Drinks for not quite free
By Darcy Wallace
Pick your poison. Cheap wells, classy cocktails and specialties, Ninkasi on draft or smooth red wine — you can find any of these by exploring Eugene’s many diverse watering holes. Everyone has his or her drink of choice, and people’s tastes are as diverse as the different kinds of tofu for sale in your average Eugene market.
|Diablo’s Cherry-infused Maker’s Mark
|Cucumber Gin Fizz from The Vintage
|Berry Kamikaze fromthe Lava Lounge
But trends and styles are a-changing, and it’s no secret that the state of the economy is causing many of us to cut back in every way possible. How do we drink what we want without breaking the bank? Are people’s tastes evolving, or are a random assortment of patrons drinking any old thing on the menu? To find out, I interrogated — I mean, politely asked — folks from bars around town, inquiring about the specials they’ve come up with to save money and give the people what they want.
My first victim was Megan King, co-owner of The Vintage, which is known for having some pretty damn good daily specials. In 2006, King and her good friend Shannon Ritchie opened The Vintage, putting into motion their dream of becoming chefs. “Tuesday Boozeday” and Thursday’s “Burger and 2 Brews” are the restaurant’s most popular drinking specials, according to King. On Tuesdays, cocktails are half price all day — not a bad deal for those on a budget. On Thursdays, as the name suggests, you can get a burger and two pints for $8. There are tons of burger and brew specials in Eugene, but from what I’ve found so far, this may be the best for what you get (has anyone else found something cheaper? Inquiring minds want to know!). But King says people are also branching out and trying more unusual drinks. Flavored vodka is on the rise, and The Vintage has some pretty interesting kinds. Have you ever tried beet or jalapeno-infused vodka?
The next subject of my interrogation was Chris Newton of the Lava Lounge at the Ring of Fire. This popular Thai food restaurant and bar, located at 11th and Chambers, proves that you don’t have to live in downtown Eugene to have something to do on a Friday night. The Lava Lounge also has a long list of specialty drinks that customers enjoy; some favorites are margaritas, the Berry Kamikaze and the Gin Garden.
“Most people get [drinks] from the cocktail list rather than wells,” Newton says. “People like our drinks, and sometimes that’s the reason why they come in.” There’s a wide variety of ages represented at the Ring of Fire on any given night, and Newton’s seen customers from the just-turned-21 crowd to patrons over 65. The average age is 25-35; most are no longer in school and drink for the taste, not for the buzz. This might be why they’re more willing to spend a little more on a fancy cocktail rather than pounding beers and dollar wells (those may be cheap, but they’re certainly not too appetizing).
Jose Morales of Diablo’s Downtown Lounge had a lot to say about what people drink these days. Like Ring of Fire, Diablo’s doesn’t just cater to the college-aged crowd: People want something that tastes good but won’t empty their wallets.
“Honestly, there’s a pretty established specialty cocktail list over the last 10 years,” says Morales. “One of the most popular is Lucifer’s Lemonade. It was one of the first we came up with.” Like The Vintage, Diablo’s has some infused liquors of its own to entice adventurous customers, like jalapeno-infused vodka and cucumber gin. True to its name, Diablo’s has some other popular cocktails with unusual names, like the Hellfire Gimlet and Pimp Juice.
“I think [cocktails] are more popular than wells because our prices hopefully give an incentive for your taste buds to explore,” Morales says. “It’s a personal preference of mine to drink something that doesn’t come in a plastic jug.”
But although many of us want to try new things that taste good (and really, who doesn’t?), they often cost more than we’re willing to pay. Diablo’s tries to offset this with Friday night specials; Morales says having a $2 cover charge for $3 specials all night — “anything you want off the shelf” — gives people an incentive to drink better and save more.
As far as trends go, Morales says people are gravitating towards beer and shots. Cosmopolitans, once so popular during the Sex and the City craze, rarely get ordered at Diablo’s. And lemon drops, which Morales estimates were once ordered 30-35 times a night, now probably get ordered 10 or 15 times, if that. “It’s not always up to taste buds anymore,” he says.
Depending on where you go, the most popular drinks, not surprisingly, are the ones featured in specials or happy hours. Sometimes bartender recommendations influence what people drink, and other people seek high quality, unusual drinks instead of a buzz. Every bar has its own way of attracting customers: the Oak Street Speakeasy and Jameson’s, for example, don’t have cover charges. Rennie’s Landing on campus has two happy hours, one in the afternoon and the other from 10 pm to midnight. You also can’t forget Fathoms Bar, located inside Pegasus Pizza, which has $1.50 wells from 8:30 to 9:30 pm and a pizza and brew special of its own. If you know where to look, you can enjoy your drink of choice and keep your wallet happy too.