MAW’S Eatery and Beer Hall can be easy to miss if you’re walking through the Exchange District, although the white awning over the door certainly stands apart from a sea of grey. It’s more than worth taking the time to track down.
The large front window gives you a glimpse into the compact front room, which manages to fit in a bar, stage area, pool table and assortment of seating. With clothes trunks as tables and a large shelf full of knickknacks and lamps it could be mistaken for your aunt’s basement, until you notice the brick walls and wood pallet lights.
Although the vibe is somewhere between casual and nostalgic, there are signs that the restaurant is still in its infancy; the kitchen was out of hamburgers which meant I couldn’t try the very intriguing Charlie Sheen Burger.
Our server was new as well, but that didn’t stop her from being personable. She knew the menu and made useful recommendations. The staff seems to have a lot of freedom in what it wears, and is refreshingly approachable, something that sadly tends to disappear in some nicer restaurants.
While we waited with our drinks, we listened to recent hits, Kanye and yodeling, in no particular order. The wide range of age in patrons proved that there was something for everyone; the rough-hewn bar also has a TV for those looking to watch a game.
Beer is reasonably priced, and food as well at an average of $12 a plate, which includes a side. Our table got a couple of chicken sandys and shared a plate of sexy fries - essentially pizza baked onto fries. Both of the dishes could have been sloppy, but weren’t. The chicken sandwich used basic and flavourful ingredients including mushroom gravy, and the tomato soup was smooth and improved by croutons and fresh green onion.
The menu is brief and disappointingly low on vegetarian options. It also lacks dishes which can be made vegetarian by ordering them without the meat.
Just as our plates were cleared, Grant Davidson of Winnipeg’s Slow Leaves took the stage with his guitar and harmonica, adding rather than commanding the ambiance.
The restaurant’s stage area wouldn’t allow more than a few musicians to play at once, but the next room over is the Beer Hall, which boasts a full stage and generous seating. It’s a pleasant surprise that it does resemble a beer hall rather than an open floor concept for dancing, though there is room for that as well.
MAW’S is the kind of place you can spend a couple of hours in without feeling rushed, even upon finishing your food. It’s got enough character to bring a date or catch up with an old friend. If you sit close to the music, however, you may need to speak up. Also, the cozy lounge chairs are great for drinks but less so for food; you may want to request a table for meals.