USA Bars with very eccentric order and/or menu
July 21, 2021 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Went to my favorite tourist trip/bar in Manhattan yesterday, McSorleys which is cash only (which is common) has only two beers (dark and light) and they give you two mugs of beer when you order one. I love this place, though I'm sure many NYers give it a pass, but I really would like to hear of other places with severely limited menus and/or kind of weird service offerings? (not looking for weird decor)

Another good one is Dan's Cafe in DC, where they give you a bucket of ice and mixers so you can make your own drinks. Any others out there?
posted by sandmanwv to Food & Drink (42 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Glenn's Diner in Chicago has a wall of breakfast cereals, all available for order, despite being a seafood restaurant.

Also, less of a weird offering and more of a throwback, the Billy Goat (satirized on SNL) has an extremely limited menu and to an extent, much like the SNL sketch, is known for just kind of ...telling you what you're getting.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:00 AM on July 21, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Les Relais de Venise only serves salad with walnut dressing, and then two courses of steak and fries with their sauce.
posted by Lycaste at 8:04 AM on July 21, 2021 [9 favorites]

I'm not sure if this approach survived the pandemic, but Attaboy on the LES didn't use to have a menu at all. You told the bartender what you were in the mood for and they made you something.
posted by praemunire at 8:05 AM on July 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: In Cambridge, MA, there's a highly rated ramen shop called Yume Wo Katare. You can get one kind of ramen, with either a) pork or b) more pork. Apparently they started making a spicy option, also.

If you finish your bowl, you are invited to stand up and share your dreams with the restaurant. If you don't finish, you are given a pep talk so hopefully you will finish next time.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:08 AM on July 21, 2021 [54 favorites]

They're long gone, but there used to be an Irish bar in Peoria, IL where every drink price ended in $X.50. When you paid, your change included a Kennedy half-dollar.
posted by hwyengr at 8:10 AM on July 21, 2021 [15 favorites]

Best answer: Louis’ Lunch. No ketchup.
posted by zamboni at 8:27 AM on July 21, 2021 [7 favorites]

In my tiny rural hometown of Barnstead, NH, there is (or used to be -- I'm not able to find a website) a restaurant called The Crystal Quail which was an old New England farmhouse and barn. It seated like 8 people and had a menu which was, I am told, entirely at the chef's whim for the night. The chef was supposed to be very good and it was rather expensive.

I never ate there, so I do not know how much of this is legend and how much is how it was.
posted by gauche at 8:30 AM on July 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Here in the DC area, Spacebar in Falls Church City has an extensive beer list but only three food items: grilled cheese, tomato soup, and tater tots. (Though, they will put just about anything you want on/in the grilled cheese, so it's perhaps not as restrictive as it sounds, but... eccentric, surely.)

Bob & Barbara’s Lounge on South Street in Philadelphia has a full bar, but the "core product" is the so-called Citywide Special, consisting of a can of PBR and a shot of whiskey for a whopping $4 (cash-only, naturally). I once made the mistake of asking for a glass of water there... and received a can of PBR. They reportedly go through about 3,000 cans of PBR a week.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:36 AM on July 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Trouble Coffee Co. Toast, coconuts, coffee.
posted by zamboni at 8:37 AM on July 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

In the Northwoods of Wisconsin, The White Stag Inn Supper Club has only a handful of beef options, one shrimp dish and one chicken dish. Everyone at the table is served a wedge of iceberg lettuce with a choice of 3 homemade salad dressings. Baked potatoes (no other potato option) are served with their whipped cottage cheese topping.
posted by sarajane at 8:38 AM on July 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

The chain Schlotzky's started as a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Austin, Texas, that only served one sandwich. I remember their slogan, after they went national, was, "Just one sandwich. It's that good." Later on, they expanded the menu.
posted by FencingGal at 8:46 AM on July 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure if this approach survived the pandemic, but Attaboy on the LES didn't use to have a menu at all. You told the bartender what you were in the mood for and they made you something.

It did. Source: I went there last month.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:58 AM on July 21, 2021 [6 favorites]

So two places jump to mind.

