Rob, the owner of the Stumbling Monk, stands at one end of the bar holding a bottle of nail polish remover. This man—indeed, his entire establishment—exhibits a lack of tension that's extraordinary. The Stumbling Monk has been on the curve of Olive Way for years, quietly serving excellent beers. It's a little hard to tell whether it's open; it looks dark inside, and the awning over the door still says "TYPEWRITERS," which is what used to be sold and serviced here. It's been said that the place looks like Rob moved the typewriters out, rolled in a few kegs, and called it good to go, which isn't so far from the truth. The interior is squarely in the hodgepodge realm, the kind of non-décor that chains try fruitlessly and irritatingly to imitate. A leftover IBM Selectric sits on a shelf, and lath shows through a hole in the ceiling near the door. But the custom-made wooden bar gleams, and dark-green leather cushions with cream-colored piping line the booths.
Rob removes any agonizing over the chalkboard beer list by calmly recommending the Duchesse de Bourgogne from West Flanders in Belgium, calling it "sour and sweet and a little bit fruity." I sense that he is a master of understatement, and, in fact, this beer proves to be possibly the best thing you can currently put in your mouth in public. It comes in its proper vessel, wineglass shaped, imprinted with its name and a line to which it is to be filled. It is the color of mystery, a dark ruby red; if a beer can be goth, this is it. It smells a little bit like medicine—good medicine, like cough syrup you secretly like. It tastes like the unholy union of high-grade beer, fine vintage Burgundy, and naturally flavored cherry pop. A taster looks a little awestruck. "I think I'm..." he trails off.
"In love?" someone finishes.
It turns out Rob's been eradicating some bathroom graffiti—hence the nail polish remover, apparently a solvent of great power. Never has a person been less irritated about the defacing of his property. It's hard to imagine the patrons here writing on the walls; everyone looks earnest, and the proportion of glasses-wearers is unusually high. Smoking occurs outside only, giving a clarity and haleness to the proceedings. The beers, however, hover around 6 percent A.B.V.; get enough of them into any crowd, and some rebel's bound to get out a Sharpie.
A Hoegaarden white beer is thoroughly enjoyed by a person who normally only drinks PBR. It's toasty, lemon-colored, and just barely opaque. The glass for a butterscotchy La Chouffe has a cute gnome on it. If only there were a way to teleport fries from the Belgian frites place on 10th Avenue; for now, Tim's chips have to suffice.
See the cute gnome and download the insanely cheerful "Happy Chouffe Song" at www.achouffe.be. The Stumbling Monk is at 1635 E Olive Way, 860-0916.