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Volume 69, Issue 94, Thursday, February 19, 2004

Arts & Entertainment

All styles mingle in bar's cult status

Liquid diet

Mario Gudmundsson

Some places try hard to achieve a cult status that takes years to build up. The Velvet Melvin, at 3303 Richmond Ave., is one of those places that has it, that certain unpretentious cool where everyone can feel welcome.

Drink specials every night of the week make the Velvet Melvin a very welcome bargain for thirsty Cougars. The requisite Big Ass Beer nights happen twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays, and happy hour runs from 3-7 p.m. Bargains like $7 pitchers of beer on Saturdays and free pool on Sundays are just some more of the typical highlights, and there are industry specials every night as well.

Thursday nights are crowded, with live performers like the Trey Clark Band and $2 "You-Call-It" mixed drinks bringing in huge, rowdy crowds from all over the city. It can be hard to find any elbowroom, but the fun is worth the push.

"I'm always entertained, every night," bartender Jenn Bradshaw said, "I like how you get such completely different types of people."

It's hard to pin down the type of place it is from the appearance. Set inside of a rambling shack close to River Oaks, pool tables and dark wood paneling give a country roadhouse feel to the spacious room. It's a little crusty and worn-looking, but there are big cushy sofas and plenty of tables indoors and out. Big-screen TVs, arcade games and back-lighted stained glass windows keep the space looking open and well lighted.

Also keeping the space well lighted are the numerous flaming drinks the Tuesday night regulars quaff. Dunking a flaming shot into a glass of beer can be a complicated affair, but the night's special feature, $2 domestic bottled beers, keeps the party going as people spill out into the big wooden deck overlooking Richmond traffic.

"It's really a wonderful, crazy mix of people," Lee Schulz, a senior Hotel and Restaurant Management student said. "You get young professionals earlier in the evening, and later on in the night, more alternative types with full-sleeve tattoos come in and everyone just mingles and gets along."

The mixed crowd is one of the better attractions of the bar, where a really weird grab bag of people from age 21 to anywhere over 50 congregate, and pretty girls can play pool without being harassed or hit on.

That easy, unpretentious attitude is what has kept the place going through several incarnations. Previously known as the Velvet Elvis, copyright troubles with that artist's estate forced a name change. There's free parking in a garage behind the building, never a cover charge to get in, and no matter what the sign out front says, loyal clients have kept coming back for years to take advantage of the cheap drinks and lively atmosphere where anything goes.

"You can come here and do your own thing," Bradshaw said.

Velvet Melvin

3303 Richmond Ave.

The verdict: Do your own thing at a place that feels like home.

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