The first is House of Prime Rib in San Francisco. You pretty much order how much prime rib you want and it's doneness, and if you want spinach or corn, and mashed or baked potatoes. They they serve you the prime rib from these silver bullet carts that travel around the restaurant.

The other place is Bar Orchard Ginza in Tokyo. There you enter and there's a small tower of fresh fruit. You select your fruit, spirit, and drink strength, and they make you a cocktail with those characteristics on the spot.
posted by Carillon at 8:58 AM on July 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

The Raising Cane's fast food chain serves chicken fingers and that's about it. You can have them in a basket or on a bun, but they're still chicken fingers.
posted by JoeZydeco at 9:01 AM on July 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

It's long gone now and I never actually ate there and all of this is second-hand, but...

There's a small Greek restaurant chain in Toronto called "The Friendly Greek" (which I've never tried but is apparently pretty good.)

However, there also used to be a restaurant called "The Unfriendly Greek", run by a guy who just liked to complain at people. It didn't serve Greek food.
posted by suetanvil at 9:05 AM on July 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

There was a cigar/martini back-alley-type place here in the early aughts, way before the speakeasy thing went on trend. At the time, the laws and permitting process were structured to limit the number of bars (so-called tavern licenses), so the place could only land a restaurant liquor license. This meant they were legally required to serve "food of substance," that defined as requiring preparation by employee beyond just opening a bag of pretzels or nuking a hot pocket.

So this really high-end place, at the bottom of their menu -- below the hundred-dollar scotches and wines -- offered the "crappy-ass ham sandwich." It was blister-pack ham on wonderbread with american cheese and mayo and it cost like $20, so as to deter anyone from ever actually ordering it. To my knowledge they sold like three of them the whole time the place was open, and two of those were to cops trying to bust them on a license violation.
posted by 7segment at 9:08 AM on July 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

There was a bar called Drink near my old office in Boston that did not have a drink menu. You can order a favorite, but their goal is you tell the bartender what you're into and they make you something that fits the bill.

Not a great fit for me; mixologists hate my Malibu Bay Breeze tastes.
posted by gideonfrog at 9:11 AM on July 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

Diller's in the LES of NYC serves only fried pickles and Beyond Burgers
posted by wowenthusiast at 9:35 AM on July 21, 2021

The Roast Grill in Raleigh, NC only serves hot dogs, glass bottle cokes, and beer.
posted by woodvine at 9:39 AM on July 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Diller's in the LES of NYC serves only fried pickles and Beyond Burgers

Not in my understanding, unless something has changed.
posted by slkinsey at 9:56 AM on July 21, 2021

Yeah, Diller's was selling brined tater tots as of last week.
posted by praemunire at 10:09 AM on July 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

It's the opposite of a lot of entries on this list, but at least while the founder was alive, Shopsin's on the LES had an eccentrically extensive menu and a tyrannically enforced list of rules about seating and ordering.
posted by babelfish at 10:18 AM on July 21, 2021 [10 favorites]

I'm not sure if she survived the pandemic but at Cafe Jacqueline in San Francisco, the only thing served is Souffles.
posted by vacapinta at 10:47 AM on July 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Speaking of Shopsin's check out I Like Killing Flies.
posted by Splunge at 10:52 AM on July 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: If we're opening this up to restaurants in addition to "bars", then the Beefmastor Inn in Wilson, NC would be high on my list.

It's not actually an "inn", it only has about ten tables, and it only sells one thing: ribeye steak. They bring an entire ribeye primal cut to the table, and the guy sorta moves the knife over it, starting from one end, and you tell him where to stop—and that's your steak. Each steak comes with a baked potato (cooked, at least at one point, in a microwave) and a salad, which comes from a salad bar containing more types of bacon than lettuce.

