The night is so cold, my ears start to ache before we’ve even crossed the street. Breath crystallizes in the light of a streetlamp and my nose throbs. My date ushers me through the door first, ever the gentleman, and I’m hit by a wall of heat and the rich scent of beer and well-polished wood.
The bartender pauses in her conversation with one of the local regulars to call a friendly, “Hey, how’s it going?” as we pass. We wave, still too frozen (not to mention far too hungry) for Midwestern small-talk. The floorboards are well-worn around the horseshoe bar, as if we needed a path to follow.
Tonight, we’re in luck: there are only a handful of people in line. Of course, if this is their first visit, we could still wait a half-hour to order, but I like our odds. My eyes wander the tap handles as I try to decide between my usual Citywide Pale Ale or a nice chocolate milk stout.
Aggressive music floats through the window into the kitchen, underscoring the conversation taking place there. This close, the smell of caramelizing ground beef makes my mouth water. Impatience sets me bouncing on the balls of my feet as the couple at the counter finalize their order.
“Hey, guys, long time no see,” he says when it’s our turn.
It’s been just over a week since our last visit. It feels like an eternity has passed.
The guys chitchat about the weather and how quiet it is tonight, despite the line that has multiplied behind us. Then comes the order: “Two double classics with everything and a side of regular fries.”
I pretend I might switch it up, but in the end, it’s always the same.
We snag two stools at the far corner of the bar, Thursday night football starting up on the screen behind us. Frigid winter air leaks through the seam of the door beneath the TV, but it’s toasty within my jacket. The phone nestles on the bar between us.
I’ve gone for the stout; he orders the pale ale. We people-watch and make up whispered stories about those in line, feet from where we sit. A raucous cheer sounds from the other side of the bar. I twist in time to catch the replay and curse my fantasy team.
The phone buzzes: order’s up! He slides from the stool and squeezes past the line to retrieve the scratched metal tray. My heart pounds with anticipation. Butter, onions, and sizzling beef cloud around us as he sets our burgers down.
The toasted bun is soft and buttery. The crisp edge of the smashed patties adds a delicate crunch, and melted American cheese wraps it all in salty, gooey luxury. No matter how much I savor every bite, the burger is gone within minutes, washed down with fat, golden fries—perfectly crisp exterior, soft carby interior—and a swallow of one of 4Hand’s finest brews.
My belly full and warm, my fingertips buzzing from the stout, we brave the cold once more to return home.