There are three things I love about Hearsay, the "gastrolounge" on downtown's Market Square: (1) The Byrd, a magnificently messy beast of a burger that comes with a side of smoky macaroni and cheese, (2) the creative, confidently modern cocktail list and (3) the ambience of the historic space and its chic, sexy three-story dining room. I go to Hearsay -- the subject of this week's cafe review -- for these three things, and basically these three things alone.
I would go more often, if I could. It's only a few blocks away from my office and from my home -- walking or bicycling there is a breeze, and it's so pretty down on Market Square that I often find myself there anyway.
But I just can't bear the high prices at Hearsay, which -- along with a food menu that has its serious ups and downs -- are a huge reason I'm not a more frequent customer.
Although I'm pleased to see such an excellent array of craft and local beers on tap, a pint of Karbach Weisse Versa is $7. Compare that to the Flying Saucer -- just up Main Street -- where the same pint is $4.75 regularly and $3.75 during happy hour. Or compare it to Underbelly, where it's only $4 every day. And don't even look at the price Hearsay is charging for Karbach's Rodeo Clown: a staggering $10 for the local brew, a pint of which rarely breaks the $6 mark elsewhere in town.
The cocktails, too, are almost prohibitively expensive. My favorite, it just so happens, is the most expensive at $16. The Whiskey & Cigarettes is almost worth it -- so beautiful is the open flame that ignites the cocktail and leaves a charcoal depth to the peaty Islay Scotch underneath. But it's still the only cocktail I'll be able to order all night at that price.
Others -- like the spicy, perennially popular Hal-apeno, named for former bartender Hal Brock -- are more well-priced at around $9 to $12. But you won't find a single cocktail on Hearsay's menu that's less than $9. Compare this to cocktail giant Anvil Bar & Refuge, where cocktails start at $8 and never cost more than $12.
I know that downtown supports a slightly higher menu cost than other areas of town, and God knows the rent that Hearsay must pay for the gorgeous turn-of-the-century place is steep, but those prices -- even the $14 for The Byrd, that messy burger with the creamy macaroni and cheese -- means the place will always remain a splash-out spot, never a familiar standby.
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On the other hand, perhaps I'm just not Hearsay's demographic. The gastrolounge is packed nearly every night as it is. Someone's paying those prices. And, I guess, more power to them.