Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bar Review, I'm Not Gay

Radio Maria in downtown Champaign is an eclectic bar. You'll find all kinds of interesting people there. It's frequented by some of the CU beer scene.

The beer people are drawn there by Radio Maria's 27 tap handles. With that many taps you'd expect the beer to not turn over quickly, but it does. About the only constant is the $1.50 PBR. Last night, Kriddy had a Michigan Brewing Company Bavarian Dark, I started my beer drinking there with a Greenflash Hop Head Red. I followed that up with a Rogue Soba Pilsner. After that, I went with what was called MBC harvest. I finished the night with Darkhorse Rod amber. In addition the the 27 taps they've got a large selection of bottled beer. (Note: picture is not a beer from last night) We met a guy last night who didn't know what beer to have next, so I recommended the draft of Rogue Shakespeare Stout. At $4 for a pint, it's probably the best value for a beer on the menu and possibly in town. When they put Samichlaus on draft last winter, I ordered the first glass and the bartender gave me a pint, I was only able to finish half of it (that may have been the best beer value ever).

The first thing you'll probably notice in Radio Maria is their blue bar. It's really cool to look at. It makes your beer look a little funny though. The pilsner last night looked green while sitting on the bar. Another thing you need to be careful of is to not leave a non-stemmed glass sitting directly on the bar, as it can get warm, really quick. The lights in the place are also cool and look like something that would be on the bottom of a space ship. The wall behind the bar has multi-colored glass panels that are back lit. Radio Maria is probably the most lit bar in Champaign Urbana. It's a stark (is stark the right word; stark means bleak, so I need an antonym for stark) contrast to the dark Blind Pig, right across the street.

On the wall opposite the bar, is displayed art work (I believe from local artists) that is for sale. There are no TV's in Radio Maria. Chris, the bartender last night, laughed at us when we asked if he could please put the TV on the cubs game.

The beer is served in as appropriate glassware as you'll find in town, and the staff is knowledgeable about their selection.

I've got to admit, I've never eaten there. They have a Tapas menu in addition to their regular menu.

An example from their online food menu:

Duck pan seared duck breast; with cherry demi glace, brie mashed potatoes, and Haitian slaw (22.00)
Radio Maria is not the place to go for a grilled cheese sandwich... at least not one that you'd recognize as a grilled cheese sandwich. I've never heard anyone complain about the food. It's a little to fru-fru for me, but I'm a beer snob, not a food connoisseur. (Although I was pleasantly surprised on Sunday at Andy's (the manager of 7s) house party when he presented a pork loin in a Strawberry Margarita barbecue sauce) .

The people in there range from beer lovers, to wine lovers, to food lovers, to ... lovers.

It's a very alternative-friendly place. (I do not have a problem with that; just a warning for people who might). Last night, a male patron who had too much to drink really took a liking to Chris, the male bartender. It's not uncommon to see same sex couples at Radio Maria. It's not a "Gay Bar" but it's friendly, that's for sure.

The wait and kitchen staff (at least on the nights we've been there) look like the kind of people who went away to college and discovered themselves. Whiteboy's and girls with dreadlocks, tattoos on the neck, and corduroys, things most people didn't wear in highschool, but discovered they could when they got to college. The guys in the kitchen will invariably have a scruffy unkempt beard. There's nothing wrong with that, either. It just seems like they are rebelling against their white-middle class roots; when in 10 years, they'll settle down and be driving a minivan or SUV too.

To sum up, Radio Maria is a good place to go and have a great beer, in an artsy environment. If you like fancy foods, it's the place to go.

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