The Bar Tab: Given a second chance, Gusick’s delivers

Gus

Mr. Bitters and Olive

The eclectic, entertaining crowd at Gusick’s was one of the best things about the place.

The following review is composed of two diametrically opposed visits. Readers, if you decide to patronize Gusick’s on your own, do so at your own risk. The experience may be delightful, but this is by no means guaranteed.

We’d been meaning to stop in to Gusick’s for years. It’s located at 760 S. 20th St. W., surrounded by a sea of chain restaurants and car dealerships. Locals go crazy for it, and we’ve encountered more than a few regulars who loudly proclaim their allegiance to the establishment. At least three Yelp reviews claim it to be “a gem of a place.”

On a recent Saturday night, we were in the mood for a pre-dinner beverage and stopped in to see what the fuss was about. The place is divided into three distinct sections: a dining room, a casino and a bar. We made our way, of course, to the bar in the back of the building.

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All the bar stools were occupied, so we settled into a low table. When a waitress appeared—quite quickly—Olive asked about the wine selection and chose a glass of cabernet. Mr. Bitters ordered a bourbon rocks.

As we waited for our drinks, we checked out the other patrons. A table full of women caught our attention; they had obviously started the evening with a bang quite a few hours earlier. One lady stumbled while bending over, prompting this delightful exchange with a cowboy at the bar:

Cowboy: “You’ve got something black on your butt.”
Lady: “It’s ash.”
Cowboy: “I’m pretty sure it’s your underwear.”
Lady: “Nope—I’m not wearing any. It’s cigarette. I sat on an ashtray earlier.”

Awesome. Readers, we couldn’t make this stuff up. Listen closely the next time you’re in a crowded bar. There’s a reason they keep the music loud.

Our drinks arrived. Olive took a sip of her cabernet, and felt her throat seize in protest. Was the wine … oxidized? Rotten? Insanely low quality? Yes.

Between the loud music, drunken patrons and bad wine, we realized that this visit should be abandoned before there was further damage. We were not in the mood to give Gusick’s a fair shake that evening. After Mr. Bitters threw back his bourbon, we closed our tab.

A week later, we returned—this time arriving in the late afternoon. We sat at the bar, surrounded by a dozen or so patrons, and we realized we had never seen more cowboy hats in a bar.

A jovial bartender named John greeted us and asked for our order. Mr. Bitters asked about the beer selection and he immediately cautioned us that we were in “cowboy country” so they had nothing from the West Coast and nothing exotic. Essentially only macro beers are available, with the exception of one local brew—Helio from Red Lodge Ales.

We ordered a couple of beers and were asked for ID. Actually, he said we could either show him our IDs or just tell him the year we were born. We asked for menus, but they apparently stop serving lunch in the bar at 3:30, so an appetizer was out of the question. No matter. This is a bar review, after all.

As we waited for our beers, we looked over the crowd again. The majority of patrons were quite a bit older than us, and most of them were going through the hard alcohol steadily and purposefully. A second bartender appeared to be a gun aficionado, and happily discussed wildcat calibers with several regulars. If you’re looking for the proper barrel twist for that special hand load, or want the scoop on some new optics, he’s your man.

Our beers arrived at the same time as a woman looking for some packaged liquor to go. She ordered a pint of vodka, the generic Russian kind with a red label to look like the more expensive alternative. The bartender quoted a price of $8 and said, “That sounds like a lot of money.” The woman replied, “Yeah, but it’s worth it.” Amen.

As she left with her pint, a large group entered. They were obviously dressed for a night out, sporting large jewels, larger belt buckles, more cowboy hats and at least one fur coat. Our new friend John rushed to their table to offer a round of drinks. One by one, he called out the orders.

Asked for a wine list, he boomed out, “Wine list? No! This ain’t no Uptown Saturday Night!” He continued to call out orders, and we noted a very specific request for a glass of Crown with “two splashes of 7.”

A tray of drinks was quickly filled, and prices were seemingly quoted at random. At first, the total was $15. After a couple more beverages were added, Bartender John adjusted this amount to $22.50. A waitress helping with the group asked how much a Jack and Coke cost—$4.50, according to the bartender. He turned our way and confided, “I just made that up. I don’t have any idea how much it is.”

Mr. Bitters spotted Moscow Mule cups on a shelf behind the bar and decided to request one for his next round. Bartender John balked at the request, explaining “Damn, it’s been a long time since I’ve made one! Let’s see if I remember how!”

He puttered around, adding ingredients to the copper mug at random and muttering to himself. He passed over the well vodka in favor of Absolut, proclaiming, “We got some expensive stuff out so let’s use it.” Bartender John opened a bottle of ginger beer, poured in a little, then recapped the bottle (with his palm) and put it away again. Fresh lime juice was used, and he also squirted some in the eye of another customer. He apologized, telling him to send him the bill for an eye exam if necessary.

After much ado, the Mule was served. The result was better than expected and was a decent representation of the cocktail.

During this process, we noticed a jug of wine behind the bar—open, uncorked and unused. At least this explained the atrocious beverage from our first visit.

John talked local high school basketball with a regular while the other bartender fielded questions about .243 bullet weight options as he sipped from a Coors Original he kept stashed in the cooler ice. Some bar patrons paid their tab and said the meal was the “best they had in ages.” We’ll have to be sure to make it here before 3:30 next time and see for ourselves.

After this round was empty, our tummies were rumbling for dinner. We decided to end our visit. Our tab seemed reasonable—not cheap, but not wildly expensive—and we resisted the urge to negotiate the price. On our way out, Bartender John called a warm good-bye, with a promise to remember us the next time we stopped in. Perhaps we’ve achieved “regular” status already.

PROS
Eclectic, entertaining group of customers.
Engaging bartenders.

CONS
Horrible wine. Just horrible.
Limited drink choices with average to high prices.
Furnishings are old at best, dirty at worst.

Previous reviews

Chapter 1The Squire Lounge.

Chapter 2The Alpine Casino.

Chapter 3Buck’s Bar.

Chapter 4Stadium Club.

Chapter 5Bones Arcade.

Chapter 6Southern Empire Emporium.

Chapter 7The Holiday Inn.

Chapter 8The Tap Inn.

Chapter 9Fiddler’s Green.

Chapter 10The Den.

Chapter 11CJ’s Bar and Grill.

Chapter 12The Reno Club.

Chapter 13Manny’s.

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