Two great options, one great venue
So, a guy walks into a bar … and has a choice to make – left or right? I’m just inside the front door of the recently opened River City Blues Club & Dart Room, and the two choices are right there in the name.
To the left and up the stairs, there are steel-tip and electronic dartboards, video games and a dining area with a bar. To the right and down the stairs, a cozy lounge area is home to the blues club and yet another bar.
Together, in the same building, these offerings provide a form of exclusive entertainment not currently available anywhere else in the Harrisburg area.
The brainchild of Jonas Hair, Rick Hefelfinger and Phil Dobson, River City opened at the end of August and has seen a great response and continued growth in the ensuing months.
On this Thursday night, I head left and up the stairs toward the noise and commotion. Two dozen people are inside the dart room, and it’s apparent I came on a dart league night. Nearly all of the nine electronic dartboards are in use as Luke Bryan’s “Country Girl” plays on the jukebox.
Converted from what used to be Sacred Heart Catholic Elementary School, River City uses the original design in its favor. The dart area is one long room. And in addition to the electronic boards, it has five steel-tip boards, plus Golden Tee and pinball machines.
Running the length of the interior wall is an original chalkboard from school days, and now it more or less serves as a tangible Facebook wall, with chalk writings and pictures covering the board. Across the hallway is the bar and dining area, which hosts 80 patrons. Twelve beers are on tap, as well as bottled options. River City has its liquor license and a full bar to show for it.
I wander around the dart area with my Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA. The entire place is non-smoking, but a small deck outside at the end of the hallway hosts smokers. Eventually, River City wants to expand the deck area for outdoor seating.
In the dining area (and I would later find down in the blues club as well), all the artwork hanging on the walls is done by local artists.
Country music continued to play over the TouchTunes jukebox, which allows patrons to pay for and play music from a smartphone app. Those in the dart league had free reign of the jukebox until about 9:30 p.m., which was when open mic night began in the blues club.
So down the steps I went.
Downstairs, the owners of River City designed a relaxed, chill atmosphere. A full bar sits on one side of the wall, while a long leather sectional sofa wraps its way around the other. Round tables and chairs are sprinkled throughout the area, and a dance floor sits in front of a low-profile stage. There’s a distinct blues club vibe to the place. It’s dark with candles on each table and lighting on the stage.
As open mic night starts, the jukebox is shut off, and the blues club music is broadcast upstairs as well.
On Friday and Saturday nights, River City brings in bands. The club’s technology allows the blues shows to be seen upstairs in the dart rooms on any of the six televisions.
“We’ve created a distinct atmosphere for entertainment that’s nowhere else in Harrisburg,” Hair says. “We’re still evolving and coming up with ideas, but so far this has gotten a great response.”
The kitchen offers a fairly typical bar menu, but also some unique items with a twist. My friends and I opt for the highly recommended chicken and waffle fries and jalapeno poppers stuffed with crabmeat. I will absolutely second the chicken and waffle fries recommendation.
One of River City’s biggest perks isn’t even inside the building itself. More than 80 free parking spots are available – a rare and glorious sight in Harrisburg.
“We’re certainly proud of what we’ve done inside, but that free and available parking should be a hit around here,” Hair says.
The beauty of River City are not only the options, but also the connectedness. Whether you’re upstairs or down – in two totally different rooms – they can be connected in an instant.
So you might be standing just inside the front door, deciding to go left or right. That might take some decision-making, but the choice to check out River City in the first place should be an easy one.
• 819 South Cameron Street, Harrisburg; 525-8926
• Dart Room: Daily, 6 p.m.-2 a.m.
• Blues Club: Thursday-Saturday, 6 p.m.-2 a.m.