5 O'Clock Somewhere: Mama's Pasta & Brew
In my college days, now more years ago than I like to admit, I would leave the High Street hustle, retreat exhaustedly to a small alley just south of E. 15th Avenue and plop into a well-worn booth at one of the smallest, least visible bars in the city.
To locate Mama's Pasta & Brew takes some searching, but what I found was always worth it: hearty Italian food, family-room coziness and one of the friendliest staffs in the history of retail booze.
I rediscovered the bar earlier this week, and when I called to check their hours, owner Terry Fahy remembered who I was. I think he stayed a bit later than usual to say hey when I stopped in. I hadn't been there in at least three years.
Not much has changed in the wood-lined space, and things probably never will. Walls are still plastered with candid photographs, and the bar remains delightfully cluttered with trophies, handwritten notes, crumpled bills, an old traffic light and a giant bottle of wine the bar has probably never served.
More than dust, the bar collects memories, a running tally of truly cherished times.
Mama's has seen competitors flash and fizzle, classes enroll and graduate, and entire districts torn down and rebuilt. It stands calmly by, welcoming regulars from its own secret corner of the world.
"Their first few years, people look for the 'in' places," said Fahy, proprietor since 1983. "When they get tired of that scene and the high prices, they find us."
Once they do, most can't stay away.
They come for the delicious meatball sub ($4.60) and large pizzas ($9), to play darts from a pair of pockmarked boards and to sip from cold, affordable pitchers. They join one of the bar's golf outings, dart leagues or epic rafting trips to West Virginia (May 14-16 this year).
"We're fortunate that we have our niche back here and a real loyal following," said Fahy, exhibiting his status as a man of simple pleasures.
The most dedicated regulars are enshrined into the Mama's Hall of Fame at an annual holiday dinner. These are the ones who came in early, left too late and gradually let an unassuming alley dive slip more and more into their daily routine.
That process is hard to resist.
Nothing at Mama's Pasta & Brew is expensive, but the staff sweetens the deals from 3-7 p.m. Monday-Friday. Here's the weekly rundown:
Monday: $1.25 drafts
Tuesday: $1.50 well rum and Coke
Wednesday: $1.75 select domestics
Thursday: $6.75 pitchers
Friday: $1.75 select domestics
Mama's Pasta & Brew
23 Campus Pl., Campus
Bar hours: 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Monday-Friday, 5:30 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday, closed Sunday for private events
Kitchen hours: 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Friday, 5:30 p.m.-11 p.m. Saturday
In short: A true hidden gem