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I snub you 

I purposely avoided MacGregor's city location (the one on Gregory Street in the South Wedge) for about a month this spring, suspecting the staff there'd been stricken with SARS: Server Apathetic Response Syndrome.

            This strain of SARS was first identified in China, in a Beijing bar called MacMao's, where a group of American businessmen were denied another Scorpion Bowl for no apparent reason (they were hammered, but this was, reportedly, not the problem). World health officials initially considered the wait staff's condition a common case of communism (albeit a particularly acute antipathy toward the concept of making capital), but subsequently discovered SARS.

            Some people are particularly susceptible to SARS: the inept, the ditzy, television addicts. Bars are usually able to keep the disease from spreading by simply firing infected workers; but if, say, a night manager catches it, the bug can easily become an epidemic.

            I live right down the street from the city MacGregor's, so I was especially concerned. The bar is not only convenient, it's a great place to hang out. Neighborhood folk and businesspeople dine and drink there days and evenings. A college crowd inevitably forms by 11, but beer pong is not played. And how can you beat a bar offering upwards of 100 beers you've never heard of before, even if, like me, you end up ordering a Blue anyway? There's sports on the TVs, innocuous rock, and solid fare served late.

            However, of late, the service had arrived too late, too many times, for my taste. For example, I stopped in with a buddy last month. It was about 10, and we sat on two stools at a table a few feet from the bar. No employee approached us for what seemed an eternity (several minutes). Finally, I approached the bar and procured two drafts from the bartender. I figured I'd also order some nachos while I had his attention.

            The nachos emerged from the kitchen in short order. I watched as they were carried to the end of the bar, where they sat, again for what seemed ages (maybe a minute). "Hey," the bartender called at last, "your nachos are here." I had to get up and fetch 'em.

            A subtle symptom of SARS, you may think, little more than a sneeze. And I'd have agreed, had that incident not brought to mind a number of similarly strange and troubling experiences I'd had there over the past nine months: vanishing waitresses, feelings of invisibility, ghost-beers which, once ordered, never arrived. I eventually decided I'd avoid the place like, well, the plague.

            Of course, I was overreacting. I'd cobbled a few minor mistakes and momentary lapses of memory I'd witnessed there over many visits into this theory that the place was diseased.

            And upon further reflection, I realized that most of the times I'd felt ignored, I'd been sitting at one of the two high tables in the immediate bar area. Call it the Beermuda Triangle: wait staff probably consider it part of the bar, customers think it's a table, and bartenders probably consider it part of the bar. Beware of this trap, especially if you're thirsty.

            I've since lifted my personal travel ban and ventured back to MacGregor's. It's safe for you to do the same.

            One lingering concern: With four locations in the area, MacGregor's risks becoming ensnared in the trappings of a chain restaurant and losing its comfortable, classic taproom atmosphere. The most sinister signs of this can been seen on its menu, where the logos of corporate food suppliers can be found next to the items.

            I can understand placing a Zweigle's logo next to the hot dogs (it's particularly important to know who stuffed the meat-tubes). But why would I care that an item is associated with Advance Food Company ("one of today's leading national manufacturers of portion-controlled meat products," according to its website)? And what does John Morrell, a meat manufacturer, have to do with the Caesar salad? The grilled chicken is apparently supplied by Tyson, but why this would whet anyone's appetite is a good question.

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