Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bullpen Sports Bar at Landmark

The Bullpen Sports Bar is located inside the Landmark Recreation Center on Dries Lane in Peoria. For those of you who don't know, this space was formally occupied by the Off-Track Betting Parlor. While, I think its kind of sad to see that place go (childhood memories and all) I fully understand the decision to do away with a space so large and devoted solely to betting on horses mainly because OTB's are on their way out. There was a time when almost every town had one and betting on horse racing was very popular. There was also a time when someone combined the words "leisure" and "suit" for some unknown reason. I remember going to the OTB with my dad when I was a kid. Get a racecard, pick your horse (usually based on how cool the name was), and place your bet. Apparently though, dads taking their sons there once a year wasn't enough to keep the place afloat. Another remnant of the past is gone forever. But there is something to be happy about and that something is the Bullpen.

I cannot stress enough how big this place is. If I had to guess, I'd say about 1600 square feet. The Bullpen is a typical modern sports bar but it has the feel of someplace one might find in Chicago. There are at least 30 flatscreens in every corner of the bar as well as two enormous projections, one right over the bar and another just to the right of it. Now, if this sounds like too much for you, than you can go Fuck Off, because there are some serious sports nuts in this town and not enough places to actually watch a game.

To be clear, when I say "watch a game" there are certain number of things I am looking for. First off, I would like to actually hear the sound of said game. Nothing is worse than watching a prime time sporting event and having it drowned out by someone's jukebox picks. I have seen this scenario all too often. During the final minutes of this year's NCAA Men's National Championship Game, I had to endure "Picture" by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow. Now, I realize that not everyone cares about sports as much as I do but come the fuck on! How can there be a person that exists who still wants to hear that damn song? Most big sports bars that you go to will have the audio on for big games but what separates the men from the boys is having the audio on for every game. I was pleasantly surprised on my first trip to the Bullpen when I found the Cubs game on with audio. The Cardinals were playing as well and they went to that game as soon as the Cubs finished off the Mets. I'm not sure how they decided which game to play but I have a feeling they pick whatever game is on first.

Besides my fascination with gameday audio, there are plenty of other things that are sweet about the Bullpen. There are 3 pool tables, 2 bags games, a shuffleboard table (right to left baby right to left!), and some kind of horse racing game that is huge and I don't have any idea how it works, but it's cool they decided to pay tribute to the bar's heritage. Another bit of awesomeness that the Bullpen provides are the Towers. The Towers are clear cylinder that hold 200 ounces of beer. That's......... oh I don't know I suck at math, but I do know that's a lot of beer and beer is good! You can get a half (must have a minimum of two people) or a full (minimum of four). To get one filled with domestic beer (only Bud Light is good enough to grace the inside of a tower) it'll cost you $20, imports are $30. I find it funny that they had to enforce the "minimum people" rule for consuming one of these. I don't doubt that some dumbass (me) would have tried to order one for himself but you would think common sense would come into play.

Bartender: Do you seriously think you can drink all that beer before it gets warm?
Me: Do you seriously think I will give a fuck if it is warm after I drink the first 100 ounces?
Bartender: Good point. ONE TOWER OF BUD LIGHT TO TABLE 3!

Now that little scenario has played itself out in my head, we can move on to the food. The menu is your typical pub food; burgers, pizza, wings, etc. but there are some interesting items not found many other places. For one they have these things called salads, which I was very excited about until the waitress informed me that they consist mostly of lettuce. There are seven of them though, which is more than I've ever seen on a bar menu. I wanted to get chicken wings but my girlfriend reminded me that I had already reached my weekly quota of 24. So, I settled for a little snack of catfish curls, queso dippers, and loaded fries. All were good, especially the catfish strips. Unknowingly, I had ordered almost the exact same thing as Phil Luciano when he reviewed the Bullpen. Seeing as we are the only two people in Peoria who write about such important things, maybe a little planning would have helped to provide you the reader with some critiques of other menu items. Call me Phil. The Bullpen has drink and food specials for every day of the week. I know that Wednesdays are $1 domestic drafts and 1/2 price appetizers, beyond that I can't remember, I'll post them ASAP.

The beers are many. The Bullpen has a six foot cooler full of bottles that I didn't look at because there people sitting in front of it and I didn't want to be a creep. On draft are Erdinger, Guinness, Smithwicks, Blue Moon, Harp, Budweiser, Bud Light (mmmmm), and Miller Lite ( learn how to spell assholes!) I don't know the prices of all of these but it doesn't really matter, the Bullpen's specials ensure that you will find a deal every day of the week, no matter what your taste.

