A place to unwind

I find myself walking up and down Court Street on a Tuesday evening, looking for a place to sit for a couple of drinks. I could go to any number of diners, shops, or hipster restaurants, but I want something between a dive and a sit-down bar & restaurant.

I choose The Crystal. Its facade is neither repulsive nor wholly appealing. A healthy mix of male and female students sit over drinks at the counter. I find the five TVs over the bar a little excessive when there are only six of us in the building, but some it seems they can’t get enough of sports talk. The shelves behind the bar are lined with a rainbow of flavored vodka and cheap liquor.

I notice a small selection of taps. Alongside the standard American lagers, the Alaskan Amber Ale stands out. I order a glass and the bartender asks for $2.00. “$2.00 for what?” I ask. “That’s how much it costs,” she replies.

The beer is cheap.

Hold on. That’s roughly what this stuff goes for bottled. I’m conditioned to paying six times that at bars in Singapore, and I do most of my drinking at home in my rural town that serves only Bud and Miller on tap. Despite the minor inconvenience of having to pay cash at The Crystal, I decide I’ll find myself here more than once after an evening class.

I take my first sip of beer from a frosty pint glass. The rim is chipped but rounded. I put the glass down so it can warm a bit and be drinkable for enjoyment. Some hip-hop song comes on and repeats, “Know I hit you with that dropkick, Marty Jannetty.” I wonder if any of these kids a decade younger than me know what the hell the guy is singing about. And then I’m suddenly swung into a mix of 2000s alt-rock and emo. The atmosphere is a little uneven.

Rylee, the bartender, thinks so too. She’s left her post at the bar, trying to get the right music going. Frustrated, she settles with Hoobastank’s “The Reason.” At the same time I think, “For god’s sake, why won’t that song die,” a customer expresses the same sentiment to the bartender. We get back on the musical merry-go-round.

As an enormous eight-bladed fan lethargically drifts over top of the bar to keep an already cool night just a bit cooler, I notice that Rylee knows all of her patrons. It seems that this place is the kind people return to for cheap drinks and easy conversation. It has no pretension. So even though I sit in a shirt and tie among a line of twenty-somethings in hoodies and jeans, I find myself comfortable and looking forward to the next time I can drop by to unwind after a long day of high school teaching and college classwork.

https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-crystal-athens

The best hole in the wall this side of the Hocking

Whether it’s your grandma’s house, the treehouse your dad built for you when you were a kid or your favorite home team’s arena, everyone has a special place in their life that’s always welcoming and makes them feel right at home, and I’m no different.

It’s the go-to meetup location anytime one of my friends comes back to town. It was stop number one on my first green beer day outing. It’s where I go to trash talk the Steelers to my favorite bartender in Athens. Simply put, it’s The Pub.

Since 1974, The Pub has been servicing the Athens community with its great burgers, great beer and great beer cheese soup. The bartenders are always friendly, there’s always a game worth watching on and if you happen to stumble in on a saturday night, you’re guaranteed to have a good time. For the last couple of months The Pub has turned into the go to spot for me and my friends. After ending classes on friday we all meet up together at 4, just in time to catch the start of our favorite bartender’s shift, to catch up and hang out. The lack of other people in the middle of the afternoon and the friendly face behind the counter makes it feel like we own the place and that we’re right at home.

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My first trip to this wonderful establishment was in the middle of summer 2015 when a buddy asked me if I had ever had their food. I admitted that I had never been which then led to him dragging me to the restaurant. From the second I walked in I could feel The Pub’s character everywhere I looked. The worn down wooden floors showed that many a patrons had been through, the scratched tables and booths hinted at the decades of post-class meetups that had gone down and the townies that lined the bar on that Thursday afternoon told me I was at a place worth staying. We sat down, ate and enjoyed the atmosphere. Then we did it again the following week. And the rest is history.

Whether it’s a weekday afternoon or a weekend night out with some friends, The Pub is the one-stop-shop for a good time in Athens. You’ll come for the cheap drinks and stay because of the great time you’re destined to have with the reassurance that the headache you have in the morning is because of a great time you had the night before.

