By Joni Williams
There’s nothing like a good old‑fashioned traffic jam to let you know that Spring Break is upon us. Say what you will about the extra cars on the road, it’s awesome to have those extra hours of sunshine every day. Forget to set our clocks back? Are you kidding? We’ve been waiting to do just that since Nov. 1.
So giddy are we with the extra hours of sunshine that we hit the road for our own mini‑Spring Break. But we didn’t head to the beach with the rest of the crowd. Instead, we hit one of our favorite fast getaways, Downtown Pensacola, to check out the vegan café Sluggo’s on Jefferson.
Sluggo’s started out as a loud, kind of gritty good times bar way back in 1988 when it debuted as Victor Hugo’s, adopting its current name a few years later. Often billed as a punk rock bar, it pushed the envelope musically, hosting a diverse collection of performers that (according to Pensapedia) included AFI, Run DMC, Cowboy Mouth and the Flaming Lips.
Imagine our surprise when we’d heard that, after being shut down for a few years, it had reopened as a vegan cafe with an extensive food menu. And beer. We were intrigued. How does a bar go from a safe haven for tattooed bikers and tipsy, misbehaving college students to what we imagined to be demure, laptop‑toting hipsters in square‑rimmed glasses?
Well, that’s what we get for stereotyping. As soon as we entered Sluggo’s we realized we were completely wrong about the patrons, which we could see were a mix of college students, hardcore biker types in leather‑piercings‑tats, and, mostly, ordinary folks like ourselves in blue jeans and tees. The decor was more creative hippie than hipster, with swaths of interesting fabrics swirled on the walls, playing card embossed tables, and dimly lit one‑of‑a‑kind lighting fixtures. When live acts like tonight’s much‑anticipated All Dogs aren’t performing—or the Japanese chick punkers Tsu She Ma Mi Re on March 30—the air is filled with similarly eclectic selections. We were totally digging it.
We soon realized we were not only wrong about the type of people Sluggo’s attracted, but Dylan, our friendly bartender, informed us that Sluggo’s has actually been a vegetarian cafe for some 30 years. Who knew? Maybe back in our college days, we were too busy having a good time to notice they served food, much less meatless meals. But that’s not to say good times here aren’t possible, especially if drinking beer is high on your Spring Break priorities list.
Though their rotation of brewskis isn’t premeditated—if an ale catches their fancy, they’ll roll with it—you can pretty much count on selections by Abita, New Belgium and Pensacola Bay Brewery. On our visit, we spied some bottled AB classics, a canned PBR and a nice assortment of crafts in the fridge. They also had at least a half‑dozen tap handles on display that included Fat Tire, FT1554 Black Lager, Bluepoint, Lazy Magnolia, and Monkeynaut’s Straight to Ale IPA, which we opted for after learning Pensacola Bay’s Citrus Ale had just run dry.
We actually really liked this beer, despite it being sweet, not very hoppy and low on the suds. On the other hand, it offered a balanced hit of IPA‑appropriate bitters while keeping a clean taste and deep amber‑gold appearance. Though it was sweet—which, if not done right, will sour us on a brew—it was malty, deep and flavorful. Our one wish was that the carbonation would have been pumped up just a notch and the head rendered just a bit more durable. Still, not a deal killer.
Maybe it was the hippiester (not to be confused with hipster) atmosphere that had us feeling laidback and open to new experiences but we surprised ourselves even more by liking the vegan nachos. Wait, did we say like? We meant love! These were unbelievably good. When you consider our idea of vegan food heretofore was the greens accompanying a big fat rare slab of beef. Sluggo’s won us over by serving up a huge pile of crunchy tortilla chips plastered with veggie corn salsa, hunks of fresh cut avocado and a sour cream‑like sauce that was somehow tastier than the real deal. It made for the perfect graze to go along with our brew.
They have all kinds of vegan concoctions on their menu, and prices are surprisingly affordable. True to Sluggo’s form, they don’t keep set kitchen hours, but are known for whipping up grub long into the night because, after all, they are a bar. Or maybe they’re a café. Not sure. But who cares? They’re Sluggo’s. And they still rock.
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