One final thought about the Bullpen. I realize that sports bars are pretty much all the same. I also realize that one could go to Old Chicago or Buffalo Wild Wings and get pretty much the same atmosphere provided by the Bullpen. But one of the things that drives me crazy about Peorians is their occasional unwillingness to support local businesses. Look at Grand Prairie. The place is packed all the time. As are Old Chicago, BWW, and other places like them (Panera). Have you eaten at any of these places? The food sucks! I could make better chicken wings with ketchup and turkey for fucks sake! I honestly believe that there are people in this city who see a chain restaurant go up and would rather go there because it has "proven" itself, rather than take a chance on a lesser known but local place like the Bullpen. First of all, the only thing that chain restaurants have proven is that they are good at making money, not necessarily food. Ask your friends where the best wings are or who makes the best pizza. I'm guessing not many of them say BWW or Old Chicago. If they do, they are either A. fucking stupid or B. extremely sheltered. If they are B get them to Schooners for some wings and either Hoops, Double A's, or Aggi's for pizza. Then ask them that question again. If they still say they prefer the aforementioned chains, cut off all contact with them, they cannot be saved. More than likely though, they will thank you for exposing them to such local favorites. And if they do thank you, you can't really take credit for it, because I was the one who told you to do it in the first place. So, you must have them thank me. Just have them shout out; THANK YOU PEORIA BAR REVIEW! as loud as they can. If they are lucky, I will hear it and it will bring a smile to my face. And an angel will get some chicken wings, or something like that.

So, go check out the Bullpen the next time you want to watch and listen to a game uninterrupted by crappy jukebox picks. Or just go there and eat. It ain't healthy per se but fuck if it ain't good!
Cheers to local businesses and cheers to the Bullpen!

Bar Hours
Sunday - Wednesday 11am - 1am
Thursday - Saturday 11am - 2am
Kitchen Hours
Sunday - Thursday 11am - 11pm
Friday and Saturday 11am - 12am

7th of July 2011 update: I'm pleased to announce that the 'Pen has been a great success. I've thouroughly enjoyed watching some marquee sporting events there since I wrote this review. It gets a little crazy on Saturday nights but other than this place is a solide boozer and in my mind, the best place in town to watch big games.

Cheers to the Bullpen and R.I.P. to the OTB

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kouri's Pub

This review is for the Kouri's in Peoria located at 4421 N. Sterling Ave. in the building that used to be Mulligan's. I have not been to any of the other Kouri's. I believe they have locations in Pekin and Germantown Hills. Kouri's used to be just down the street where there is now a Sonic restaurant. First of all, let me say that the owners of Kouri's did a great job of renovating old Mulligan's. They did away with the old patio (which was only useful about 4 months out of the year) and constructed a new one complete with heaters, a fire pit, bar, and numerous TV's. This new patio is great because even in the winter, one can sit outside in relative comfort and smoke. In the warmer months, Kouri's patio is one of the best places in town to enjoy some adult beverages and nice weather.

Kouri's has (cue overused bar review term) a laid back atmosphere and generally speaking, a friendly staff. The food is good but nothing spectacular. Kouri's does have, in my opinion, the best honey mustard in town. Both the food and especially the drinks are overpriced but trust me, the clientele of Kouri's can afford it.

Unfortunately, this is part of the problem with Kouri's. They enjoy having a large group of regulars that, for the past twenty or so years have been continually pumping money into the joint. Now, I understand the need to keep your regulars happy but you have to cater to the newer (and usually less well dressed) patrons. This is something that I don't think the owners and some bartenders of Kouri's have taken to heart. And not to be cruel but someday, Kouris' regulars will...... well they'll be fucking dead. This is why it is important to be courteous to everyone that comes into your bar, not just the people you know. You may be saying to yourself, "what is it that Kouri's did that was so bad, Peoria Bar Review?" If you are asking this question then I'm guessing that you fall into a certain category of people that fit right in up at Kouri's and that's fine. I just don't think that I should have to be over the age of 35, have a good job, and dress like I just got off the golf course to get a drink in a decent amount of time. And no, saying "Whose leg do I have to hump to get a drink around here?" does not help.

The PBR rarely bitches about service at a bar, or a particular bar in general. That is because it does not take much to keep a group of level 7 drunks (those employed @ the PBR) happy. As long as the beer is relatively cold (cheapness helps) and served in a decent amount of time, most of us are happier than a puppy with two peters (Copyright "The MurphMan", 2008). There are occasions where bitching about a place whose sole purpose is to serve you is not only a right but an obligation to better serve the community. This is one of those times. Each of the following scenarios are personal experiences that have happened to TheChief. Both of them have been confirmed to have occurred to several members of the Peoria Bar Review staff as well.