6 Belgian Beers that are Brewed by Monks

 

When you think of monks, you probably think of bald heads, flowing robes, and vows of silence, but unless you’re Belgian, you probably don’t think of beer. Even if you haven’t heard of them before, Trappist Breweries and the monasteries they support have been around for hundreds of years. There are currently only 11 licenced Trappist breweries in the world, six of which are in Belgium. Their rarity, as well as their reputation for quality, make the Trappists some of the most sought-after beers in the world.

1. Trappistes Rochefort
(Adam Barhan https://www.flickr.com/photos/adambarhan/)
(Flickr, Adam Barhan)

Established in 1595, Rochefort is the oldest Trappist brewer still currently making beer. They sell three styles of Dark Belgian ales ranging from the 6, the lightest at 7.5%ABV up to the 10, weighing in at a mighty 11.3%ABV.

2. Orval
(Morgaine - https://www.flickr.com/photos/morgaine/14978747067/in/photostream/)
(Flickr, Morgaine)

La Brasserie d’Orval opened its modern brewery in 1931 in the Gaum region of Belgium, but there is evidence of brewing going back to the first days of the Abbey in 1628. Though they only make one beer (6.2% ABV) it is highly coveted as one of the best dark ales in the world for its rich, malty flavor.

3. Trappist Achel
(Flickr, Christer Edvartsen)
(Flickr, Christer Edvartsen)

Trappist Achel is only sold in two varieties outside of the monastery: the 8 Blonde which is the lighter, and the 8 Brune, being its darker counterpart. Achel is the smallest Belgian Trappist brewery by volume, only producing 120,000 gallons of beer per year.

 

4. Chimay
(Flickr, Smabs Sputzer)
(Flickr, Smabs Sputzer)

Chimay is one of the most prolific Trappists, it is sold all around the world and can be found in many US supermarkets. It comes in four varieties: Blue label (Dark), Dorrée (Blonde), Red label (Dubbel), and White label (Trippel).

 

5. Westmalle Trappist
(Flickr, Georgio)
(Flickr, Georgio)

Westmalle Trippel is considered one of the best trippels in the world. Its quality has not gone unnoticed as it is one of the largest Trappist breweries by volume (3.2 million gal. per year)

 

6. Westvleteren Trappist
(Andreador, via commons.wikimedia.org)
(Andreador, via commons.wikimedia.org)

Westvleteren is known as one of the greatest beers in the world, but it’s also one of the hardest to get. In fact, in order to buy a case you have to make an appointment to drive to the monastery in rural Flanders. Otherwise, you can try your luck in the tourist stores of Brussels but limited quantity means bottles are regularly sold for 15euro apiece (1.75euro at the monastery).

 

Lucky’s Sports Tavern is hOUme

Upon turning 21 years of age in Athens, Ohio, I discovered an oasis known as Lucky’s Sports Tavern. Well…okay. I knew about Lucky’s BEFORE I was 21, but that’s not the point. Being in OU’s Army ROTC program, Lucky’s has always been sort of a “right of passage” for cadets. We, of course, are strict about underage drinking, so when we are finally of age, Lucky’s is more of an exciting privilege.

Congratulations, Here's a Beer
My friend Spyro and I decided to poke fun at the way we receive awards in the military. So, he awarded me with a Yuengling for no reason and we documented it.

When you enter this establishment, it may, at first glance, seem like a typical bar. It is not until you venture there more than a few times that you discover the many aspects you will bond with for the rest of your Bobcat lifetime.

Monday Mug Club

Ah, the infamous Mug Club. You are sitting at the bar. You look up to notice an array of glass beer mugs on the shelf in front of you. Each mug seems to have a little tag with a name or number on it. What is this, you say? Well, Lucky’s gives you the wonderful opportunity to pay a small bit of money per semester for a nice beer mug with your name on it. You will get special deals on drinks like $1.75 drafts anytime and $1 shots on Mondays. Speaking of shots, the shot menu is extensive. My friend Spyro and I have made it a goal to get through the entire shot list. They range from names like grape skittle, jet fuel, silk panties, and train wreck.

