Blue and red

RedRock owner Ryhs W. Pasalich makes a Kiwi Planter’s Punch, a drink popular in his native New Zealand, featuring two kinds of vodka and several fresh juices.

RedRock owner Ryhs W. Pasalich makes a Kiwi Planter’s Punch, a drink popular in his native New Zealand, featuring two kinds of vodka and several fresh juices.

Photo/Eric Marks

I’ve never really thought of myself as cool. At best, I thought I straddled the line between uncool and cool, equally comfortable with the nerds and the popular kids. High school is a weird time. By the time I was in college, I’d like to think none of that mattered. Despite the social circles pretty much fading into meaninglessness, there are still places you go and people you hang out with that might be seen as cool or uncool, even when that social hierarchy disappears—you still are judged on the people you surround yourself with and the parties and other social events you attend. Now I’m just happy if my kids think I’m a cool dad.

Rewinding to my social heyday and not wanting to subject you to further rhapsodizing on beer week, I decided to revisit a place that might have been one of the coolest local spots a couple of decades ago. Some of you local GenXers might remember a bar called the Blue Lamp downtown, a hip spot to catch the Atomiks, hang out with artists and Burners before many people knew what that meant, and get some drink in you. Just as many of us have moved on in life, starting families, careers, growing up, so the Blue Lamp became the RedRock Bar.

On a random Monday after work, I wondered what the RedRock was like now, roughly 20 years since I drank there. Surrounded by banks, office buildings, and courthouses, is it an after-work stop for yuppies? Now that I’ve been there, I still don’t know what to think. Apparently a Blue Lamp employee bought the place, and it retains some of the same feel—neon art, the speakeasy basement with a pool table like back in the day. The RedRock is something of an enigma, starting outside—a Carlsberg beer sign hangs out front. Carlsberg? I don’t remember anyone drinking or mentioning Carlsberg anytime in recent memory. Or maybe ever. And it’s not just a sign, they have it on draft. Or they would have if almost all the draft beer wasn’t gone. A mere five taps, including nitro Guinness, and three of them were empty. Inquiring about other beer options, the selection of bottles sounded average—an assortment of readily available brands, at least most of them decent craft options rather than beer factory lager. Eyeballing the back bar, the spirits selection appeared mostly average as well, and when I asked the bartender what cocktails he was good for, shots was the answer. Not quite ready to take that plunge, I opted for something simple—well vodka with tonic. Nothing fancy, but it was a little disappointing thanks to flat tonic. I was curious but didn’t ask about the espresso machine.

So it’s not really a beer bar or a cocktail bar, and with only two other customers, obviously regulars, I couldn’t decide what kind of crowd it draws. I thought the Carlsberg might be a hipster retro thing like PBR, but I really didn’t get that vibe—most of the cool here felt like Blue Lamp leftovers and my own nostalgia. What is this place? The accessible alternative music playing from a laptop gave no clues. It’s not really a dive or a trendy spot. I don’t think the college crowd comes here. Lawyers? Or maybe this is still an artist’s bar? Maybe there’s a late night shuffleboard scene.

Aside from a few missteps like empty taps and flat tonic, the RedRock seems OK. It’s clean, artfully decorated, and not too loud or smoky. And I don’t care how cool a crowd it draws.