16 August 2008
Rocky Run was one of my favorite places. It was a place to have a beer with friends, a place to chat, and a place to eat a simple (but satisfying) meal. I am certainly not the first to blog about this (Columbia Talk, Howard County Maryland Blog). I first walked into Rock Run in 1996, and I kept coming back. Here are a few reasons why:
When you walked into Rocky Run, you knew this was not a national chain. It never took itself too seriously, and this was reflected in the décor. One of the few restaurants in Columbia that had its own brewery, there was a quirkyness about the place. The enormous hot sauce collection, the Elvis booth, the Beatles room, the Buffett room. The peanuts on the floor in the bar (great when fashionable, even better that they stuck with it when it fell out of fashion). The foreign language tapes on continuous loop in the bathrooms. The Rocky Cocktails (I confess, I had a Jamaican Bobsled just last week!) The endless trivia games.
Since it opened, Rocky Run’s menu has always been full of offerings. Standouts in my mind where the chicken wings, which always seemed larger than the wings served at other restaurants in town. Crab Pretzels on Fridays during lent. The salads (the cobb salad was a personal favorite), of course the burgers, and the impossibly large “loaded” baked potatoes. The Cuban pannini was a late, but welcomed arrival on the menu.
If people asked me about the food at Rocky Run, I would always respond “It’s the best comfort food in Columbia.” I think that said it all.
Over the years, I have gotten to know many of the people behind the bar and waiting tables. It all started with Alex, who on that first day I walked into the bar, shook my hand, introduced himself and asked me what I would like to drink. I quickly came to know him and many others. The always bubbly Liz, Adam, who insisted on being called Fish. Mary Ellen, who was in training to become an EMT before she trashed her knee. The always nice Amy. Ruthie, who had issues, still managed to have a good time and smile.
During the late 1990’s Heidi and Sean tended bar on Friday nights, and they always managed to serve an impossibly large crowd. At that time, Margarita Maggies was still open, but not doing well, and people would park in the Maggies lot to go to Rocky Run. Heidi and Sean performed their craft well. They were fast, charming, and seemed to enjoy themselves.
As time passed, some interesting bartenders made their way through. Art was always fun with his libertarian views and his dislike of public displays of affection. Jeff was a master of many subjects. Henri, was just an all-around good guy; smart, witty, and a die-hard Wizards/Bullets fan.
There were a few that found love at Rocky Run. Caleb and Christy are still together and Tommy and Jenny were an item.
But, over the years, three stand out. Jason, who started as a busboy, became a waiter, host, bartender, bar manager, store manager, and I’m sure is still doing well. Jason, I have seen you grow so much over the last twelve years. I am honored to call you friend, and wish you well. Christy (as mentioned above), you have been part of my nights out for so long that I will miss you. Dave, you are a great man and I am sure good things will happen for you.
I know that I have missed so many (oh, I remember another, Wendy!) who wore the bright orange “Rocky Rookie” shirts on their first day, I will miss you too, as well as everyone in the kitchen.
The Smartest Patrons Ever Known
I am serious about this point. Since the day it opened, Rocky Run always ran the NTN/Buzztime trivia games; Half hour trivia contests that linked thousands of restaurants across the United States. Rocky Run attracted a clientele that was adept at these games (and for a long time, I was one of them) and often times Rocky Run would be ranked in the top 20 in the nation. Occasionally, a person would arrive at Rocky Run just based on seeing the restaurant on the trivia boards at other restaurants. During the late 1990’s, Rocky Run and Nottingham’s were engaged in a battle of trivia supremacy. Trivia players were courted. Scores were displayed; cell phone calls were exchanged after games.
What gave this rivalry depth was that at Nottingham’s, it was known that the trivia players typically shared answers. At Rocky Run, the unwritten rule was that you played your game. Shouting out answers was considered bad form. That is not to say that the trivia players were stoic and silent. After playing for a while, players got to know each other. Most were witty, some were outright funny, and all liked passing time together.
So Moron, Phlegm, Farkle, Redgirl, Karl, and all the many people who got the trivia bug, I will find a place to play, and I hope to see you on the board too. I will miss you all.
Beyond the trivia, the folks at the bar were generally well versed in the topics of the day. You could always have a good conversation about national or local news. Just smart, wonderful people.
Where do we go from here?
I was at Rocky Run just last Friday. A friend of mine had just accepted an offer for a new job, and we went out to celebrate. We had dinner, discussed the job, what’s new in our families (my son wears a Size 1 shoe, and he starts kindergarten this month), sports, and the local politics scene. We had arrived at 6 o’clock, and the bar was busy. When we left at 9:30, the place was nearly empty. Christy, Dave and Jason were there. We said hello and things seemed all right.
I guess all we have are memories now. I can still see Joe and Ellis sitting at the end of the bar. Bobby holding court at one of the short tables. Don and Deanna discussing their latest travel plans. Bill and the trivia faithful playing trivia and chatting up each other. Jason and Terry stopping by for dinner. Some stranger saying out loud “Oh, I LOVE this song,” and me saying to myself “I love this song too.”
Yesterday I stopped by to take the picture to accompany this post. The owner came out and said hello. We talked for a short while and then I just had to ask: What happened? He told me that business had really dropped off drastically in the last four months. I thanked him and inquired how the staff were doing. He had told me that more than a few had already found jobs. I was relieved to hear that. I just smiled and thanked him again. He smiled back and thanked me, then quietly went inside. I took a minute and sat on the bench outside. As I sat there, four cars pulled up, and each asked the same question: What happened? I told each what I had heard, and they all, hesitantly, walked back to their cars, muttering “This is awful…This was my favorite place…”
I don’t know where or when my friends and I will get together for happy hour, but when we do, we will loudly toast the memory of a place that enriched our lives (better said, provided an atmosphere that allowed us to enrich each others lives).
I hope we can find a place that will have that same feel; that will give us a Second Chance.