The COVID-19 pandemic sunk a lot of small businesses and local institutions, but when JJ Grueter’s punk dive, the Triple Nickel, and Gentle Fritz’s beloved weirdo hangout, Zodiac Venue/Bar, both closed, it hurt many a heart, and thousands of Springs residents cried Robert Smith tears. However, as first reported in the Indy’s Reverb column this past January, they’ve teamed up with Chuck and Mary Ann Thomas of food truck Munchies 719 (which remains on the road) to transform the former Blank Canvas Cafe into a new three-pronged collaborative venue: Munchies, The 555 (a new branding of the Triple Nickel) and Fritzie’s Speakeasy.
For our review visits, downstairs lounge Fritzie’s Speakeasy — which the Indy was told will have a vaudevillian vibe and live shows — was not yet open for business, so we plan to return soon. And order drinks meanwhile from The 555. Laughing Lab’s the only local on tap as of our visit, so we enjoy a few pints with a satisfactory 7&7.
For eats, the positioning of Munchies feels a touch awkward in relation to the 555’s bar area, in that the point of sale system is at the kitchen’s entrance, in the middle of a hall that leads to the rest of the building. But what’s a dive bar without a little janky character?
Still, what comes out of that kitchen matters more, and we’re mighty happy with the Veggie NotChos, which arrive on a base of queso lightened by cerveza and come topped with tomato, avocado, pickled carrots, pickled onions and diced jalapeños, a simple but successful liver-saver made that much better by the pickled veg.
The Munchies banh mi comes on a non-traditional big, soft toasted roll, which is just fine. But it’s unfortunately soggy on the bottom thanks to the sriracha mayo, salsa verde and residual moisture from pickled carrots and onions. Said pickles do a lot of lifting, flavorwise, an equal player to rich and flavorful carnitas. Its shortcomings (sogginess) and triumphs (good flavor, big portion) are shared with the pizza we order, a vegetarian option called Drag It Through The Garden. Peppers, onions, confit garlic, tomato and pimento olives sit on mozzarella and serviceable red sauce, all overwhelming a soggy mess of a sourdough crust. Thyme 4 Chicken & Waffles — fried chicken atop a thyme and cheddar waffle — similarly tastes great before way-too-salty gravy hits. We’d likely prefer the other waffle offerings, which include breakfast renditions served all day.
For a big kick, try the Asian Persuasion Tacos, three to a plate, which come loaded with ginger- and soy sauce-braised beef, pickled carrots and ginger, green onions, confit garlic cloves and diced jalapeños, topped with green onions and sesame seeds. The spicy heat on these overfilled tacos kicks like a Taekwondo tournament, and between that and the plentiful pickles (and their acidity), there’s nothing to mellow it. We wish for something creamy to bring the bite together.
For dessert, the All-American Lemon Bar comes decorated like a flag, with bright blueberry compote standing out, raspberry sauce stripes getting lost in the punchy lemon filling and lovely vanilla and butter notes from the base. Perfect? Nah. But it’s magic anyway once we’re a few rounds in, thanks to that special dive bar power.