Redeye January 29 2004

Bridging the Gap (Structure and Abercrombie, too): "You must be high," they said. I thought it was just a pun. After all, I was asking to venture into Virginia-Highland.

In hindsight, I understand the gravity, almost depravity, of my suggestion. But the gauntlet was tossed down, and on Friday, Jan. 23, we got down to it. It was the inaugural RedEye Rally: Could we drink at nine bars in five hours? The North Highland Pub Crawl was a high-caliber challenge, indeed.

North Highland Pub. Manuel's Tavern. Righteous Room. Hand in Hand. Neighbor's. Atkins Park. Dark Horse. Limerick Junction. Blind Willie's. They share a street, but as you advance, they differ increasingly. There's a vast divide between bars south and north of Ponce de Leon Avenue: There were certainly noticeable disparities between watching people hitting it off and people just getting hit on.

Barely 9 p.m. and North Highland Pub was standing room only. Hardly 10 p.m. and procuring chairs at Manuel's required more political debate than the walls usually witness. Whiskey swills and beer spills are the "signature" of both, though Manuel's did offer their light-bodied microbrew, 602 N. Highland Golden Lager, as well as Athens' floral Terrapin Rye Pale Ale.

Arriving at the Righteous Room was, well, righteous. The Room was a place to regroup, bolstering spirits both in the glass and in the glazed eyes.

Cross Ponce and soon you're standing not to get a drink at the bar, but rather, outside to get in the bar. At both Hand in Hand and Neighbor's, people — largely men — willingly waited to be packed tightly enough to press the preppie pleats off uniform khakis.

By Atkins Park, it became clear how a night of drinking can have different objectives. Maybe it was the five rounds prior, but quick as possible we huddled at a table, bypassing the bustling bar to maintain an equilibrium more sociable than social.

When we got to Dark Horse, it was somehow 2 a.m. and a reek of damp desperation hung heavy. Leaving four ladies as bait, it took less than a New York minute to see an attempted New Jersey pick-up by metrosexual meatheads, their unbuttoned shirts showing more chest than most of us desire from even legitimately chic chicas.

Laughs aside, our single malt determination degraded into Miller Lite delinquency. We could rally no more, so we skipped the last two bars. We had lived up to the night, however, as we crawled back home. Our best call: deciding to call last call before beer goggles got near-sighted enough that we forgot on which side of the divide we reside.

Keep one RedEye open. And send all comments, questions, observations and invitations to redeye@creativeloafing.com.