Entering the Artful Dodger is a bit like falling down Alice’s Rabbit Hole. Dozens of unique clocks line most of the walls, along with countless and ever-changing local works of art. A long bar occupies the left side of the restaurant, but it leaves plenty of room for super comfy and inviting tables and booths. The venue even offers semi-private elevated seating (sometimes used as a stage) for customers who want to feel special. There’s a big outdoor eating space in the front of the restaurant, perfect for cigarette fiends and people-watchers.
The Dodger, as the place is called by locals, presents many options for both food and drink. And with a happy hour spanning from four to nine pm daily, it’s easy to understand why this funky Court Square hang out consistently draws a crowd. Another reason twenty-somethings love the Artful Dodger is the fair pricing; nothing exceeds eight dollars, and happy hour prices knock a buck off any drink (Go between five and six pm and it’s buy-one-get-one-free appetizers). With meal options ranging from breakfast foods to quesadillas to flatbreads, and fun drinks like the Craigslist-worthy “Missed Connection,” the Dodger seems like the perfect haven for the downtown rat. Unfortunately, negatives do exist.
Ordering’s awkward. No one really knows whether to sit down, wait to be helped, or to order at the bar (FYI, it’s the latter). Also there’s the problem of paying; is the customer supposed to pay when he or she orders or wait until he or she finishes? The staff, who often act as though your ordering food from them is rude, doesn’t care what you do. My advice is, pay when you’ve finished. It’s just easier.
Another thing is the coffee- it varies daily from very good to so-bad-you-can’t-stomach-it, but at a buck fifty for a cup with unlimited refills, there’s really no room for complaining. The food is decent and the portions are generous, but stay away from the chips and cheese dip (a more fitting name would be “chips and lukewarm Velveeta”) and the nachos (they come out cold with barely any cheese). I’d recommend the spanakopita sandwich (spinach and cheese on a croissant? Yes, please); any number of the quesadillas; or my personal favorite, the Oliver’s Crisp appetizer, which is a mountain of hummus covered in feta, olives, onions, and other general deliciousness served with warm pita bread. I would have suggested one of their fabulous veggie burgers, but they were axed with the creation of the new menu, and replaced by a downright pathetic hamburger.
The Artful Dodger also seems be having a perpetual identity crisis. This-bar-slash-restaurant-slash-coffee shop-slash-sometimes nightclub just can’t decide on what it wants to be. However, many people, including myself, see this as a rather good thing. A person could literally sit at the Dodger from ten am to ten pm and enjoy an easy, quiet breakfast; a fun lunch rush with a few friends; a lazy afternoon; and a wild night with even wilder company. I know, because I’ve done it… on several occasions.
If you want a restaurant with a specific feel and clientele, then the Artful Dodger is not for you. If you’re conservative with no sense of humor, then the Dodger is definitely not for you. It’s not for the faint-of-heart or the food snob either. However, if you’re open-minded and interested in an hour or two… or four of light-hearted fun with friends or alone, and respectable and downright cheap food, then consider this Court Square treasure. Just don’t come in with expectations of greatness. Come in with expectations of a great time. If you do, you’ll surely be satisfied.
Post By: Emilie von Unwerth
Photocred: JMU Sociology