Local haunt

Friendly bartender Tamara Cummings pours a beer.

Friendly bartender Tamara Cummings pours a beer.

Photo/Eric Marks

I’ve lived within maybe five minutes of Knuckleheads Bar & Grill for a couple of decades, probably longer than it’s been in business, but never set foot in the joint until recently. I think the only time I was even tempted was when a friend’s band was playing there. I didn’t go, for reasons now long forgotten. It’s like any number of other neighborhood bar and grill kind of places, fading into the scenery of the city as you drive past every day, surviving on their regular customers’ drinking, food and gambling revenue.

Some readers will remember why the strip of businesses at Fourth and Vine Streets is called Sportsmans Corner. The namesake store, The Sportsman, sold sporting goods for decades in the space now housing the SPCA thrift store. You’ll also find a pizza parlor, a laundry and a car rental agency among the sundry establishments now. And there, tucked into the corner, sits Knuckleheads.

Early on a weekday evening, the place was predictably quiet, just a few folks at one of the many tables and the bar. I was kind of flabbergasted at how big the place is—what deceptively looks like a single unit storefront from outside unfolds into a spacious complex of pool tables (free, I learned later), electronic darts, shuffleboard and a mixture of high-top tables, booths and barstool seating. TVs abound, most showing a hockey game, at times competing with a jukebox for patrons’ attention.

My wife and I took seats at the bar and ordered beers—an ice-filled plastic box displayed assorted bottles, and my wife quickly settled on a Lagunitas IPA, competing with Icky for the swankiest beer available. As I eyeballed the nine taps, my crippling indecision took over. I asked about an unfamiliar tap handle on the far end, and the bartender explained that it’s a house brew. Always interested in trying something new, I asked for that, but she demurred, explaining that it’s just a generic beer like Budweiser. Am I that obviously a beer snob, that bartenders hesitate to serve me what I just asked for? Well, it worked. That didn’t sound very appealing, so I opted for the safety of a Sam Adams instead.

Handing over my debit card, I was told there’s a $10 minimum to use plastic, and our two beers were just $7.50. Neither of us had the foresight to bring cash, so we opened a tab and thought we’d figure it out later. I was sure one of the Jager bomb, Irish car bomb, or Moscow Mule specials would push us over the minimum.

Knuckleheads has a visually overwhelming decor, filled with signs proclaiming drink and gambling specials, brewery swag and novelty items. I was led to believe the burgers are a big deal there, and I could eat there someday if I was hungry for a big, greasy burger, chicken sandwich or other assorted bar food.

Since my wife enjoys the occasional video poker splurge, we got cash and settled up without worrying about the card minimum. After both polishing off our brews, and she her poker credits, we headed back outside among the thrift store clientele and denizens waiting for their laundry. Neither of us felt any real need to return—there are enough neighborhood sports bars with an average selection of beer and plenty of fantastic burgers around. Unless maybe a must-see band compels me to return—and I don’t think they have live music anymore—I don’t see myself haunting Knuckleheads for the free pool.