By Daniel Heeren
Collegiate Guest Writer
Stepping into the low light of Stella’s Lounge, I’m struck by how crowded it is. It’s a Thursday night in the middle of February; not normally considered a big bar night. Looking at the tables, it’s clear most of these patrons are here for $3 stuffed burger Thursdays.
I ordered myself a Hot Stuff stuffed burger. These stuffed burgers are all hand-made and never frozen, according to co-owner of Stella’s Lounge, Mark Sellers.
My burger, stuffed with pepper jack cheese and jalapenos, came with a side of hot mustard made in house with habanero pepper. Every bite was hot and savory, with a pleasantly muted taste of onions thanks to the single large onion ring.
The hot mustard left my mouth on fire, practically begging for a mouthful of the $2.50 Pabst Blue Ribbon sitting next to my meal.
Stella’s just breaks even on their three-dollar burgers, Sellers tells me. Instead, their profits come from increased sales of other items, purchased by individuals lured to the bar by the prospect of cheap, delicious burgers.
Stella’s Chronic Fries and hand-cut potato chips, the latter of which comes with the burger other days, are two oft-ordered menu items to complement the burgers.
Stella’s Lounge opened back in May of 2010, featuring a mostly vegan menu, more than 200 varieties of whiskey, and cheap Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.
As Sellers notes, there wasn’t anything vegetarian downtown and his wife, co-owner Michele, is vegetarian. This initial menu wasn’t widely liked; “I thought to myself, I’m not vegetarian,” Sellers said.
“We decided to make it a hybrid. Half of what my wife likes, half of what I like.” Stella’s vegan burgers fit well into this mutation.
Among these is the Stuffed Veggie Burger; made with black beans and lentils, it’s stuffing consists of tempeh bacon and pesto.
A big part of the Stella’s experience is the atmosphere. Seller’s says the bar’s appearance was inspired by some of bars he loved in other cities, such as Delilah’s in Chicago, Barcade in Brooklyn, and many others.
Walls within Stella’s are festooned with works by various local artists, including the prominent mural and ArtPrize entry, “Chaotic Growth” by Erwin Erkfitz and his team.
From the far end of the room, opposite the entrance, hypnotic lights and noises emanate from numerous arcade and pinball machines.
I treat myself to a few matches of Street Fighter 2 followed by a murderous session on the Tron arcade game, reflecting on how ridiculously difficult old arcade games could be. All money made from the arcade machines go to the repair guy, Sellers informs me. They are for atmosphere, not profit.
One last stop I need to make is the jukebox. After a few drinks, I’m floored by the selection in this old machine. Sellers tells me he paid $1000 for one of the earliest CD juke boxes.
Despite costing only a dollar for three songs, the jukebox earns Stella’s more than $150 a month. Flipping through albums, I can see why. My chosen tracks consist of “Everything Girl” by local ska-punk band Mustard Plug, “London Calling” by The Clash, and “Panic” by The Smiths.