The wait is often long, but they let you sit in the parking lot and drink bottled beer until your table is ready.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:52 AM on July 21, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: There was a bar in the Haight district of San Francisco called Aub Zam Zam, whose proprietor, Bruno, ran a very tight ship for over 50 years:

"Bruno always served people if they did three basic things: come sit at a stool, put your money on the bar and give him your order," longtime patron David Gutekunst, 50, said yesterday. "But people that came in, fooled around, went to the bathroom, laughed with their friends, said 'What would you recommend?' when he asked for their order -- to them, he'd say, 'I recommend the corner bar.' He expected people to have bar manners."

I remember going there a bunch and there was always a sense of camaraderie with the folks who were sitting at the bar (and minding the rules) because you've 'made it' and not gotten kicked out. Sometimes, if a pair walked in without fuss and put some money on the bar (signaling they knew the rules), the whole row of patrons might slide over to make room on the stools for both people.
posted by homesickness at 11:31 AM on July 21, 2021 [8 favorites]

Babe’s Chicken Dinner House in Dallas, TX. You pick your entree from a limited list of fried items (fried chicken, chicken tenders, chicken fried steak, fried catfish) and you get that + all you can eat biscuits and sides (black eyed peas, creamed corn, mashed potatoes & gravy, salad) served family style. You may be obligated to perform the hokey pokey in the middle of dinner. If you’re lucky, your server will ask you a riddle and if you get it right you win a free slice of pie (the only other thing on their menu).
posted by A Blue Moon at 12:00 PM on July 21, 2021

Sobelman's Pub N Grill in Milwaukee has a typical pub menu (mostly sandwiches and apps) but they make the crazy Bloody Marys garnished with appetizers, mini-burgers (or even a whole chicken!)
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 12:35 PM on July 21, 2021

Basque restaurants in many parts of the western US are usually family-style seating with a limited menu. You order an entree from a short list (e.g., steak, lamb, or liver) and the side dishes (bread, salad, beans, etc.) are brought to the tables in big bowls and baskets and passed around. Come to think of it now, though, that service model must have changed with the pandemic.
posted by bricoleur at 12:50 PM on July 21, 2021

> The chain Schlotzky's started as a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Austin, Texas, that only served one sandwich. I remember their slogan, after they went national, was, "Just one sandwich. It's that good." Later on, they expanded the menu.

Recently, those sonsabitches got rid of their dark rye bread, which was the only good bread they had. Schlotzsky’s is dead to me now.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 12:56 PM on July 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Bars in small towns in ye olden days only had a few brands of beer, like 3. Like Lone Star in Texas wasn't popular because it was good, it was literally one of the only choices. The mega bars with 50 beer choices only came around in the late '90s.

Border towns bars and restaurants in Mexico, the owner/waiter will go next door to the convenience store and get you whatever drink you want if they don't have it. I'm still surprised that restaurants don't do that in the US with drinks or food.

If we are talking restaurants too, California is filled with places that have way too narrow of food range, like Raising Cane's is basically copying them. In N Out only serves beef hamburgers. El Pollo Loco only serves chicken in various forms, and Wahoo's Fish Tacos only served fish tacos.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:18 PM on July 21, 2021

Finally, is serving beer in the beer towers unique enough?

Basically you order a bucket of beers or a pitcher and they bring you a cup and a long tube full of beer at many sports bars.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:20 PM on July 21, 2021

Crunchy's in East Lansing, MI, sells buckets of beer: a white plastic gallon-sized or two-gallon sized bucket with a spout (like, with a handle, from Home Depot) filled with draft beer. Comes with red solo cups. (They also sell a variety of normal-sized and normal-plated pitchers and single beers and stuff, it's a typical college bar.)

Casa Dominick's in Ann Arbor gives weird change ($2 bills, 50 cent pieces) and also makes their house sangria with cheap red wine & whatever liquor is cheapest (as opposed to brandy or peach schnapps or vodka or something else, you know, that won't fight red wine and fruit). My worst experience was creme de menthe sangria, but I heard tales of a coffee sangria which sounds interesting.
posted by holyrood at 5:03 PM on July 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

The Carillon Brewing Company in Dayton, Ohio is a bar/restaurant and microbrewery in Carillon Park (a local history museum). They have six locally-made beers, several rotating seasonal beers, and a food menu consisting of burgers, rubens, wursts, soft pretzels, sauerkraut, and potato wedges. All prepared in the style of the 1850's.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 6:08 PM on July 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Eischen's Bar Okarche, Oklahoma.