Infamous Liquor Pitchers

It’s Wednesday. A well-known bar day for OU students. $5 liquor pitchers at Lucky’s. The place gets packed. Everyone usually has a pitcher of “Lucky’s Lemonade,” “Electric Lemonade,” “Big Red Machine,” or one of the other popular liquor drinks to themselves (with about 1,578 straws in each pitcher just in case you have a lot of friends that want to share). Tip: Pour your pitcher into small plastic cups. You don’t get all the extra ice and you can finish a pitcher MUCH faster (if you don’t mind dying, that is).

The Food

Whether it be the legendary cheese stix or their monthly pizza creations, Lucky’s is a great place to spend happy hour. Cheese stix are $.50 on Fridays during happy hour. I personally like their nachos and fried pickles.

                                                    The People

Alex Exum, a Lucky's bartender off duty, poses in Lucky's with a pitcher from the Cincinnati Reds. (photo courtesy of Alex Exum)
Alex Exum, a Lucky’s bartender off duty, poses in Lucky’s with a pitcher from the Cincinnati Reds. (photo courtesy of Alex Exum)

Every bar in Athens seems to have a certain crowd. From my observations, Lucky’s brings in all sorts of characters. I have seen townies, hipsters, fraternity/sorority guys and girls, and athletes. This, in my opinion, is what makes it the most likeable bar. The employees also make your experience worthwhile. They are very professional and fun. Becoming good friends with the bartenders and bouncers to the point where they know our drink orders and no longer ID us, is a pretty homey feeling, as it would be with any bar. One of the bartenders, Alex, actually came to Vegas with my friends and I.

The Atmosphere

Everyone is always having a good time in Lucky’s. As soon as you walk in, there’s almost always a crowd playing pool. You’re likely to hear the songs “Ignition” by R. Kelly or  “Africa” by Toto playing over the juke box. Nobody really seems to care about what music you play, though. Everyone in Lucky’s is pretty accepting of your tastes. You could play 15 Taylor Swift songs in a row and be fine.

Check out this video: St. Patty’s Day at Lucky’s

Overall, Lucky’s holds a special place in my heart. The biggest shock to myself is that it is technically the Steelers bar of Athens. There is no other thing in this world that I hate more than the Steelers. I am a diehard Browns fan (sadly). That alone has to say a lot about the greatness of this bar. Lucky’s is just legendary. It’s tradition. It’s home.

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I always am keeping up to date on Lucky’s Twitter for specials and events: https://twitter.com/luckysst

 

Little Fish Brewing Company offers brews and bites

Large Ohio cities such as Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland are known for successfully conjuring excellent craft beer (think Great Lakes and Columbus Brewing Company). Yet Athens is slowly, but surely, becoming a new hub for craft brewing. The town has long been known as being the home of Jackie O’s, but this past summer two new breweries entered the fold.

beerOne of the new establishments is Little Fish Brewing Company. The small brewery, located a short five-minute drive from campus at 8675 Armitage Road, opened in early July right before Ohio Brew Week. Athens natives Sean White and Jimmy Stockwell are the founders and owners of the operation.

The duo both started as home brewers for many years. White went on to have brewing internships and jobs in different corners of the United States but eventually came home to Athens to fulfill his dream of opening his own brewery. All of the beers served at Little Fish’s taproom are made right there at the facility. The open floor plan allows guests to see where their beer is made and stored. It’s a participatory atmosphere White and Stockwell are proud to have created.

But besides awesome beer and a unique setup, Little Fish has other special features. Currently, the brewery doesn’t yet have the ability to produce its own food. Instead, it has created partnerships with local food trucks to come to the brewery every day that it’s open. Holy Guacamole, Cajun Clucker and Mauvette’s Caribbean Fusion all make stops at Little Fish throughout the week. Having food at the brewery was always an important objective for the brewery.

