There are many criteria on which you can judge a bar. Some people look for a certain selection of liquor, focusing on bourbon or wine or craft beer. Others go because of loyalty; your friend owns it, or bartends there, or they support a certain team you like. There is something to be said for the talent that they have hired. Finding the lady who makes your Manhattan with just the right amount of sweetness, or the gentleman who has a glass of wine poured and waiting for you at your favorite seat, is worth its weight in Pappy Van Winkle. All of these things are lovely, but the real deal is when a bar becomes as comfortable as a well worn sweater. Whether it is a high end bar where you can get a pour of that Pappy or a place where “Pappy” is the nickname of the guy that is ALWAYS sitting at the end of the bar, getting to that point where everyone knows who you are makes the best watering hole. Walking down the stairs into the Time Out Cavern (5543 Far Hills Ave, Dayton, OH 45429), every step feels a little more like home.
Yes, you are walking down, like you are going into someone’s basement. The mirrors and metal signs on the wall span the gamut of styles, from old Apsen Edge (the Coors answer to Bud Platinum or Miller 64) to modern Stella Artois images. At the bottom of the staircase you turn to your right and you would swear you were in your friend’s kick ass basement. There are two pool tables (used for tournaments on Wednesday and are FREE to use on Sunday), two dart boards, a nice long bar, a jukebox filled with excellent tunes, and enough mirrors and beer signs on the walls to explore for majority of your stay. There is definitely a rich atmosphere that throws back to a simpler time in the American bar scene. If you are paying enough attention, you will notice that many of them revolve around the Kentucky Derby.
The owner, John “The Man” Seaman is a lover of horse racing. If you stop by while he is there, you may catch a race on one of the many televisions around the bar. He is such a lover of the sport that every year Time Out Cavern throws one of the best, if not best known, watching parties in the city. They ship in bottles of the official bourbon to serve in the official glasses of the derby that year (which they bring by the case). Of course there is the popular Mint Julep as the star of the night, but they mix up a few house specialties as well. They have a raffle where you can win one of those official bottles, as well as swag from Kentucky Derby’s past. Fancy hats are a must, but there is a low ceiling and not much lighting, so not too fancy.
Their beer selection is typical to what you would find in a proper dive bar with a few exceptions like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Samuel Adams Winter Lager. You can settle down with a Rolling Rock as well, or 22s of Budweiser or Heineken. The cocktail specialties they have are not limited to the Kentucky Derby; while they do not keep an up to date menu for them, they do have a secret menu you can ask for. I am going to go on a limb and say it is one of the few bars of its kind where you will find a Brandy Alexander on the menu. You can also find their signature shot, the Time Out, a combination of raspberry and orange vodka, orange juice, and a splash of sour and grenadine. While they have a good variety of flavored vodkas, whiskeys, and other liquors, their favorites seem to be Jameson and Patron. I am going to go even further out on that limb from earlier and say it is the only dive bar we will cover that you can get a Bénédictine and Brandy, also known as a B and B. It is one of John’s favorite drinks, and definitely a rarity to find.
One thing that really struck me was Bubba’s Corner. It is a baby bar within the bar. On a busy Friday or Saturday night, I could see it being used as a second stop for a beer or a shot of bourbon. It is a shrine than John keeps to an old friend of his who used to like watching the Derby with him. That would be Bubba’s spot in the bar to watch it. When he passed away, the spot was kept for him to keep watching the majestic horse race. In that area there is also a plaque with a dedication to Cpl. Richard Gilbert Jr., a Marine who gave his life in service of his country. He was a regular there, and it is a touching tribute to the sacrifice he and his fellow Marines and sailors made. They have a loyal base of regulars, and that is a sign of a great place to get a drink.
Descending into the Time Out Cavern takes you back. And it sucks you in. Why go back up into the world when there are good beers and plenty of drinks? Well, maybe if you are hungry. They do not serve food there. Plus it is a Browns bar, and we all know how friendly those fans are (Speaking as a life-long Browns fan). Talking to one of the bartenders, I learned that the main entrance near Meadowlark is where the new customers enter; regulars usually park in the back and use the back entrance. Enter where you want, just as long as you enter. A good time will be had by all.
Time Out Cavern is open 2:30 PM to 2:30 AM, Monday through Saturday and 7:30 PM to 2:30 AM on Sunday.