Menu is fried chicken (ordered as a whole chicken only, meaning 8 pieces) served with two kinds of sliced pickles, sliced raw white onion and squishy white bread. Their bread and butter pickles are the best. Plates are wax paper, no forks.

They also have nachos (rotel cheese dip over chips), fried okra, chili and bbq sandwiches. I assume they give you utensils with the chili.

You can drink beer, canned soda or tea, or water.

Covid did away with other quirks like cash only and a free for all seating system that has resulted in people we didn't know letting us sit with them until they were done in order to secure their table. On a busy night, which is most nights, you pretty much had to stalk a table and make some sort of deal with its occupants that they signal you before they get up. Last time we went we actually got a buzzer for when our table was ready. Progress, I guess, but not quite the same
posted by domino at 7:23 AM on July 22, 2021

Berkeley's Cheese Board Collective has one kind of vegetarian pizza per day & live music. Having just a single product means it works in assembly-line fashion & they can just give you the next slice or whole pie(s) out of the oven, making for a fast line. & if you want the opposite experience, and too much choice to handle, they run an amazing cheese shop/bakery (the original business of the co-op) two doors down.
posted by alphamule at 9:05 AM on July 22, 2021 [3 favorites]

The King's Head pub in Islington, North London, retained its pounds, shillings & pence menu and tills until 2008 - a mere 37 years after the rest of the UK had switched to decimal currency.
posted by Paul Slade at 11:29 AM on July 22, 2021 [5 favorites]

The tuxedoed waiters in the lounge at the Yale Club would - in the mid-2000s, at least - bring you your cocktail and a small glass decanter of a second full serving of said cocktail. So, my martini came with a second martini ready to be poured, a small ice bucket, and tiny ramekin of my preferred garnish.
posted by minervous at 3:10 PM on July 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Wilensky's, in Montreal, is famous for charging extra for NO mustard.
posted by vasi at 6:35 PM on July 22, 2021 [4 favorites]

Minervous - the Coq d’Or below the Drake Hotel in Chicago serves drinks like this. You can order anything as an “executive” and it comes with an extra glass of the drink in a different-shaped tulip type glass. I feel like there are a lot of rules and idiosyncrasies around hot dogs in Chicago (I, for one, support a traditional Chicago dog). Gene and Judes (which is just across the Chicago border in a suburb) doesn’t carry ketchup at all. I would never order ketchup on a hotdog, but I seem to remember not being able to even get it for my fries. They also serve their dog “depression style” which is more plain than a typical Chicago dog. Their tag line is “ No Seats No Ketchup No Pretense No Nonsense.”
posted by Bunglegirl at 2:17 PM on July 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Not in the US but I feel The Refuge Des Fondus in Paris belongs in here. Currently closed for understandable reasons, I'm not sure how this highly communal style of eating can be revived for some time.

You sit on two long benches and everyone has the same thing. Mixed starters, fondu and a little dessert. Your only choice to make all night is cheese or meat fondu, and red or white wine. Wine comes in baby bottles to reduce spillage. It's noisy, chaotic and tremendous fun. I went in the late 90s and again early 2000s, both times it was 21 euros including one baby bottle of wine. Not the most refined dining in Paris but cheap and extremely cheerful. Some nice pics here
posted by tardigrade at 10:30 AM on July 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

Amor Y Amargo:
When Ravi DeRossi and Sother Teague took over a pint-sized piece of real estate from a shuttered sandwich shop in 2011, they made a bet on the adventurousness and good taste of New York's drinking population. No mixers, no shakers—just bitters-forward cocktails stirred and served with care in an intimate speakeasy setting. They named their bar Amor y Amargo, translating to "love and bitter" in Spanish.
Everything is “bitter, brown, and stirred”. This is not where you go for a Cosmo or a Mojito or stuff from the children’s menu, this is for grown-up cocktails.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:21 AM on August 1, 2021

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