“We are kind of on the outside of town, and certainly people can have food delivered here, but we thought it was important to the experience of coming to the brewery and spending the afternoon here; and if people were going to spend extended periods of time, we wanted them to have food,” Stockwell said.

Senior strategic communications student Alessa Rosa visited the brewery at the beginning of the semester with her boyfriend and his family. During her visit, she was surprised to see that one of her favorite trucks was serving food.

“Holy Guacamole was there and I almost died,” she said. “It was nice because I had been hunting Holy Guacamole down for like months and they don’t have regular times when they’re in their usual spot and I can’t find the information. So it’s nice knowing that every Thursday they’ll be there so I can go and get [it].”

Incorporating a local food truck along with the well-made craft beer made a positive impression on Rosa. She said she would like to go back sometime to try something new.

White said a long-term goal for Little Fish is to one day open an independent restaurant on site. Though the planning for this is far in the future, it’s still something he’s very excited about. Being sustainable is something the brewery is proud of and hopes to continue to improve on.

“To sort of get a real farm-to-table experience out here we can’t just have brewing ingredients out there, but maybe we’ll have a small greenhouse and some garden beds and be able to supply some of our own produce,” White said.

In the mean time, Stockwell and White are celebrating a big milestone for the company. On Oct. 24, the brewery celebrated its first bottle release of three of its brews. Stockwell said bottles are available of Saison, Woodthrush and the original version of the Reinheitsgewhat?! sour beer. Customers looking to get their hands on some brews for home can stop by the taproom or select bottle shops around town. Stockwell also said some brews are on tap at Casa Nueva, J Bar and Pigskin.

Meet Art Oerstrike, the entrepreneur behind Jackie O’s

The Union Street fire on Nov. 16 was the most difficult thing Art Oestrike has faced as the owner of Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery. The blaze stormed a block of West Union Street and rocked several businesses in Uptown Athens, including: Jackie O’s, Bobcat Rentals, Kismet, Jack Neal Floral, Uptown Dog, Smoke Zone Smoke Shop and the Union.

“I have never dealt with anything this difficult in my years as a business owner,” Oestrike told the Columbus Dispatch. The fire forced him to lay off 30 to 40 people at the time, and it took several weeks before he was able to resume full operations.

But Oestrike has a history of staying positive and turning problems into opportunities. I was able to sit down and talk with Oestrike before the blaze, and that discussion shed light on how he handles adversity and seeks out opportunities. His round head was covered by a bandana on top and a scraggly black mustache and beard on the bottom. There was a genuine hunger for success in his eyes. He can be seen wearing anything from a button-down shirt and jeans to a full-blown suit and tie.

While he might defy the stereotype of a successful entrepreneur, Oestrike is just that. He spends a solid 60 hours a week running logistics of the brewery. He also works on distribution, packaging and projections and is currently working to reconfigure the Uptown operations.

Oestrike is a man who prides himself on having been able to sell beer all across Ohio. With Jackie O’s creating roughly 4,430 gallons of beer per week, it’s easy to see how one can reach such an expansive demographic. Oestrike is certainly a man of many crafts, and many beers. Our discussion provides insight into what makes Jackie O’s the business it is and suggests it will rebound nicely from the fiery tragedy.

Andrew “Art” Oestrike , 38, grew up in the eastern suburbs of Cleveland. He attended Ohio University and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Russian and a Master of Arts in linguistics. After graduation, Oestrike left the country to teach English in South Korea. After three years, he returned to the community he was passionate about: Athens. It was here he fulfilled his dream: starting his own businesses, Jackie O’s Pub and Brewery and Bagel Street Deli, and teaching linguistics at Ohio University.

