Day Drinker: The Simple Life at Harvey's Wineburger

Who says you have to wait until the sun goes down to have a good time?

Pulling up to Harvey's Wineburger for the bar's 10:30 opening on a sunny morning feels a lot like seeing a charming old friend: the red and purple crown on the sign by the road; the "ATM available" sign near the door; the mural of a guy wearing goggles while stomping on grapes and holding a hamburger in his hand; and the rusty coffee can in the corner under a sign that says, "Park Your Butts Here!"

Truth be told, I'd been to Harvey's numerous times in the past. Good people here. On Thanksgiving Day a couple of years ago, they even served free holiday dinners to the regulars by letting them back into what must be the tiniest kitchen in town to help themselves to turkey with all the trimmings. Good people.

As I walk in with my Day Drinker play-date Ronda, our old friend Harvey does not disappoint. Two TVs, a pinball machine, and a couple of beer signs provide the only light in the joint, barely illuminating the dark paneling and Colonial-style furniture (sans burnt-orange seat covers) that seemingly everyone in 1960s featured in their dining rooms. In the back room, a pool table, skeet bowling, and more electronic games stand at the ready on bare, cement floors. The grill isn't on yet to mask that familiar musty-basement smell. As we take our seats at the bar next to a couple of regulars, we start the morning off with a couple of bloody Mary's -- extra spicy, lots of olives.

"Sorry, Sweetie, we don't have any olives."

"Are you out?"

"No, we just don't have them. We're a simple place."

That's our bartender, Shelly. Brown eyes, dimples. She smiles and moves around so much that we can't get a good look at her. When we tell her our names, she repeats them and, with her hands held low, she signs each letter of our names. Curious. We ask her what gives.

She blushes, "Sorry, I'm going to school to learn be an interpreter for the deaf - I like to practice whenever I can."

Shelly tells us about her "menopausal moment." It happened about a year ago, when she went to the doctor and told him she thought she was going crazy because she was irritable and couldn't sit still. That's when he gave her the best advice she'd ever received.

"He told me to get out there and learn something new. So that's exactly what I'm doing," she says determinedly. "I've raised three boys, worked in jobs I've hated all my life; it's time to try something different."

Ronda, in a what-the-hell moment, tells Shelly she knows sign language. Soon the two of them are going back and forth, laughing, hands flying everywhere. Sheesh. The things you find out about your friends over cocktails.

Our simple friend Harvey's doesn't do olives -- and doesn't do plastic, either. You'd better be carrying cash. We head for the ATM machine next to the restrooms.

"The ATM doesn't work," Shelly says. "We put a sign on the door. If you want cash, you'll have to go to the check-cashing place just down the street."

After a nice, sunny walk to the working ATM down the street, waving to the boys drying rides at the car wash, and checking out the window signs for the Phoenix Falcons Fencing Club, we re-enter Harvey's. The place has filled up with a lunch crowd. Each time the door opens, a ray of bright light bursts into the cave-like scene, forcing you to shield your eyes and/or consider your own mortality. Mike, the cook, whose large build and thick, white hair conjures up visions of the Abominable Snowman from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, is scooping up spatula-sized globs of lard from a plastic bucket. Shelly has donned a denim apron. Lunchtime launch in 3. . . 2 . . . 1.

Half the reason to go to Harvey's is the joint itself; the other half is the grub. In three words: the legendary wineburger. These babies are the biz-bop. Huge, juicy chunks of chuck, soaked in burgundy and topped with cheese, pickles, tomatoes, onions, and lettuce on a large, soft bun. We order up a pair of the burgundy beauties, two Buds, and a basket of fries to share.

An older woman who looks and sounds like ventriloquist Wayland Flowers' dummy, Madame, starts giving the business to Mike the cook. He tells us she's known for being a troublemaker.

"I'm known for child abuse!" she yells back, cackling loudly and waving her marionette-like body to and fro on the bar stool.

On our second Bud, we still have a long way to go to the wineburger finish line. We decide to take a break from the chow and go outside for some air. Two dudes, one in a Hawaiian suit and one in sunglasses, are getting back into their car after seeing the tiny sign on the door about the ATM no-go.

"There's an ATM at the check-cashing place down the street," we say, pointing to the sign.

Sunglasses opens his door. Hawaii turns on the ignition. The car doesn't move.

"It's right there!" we say again, getting a little louder. "Walking distance!"

Sunglasses puts a foot out the door. Hawaii sits. The car's still idling.

"C'mon, Phoenix!" Now we're laughing and shouting, "Take a walk once in a while, why don't you? It'll do ya good! Seriously, you're going to drive your car half a block?" We're cracking ourselves up. The dudes think we're laughing at them.

Sunglasses gets out of the car and smiles back weakly, giving a slight wave. Hawaii turns the car off and gets out, too, slamming the door and glaring at us. Who knew a guy in a Hawaiian shirt could be such a curmudgeon?

We wave to the dudes and go back inside to finish our wineburgers and sign with Shelly. It's her last week at Harvey's. She's going to tend bar somewhere else while she goes to school to start her new life.

Simple. It's hard to do, but when you do it right, it's perfection.

Harvey's Wineburger 4812 North 16th Street 602-248-9950

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld