Barfly: Bad day? A trip to Happy Shack in St. Petersburg will lift your spirits

Boss makes you work longer hours for less pay. Rumors of furloughs and layoffs buzz about the office like locusts. Not a day goes by without worry.

Drive home down a clogged Fourth Street in St. Petersburg. Maybe you have a wife and kids waiting for you. Perhaps just a few cold ones, a frozen dinner and basic cable. Either way, a stop at the bar would be a nice way to decompress. But in this era of economic anxiety, who doesn't wince at the thought of spending $5 for a pint when you can purchase a sixer for the same price?

"99 cent drafts all day everyday," reads the hand-painted placard. The main sign above it says "Happy Shack" and advertises "hot sandwiches and cold beer."

It's a small, squat building. Inside there's a bar with maybe a dozen stools, a few booths and a billiards table. Old Western movie posters adorn the walls. Decorated dollar bills cover much of the space behind the bar. There are also a couple of decent-sized flat screen TVs for all you sports fans. Out back, there are picnic tables for the smokers. Funky. Nothing fancy. But the Happy Shack delivers what it promises.

The 99-cent drafts are Miller High Life and that's a beautiful thing. When it comes to cheap brews, none are more satisfying than the self-proclaimed "Champagne of Beers." It's a wonderfully smooth and minimally carbonated American-style lager that goes perfect with a greasy meal — or any variety of yard chores.

To sweeten the deal, the Happy Shack smartly serves the iconic libation in classic, 10-ounce pilsner glasses that are typically only found at ancient dive bars. They're the ones shaped like a well-endowed woman with slender legs. Waylon Jennings can be seen seated with several of the same style glasses on the back cover of his 1974 honky-tonk masterpiece The Ramblin' Man.

The Happy Shack also has Sierra Nevada, Miller Lite, Stella Artois, Blue Moon and Guinness on tap. The bar offers an assortment of bottled beers as well. In addition to the dollar draft deal, there are killer specials every day of the week. On Tuesday, for instance, a pint of Blue Moon, the best, U.S.-made Belgian-Style witbier in mass production, costs a measly $2. On Sundays, sit down to watch the race or ball game while chilling with a $5 pitcher of Miller High Life.

Then there's the food. I tried the "Hot Carlos," a thick, juicy, warm mess of roast beef, sauteed onions, melted Swiss cheese and creamy horseradish served in Cuban bread. It proved tasty but I could have done without the creamy horseradish. At $6.50, the unfortunately named "Hot Carlos" is the most expensive item on the menu. The best food deal is the "Shack Dog." For two bucks and a quarter, you get a long, fat, beef wiener enclosed in its natural casing. The frankfurter is served with spicy mustard and covered with a huge pile of freshly diced tomatoes and pickles. Request a fork to gobble up all the goodness.

Listening to Merle Haggard sing his bittersweet prison lament Mama Tried while snapping into a delicious dog and washing it down with an ice cold Miller High Life proved pure bliss. It had been a long, hectic, low-paying day in front of the computer when I visited. The Happy Shack hit the spot, without emptying my wallet.

Barfly Wade Tatangelo can be reached at wtatangelo@hotmail.com.

. if you go

Find it

Happy Shack is at 4400 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg. It's open from noon until 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday and noon until midnight on Sunday. The kitchen is open until 1 a.m. except Sunday. (727) 525-0969. Cash only.

Barfly: Bad day? A trip to Happy Shack in St. Petersburg will lift your spirits 07/22/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 22, 2009 5:30am]

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