DR: What are some of the things that make Jackie O’s unique?
AO: There are a lot of breweries doing the local thing, but I think we’ve been in the lead. Being experimental. The artwork and getting outside of the box is very paramount to growth and success and imagery. We don’t need to make another can that looks like a fuckin’ PBR can. I love PBR, but there are enough of those cans on the shelves. Ours stand out. The quality of the product is another one. Striving for world-class products. It’s not about being the best beer in Athens or best restaurant in Athens. It’s about trying to be the best in the United States. Obviously we’re not there. I don’t think we have that much covered yet, but it’s about seeing beyond our micro-cause and taking it to that next step.

DR: How do you find people to bring into your organization who truly care about the business the way you do?
AO: That’s the hardest part of the whole thing. Treating people as people I think is a big one. Giving people the creative freedom to run their department — their area. No one likes being told what to do. People can be your biggest asset or your biggest problem. I’m losing touch. Every time I go to the brewpub I’m signing someone’s paycheck with whom I’ve never met. I’m not best used in the business meeting the new dishwasher. When they’re coming in on the bottom tier sort of thing, I’ll see them when I see them.

DR: How do you build a successful customer base?
AO: Time and pressure. The longer you’re operating, the more customer base you get. Having a very fluid town like Athens helps as well. Five thousand students graduate every spring. Four thousand of those students stay in Ohio. The students take their experiences with them and share via word of mouth. I think that’s a huge part of our success – the students.

DR: To what do you most attribute your success?
AO: Time and pressure, baby. Keeping an open perspective to hear other’s ideas and thoughts and knowing when and where to pick your battles. Managing your time through people’s ideas. Being able to see the big picture and where you want to steer this thing. It takes a lot of time to turn the ship at this point. I’m not a details person, but the details are important.

DR: Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
AO: Apple. In 15 years, they’ve gotten themselves into every third pocket. They’re in every third pair of pants walking around the U.S. and the globe. They’re in your pocket. Unbelievable. I like regional. Supporting our local situation and driving business to an area in need of economic help and development.

DR: If you had the chance to start your career over again, what would you do differently?
AO: I probably would have started this earlier — where we’re sitting. I would probably keep things pretty similar to what I’m doing. I like that it’s really just one big gamble right now. Right now everything seems safe and secure like we’re moving in the right direction, but I’ve still got all my financial marbles wrapped into this business and I always have. I keep my day job so I don’t have to take money out of here so I can keep this thing growing and moving forward because I have 100 people who are basing their livelihoods on this place, this business.

DR: Where do you see yourself and your business in 10 years? 20 years?
AO: I think time will tell. I think becoming synonymous with Ohio beer – Jackie O’s. That’s a goal. A big overarching 10-year plan. We’re getting there, but really it’s not about getting Mystic Mama to California. There are other great IPAs in California. The reason that we can compete with that is because when you go to Kroger in Athens, Ohio, and you want to go buy Mystic Mama, most likely it’s one of the freshest products there because it’s not from 3,000 miles away.

DR: Is there anything you’d like to add?
AO: You have to own your backyard. You have to be synonymous with your backyard. We’re in a very small community, but a very locally engaged, tight community. I don’t know that you have many others that are this much community oriented in Ohio and really anywhere for that matter. Supporting local initiatives left and right and all over the place is so important to what we’re up to. Even if most of the money is coming to us, it’s still coming around here and building that thing where people get to see this lovely little community and talk about the community, not just what we’re up to. I think that helps feed everybody. That puts money in a lot of different coffers. That’s what we’re all about. Without Athens supporting what we’ve been doing for nine years come December, we’re not us sitting here talking to you and you don’t give a shit what we’re up to. A lot of that is from what we’ve done, but how our community has supported us throughout those years.

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Daniel Rader is a photographer currently based in Athens, Ohio. He is a junior at Ohio University studying visual communication with a major sequence in photojournalism and a specialization in anthropology. Rader’s work has been featured in professional advertising and has been published in numerous newspapers, magazines, online publications and websites across the United States including Newsday, Dayton Daily NewsUSA Today College, Muse Machine, WOUB and others. His linked in page is www.linkedin.com/in/danielraderphoto.