Be Worn, You Must Be Wearing Shoes”.
It's probably an innocent oversight that they didn’t include pants in all of that. Then again maybe they remembered
Dick Powell's famous line from Murder My Sweet (11944) - "Okay Marlowe," I said to myself, ‘You’re a tough guy.
You’ve been sapped twice, choked, beaten silly with a gun, shot in the arm until you’re crazy as a couple of waltzing
mice. Now let’s see you do something really tough—like putting your pants on.
Hoover’s may not be as old as the Old Canal but it’s a classic by any low standard you care to name. Its big oval bar
doesn’t look as worn as the Canal’s wooden one mainly because it’s not wood. It seats about 30 people with a few
chairs and small high top tables scattered around the cramped space. The small venue however doesn’t preclude it
from having two dart boards which demand a person have a fair share or dexterity, cunning, and luck to make it to
the restroom without a puncture wound. In fact when one wandering drinker got a small scratch, deservedly so for
standing in front of the bulls eye, a voice that sounded distinctly like Victor Mature in I Wake Up Screaming (1942)
warned “next time they’ll have to pick you up with a sieve.”
Hoover’s has 20 taps, seven of which usually have reasonably decent craft beer. I sat down in front of the “craft
tower” being sure to take the stool directly in line with the tap handle that looked like a long necked goose with
Bourbon County written along its length. Using my unerring intuition I had a feeling I was in the right spot.
As the busy bartender worked her way around the crowded bar I had a chance to look at my fellow patrons. All
were neatly dressed, had shirts and shoes, and did not wear club colors though I thought I saw one guy with a Mickey
Mouse Club shirt. Does that count? To a person none had a dark beer in front of them. My first thought was that
the Bourbon County tap handle was a simple ruse and it would actually be pouring Coors Light. A second look
around the bar found that nearly every one of those light colored beers was sitting next to a shot glass filled with
some sort of amber liquid. Could this be a Twilight Zone episode and I was William Shatner stuck in a bar with a
monster that only I could see eating through the tap lines? Or maybe I was in the Big Sleep (1946) and the
bartender would tell me that tap line belonged to Humphrey Bogart and if she served me a glass "You know what he’ll
do when he comes back? Beat you teeth out, then kick you in the stomach for mumbling."
I had summarily dismissed all those crazy thought from my psyche just as the efficient and friendly bartender reached
me and asked if I wanted to see the beer menu. I said no, “I’ll have that” as I pointed to the Bourbon County tap
handle. She smiled knowingly and said “we’ve had people in since we opened this morning just for that beer.” For
the record Hoover's is legendary for opening early including Sunday mornings, at 7 AM when they feature a special
Bloody Mary with a double shot of vodka. Not bad if you’re a customer but I imagine the bartenders aren’t happy
getting that shift. Orson Wells must have had such a job in Touch of Evil (1958) when he said “What else is there to
think about, except my job, my dirty job?” Try thinking of the tips you’d get that early Orson and you'll feel better..
Within seconds a perfectly poured 12 ounce glass of Bourbon County Stout sat in front of me. In this instance
perfectly poured is defined as liquid reaching the very rim of the glass. It was delicious and made even better by the
fact that it was only $6. That’s one super deal though admittedly you can probably get several cases of Natural Light
for that price. Sometimes you have to consider saving money. Wallace Ford (The Set Up, 1949) knew the deal:
“They’re all for ya as long as you’re in the chips. I never seen a dame yet that’s still around when you hit the skids.”
I ordered a second glass to let it warm a bit when none other than my BeerNexus colleague Glenn "The Big G"
DeLuca came in. He too ordered a Bourbon County Stout which got an approving smile from our genial bartender.
That smile didn’t last. Spurt, splish, splash- the keg was kicking. Glenn’s glass was only about 2/3 full when she
announced to total indifference by the other patrons, “This is done.” We were heartbroken. She apolitically placed
the glass in front of Glenn and said “no charge” which instantly brought his smile back proving the only thing better
than a full glass of Bourbon County is 2/3 of one that you don’t have to pay for.
As we sat there lamenting the empty keg another friend and certified beer judge Livingston Hinckley came in. “I’m
here for the Bourbon County too” he announced. We told him the bad news as the bartender came over and asked
him what he wanted. “Well I wanted what you just kicked” he said. “Sorry but we just put on another stout. Do you
want that?” she asked. Thinking quickly he asked her if the line had been flushed out yet. When she said no he
countered with “don’t clean it out. Pour me that new one then I’ll at least get the Bourbon County that’s left in the
lines.” I thought it was pure genius. The bartender thought he was nuts but tried to console him by quoting Tom
Neal in Movie: Detour (1945) - "That’s life. Whichever way you turn, fate sticks out a foot to trip you.”
Glenn and I felt bad for Livingston but not bad enough to offer him our beers. I held mine up to admire it one final
time before finishing the few last drops. It was then I felt myself moved by the spirit of Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese
Falcon (1941) and said loud enough for all to hear - “it’s the stuff that dreams are made of”.
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