Saving the day
Barney’s Beanery and some “improba-bowl” games on New Year’s Day
By Dan O'Heron 12/30/2010
Way back when, I remember a snoot described bowling alleys as places where five things are thrown away besides bowling balls: time, money, curses, wit and dignity. The words echo these days when I think about the holiday lineup of football bowl games.
While this year’s Rose Bowl Game — Wisconsin vs. TCU — may not be that kind of total waste, without a local team or Pac 10 team hosting, the bowl reminds me sadly of an empty house where a fine family has been called away.
Still, like some fans with tickets to the game, flush and voluble with anticipation, I’ll compensate by watching it and other games on TV at Barney’s Beanery. It’s a fun place to get giddy with food, drink and light-hearted rapport among pals, even in the worst of times.
Viewing games in meandering rooms linking some 150 feet of HDTVs, there’ll be a lot of good natured fun-poking among real sports people on how this season’s total of 37 games have turned championship traditions of great bowls into meaningless shallow basins: Many games pit nondescript teams with six losses against each other.
And, before all of this week’s Rose Bowl ink, what sports fan could name one coach or player for Wisconsin or TCU? Where have you gone, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and O.J. Simpson? Alas, munching on a $3.25 basket of jalapeno corn muffins, I’ll toast the demise of legends with a Barney’s “Olden Days” whiskey and ginger.
If I’m sitting next to a TCU fan, I won’t let on that I’m disappointed at the Rose Bowl match-up and would rather see Wisconsin play Stanford, like old times. Instead, I’ll buy the Horned Frog a Texas beer — Shiner Bock — and suggest we share some tastes of Barney’s famous chilis, especially the one fired up for the occasion, the snake sweat chili of Texas.
With a plethora of bowls (meat, turkey or veggie, with or without red, black or refried beans) ranging from $6.75 to $11.75, I’ll caution the Texan that the spoons for Texas chili — chunks of beef simmered in a whiplashed red sauce — become hotter than the hinges on the gates of hell. The chili-loving Texan is likely to lash back: “The closer you get to Texas, the closer you are to hell, and the closer you are to hell, the better the chili.”
If I’m sitting next to a Badger, I’ll buy the state’s famous Leinenkugel sunset wheat beer, which springs from one of the bar’s 40 taps on the wall. Or I’ll pick up the tab on a bottle of Wisconsin-brewed Miller from a choice of more than 80 bottles from around the world that are being chilled underneath the bar.
Wisconsin cheese-talk will center around a simple American slice that goes on a new burger. Touted as “immutable,” because a symphony of flavors that won’t yield to sour- note requests to “add this” or “leave off that,” the burger was created by Barney’s Consulting Chef Aldo Lanzillotta. After long hours of trial and near misses, it was finally pampered to perfection: a double-seared beef patty, cheese, plus caramelized onions, crunchy lettuce and sweet tomato, chipped with bread and butter pickles and served on a toasted bun (all for $8.50, with a choice of sides).
Upstairs, you can order the burger and play pool. Not a tough-guy proving ground, this billiards club is a beauty — 10 tables with thick carved elephant legs fill a room spotted with antique mirrors and draped with plush crimson curtains. The tables were built just a few inches off standard, but that’s by design — Barney’s doesn’t want pool sharks to ruin the fun.
Back at the bar, drink inspires nostalgia about the original West Hollywood Barney’s established in the 1920s. There’s one about how founder John “Barney” Anthony liked to serve celebrities a special meal. It consisted of a bottle of Dom Perignon next to a wiener. It was his way of reminding hot dogs how close a bigwig is to a bum.
That symbolism is not lost on desolate UCLA football fans at Barney’s. Today, it’s Wisconsin playing TCU. Tomorrow, the Bruins might schedule Oral Roberts. The Vegas line: “Pick ‘em.”
A grinning Bruin fan remembers that the religious card was once played on arch-rival USC. As the Trojans were about to play Duke in the 1939 Rose Bowl, Pasadena church groups wrote the governor of North Carolina requesting that Duke change its nickname from “Blue Devils” to “Blue Angels.”
The governor wrote back that he couldn’t because a current movie, “Blue Angels,” glorifying the behavior of a cabaret hustler, was banned in his state. “And,” he noted, “there’s something about USC’s nickname that troubles some of my people.”
Talk about bowl games may sound like testimony at an inquest at other bars, but not at Barney’s.