I feel around in my coat pocket and pull out three quarters. I pile them neatly between my fingers and place them onto the bar.
"Three tokens," I say.
"EX-cellent choice," says the tender.
Before me is a porter called Elves' Elixir. Behind me was Town Hall Brewery's Festivus party. This sudsy titan of Seven Corners has a penchant for bonfire parties and strong, special brews. I'm here for a little of both.
A sign taped to the bar's back mirror reads: THE AIRING OF GRIEVANCES, REAL LIFE OR IMAGINED. Give 25 cents and receive a token form of your grievance, real or imagined, to toss into the Festivus fire outside. I could use a few.
Did I mention I'd just been at Republic?
I drank a Miraculum and scarfed a couple of tacos (great tacos, by the way, and Miraculum tastes like Wikipedia slates it). Doesn't sound like a grievance, does it? Let's take a look to my immediate left.
A two-pack of bros cackles across a Tinder-swipe rampage. NO ... NO ... Her mouth is open like that, she looks WILD! ... YES ... NO ... NO ... YES ...There's no way these knuckleheads ever get laid -- (thinks about it) -- actually, I bet these knuckleheads get laid quite a bit (sorry ladies).
One is wearing a snapback; some played-out faux-hawk unicorn-head bullshit that should have been left at the frat house is wearing the other. Their jaw-jacking with staffers leads me to think they're frequent fliers, and "I should come here more" instantly sours into "Why have I not left yet?" Because of them, an excellent beer is tasting more like an obstacle. I bottom it up with grand indignation, point a fart in their direction, and part.
I rub the wooden coin with my thumb and recall every good time I've had at Republic: The filming of that 2ndBrunch episode, the towering Bloody Mary, gazing in awe at their 104 tap handles.
I forget sometimes that the Twin Cities isn't like Duluth, where you do have to avoid the frequenting spots of specific nuisances if you don't want to encounter them. I bet myself a dollar I never sit next to those guys again; and, while I'm at it, forgive any other Twin Cities establishment I'd abandoned owing to one set of clients. Second chances for all!
The first chip falls through the flaming logs and out of my sight. It was either toasted by hottest coals, or is remains intact in the ashes today.
Two things I love, beer stickers and prize wheels, come together in spectacular fashion outside. I steady the wheel's base with my right hand, grip the wheel with my left, raise my left leg onto my tippies, tighten every muscle at once and let 'er rip. It spins for about 90 seconds. The witnesses are in awe, good and bad.
The first yields a vintage beer stickers. The second lands on 29, for which my reward is a pint of beer and a free game of bowling. I find Star Tribune beer writer Ryan Tuenge, and ask him to videotape me spinning the wheel again. I land on 29 again, securing a complimentary date night.
Ryan is there with his wife. It gets out that he's going up north, and I bombard him with "GO TO GRONK'S, GO TO GRONK'S, GO TO MOTHERF'ING GRONK'S!" Other things I bombard him with include my pork sliders, Hugo's club subs, and the Anchor Bar's Galley Busters. I even regale him with the story of when I ate two Galley Busters in under an hour and didn't crap for two days afterward. I'm fun.
I've put on some weight this year.
I step on the scale every morning, sometimes like I'm watching a casket being lowered into the ground. What the hell happened to me?
As it turns out, very little. I haven't even risen a belt size. I haven't gotten any weaker, and finished my first half-marathon over the summer. Last weekend, I took part in a 24-hour relay. Get this: I was the only one to scamper a whole hour solo, clearing five miles without walking once. Quickly? (Waffles) No, BUT I never did got that far when I was 10 pounds lighter last year.
Running a beer program extends your waistline. Call it the cost of business.
I decide: I'll stay on the path, keep going harder, keep running the sprints, keep lifting the weights, and let the numbers handle themselves. If I wheeze out too soon or if my push-up count flounders, I'll worry then. For now, as long as I'm outrunning the kale-chip crazies, I'm healthy. Beating myself up over a couple of pounds isn't productive.
Residual suds glue my lips together as I drop my second chip into the fire. This grievance lands forcefully, knocking a log on its side upon impact. Quite satisfying.
I speak briefly with Mike Hoops, Town Hall's head brewer -- an exalted man of beer, several-time Great American Beer Festival medal-winner, who has absolutely earned the right to be too high for the commoners but never acts that way. Not only did he remember who I was, he remembered my wife was with last time and asked where she was (A: finals week).
I buy Ryan a spin, and he wins a postcard. It's the least I could do for he and his wife providing me company when I had none otherwise. I reflect on the evening and step back to the fire. I've got one left.
I guess I'm lying about this one, on two levels. I whisper it to myself, flip the chip into the fire, turn and walk off. I don't know how it lands. I don't particularly care. I just needed this one out of my pocket, and everything feels much lighter now.