Mostly, Hemingway's Cafe is not a cafe. It is a place to drink beer. Or better yet, it is a place to drink beer, and then, in a preemptive act of recuperation, one or two plastic cups of water -- thereby avoiding the aftereffects of dehydration.
Hemingway's is at 3911 Forbes Ave., Oakland, and open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. Call 412-621-4100.
But of course, Munch barely knew this several months ago, when, for pure exploratory interest, your esteemed bag-head asked numerous University of Pittsburgh students for bar recommendations. Everybody mentioned Hemingway's -- without fail.
Seems that on this particular campus, America's most famous novelist is even more famous as an eponym for a place to drink $1 Heineken drafts on Monday nights. As Pitt students know, Hemingway's is the spot to drink cheaply and excessively ... and, in some cases, nightly ... and, in extreme cases, daily.
So Munch, again driven by exploratory interest, wanted to learn if Hemingway's could provide the food to complement its booze. Munch gathered three Friends of Munch, all of whom seemed willing to force the Cafe back into Hemingway's. In truth, it was the perfect night for such an endeavor. With the Senior Olympics in town, tables of older athletes -- 'generians of various prefixes -- crowded the front of the bar.
Not included in the evening's crowd: the co-eds who make this bar, during Pitt's academic year, a veritable conga line of salacious desires.
Also not included in the crowd: The hair-gel heavy Greek guys who, during Pitt's academic year, do everything possible to pursue those salacious desires.
In short, Hemingway's was stripped of its trademark. Instead, menus -- apparently borne in a primitive version of Microsoft Word -- sat on every tabletop. Patrons could choose from among the typical bar food -- burgers and sandwiches and cheese fries and pizza. And after a few drinks at the bar, ordered before sitting down, these were the exact items that somehow gained an immediate appeal.
Or at least they gained an appeal until we had to eat them. Among our foursome, we ordered a variety of items -- a chicken sandwich, a buffalo sandwich, a Mediterranean salad and a buffalo wrap. Some traditional choices, some experimental choices. And, for the most part, all poor choices. (The lone highlight: the "Artery Cloggin' Fries," ordered as an appetizer and smothered with ingredients that generally occupy the uppermost section of the Food Pyramid.)
The food was cheap -- each item cost about $7 -- but all entrees drew complaints. The chicken tasted like driftwood, as one FOM chuckled. The buffalo chicken tasted like driftwood coated in buffalo sauce. The salad lacked enough punch to qualify as an entree.
Still, by the end, nobody seemed too disappointed. Hemingway's maintained enough bar charm to minimize the disappointment of the meal. And indeed, even when you're there for dinner, Hemingway's is a bar, first and foremost. A mosaic of bottle caps are layered across the tabletop of the bar, embedded into the wood. The tables are wood, the walls are wood, and both seem as if they've sopped up a generation of smoke and drunken escapades.
Heck, you even come out smelling like a bar.
And despite fancying itself semi-seriously as a cafe, Hemingway's still works best as a place to drink perhaps the cheapest beer in the city. On Mondays, Amstel Light and Heinekens go for $1. Blue Moons, a Munch favorite, go for the same price on Wednesdays.
Really, the Cafe in Hemingway's name should come with a caveat, because the bottom line is this: The food here only tastes good when you drink enough.