Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Forget Elmers, I'm Going To Elis

September 26, 2007

Photo Cred: Conrad Akier

"Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza." -Dave Barry

Ice cream parlors love to gloat about carrying 32 flavors of the sweetest, creamiest, best-loved concoction of the junk food world. For beer lovers, what about a bar with a selection of 32 of the most satisfying ales and lagers on tap, rotating constantly? Is it revolutionary? Unrealistic? Of course not; this beer euphoria exists within the walls of Eli Cannons Tap Room in Middletown, Connecticut.

Snugly nestled on 695 Main Street, many would be flabbergasted to know that the Elis building was once Middletown's city morgue in the 1800s. The morgue was renovated into a bar later that century, but it wasn't until 14 years ago that the building got the treatment it so desperately needed to become a success. Proudly stating "Saving the Ales," Eli Cannons is dedicated to customer satisfaction, hot food, nostalgic atmosphere and above all, cold frosty beer.

Before entering Eli Cannons, one stops to marvel at its interesting outward appearance. The "it's not just any bar" feeling is evident in the multi-colored lights that shine brilliantly on the tap room's banner. An over abundance of neon fluorescent beer signs are displayed in every nook and cranny of the windows, and big boisterous flags fly above the entrance.

Stepping inside, people are introduced to not only its friendly bartenders and servers, but also to the Irish/English pub/American trailer park fusion of decor. The term "too much of a good thing" does not apply here, as that is the theme of Eli Cannons. People can sit in antique barber chairs, theater seats and leather couches, or just take a traditional seat at the bar. Hundreds of mugs hang from the ceiling as you catch glimpses of the randomly placed TV screens with everything on from old Japanese films to concerts and sports.

Classic and alternative rock fills the building and keeps everyone's toes tapping. If the weather is permitting, one can visit the Beer Garden of Eden, aka their beautiful, large and spacious back deck/patio, surrounded by tall shrubs, trees and flowers. Got the beer munchies? Help yourself to some popcorn from the old-fashioned popper as you drink your beer and enjoy the fresh air.

But what about the beer, right? How does Eli Cannons carry 32+ beers on tap?

"It's definitely expensive," said Carrie Roberts, Eli Cannons general manager. "They aren't too hard to acquire; microbreweries have grown in popularity and we are widely known for featuring them."

What about the macro brews, like Coors, Budweiser or Miller?

"We do not carry macros," Roberts proudly replied. It's understandable, too. For a place that cherishes individuality, normality would be a sin.

Eli Cannons is so well-known and treasured by microbreweries that they seek out Eli's continually for their support. On Tuesdays and select Thursdays, Eli's holds beer tastings featuring a different brewery every week. People get to enjoy two of the brewery's featured beers on tap as they collect free beer gear, such as t-shirts and key chains.

Special events are a major part of Elis constant effort to keep the public involved and informed of their favorite brews. Every year, Elis holds a Mardi Gras party on Fat Tuesday.

"It's huge, and totally wild," Roberts said with a big grin.

Other events include St. Patrick's Day, the night before Thanksgiving and pig roasts, and people can even book the bar for special parties. What could possibly be better than having a bar to yourself and your friends?

Beer aside, for a bar to have a good rep, it must serve excellent food; Eli's dinners and finger foods are downright exceptional.

"Everything is made fresh here," said Roberts. Eli's boasts the tastiest nachos and has an eclectic menu that is constantly growing. Dishes have unique names like the Zukonions - a plate of the most deliciously fried onions and zucchini that one will ever have the pleasure of experiencing.

Eli's features their own products as well. Displayed near the dining room section is a wall of over 50 different kinds of hot sauces, bottled on the premises or made my other brands. Microbreweries also collaborate with Eli's to make their own trademarked beers. Brooklyn Brewery helped create Eli's Bug Spray Ale, and Harpoon helped with Apache Attack Ale.

This isn't an overexaggeration. Eli Cannons is one of the best bars to experience in Connecticut - perhaps it's number one. It's obvious in Connecticut magazines; Eli Cannons Tap Room has won 10 Hartford Advocate Reader's Choice Awards, three Connecticut Magazine's "Best Of" Awards and The Malt Advocate Magazine's "Best Beer Menu (National)" Award. The public does not lie; once you arrive, you simply do not want to leave.

Eli Cannons is only about a 20-minute drive from CCSU's campus, and the prices won't empty your pockets. So, instead of drinking a disgusting red cup of cheap beer on Thursday nights, go somewhere actually worth enjoying.

Eli's website:

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

My Day As a Parrothead

As steel drums fill the charter bus headed to Gillette Stadium, a woman in her mid-forties with flowered leis and parrot earrings offer me a vivid array of jell-o shots. I grab one, pop it in my mouth and stop to think, what have I gotten myself into?

