When the economy runs flat and dries out, thrifty drinkers stock up and buy their beer by the barrel.
November marks an end to the busiest time of the year for Pat Hyde, owner of Totally Kegs, 4301 N. Western. Bolstered by Labor Day, football and Halloween, beer-swilling autumn carries Hyde through his "dry season" of the wine-centric Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
October was a windfall for Hyde, who has been in the beer business for almost 25 years.
"I've never seen anything like it. It's just been crazy," he said from his dimly lit, closet-sized storefront. "The phone's been ringing off the hook, and if you haven't called and reserved something early, there's nothing I've been able to do.
"'You're coming late to the party!,'" Hyde said he's jokingly reprimanded customers. "My refrigerator is emptied as soon as it's filled."
Born in Oklahoma City, Hyde said he's long had an "interest" in alcohol, but never really thought it could turn into a career.
SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT
In 1986, he bought the 10th Street Lounge, near N.W. 10th Street and N. Robinson Avenue. He said the storied, beer-only bar was the original inspiration for the basic plot thread of "Smokey and the Bandit," the 1977 highway film classic that followed lead-footed bootleggers as they outran federal liquor laws that barred Coors from flowing in communities east of the Mississippi River.
Hyde bolstered his 10th Street business by warehousing and selling kegs from the back of the lounge. Although it's been visibly revitalized in recent years, the area near the bar fell apart in the 1990s, he said, and by 2006, he struck a deal with the lounge's ever-wary neighbor across the street, Citychurch.
"We were open seven days a week and, well, people were generally there to get shit-faced," he said.
Hyde decided to shutter the 10th Street Lounge to focus solely on keg sales, and made plans to move into his current location. But before he started the new venture, he found an unlikely and unwitting business partner: Citychurch. Hyde said he convinced its leaders to buy the lounge's beer license ... with a little white lie.
"I told them I was thinking about selling the bar to a bunch of ravers," he said. "But in the end, we made a deal. I don't think they were sad to see us go."
Citychurch bought the license in April 2006, and the lounge was closed. Hyde said the church agreed to let him sell kegs out of the back of the bar through March to capture St. Patrick's Day sales, but at the end of the month, his business was reborn as Totally Kegs along Western Avenue.
His storefront is basically an office with a walk-in refrigerator. He has a phone, a receipt pad and a credit card machine, and his desk is the worn and peeled-varnish bar-top from the 10th Street Lounge. The business has a more sympathetic neighbor now: his brother Mike, who owns Sipango Lounge next door. Totally Kegs is open six days a week, but Hyde hasn't had a chance to miss working behind the bar. His workdays become night shifts, as he helps at both at Sipango and at Cookie, his mom's eponymous club at 2304 N. Western.
Sipping cola from a plastic keg cup, Hyde said he takes each November "off" from drinking, just to make sure he still can.
"I haven't had a bar tab in 25 years," he said with a laugh. "I'm not sure if that's good or bad." "Joe Wertz