In the course of my long and lugubrious lifetime, I’ve spent a grand total of one afternoon in France. My brother and I, after taking the ferry from Dover to Calais, spent a few idle hours sitting in cafés practicing our French language skills, which consisted of the phrase "Deux bières!" Even so, I had a momentary reverie (after huit bières or so) that I was a member of the Lost Generation arguing with Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and assorted erudite croissant munchers. Radical politics! Romantic intrigue! Poetic dialogue! Instead, it was just me and Paul wondering where Toulouse-Lautrec had hidden all the can-can girls.
The Press Club on SE Clinton Street is not nearly as pretentious as I am after a snoot-full of fancy French pilsner, but it does have its aspirations. With one entire wall gilded with a hundred or so magazines, waiting for your order is a cool breeze. Flutter a few pages of Giant Robot or Dwell, and presto! Your crêpe materializes in front of you.
That’s right, crêpes. Not exactly top of the pops on anyone’s happy hour must-have list, but the Press Club has an excellent selection, both savory and sweet. For between $3 and $5 you can belly up to a Frisbee-size crêpe named after a notable author. The Carson McCullers is stuffed to the gills with mozzarella, mushrooms, red peppers, and spinach, while the William S. Burroughs will have you hooked in no time, with its addictive rush of Nutella, crème fraiche, and powdered sugar. Best of all, the crêpes themselves are uniformly moist, chewy, and cloud-light.
The sandwiches come piled with care on a crusty baguette and also have literary monikers. My Ken Kesey was a $5 filler-upper with salami, provolone, and greens, but I would have traded the Eiffel Tower for some spicy mustard to give it a bit more bite.
House cocktails are fairly standard issue, but the mixture of Aviation gin and Izze’s grapefruit soda was a definite keeper—kind of like a Salty Dog sans salt—and a superb summer sipper for an afternoon spent lollygagging at one of the outside tables.
The Press Club has a solid reputation as a wine bar, and the presence of over a hundred varieties by the bottle would seem to bear this out. The menu leans heavily toward Old World offerings, but the best seller is an old-vine zinfandel from Lodi, California, from the Campus Oaks winery. During happy hour (3–6 p.m. daily), both wine and cocktails are $1 off, and on "Happy Mondays," all cocktails are $5 for the duration of the evening.
In an effort to further engage its patrons, the Press Club hosts live, original music three nights a week. I repeat, original music. If you’re hankering to hear another off-key version of "Margaritaville" bellowed by some boozy blowhard, then this isn’t your stop. Instead, local songwriters such as Rachel Taylor Brown and Kaitlyn Ni Donovan keep the crowds enthralled with their own intriguing compositions.
And Sunday night is Movie Night. Stop the presses; we are there.