What I was embarking on was the typical schedule for a Jimmy Buffett concert. Jimmy Buffett fanatics are called 'Parrotheads.' The term Parrothead relates to Jimmy Buffett as Deadhead does to The Grateful Dead. For Parrotheads, Buffett's music and a "laid back" attitude is a lifestyle. His "no shirt, no shoes, no problem" manta is displayed in his songs about boats, beaches and bar drinks. Buffett has made his mark so prominent within the past few decades that when you think of Key West or a margarita, you automatically associate it with good ol' Jimmy and the Coral Reefer Band.

Buffett has created his own genre, combining country, folk and pop music with coastal and tropical lyrical themes, creating a sound some call "gulf and western." Among singing and songwriting, he has written three number one best-selling books, opened his own chain of restaurants aptly named Margaritaville, is involved in charity efforts (most notably for creating the Save The Manatee foundation) and is branching out into film production.

Younger generations, however, do not understand the legacy of James William Buffett. Most mock and criticize him, and the majority know the song "Cheeseburger in Paradise" and nothing more. I, on the other hand, have grown up knowing this man my entire life.

Back when I was just a little girl in Ohio, my family would go on camping trips whenever there was free time. Lake Superior, Lake Erie - you name a Great Lake; we'd been there. My dad would always bring his boom box lakeside while my brother and I played in the water, and I vividly remember my dad playing the album, Off to See the Lizard. In fact, what am I saying? I've heard every single album and know every song there is to know by Buffett. Perhaps I am a Parrothead by default, but I don't know of a bigger fanatic than my mother.

My mother is a member of the Connecticut chapter of the Parrothead Club. There are chapters in cities spanning all over the country. Abiding by their motto, "Party with a Purpose," they hold fundraiser events for different causes. The most popular event held is the Meeting of The Minds in Key West, Florida, which attracts 3,500 Parrotheads annually and includes live music, a "Toys for Tots" drive, blood drives, raffles and other events raising money for charities.

The chapters also organize group trips to - you guessed it - Jimmy's concerts. In the past three decades, Buffett has made more money from his tours rather than his albums. A typical Jimmy Buffett concert will sell out in minutes, and this is all thanks to these devoted fans.

My bus trip was stuck in traffic as the Gillette Stadium came in sight. The bus turned right into a used car dealership, where Parrotheads from all over New England had been allowed to divide and conquer. My mother's friends in the Connecticut chapter started to set up tents, and eventually busted out the food and drinks and started gulping them down like camels in the heat.

My mother and I walked around to other chapters, where there were colorful blow up toys, men and women adorning coconut bras and grass skirts, trivia and drinking contests, an ice luge and much, much more. I ate a cherry that had been soaking in grain alcohol for quite some time and winced. I participated in a sort of Wheel of Fortune, except I got "Take a Jell-O Shot from Someone's Boobs." Luckily they let me just take the jell-o shot.

After five or six hours of tailgating, it was time for the "Bama Breeze '07" tour to commence. We walked across the street to the stadium; slowly shuffled our way in; and spent $7.50 on a Coors Light. Never before this year had Buffett played in the home of the Patriots, and he had no problem filling a football stadium. There was one opening act, but for most fans that just meant bathroom breaks and more pre-gaming. Luckily, our seats were not in the nosebleed section, but we were unfortunately settled in between some heavy marijuana smokers who were probably around the same age as my brother and I. I sipped on the lukewarm Coors Light I had been nursing for over an hour, and finally, for the first time in my life, I watched Jimmy Buffett take the stage.

From our section, Buffett was comparable to an ant, but luckily to each side of the stage there were two giant screens. My mother explained to me that nowadays, Buffett's set list is quite predictable. Upon further research, I've discovered the "The Big 8." The Big 8 are the eight songs that Buffett plays at every show. After their success, "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" and "Why Don't We Get Drunk (And Screw)" were added on, changing it to "The Big 10."

I participated in most of the "Big 10" songs, whether it was screaming "salt!" during "Margaritaville," singing "You better lava me now or lava me not" in "Volcano," yelling the ingredients to a perfect lunch in "Cheeseburger in Paradise," or just feeling generally happy during "Changes In Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes," when Buffett played videos on the giant screens of local Parrotheads tailgating. The best song, however, was "Fins." Preluded by the Jaws theme song to tease and get the crowd pumped up, fans raised their hands in the air in the manner of a dorsal fin, waving them left to right during the lyrics "Fins to the left, Fins to the right, and you're the only bait in town."

Almost 20 songs and two encores later, it was time to shuffle out of the arena. By shuffle, I mean inch our way out; we were like salmon swimming upstream. (Word of advice to smokers: Do not smoke when you're packed together like sardines - I almost got a cigarette in my eye.) When we finally made it back to the bus, we had a few more beers; sleepily boarded the bus; I chugged some Coconut Rum; and everyone went to sleep. (Sidenote: My crowned achievement was that I had started drinking at 9 a.m. and finished with that rum at midnight.) After finally arriving home at 4:30 a.m., I realized that no matter how much I cherished his music growing up, I am simply not cut out to be a true Parrothead.