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It Never Snows In The Bar 

Eat, Drink And Be Merry On A Budget

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There's beer pong. Then there's beer pong at Time Warp (26261 Center Ridge Rd., Westlake, 440.871.8463, timewarpbar.com). "I didn't want this to look like some college game," says owner Rob Rogers. "We have something more going on." And how. The bar invested in a slick, custom-made table from California that looks nothing like the card-table-and-plastic-cups setup you usually see at clubs and frat houses. It comes with its own ball-washer! Rogers even uses real glasses on the table. Beer-pong tournaments at Time Warp are so popular that the Wednesday outing has taken over four nights (Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays). The tourneys, which typically run two months, draw hundreds of contestants. Prizes include everything from T-shirts and key chains to golf bags and cash. Time Warp's beer pong comes with a long list of rules, which are overseen by a DJ. And beer pong isn't just for drunk guys at Time Warp - drunk girls like it too! "You can't believe how popular this is," says Rogers. "And it can get pretty competitive."

If you're looking for some free practice before the next World Series of Poker, or just want to learn the game, this is where you want to ante up. At 7 p.m. every Monday and Wednesday, MaxMcQ's (1562 Akron Peninsula Rd., Akron, 330.940.3400, maxmcqs.com) sections off the back room for an aggressive multi-table game of Texas Hold 'Em. On a typical night, at least 40 people, each with $250 worth of chips, try to bluff their way to the final table. The longer you last, the more chips you earn for the monthly tournament where someone is awarded the MaxMcQ bracelet. There are some professional sharks lurking, but most players are still learning each other's tells. Average age is about 30, and there are some lookers present who are known to partake in strip poker from time to time (during games at high-rollers' houses after the bar closes, of course). It's free to play, but it's polite to at least order one drink.

"All-American bar and grill," Cadillac Ranch (200 Euclid Ave., 216.685.0000, cadillacranchcleveland.com) lives up to the billing. It's not because it serves up burgers and beers, but because it features an all-American icon that you don't see just everywhere anymore - the mechanical bull. Located underneath a giant red, white and blue canopy, the porcelain creature (which looks hard to mount, let alone hang onto as it's spinning and lurching) is the centerpiece at this downtown joint. Don't worry - there's plenty of cushion to catch your fall. But be prepared to sign a waiver before you try your hand at it. And don't expect to stay on long. On a recent visit, no one was able to hold on for more than a minute as a manual operator adjusted the levels of spinning to suit the straddler.

At West Park Station (17015 Lorain Ave., 216.476.2000, westparkstation.com), a joint committed to uniting once-warring neighborhood factions by offering high-spirited camaraderie and a mashed-up Italian/Irish/American menu, an amateur comedy showcase used to draw giggle-seekers from miles around. But the bar and grill has moved on to a different breed of amateur showcase: West Park Station Idol. The 12-week karaoke contest, held every Wednesday night, has hopeful locals lining up for a slew of prizes. "I'm no Simon Cowell," says co-owner Jason Salupo, "but there really are some legit voices." But there better be some tone-deaf singers too. What's karaoke without the losers?

Old-fashioned board games never really get old. And this time of year, when the sky grows dark before supper, snow buries the streets and seasonal affective disorder makes everyone want to strangle that annoying uncle or cousin, a nice game of Scrabble or Sorry is a welcome distraction. If you prefer not to host any more company than necessary, but still want to get your fill of these cherished childhood relics, invite everyone to Tremont's Prosperity Social Club (1109 Starkweather Ave., 216.937.1938, prosperitysocialclub.com), where they have a small stash of the things that used to occupy us before videogames. Order a round and show your considerable skills, old-school style - no unneeded, modern clunkers like Apples to Apples here - in the comfort of a bar that aspires to look like your grandma's basement. That's a good thing, by the way. One caveat: It might have been OK to hurl the Monopoly thimble piece at your sister's head in the confines of your own home, but here, keep the pouting to a minimum.

It seems as if we're in an economic pickle here, so revelers looking to enjoy themselves with friends and family this winter want to balance having fun and doing it cheaply. Sure, it's a blast to hit the bars and drink enough winter ale to kill a small ape, but that gets expensive quickly. Instead, hit up a BYOB establishment like El Tango Taqueria (14224 Madison Ave., Lakewood, 216.226.9999). You avoid having everyone over to your house, get to hit the town and nosh on scrumptious (and relatively cheap!) Mexican food. And instead of paying $5 a bottle plus tip, you and your depleted checking account can grab a six-pack for $10 and bring enough liquor to kill a large ape. Sometimes you don't need a gimmick or a party or the sweaty, cramped quarters of a bar. Sometimes you just need your friends, some good conversation and a few pennies left over in your pocket.

Also worth checking out: $2 Mug Night, Wednesdays, B-Side Liquor Lounge (2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216.932.1966, bsideliquorlounge.com). Bring your own mug - no matter the size, if it has a handle, they'll fill it … Watch the balls fly at the Find the 40 Boozeskeeball League, Thursdays at Dive Bar (1214 W. 6th St., 216.621.7827, divebarcleveland.com). Current round runs through February 13 … Twist (11633 Clifton Blvd., 216.221.2333) revives '70s game shows like Match Game and Tattle Tales the second Wednesday of every month.

If you know of others, e-mail dining@clevescene.com.

 

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