And now a few words about Fritos and cheap whiskey. Since a respectful amount of time has passed since senior editor Bart Blasengame’s departure from the Portland Monthly masthed, I think it’s perfectly legitimate to pay a Happy Hour visit to his trailer-park-themed watering hole, The Fixin’ To. Located in the rustic heart of St Johns, the Fixin’ To gives Bart B. the chance to introduce the locals to the starchy, unpretentious charms of his Arkansas upbringing.
Establishing a "vibe" can be a daunting task for your average barkeep. We’ve all seen the failures: the random distribution of a few kitschy ceramic trinkets does not create atmosphere—it just makes the place look like a yokel’s garage sale. It’s obvious that Bart spent many of his formative years drinking rotgut in dive bars on the downside of the Mason-Dixon. There’s no other explanation for the presence of so much rotel—cheese dip with chilis and tomatoes—and Fritos that simply must be eaten in the spacious whiskey-tango patio that was cunningly cobbled together from corrugated tin, cyclone fencing, and old doors. Props: he’s also got shuffleboard, the best bar entertainment available that doesn’t involve the removal of clothing.
Happy Hour is a low-key interlude weekdays from 2-6 ($1 tall boys of Hamms, Rainier, Old German, and PBR, $1 off wells and specialty cocktails), with enough cheap chow options to pacify even the most cash-strapped citizen. Five bucks will get you three different chip-and-dip options: tortilla chips and rotel or Ritz crackers with either sour cream scallion or bean dip. Portions are thoughtfully divided by size and dietary preferences (vegan, veggie, meat-eater). The chicken and dumplings ($7) are peppery and pillowy and can be served vegan with seitan (wheat gluten) in place of poultry. Both the St Johns Chili Bucket ($7-10, served over jalapeño pudding) and the Frito Pie ($6-9) come with veg options and are probably more food than you can shovel down your pie hole in one sitting, unless you’re one of those competitive eating freaks. After all the snacking there was no room at the inn for Not Your Mom’s Meatloaf ($11), but it looked like a rockin’ prospect as it passed by on the way to another table.
Blasengame and his crew do not make fancy, shmancy, cocktails, though they might give it a whirl if you mind your manners. The coin of the realm at The Fixin’ To is brawny drinks with a few unexpected fripperies, like the St Johns Sweet Tea ($6). Here a "good-for-what-ails-you" slug of Old Crow bourbon is blended with sweet tea, triple sec, and muddled citrus, to create a simpler and less syrupy version of the more famous Long Island libation. Old Crow also makes an appearance in the Vacation Bible School ($6) alongside a whole lot of ginger, for a surprisingly refined refresher—surprising because Old Crow is a burning sensation and not a spirit normally associated with polite society.
The Fixin’ To corrals some of the rowdier aspects of southern hospitality, gives them a spit shine and makes them a bit more presentable. And with all the supposed rancor between red states and blue states that seems to be a popular media meme these days, it gladdens my heart that there is common ground for yankee and rebel to roister in our own backyard.