Scenario 1 - Can I Get a Fucking Beer Around Here Or What?
There is a bartender at Kouri's who usually works inside and, at least to me, has always been a total dick. I'm not going to describe him because I don't want any loyal PBR readers to harass him but I will say that he's been working there for a long time, even at old Kouri's. Most of us know general barroom etiquette and most bartenders know it as well. Either this gentleman doesn't or he just does not give one simple fuck about anyone but the regulars. Several times, I have walked into Kouri's, pulled out my wallet, removed a greenback, and elbowed up to the bar. Of the 6 or 7 times this has happened, I can only think of one where the place was actually busy. Now, usually pulling out cash at a bar is a sure sign that you would like a drink. Apparently, this bartender has never heard of such a thing. I am not a patient person but this has happened so many times, that I actually find it kind of entertaining and will usually wait as long as I can before asking for a drink. Is he doing this just to spite me? Is he saying "I'm not serving you till you ask me to"? If so, this makes no sense. Most folks who tend bar get you your drink ASAP, just so they don't have to look at your ugly "can I get a beer please" face anymore. This man has never done that. Each time I have gone to the inside bar at Kouri's I always do the same thing. Pull out my money and wait. Maybe once, he actually came up to me and asked what I wanted. All the other times, I have had to wait till he made eye contact, in order to ask him; "Excuse me, your highness but I was wondering if I could trouble you for a moment. I would like a Budweiser Light bottle. If you would be so kind as to procure this for me, I would be ever so grateful and would gladly tip you a generous amount. Pip Pip." Then, and only then, will I finally get my beer. As if this weren't bad enough, there's another bartender outside, who does the exact same thing. Fuck.

Scenario 2 - DirectTV Is Awesome, Unless You Don't Know How To Use It
This past winter I stopped by Kouri's on a Sunday night to catch the end of a Blackhawks game. I fully realize that most people don't appreciate hockey like I do but on a Sunday night in the dead of winter (read. after football season) I figured Kouri's would be the place to go. Why did I assume this? Well for one, they have a ton of TV's and a ton of sports channels on that amazing thing called DirectTV. Little did I realize the fundamental flaw in this plan. No one at Kouri's has the slightest fucking idea how to find anything on DirectTV. We all know that the ladies aren't particularly talented when it comes to the old remote control but it seems when it comes to DirectTV and finding a sporting event, they are hopelessly unequipped (looking forward to hate emails from N.O.W.). It wasn't really the waitress' fault though. I tried looking for the game as well (Menu, Sports, Hockey....what the fuck?) and could not find it. What made this situation all the more maddening though was the fact that the game was on a TV at the bar inside. Intrigued by the inability of two, seemingly intelligent humans, to find a hockey game on a fucking TV, I joined the waitress inside. We asked the bartender (same guy as scenario 1, go figure!) to check what channel the TV was on, that was playing the game. Let me break down this conversation for you.

Waitress: "Hey can you check and see what channel this TV is on, he wants to watch the Blackhawks game and I can't find it outside."
Bartender: "No"
Me: "Well that went well"
Waitress: "Yah he's kind of a dick"

Eventually, we found the game and I watched the Hawks win. "So what's the big deal?" you say. Well, I'll tell you. I know its hard to navigate a computer or TV program you are not familiar with but there are certain things that everyone who works in a bar like Kouri's should know. People who go to Kouri's aren't going to ask you to turn it on Lifetime. They are going to watch sports. Moreover, they are probably going to watch local sports. So, all you need to know are the channels that are broadcasting the local teams on a given night. This is pretty easy to do, seeing as how the Journal Star publishes this list every day and the bar is equipped with a list of all channels on their box. More importanly, if this dickhead bartender would have just pointed the remote at the TV, clicked the channel down button, then taken that number and added a 1 (one), then I would have been able to watch the entire third period instead of the last 3 minutes and 46 seconds. Thanks alot dick. Rant over.

Kouri's is a good bar but not a great one. I don't see any reason why I should pay more money for a beer there than anywhere else in the area. I guess the people who go there feel better about themselves because they can afford to pay $7 (seven) for a pitcher of beer as opposed to the normal $5 one would pay just about anywhere else. To me, Kouri's is a place to stop by for a few drinks. I would never set up shop there for a marathon boozing session, it's just too expensive. The atmosphere is great, especially on nice days. Kouri's does have the best patio in town and this, I believe is what makes the place so popular. I'll give a half cheers to Kouri's. However, if scenarios one and two continue to play themselves out, I'll have no choice but to put Kouri's on my shitlist.b

Updare: Kouri's is officially on the shitlist. Go here to see why.