Outside the corner bar in Allison hangs a big sign, “Coldest & Cheapest Beer.” Now who can reasonably drive by and not be lured in by such a bold claim? Certainly not the Iowa Roadie (who, truth be told, does not even drink beer). But “coldest & cheapest beer” reminded me of that scene in the movie Elf, where Will Ferrell drinks “the world’s best coffee” from some misfit little diner in NYC. And even if I don’t like beer, I love Elf. Which means that if this were one of those bizarre “six degrees of separation” situations, I was meant to stop in. (That… and the fact that my husband was thirsty and DOES like cold and cheap beer.)

Accompanying my husband and me to Gronigans were friends husband T & wife M. (Quick side note: This is the couple that years ago introduced us to the concept of visiting little dives. So kudos to them for without their inspiration, the Iowa Roadie would not exist. Perhaps instead of cheering them on, you now have someone to blame.) Anyway, aside from a guy wearing a “24 ways to use the F word” t-shirt (more on him later), we were the only Gronigans patrons when we first arrived. This was great as it meant we could fully engage in Rule #2 (“sit at bar”) without having to fight for space.

But before sitting down at the bar (which was made from a reclaimed bowling alley floor), I could not help but be impressed by the bar itself. It is an old bank, and retains its original bank features including the historic vault right behind the bar. Our bartender Chris explained that the vault doubles as both the beer cooler and the tornado shelter. This was very comforting to me, as tornadoes are one of my Greatest Fears. This was very comforting to others because when a tornado wipes out everything else in its evil swath of destruction, at least the coldest and cheapest beer is safe.

It was with great disappointment that Gronigans does not normally serve food on weekends. (Although they would be preparing food for tomorrow’s community fish fry at the school.) However I was hungry and without food, the great bacon quest was at a standstill. Fortunately Bartender Chris saved the day, and fired up the popcorn machine. (This was a big bonus to friend T, because if he were the Iowa Roadie, one of his Rules would be that all stops have a popcorn machine.) Anyway Bartender Chris generously restocked our paper boats with popcorn throughout the evening… leading to a debate between my husband and T about the best popcorn oil to use. (Consensus: peanut oil.)

As I did not care what kind of popcorn oil is used, I struck up a conversation with T-Shirt Man. (“24 Ways to Use the F Word”) I explained that while I, myself, do not use the “F” word, I was curious as to all different contexts in which the “F” word could be used. I have to admit…I truly did not know how multi-functional this word was. Now thanks to this gentleman’s t-shirt, I know just the right thing to say when offering my condolences or motivating someone or expressing exasperation. Incredibly, I can always insert the F word as my adjective/verb/noun of choice. This t-shirt has provided me the solution to countless literary dilemmas I may encounter. T-Shirt Man did tell me that if I am uncomfortable using the F-word, I could substitute a similar word such as “freaking” because people will understand what I mean. Again, extremely helpful advice. (By the way, if you would like to purchase a similar t-shirt, T-Shirt Man directed me to the Mall of America.)

Besides T-Shirt Man, I met a gentleman who had just retired from the Navy after 20 years and returned home to care for his aging parents. We had a very pleasant conversation, and I insisted that my husband buy him a drink for his years of service to our great country. I also assured him that I was not at all offended by his t-shirt…a picture of a pole dancer under a caption about how he (Navy Man) supports the economy. (Why would I be offended? Afterall exotic dancers pay their fair share of taxes, too.) Navy Man also pulled out his phone to show me yet another t-shirt design that included the F-word. Were there no limits to the linguistic diversity of this term?

Finally a shout out to Bartender Chris for his continued hospitality, which not only consisted of refilling popcorn boats, but for his extreme precision in the art of cocktail mixing. Bartender Chris and his family moved from Reno, Nevada (population 245,255) a couple of years ago because of his job. While Bartender Chris no longer works for that company, his wife prefered small-town life and therefore they remain in Allison, population 1029.

Anyway while the beverage of choice for the men–including T-Shirt Man and Navy Man– seemed to be the coldest and cheapest beer, the Gronigans gals seemed to prefer something a little more fruity. At one point, Bartender Chris had eight fruit-flavored liqueurs on the bowling alley bar, and was creating some colorful–and delicious–concoctions with names that sounded like jelly bean flavors. I was in awe of Bartender Chris as it was like watching a very detailed chemistry experiment. With colorful fruity alcohol. I wish I knew how to describe it. Wait! I bet there is an F-word for that.

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